- Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment
Written with expert—and extremely attentive—scholarship, Rebecca Schneider’s Performing Remains is not only a “paradigm-changing book about re-enactment,” as Jerome de Groot describes it, but arguably a book that reinvigorates theatre and performance studies. The work is careful—the author consistently defines her terms and examines them again and again. By “weav[ing] a crosshatched path in multiple directions between performance art, United States Civil War reenactment, performance theory, theatre events, photography, statuary, and all manner of ‘live art,’” Schneider investigates “the temporality of reenactment” (1). “I wonder,” she asks, “not only about the ‘as if’ but also about the ‘what if’: what if time (re)turns? What does it drag along with it?” (2, emphasis original). Schneider succeeds in “troubl[ing] the prevalence of presentism, immediacy, and linear time in most thinking about live performance” (6). By doing so, she consciously questions some of the primary—if not founding—principles of performance studies, including the ephemerality of performance, the relationship of the live to the mediated, and the binary of text/performance. She does all this with an approach to temporality and linear time that is as refreshing as it is innovative. But what’s most exciting about the work is that she theorizes not in opposition to or in contest with other theories of and around performance; rather, she works through the theories of others, asking questions, offering analysis, and asking more questions.
The book is anchored by a Foreword “which is not one”; that is, the opening essay “takes kaleidoscopic turns in intersecting directions, touching on multiple times, variant places, and overlapping fields of academic inquiry” (1). Civil War reenactors often “fight not only to ‘get it right’ as it was but to get it right as it will be in the future of the archive to which they see themselves contributing” (10). Schneider’s use of such performers—indeed, an example of what might be called “lowbrow” in some circles—actually works quite well at challenging antitheatrical bias. These and other questions consume Chapter One, “Reenactment and relative pain.” Schneider pays close attention to history and to those who repeat history. She even unpacks that famous and almost always misquoted saying—pointing out that the correct text, written by George Santayana in 1905, is: “‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’” (40). What Schneider makes most interesting is her question: “wouldn’t remembering history’s mistakes necessitate wrestling with mistakes in the remembering? And what does remembering mistake, like mistaken memory, get right about history in the replaying?” (42).
In Chapter Two, “Finding faux fathers,” Schneider continues to investigate the faux, the second, the fake, the mistake, using Suzan-Lori Parks’s America Play [End Page 223] and Topdog/Underdog and Linda Mussman’s Cross Way Cross. Both playwrights include Abraham Lincoln as a character and expressly play with the not and not not: “In jazz, one cannot accurately say that a tune is misplayed by the riff. So too the history is not mistold via the riff by which Parks retells it. In fact, playing in difference might be one way to get those notes right” (65). Mussman’s Lincoln is in drag, but she is also an example of “temporal drag,” which, like photography, can “drag a historical scene into the live” (75). Schneider adapts the term “temporal drag” from Elizabeth Freeman’s work and returns to it throughout the book, most interestingly in her investigation of performance and photography in Chapter Five.
The third chapter of the book is a revision of Schneider’s 2001 essay “Performance Remains.” The chapter both explains and performs a key argument: that “[t]he afterlife of the written word, set down and yet changing hands, jumping from body to body, eye to mouth, as text is interjected into text, is not entirely dissimilar to the promiscuous tracks of actorly acts” (88). Schneider uses Hamlet and Gertrude Stein in a most interesting...