restricted access The Dubious Spectacle: Extremities of Theater, 1976-2000 by Herbert Blau (review)
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Reviews tice, academics and activism, artists and critics, with a discourse on kinship, on utopia, on love" (149). For those of us who identify with Dolan's conceros, Geographies ofLearning may serve as an inspirational blueprint. However, in documenting some of the serious conflicts both within and aroong the disciplines of theatre and performance studies, women's studies, and lesbian/gay/queer studies, it also invites us to re-examine exactly what can be shared among them. With theatre /performance studies caught in its own theory/practice divide, women's studies focused primarily on women's experiences, and gay/lesbian/queer studies split over such divergent approaches as feminist materialism and queer perfonnativity, finding common ground may not be as easy as Dolan would wish. While Geographies ofLearning makes it very clear that we all have to do our bit to promote social justice, mapping the most productive course to follow may be a somewhat more difficult task. HERBERT BLAU. The Dubious Spectacle: Extremities of Theater, 1976-2000. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. Pp. 347ยท $54.95 (Hb); $19.95 (Pb). Reviewed by Robert F. Gross, Hobart and William Smith Col/eges The Dubious Spectacle can be described either as one performance text and nineteen essays on subjects ranging from King Lear to photography and experimental music, or as twenty performance texts, all on the subject of Herbert Blau. Although both descriptions are accurate, my experience of reading the volume definitely tended to favor the latter. Blau is not only a celebrated director and theoretician but also a notable personality in American academic theatre who has often been invited to appear at conferences and publish in journals and anthologies to contribute his distinctive and now very familiar "take" on matters of performance. Here are his appearances at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the Modem Language Association, and conferences on Harold Clurman and Eugene O'Neill; his contributions to volumes on Tennessee Williams and Maria Irene Fornes; and pieces that were published in Performing Arts Journal, New Literary History, and other scholarly journals. Here we repeatedly encounter Blau primarily as a scholarly celebrity, presenting himself for an audience largely composed of knowledgeable admirers. These short, often occasional pieces add little to Blau's considerable reputation . As in most books of this kind, arguments are truncated, subtleties ignored, and points repeated. Do we really need to be told five times that the author directed the American premiere of Mother Courage (xi, 60, '4',257, 490 REVIEWS 30' )? Over halfway through the volume, the author himself feels caught in a tedious cycle of repetition: "I am beginning to feel like the Ancient Mariner wi,h his baleful eye telling the same s'ory," he admits (, 8, ), To encounter Blau at his best, one is belter off turning to Take Up the Bodies (t982), Blooded Thought (1982), or The Audience ('990), all volumes that allow him to spin out his arguments at greater length and with greater subtlety. Here, he rarely has the time, or the inclination, to patiently work out the implications of the thinkers to whom he refers, and these fleeting references often make the writing unnecessarily obscure. When a single page (308) is studded with references to Stanislavski, Freud, Lacan, Baudrillard, and Christopher Bollas (along with glancing references to historical materialism and deconstruction), you can be sure that none of these complex thinkers is being given his due. At the worst, these scattered, undeveloped references appear as little morc than name-dropping for Blau's highbrow audience. And yet The Dubious Spectacle is interesting precisely for the spectacle of Blau performing Blau. Here the theoretician emerges with greater clarity than usual from within his theorizing. Every bit as obsessive as the Ancient Mariner , Blau is often equally compelling. Although he continues to relish the spectacle of himself as Lear on the heath, shouting "kill, kill, kill, kill, kill" at the sight of the American theatre's idiocies (55), he more often presents himself here as a director in retirement - a Prospera who has abjured his rough magic and returned to Milan. "] am not still doing theater," he reveals with perturbation in the final essay (310). A director who...