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As If

An Autobiography

Herbert Blau

Publication Year: 2011

"From his childhood in the 'Jewish heart' of Brooklyn to his memorable production of Endgame in the 1960s, Herbert Blau's autobiography provides not only more of Blau's penetrating insights into dramatists like Beckett and into the complex cross-currents of the American experimental theatre of this turbulent period. It is also a rich, deeply felt and powerfully expressed chronicle of cultural change that goes far beyond specific theatrical productions to offer a valuable personal view of the years that did so much to shape the contemporary world, expressed by one of the theatre community's most original and articulate thinkers." ---Marvin Carlson, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York "Herb Blau's memoir---of his life, but also of an era---captures what has always been important about his work. 'Blooded thought,' he taught us to call it---the embodied process of 'finding yourself divided, in the embrace of what's remembered.' His vivid account of childhood in a particular kind of American neighbourhood is complemented by reflection on his years in San Francisco when the theatre and the Cold War unfolded as mutual antagonists in his personal drama. Acute, insightful, and sometimes painful, it is also an intellectual page-turner." ---Janelle Reinelt, University of Warwick "I read As If from cover to cover, engaged and powerfully moved by a familiar brilliance . . . Blau holds an utterly unique place in twentieth-century American theater, in American culture, and in theater theory and practice." ---Elin Diamond, Rutgers University "Few theater practitioners have had comparable influence in American theater; few have endured such intoxicating highs and dispiriting lows; none, arguably, has reflected so deeply and sharply about so wide a spectrum of first-hand practical experience." ---Linda Gregerson, University of Michigan "Masterful . . . a brilliant and touching book written with honesty and humility . . . In addition, it serves as an admirable introduction to Blau's theories, providing a context for his complex and sometimes difficult ideas." ---John Lutterbie, Stony Brook University As If: An Autobiography traces the complex life and career of director, scholar, and theorist Herbert Blau, one of the most innovative voices in the American theater. From his earliest years on the streets of Brooklyn, with gang wars there, to the often embattled, now-legendary Actor's Workshop of San Francisco, the powerfully told story of Blau's first four decades is also a social history, moving from the Great Depression to the cold war, with fallout from "the balance of terror" on what he once described in an incendiary manifesto as The Impossible Theater. Blau has always forged his own path, from his activist resistance to the McCarthy witch hunts to his emergence as a revolutionary director whose work included the controversial years at The Workshop, which introduced American audiences to major playwrights of the European avant-garde, including Brecht, Beckett, Genet, and Pinter. There is also an account here of that notorious production of Waiting for Godot at the maximum-security prison at San Quentin, which became the insignia of the Theater of the Absurd. Blau went on from The Workshop to become codirector of the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center, and then founding provost of California Institute of the Arts, where he developed and became artistic director of the experimental group KRAKEN. Currently Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor of the Humanities at the University of Washington, Blau has been visionary in the passage from theater to theory, and his many influential and award-winning books include The Dubious Spectacle: Extremities of Theater, 1976–2000; Sails of the Herring Fleet: Essays on Beckett; Nothing in Itself: Complexions of Fashion; To All Appearances: Ideology and Performance; The Audience; The Eye of Prey: Subversions of the Postmodern; and Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point. This richly evocative book includes never-before-published photographs of the author, his family and friends, collaborators in the theater, and theater productions.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

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1. They and There: The Right Side of the Tracks

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pp. 1-31

My father read the newspaper from back to front, as if it were the Talmud. He read every word of it (though let me not be misleading, he was skeptical about the Talmud), without worrying about origins or the sense of an ending. He was convinced that wherever it started, whatever it was, it couldn’t be trusted. No matter what was reported about it, there was nothing but thievery from beginning to end. But as though to confirm it ...

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2. The Invisible Wounded and the Ethos of Depression

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pp. 32-65

Each year, as commencement approaches, senior classes throughout America are hailed with the traditional advice about conquering new worlds and entering upon an era ‘full of forebodings.’” Thus, the opening sentence of the farewell editorial in the Senior Recorder, the year I graduated from Boys High School. As that year was different, the editorial went on to say, the words assumed a new, twofold significance: “First of all, upon us, ...

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3. From Entropy to Galilee: The Indeterminacy Principle

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pp. 66-100

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Wernher von Braun, who developed the V-2 ballistic missile at a forced labor factory in Mittelwork, and put himself in the service of the Nazis before bringing his expertise on rocketry to the American army and NASA. Yet he might have been speaking for me when he said, “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” It takes a while, however, before you can learn to live with that, and ...

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4. Rehearsing the Impossible: The Widening Gyre

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pp. 101-131

They want to put up a fence now, and lock it, to keep out the vagrants, the druggies, the dealers, the homeless ready for sleep, on the benches or withered grass, the late-hour couples making out, or even the midnight strollers, but when I first entered Washington Square it was as in Henry James, on an autumn afternoon, with pigeons and hawthorn foliage, honey locust and ambered maples, but hardly anyone there, not even the chess ...

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5. Clear and Present Dangers: The Nothing to Be Done

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pp. 132-167

It was shortly after my eightieth birthday when I first started this chapter, and because of several detours, so much of the life before me, what to write about, what not, it could take some aging time before, or if, it’s finished. I am no longer directing in the theater, but I am still teaching. I have no intention of retiring, after doing it now for nearly sixty years. There were periods in the early years when I was teaching full-time...

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6. Revising the Dream: A Discipline of Distrust

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pp. 168-214

Journal entry: “I dreamt again that there was trouble at the theater and that Buddy had to ‘protect’ me.” That may not have been the nightmare from which I wanted to wake up sweating, but with some distressing truth it came after what I’d written, with familiar redundancy, about my brain being stressed, taut, and tormented all the more by a pledge I’d made to myself, “to understand my motives as they really are.” I insisted I was do- ...

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7. Dark Energy: An Aesthetic of Irrelevance

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pp. 215-258

The Encore Theater was down in the depths. But its lobby, an embedded cable car, might once have been up above, descending from the Mark Hopkins, that exclusive hotel, with its Peacock Lounge, on the crest of Nob Hill. I said that in the years from Oedipus through Galileo, whether foreseeing potential terror in pursuing the forbidden or the possible end of history in scientific research, I had come to think of the theater, from its ...


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pp. 288-109


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pp. 110-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027552
E-ISBN-10: 0472027557
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117789
Print-ISBN-10: 0472117785

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 33 B&W illustrations
Publication Year: 2011