‘Like a cruel angel whipping the sun’

Gilberto Rodriguez rests outside the Book Collector smoking a cigarette, white face paint smeared across his cheeks, beret sitting clumsily atop his head. A passerby might think him a tired mime, a dejected street performer, a mentally ill transsexual with bad fashion sense. Little would they know Rodriguez had just embodied the spirit of French playwright, actor, director and poet Antonin Artaud, who just minutes ago filled the book shop with the garbage-like stench of anarchy and lucid unreason.

Projecting purple wine spittle into the audience, the masses, or “dishrags of jism,” as he sometimes terms them, Artaud reflected fondly about a man of incredible life and insight, who saw through the fabricated white sheen of bourgeoisie art and into a darker, more realistic sensibility—a theater of cruelty, if you will. Artaud broke his rage-filled digressions just long enough to speak kindly about one of his greatest influences: Charles Baudelaire.

Baudelaire’s life, as explained this night by poet Frank Andrick, was full of vice: opium, hashish and absinthe. He was a defiant child surrounded by adults. Taking his art from a jagged life that cut him with the blades of just about every problem imaginable, Baudelaire was prosecuted for work often considered blasphemous and obscene.

But instead of shunning the suffering and misgivings thrusted his way by life’s scabbed hand, Baudelaire, as Artaud did, used them to create beauty in his form of art.

Unheimlich Theater, which happens on the last Saturday of every month, is a gift of essay, performance, poetry, prose and theater by our city’s most ingenious and dedicated artists “to release the tide of the Uncanny. To breakout the underside of Pandora’s hoary box and release the likes of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Poe, Hoffmann, Holderline, Michaux, and especially Antonin Artaud in order to undermine a society that has allowed psychology & technology to be on a first name basis with the creation of [its] imperious culture.”

It’s a lecture, without boundaries or pretentiousness. It’s disgusting, shocking, revealing, interesting and necessary.

Outside, Rodriguez is winding down from the performance. He’s surrounded by smoke—cigarette and other.

Poetry readings are fine, open mics are fine, he explains, but there are poets before us who dropped pearls all over the earth. It’s our job to pick up these pearls and inspect them from time to time. It’s good for us—as poets, as people, as scholars—to drop our self-conscious, self-serving ramblings, to sit down, shut up and listen to what the masters had to say.

Just across the street, a man slumps in the doorway of a flower shop. Drunk but out of booze, he damns God and points a stiff finger toward the shadows. Just above his head in the window is a yellow bouquet of tulips. If he could stand, he might enjoy torturing, then killing us all. Beautiful.