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  • Dismembering Tennessee WilliamsThe Global Context of Lee Breuer's A Streetcar Named Desire

Over the past sixty years, Tennessee Williams has become one of the most widely produced playwrights worldwide; his works have been translated into many languages, and he is considered by some to be the American Shakespeare.1 As new productions reinterpret the meanings of A Streetcar Named Desire, directors, actors, critics, and audiences attempt to answer questions about the global significance of Williams's most canonical text. Contemporary critics' resistance to and dismissal of Ivo van Hove's Streetcar (1999), deconstructed around a bathtub, confirms a culturally constructed "true" interpretation, generally agreed on by American critics, which firmly locates the text as realistic, performed by realistic characters, and set in a realistic New Orleans.2 Lee Breuer's production of Streetcar, performed at the Comédie Française in Paris in 2011, serves as an example of the complicated politics underlying productions of Streetcar that eschew the realism now associated with the original production and the subsequent film, both directed by Elia Kazan. Reading Breuer's production as an example of cross-cultural dialogue on the global stage, I intend to adapt the concept of "counter-memories" as theorized by Michel Foucault to accentuate the distance between Breuer's nonrealistic global contextualization of the play from memories of Kazan's "realistic" American contexts.

In an essay investigating the concept of genealogy via the philosophies of Nietzsche, Foucault develops the term "counter-memory" as a means of discussing the differences between history and reality. To Foucault, counter-memory illustrates an opposition to the monolithic construct of history, which supports the institutionalization of discourse surrounding an author. Foucault claims that the vast difference between constructed history and its counter-memory is a historiographical issue: "We want [End Page 64] historians to confirm our belief that the present rests upon profound intentions and immutable necessities. But the true historical sense confirms our existence among countless lost events, without a landmark or point of reference."3 According to Foucault, when considering the sum of an author's work, there exists a dominant history that is assumed to be true, but there also exists a counter-memory that runs counter to that dominant history. Foucault notes that these oppositions "imply a use of history that severs its connection to memory, its metaphysical and anthropological model, and constructs a counter-memory—a transformation of history into a totally different form of time."4 By transforming the temporality of history, Foucault seeks to recover Nietzsche's ideas from cultural inscription.

Counter-memory, as Foucault describes it, offers an opportunity for historians and critics to escape ideologies that only communicate dominant hegemony. In this analysis, I define counter-memories as disruptions to the culturally inscribed hegemonic reading of a production history. Because Streetcar has entered the American canon as an example of the now globally transmitted institution of American realism, Williams has achieved the status that Foucault attributes to Nietzsche. Williams's works function not only as individual texts that can be interpreted in numerous ways and performed in numerous styles, but also, collectively, as an ideological discourse. In order to adapt Foucault's discursive concept into a practical method for this production history, I assume that much of what has been written about Kazan's production conveys the ideological flaw that Foucault identifies with history. I read moments from Breuer's production as counter-memories to dismember the hegemonic cultural memories surrounding Kazan's production and more thoroughly analyze the global elements beyond a simple comparison to Kazan's.

Dismemberment, in relation to the global conversation inherent in Breuer's production, means more than a metaphorical ripping apart of the normative memories surrounding Williams's corpus, especially as they are remembered as sites of institutionalized American realism. I use the verb "dismember" to represent terms employed in my examination of Breuer's production that emphasize the process of remembering beyond the normative concepts typically evoked by production histories. Thus "dismember" becomes an umbrella term for all of the processes derived from my reconsideration of these counter-memories. Although I do not always use the verb dismember, mainly for the sake...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9937
Print ISSN
1065-4917
Pages
pp. 64-81
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-26
Open Access
No
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