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Modern Drama: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies (review) Piet Defraeye Modern Drama, Volume

Modern Drama: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies (review)

Piet Defraeye

Modern Drama, Volume 53, Number 1, Spring 2010, pp. 128-131 (Review)

Published by University of Toronto Press


of Toronto Press DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/mdr.0.0146 For additional information about this article

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about this article https://muse.jhu.edu/article/380692 Access provided by The University of Alberta (8 Mar 2017


forgetting so fundamental to any postmodern view of cultural memory. Rabillard’s essay, of course, is just one in a long sequence of critical inter- ventions that help us imagine theatre’s simultaneous engagements with past, present, and future. Harry J. Elam, Jr.’s essay “Remembering Africa, Performing Cultural Memory” also jumps out, with his insistence on the “engram,” or “the permanent trace left in the brain by a remembered stimulus,” as an interpretive model by which to understand the particular and palpable traces of African cultural memories in metatheatrical moments in Raisin in the Sun (34). So, too, does Ric Knowles’s discussion of “intercultural memory” illuminate the need to consider in more detail the “transmission and transformation of cultural memory” (50), particu- larly as they are used to forge “new forms of community” and “reconstitute diasporic subjectivities” (52) in Toronto’s multiethnic theatre district. And finally, the editors themselves frame the essays within a set of propositions inspired by Derrida’s deconstructive analysis of the signature. Because the signature releases us from the strictures of authenticity, a view of cultural memory that likens performances to dramatic signatures of the past compels us to become increasingly sensitive to the tricky identity politics of postmodern and postcolonial North American theatre. The resulting col- lection consequently reconstructs the field of Canadian and American cul-

tural memory through an account of “ever-evolving traces of a past


is] difficult to articulate, to categorize, to enact and/or to contain” (12). With essays and an intellectual framework that explore new and innova- tive points of engagement between theatre and memory, this collection offers a satisfying summation of some of the most enduring concerns within memory studies today and recuperates the past into considerations of North American cultural identity politics in the here and now. With its emphasis on production, textual analysis, and cultural studies, Signatures of the Past gives us a full but by no means exhaustive treatment of the different ways cultural memory in North American anglophone drama is performed – and is, in itself, performative.

drama is performed – and is, in itself, performative. MARTIN PUCHNER , ed. Modern Drama: Critical

MARTIN PUCHNER, ed. Modern Drama: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies . London: Routledge, 2008. 4 vols. $1,250.00 (Hb).

Reviewed by Piet Defraeye , University of Alberta

Martin Puchner’s four-volume, 1600-page anthology of dramatic criticism is an ambitious project that documents the ideological and theoretical origins of, and practical and critical responses to, modern drama. The col- lection combines, in his words,


Modern Drama , 53:1 (Spring 2010)


[the] ample and highly opinionated writings of the modern dramatists themselves, the choices made by contemporary directors, the perspectives offered by early theorists and philosophers interested in the emerging canon of modern drama, the various methodological trends and fashions governing scholarship from the 1950s to the present, the changing theater landscape influencing the study of drama, and finally the institutional history of theater studies as a discipline. (16)

Starting with Richard Wagner’s ardent “The Art-Work of the Future,” in which the composer pleads for an “all-faculty” kind of art, and ending with Alan Ackerman’s dispassionate reflection on the hermeneutic poten- tial of the close-reading of theatre, Puchner covers 120 years of criticism with a wealth of original material, structured chronologically and thematically. Just about every single essay in the first two volumes is required reading for any serious graduate student of theatre, whether of theory or practice. These introductory volumes contain standard texts, including selections from August Strindberg, Adolphe Appia, Vsevolod Meyerhold, and Georg Luka´cs, but they also provide access to more uncommon sources like Kurt Schwitters’s Merz manifesto and T.S. Eliot’s thorough reflection on poetic drama. They also offer fresh looks at old themes, such as Toril Moi’s fundamental reassessment and reframing of Ibsen’s role as a moder- nist figure. Volume three brings together a divergent collection of recent critical approaches to historical modernist practice, be it through the lens of gender criticism (Judith Stephens, J. Ellen Gainor), gay studies (Laurence Senelick), postcolonial studies (Sandra Richards, David Krasner, Elin Diamond), cultural theory (Shannon Jackson, David Savran), or performance analysis (Christopher Balme, Julie Stone Peters). Critical responses to the practice of acting and design complement the volume nicely. The fourth volume is rather unique for any collection of theatre theory, as it juxtaposes philosophical approaches and theories of aesthetics with performance theory and criticism. Elinor Fuchs’s essay on “theatricalist anti-theatricalism” (111) and Erika Fisher-Lichte’s commentary on the avant-garde’s antitextuality are certainly among the central essays in this volume, as they focus on the crucial question of the performance’s textual dependency. Puchner has included two of his own contributions, which deal with the topic of textuality and antitheatricality. Essays by Francis Ferguson, Herbert Lindenberger, Jacques Derrida, Ackerman, Savran, and Julia Kristeva give further prominence to the focus on antitheatricality. Since Bernard Dukore’s Dramatic Theory and Criticism (1974) and Avant Garde Drama (1969, with Daniel Gerould) have been out of print, sourcing

Modern Drama , 53:1 (Spring 2010)



reading material for graduate courses on the subject has become challen- ging. Gerould’s Theatre/Theory/Theatre (2000) filled a void, but Puchner’s focus on modernism, as well as the scope of his sources, provides an unri-

valled resource for reference, reading, and study. Quite a few of the primary


articles from Dukore’s two collections reappear here (Wagner, E mile Zola, George Bernard Shaw, Maurice Maeterlinck, Luka´cs, Stanislaw Witkiewicz) and are thus made again available. Some of these (like Maeterlinck’s reflections on modern drama) could have done with an updated or new translation. At the same time, however, the inclusion of often difficult-to-access translated sources is precisely what makes the compilation so valuable. The forty-page extract from Peter Szondi’s Theory of the Modern Drama is a case in point. An intelligent reflection on the emergence of epic theatre as a logical response to problems of realism and naturalism (essentialized in the paralysis of mimesis), the source is rarely included in critical anthologies. Puchner’s introductions are lucid and to the point. While avoiding polemics and simplifications, he engages the reader in the critical process of understanding the stakes of theory while at the same time allow- ing us a hint of his own hierarchies. In his preface to the last volume, for instance, he rightly identifies phenomenology as “perhaps the most influ- ential for the study of theater” (2), but then he awkwardly reins it in as pri- vileging “the act of seeing.” (This reductive view re-emerges in his own otherwise brilliant essay on the theatre’s phenomenological impossibility as suggested by Gilles Deleuze’s positing of theatricality as a necessarily antitextual, unmediated form a` la Artaud.) Also, by organizing his chronol- ogy according to the original year of publication, Puchner creates some odd structuring: we find, for instance, Zola’s and Strindberg’s considerations of naturalism interspersed with Oscar Wilde’s musings on illusion and stage masks; Bertolt Brecht’s notes on epic theatre and alienation broken up by Yurii Olyesha’s and Gertrude Stein’s musings on playwriting; and, more awkwardly, Antonin Artaud’s call for a theatre of cruelty complemented by Walter Benjamin’s investigation of epic theatre and Patrice Pavis’s eluci- dation of Gestus. As always with anthologies of this kind, choices have been made as to inclusion and exclusion. The greatest merit of the collection is its bringing together of standard primary sources on the theory of modern drama in combination with exciting reflections on developments in critical response to theory and practice. Puchner offers an extremely relevant collection of primary sources on the emergence of modernism, complemented by pro- blematizing and investigative essays on the movement, including names such as Henri Bergson, Meyerhold, Edward Gordon Craig, Euge`ne Ionesco, Theodor Adorno, and Raymond Williams. Yet important sources like Ortega Y Gasset and Jerzy Grotowski didn’t make the cut. The scope


Modern Drama , 53:1 (Spring 2010)


is decidedly western, with little thought as to what modernism meant in non-western settings. Selections from Aime´ Ce´saire, Leopold Senghor, Oswald de Andrade, and Mohan Rakesh, for instance, might have provided a valuable counter-argument to the very notion that pan- or geo-modern- ism is to be assumed. While volume four opens the window to contempor- ary critical responses to modernism, unfortunately, no selection from Hans-Thies Lehmann’s illuminating Post-Dramatic Theatre made it into the gallery of sources. Nonetheless, Puchner’s volumes are testimony to an erudite mind and a striking capacity to synthesize and highlight revealing connections among literary theory, philosophy, and dramatic criticism. The collection offers a great index apparatus; Puchner’s notes, while sparse, provide accurate bibliographic references and include suggestions about additional critical sources. The four volumes, published as part of Routledge’s Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies series, are simply not to be missed by scholars of theatre and performance theory.

to be missed by scholars of theatre and performance theory. EMILY ROXWORTHY . The Spectacle of

EMILY ROXWORTHY. The Spectacle of Japanese American Trauma: Racial Performativity and World War II . Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008. Pp. 238, illustrated. $35.00 (Hb).

Reviewed by John D. Swain, California State University, Northridge

In her book The Spectacle of Japanese American Trauma: Racial Performativity and World War II, Emily Roxworthy re-examines construc- tions of Japanese American identity and exposes how it is essentialized through the performance of spectacle. Roxworthy’s analysis of the World War II Japanese internments as a form of performed spectacle, therefore, provides an important historical and sociological corrective to the accepted domestic U.S. narrative of Japanese Americans as the “model minority.” Roxworthy’s claim is that trauma reduces the victim to passivity, which can then be read and “spectacularized” by the perpetrator as fatalistic acceptance. She argues that the stoicism displayed by Japanese Americans forced unjustly into concentration camps was not a result of ingrained culture but of trauma inflicted by the United States (115). To make her case, Roxworthy goes back to nineteenth-century history to establish the groundwork of the mid-twentieth-century treatment of Japanese in the United States. Roxworthy writes about how “in the case of the internment, theories of trauma and theories of spectacle intersect and converge” (4; emphasis in original). In her introduction, she lays out how the book will progress,

Modern Drama , 53:1 (Spring 2010)