Volume 70, Issue 1 | March 2009

Special Issue: Performance and History: What History?
Essays in Honor of Herbert Blau

Editor's note
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Marshall Brown Editor's note, Performance and History
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Herbert Blau Why "What History?"
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Peggy Phelan Renewing the Ado: Blau and Beckett
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Michal Kobialka Theater/Performance Historiography: Politics, Ethics, and the Now  
The "after theory" syndrome silently renounced historiography as radical thought and substituted a closed, retrospective framework to conceptualize the ontology of theater/performance history. In its postmodern/post-utopian universe, historicizing largely contents itself with connecting facticity and rationality under the pressure of global capitalism and U.S. domination. Realpolitik has become a euphemism for Machtpolitik. In a world whose power politics is programmatically infused with a cynical rhetoric of compassion and inevitability, one is often stuck in the terrain of practical possibility where "realism" is the only mode of operation and action in history. Yet without a critique of the idea of the vitality of the state/profession and without actively seeking an ethical life on behalf of another praxis, history is constrained to participate in the violent narrative of progress to a higher state of evolution. The task of theater historiography is therefore to perturb the notion of the vitality of the state, the institution, and the professions by attending to and nurturing the now—an ethical life based on historiographical self-examination that will always be in reality but not of it.
Anthony Kubiak The Sacred Clade and the Rhizomatic Dis-ease of History  
The recent past has seen a shift away from more philosophically complex, theoretically dense approaches to literary criticism (psychoanalysis, deconstruction, phenomenology) in favor of more material or "empirical" (historiographical, historical materialist) approaches to interpretation—a shift away from the aesthetic and toward an ascetic model of reading. But this shift is in fact no shift at all, but merely the logical outcome of a historicist and materialist approach to meaning that has always been in thrall to scientific methodologies. Even structuralist and poststructural readings of texts show signs of this scientific longing for material meanings in the world, a longing that art itself, especially theater, has refused to sanction. We are living, it seems, in a postmaterial world, whose very impossibility suggests infinite possibilities of meaning.
Liyuan Zhu Ronald Paulson, Breaking and Remaking: Aesthetic Practice in England, 1700-1820
Julie Stone Peters Drama, Primitive Ritual, Ethnographic Spectacle: Genealogies of World Performance (ca. 1890-1910)  
This essay attempts to offer a thick history of the turn-of-the-century ritual idea while identifying its relationship to a nexus of formations crucial to ideas about drama and to various performance practices in the twentieth century. In the 1890s works on myth and ritual in comparative religion posed a challenge to the dominant linear and evolutionary historiography of the human, at the same time placing the global primitive at the center of the idea of culture. Advocating a utilitarian theory of art (challenging the Kantian autotelic definition), the period's numerous studies of primitive aesthetics identified drama as the primal art form. The definition of drama, in its newly primitivist guise, expanded to include dance, narration with gesture, and indeed ritual itself. The new attention to ritual coincided with larger shifts in anthropological methodology, captured in the turn to fieldwork (local, presentist, firsthand, thickly descriptive). By reading ritual in these terms, anthropologists could recognize in it a distillation of culture. Early ethnographic film, preoccupied with native dance and ceremony, similarly treated performance as a text for the reading of culture. Moreover, primitive dance and ceremony served in such films as metonymies for the living yet evanescent primitive, whose culture film was to capture before it disappeared forever. Like ethnographic film, the ethnographic exhibit (in World's Fairs and elsewhere) gave primitive performance a central place: in its competing historiographical narratives and in its overarching representation of the performance of culture. For all of these events, primitive performance stood for a set of countermodern and anti-aesthetic attitudes, signifying the modern as the premodern, the global as the local, the mediatized as the live, and the hyperreal as the real. These formations had profound ramifications for modernist aesthetics, for conceptions of world theater and performance in the twentieth-century academy, and for what became the global massculture entertainment industry.
Odai Johnson Unspeakable Histories: Terror, Spectacle, and Genocidal Memory  
One of the most violent and influential inaugural mappings of migrational theater in the Western world occurred in the second century BCE, a period of aggressive Roman expansion (into Greece, the Near East, North Africa, and Spain). In one traumatic century Rome circled the Mediterranean in a campaign we would call today genocide. Rough estimates of the casualties place the numbers at 2–3 million. Under conditions that stagger the imagination, the survivors were taken to Rome as slaves, and some carried scarred bodies and scarred memories into the ludic sphere of the Roman theater that celebrated Roman conquests. For four hundred years the acting profession was constituted almost exclusively with victims of foreign wars. The same holds for the writers of the "golden age" of Roman comedy. This essay considers the genocidal memory of one survivor, the playwright Terence, brought to Rome from Carthage as a slave shortly before that city's destruction. Using as a lens a small body of artifacts called curse tablets, I consider how victims of Rome buried their rage, swallowed their history, to erase their former lives. But the erasure was never complete, and the burying of curses invites the agile reader to return to the comic texts and unsilence them, to begin to listen to the rage and memory of the preconquered. Jacques Derrida asked if there was "a history of silence," and exhuming curses and buried rage might begin to unsettle a history of laughter and violent displacement.
Joseph Roach "Unpath'd waters, undream'd shores": Herbert Blau, Performing Doubles, and the Makeup of Memory in The Winter's Tale   
Performance and memory share a practice of disguise best described by the word surrogation. Surrogation occurs when more or less plausible substitutes appear in place of the dead, the fugitive, or the banished. Properly disguised, persons can even stand in as surrogates for themselves. Shakespeare's Winter's Tale and Herbert Blau's most Shakespearean essay, "The Makeup of Memory in the Winter of Our Discontent" from The Eye of Prey, elucidate the form and function of surrogation by their reliance on doubles. A venerable tactic of dramatists and producers throughout theatrical history, doubling can mean either standing in for another actor (as in the case of a stunt double) or taking more than one part in the same performance: the first conjoins (two actors on one mask); the second bifurcates (two masks on one actor). Both kinds of doubling figure in the production history of The Winter's Tale and in the makeup of memory as illuminated by Blau. They activate the process of surrogation, which can be seen working in myth and ritual at the supposed origins of theater and in the particular experience of a life devoted to the making of theater and the explication its meanings.
Patricia Ybarra Mexican Theater History and Its Discontents: Politics, Performance, and History in Mexico  
This essay suggests that the erasure of such nineteenth-century works as Alfredo Chavero’s Quetzalcóatl from mainstream Mexican theater histories has diminished the importance of theater as a mode of nation-building historiography even as national textbooks and archaeological developments have come to the fore. It also claims that reimagining theater as a form of performance pedagogy is an important step for scholars in the field to take. Ultimately, this essay reveals not merely that Mexican politics are theatrical, or that the theater has served the Mexican state, but that the architects of the Mexican nation thought theatrically from the start.
Daniel H. Foster Sheet Music Iconography and Music in the History of Transatlantic Minstrelsy  
This essay focuses on how aural and visual media intersected with class when, in 1843, blackface performers began to call themselves minstrels. Not merely a rebaptism, this new name marked a rebirth. Whereas blackface was originally a working-class theatrical experience passed on orally from performer to performer and from performer to audience, blackface minstrels sought to reassure the middle classes that they were emulating more sophisticated European musical traditions. What both the covers and the contents of post-1843 blackface sheet music reveal is that these minstrels tried to establish themselves as part of the growing concert tradition in the United States by showcasing their performances as more presentational and less representational. Because blackface relied increasingly on the publishing industry and the visual medium of sheet music, it also began to rely more on the eye, and because sheet music assumes a certain level of literacy and luxury, this reliance on the eye encouraged blackface's growth as a middleclass phenomenon.
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Freddie Rokem What History? Some Afterthoughts

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