Chasing Black Rainbows

Jeremy Reed, Author Peter Owen Publishers $32.95 (184p) ISBN 978-0-7206-0924-0
Having recreated in novels the lives of the Marquis de Sade (When the Whip Comes Down) and Lautreamont (Isidore), Reed here achieves a remarkable feat of imaginative empathy while exploring the mind of French avant-garde poet and playwright Antonin Artaud (1896-1948). A tormented, emaciated, raving paranoid and diagnosed schizophrenic, Artaud emerges here also as an anarchic visionary who subverts bourgeois values through the power of his imagination. Confined to the Rodez asylum in 1943 in Nazi-occupied southwestern France (one in a series of mental institutions where, cumulatively, he would spend nine years), Artaud defends his madness as a mode of knowing, ``a constant way of presenting the interior.'' But chief psychiatrist Dr. Gaston Ferdiere, himself an anarchist thinker, erotic poet and proponent of surrealism, considers Artaud an incurable victim of neurochemical imbalance and administers electroshock therapy, despite Artaud's desperate protests. In addition to Artaud's and Ferdiere's alternating voices, the narrative includes those of Artaud's former lover, Anais Nin, expatriate writer Henry Miller and Miller's estranged wife, June. There are flashbacks to Artaud's expulsion from Andre Breton's 1920s surrealist circle and his peyote-tinted travels among Mexico's Tarahumara Indians. Reed extends his exploration of sexuality not only through his presentation of the Henry, June and Anais triangle but also through his portrayal of Denise, another patient, who inspires erotic fantasies in Dr. Ferdiere while he treats her for insanity resulting from incest with her father. Reed clearly idolizes his suffering subject, and he revels somewhat romantically in the idea of subversion. Happily, he is attuned to the interiority proclaimed by his Artaud, allowing him to create a hypnotic exploration of madness and genius that articulates uncanny psychological insights through the use of often astonishing imagery. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/30/1995
Release date: 11/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 184 pages - 978-0-7206-1008-6
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