Heliogabalus Antonin Artaud  Infinity Land Press 2019
ISBN 978-1-9160091-1-0   £25

Every so often I am presented with a review book that can only be described as being ‘beautiful' - that combination of binding, typesetting, illustration, and a mesmerizing, almost mythic or revelatory text, coming together perfectly - a transmutation of board and paper... Antonin Artaud's Heliogabalus, or, The Crowned Anarchist, (Infinity Land Press, £25) translated from the French with great sympathy and insight by Alexis Lykiard is such a book. 

Artaud's 'life' of the boy Emperor Heliogabalus (who, if I recall my Montaigne, was 'assassinated on the privy" as he puts it) is a mergence of Artaud's anarchistic self with both the characterisation and reality of an unconsciously psychotic-anarchistic personality from history. It is perhaps the fate of the actor to become twined with a character... But a loss of objective reality - rationality - is inevitable if the character becomes the dominant partner in what is meant to be only a temporary artistic schizophrenia. So the text teeters on the edge of sanity... (Three years after writing Heliogabalus Artaud was committed to a lunatic asylum)... Resulting in a cantering style, intense with an empathic imagery; 

But the palace is full of armed guards. The sound of sword drawn, the loud clash of shields, of the war cymbals rallying the troops hidden inside every palace room, is enough to rout a rabble that is almost unarmed. 

It is then the armed guards turn against Heliogabalus, whom they hunt all over the palace.... 

The troops, who have seen him, catch up with him; and already his own Praetorians grab hold of his hair. It turns into a scene from a meat-stall, a disgusting butchery, and ancient tableau of the slaughterhouse. 

Excrement mingles with blood 

This is the dark Thanatos of Artaud's imagination, but there is also the bright Eros; 

There is the temple, with the eagle with wings outspread, which guards the sacred phallus. Great waves of argent light pulse over its marbled surfaces, bringing to mind the myriad cries which in the course of the great solar festivals seem to be uttered by Pythias Apollo...' 

Disturbing, exciting, surreal - this book has the potential to disrupt minds. You've had your health warning. This book is a 'must have' for the adventurous reader and for the simple bibliophile, it is an outstanding piece of book-making. Infinity Land Press have an impressive website offering a unique catalogue of books for sale... 

Kevin Bailey (ed) reviewing Heliogabalus in HQ Poetry Magazine No51/52 Sept 20190