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Carmen, a Gypsy Geography

Ninotchka Devorah Bennahum

Publication Year: 2013

The figure of Carmen has emerged as a cipher for the unfettered female artist. Dance historian and performance theorist Ninotchka Bennahum shows us Carmen as embodied historical archive, a figure through which we come to understand the promises and dangers of nomadic, transnational identity, and the immanence of performance as an expanded historical methodology. Bennahum traces the genealogy of the female Gypsy presence in her iconic operatic role from her genesis in the ancient Mediterranean world, her emergence as flamenco artist in the architectural spaces of Islamic Spain, her persistent manifestation in Picasso, and her contemporary relevance on stage. This many-layered geography of the Gypsy dancer provides the book with its unique nonlinear form that opens new pathways to reading performance and writing history. Includes rare archival photographs of Gypsy artists.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

...Spanish Caribbean. As Seville was the largest slave port in Europe in the fifteenth century, the African and Caribbean rhythmic influence on the evolution of Gypsy flamenco and the Spanish court influence on dances circulating throughout the Afro-Caribbean were significant...

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pp. xix-xiv

...Writing a book is a labor of love and many people contribute to its final shape. First I must thank my editor, the Editor-in-Chief of Wesleyan University Press, Suzanna Tamminen, for her belief in what she termed a “poetic history” of flamenco and in the idea that the female body — that of the Gypsy dancer — could house history and hold it in the bounds of human form, allowing...

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Theoretical Introduction

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pp. 1-8

...Historians have written hundreds of histories of Spain. Their work explores political, religious, social, and economic change over time. Some writers, like Raymond Carr and Bernard Lewis, have produced seminal texts that constitute a history of things Spanish. Lewis, in particular, is a pleasure to read because of...

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CHAPTER ONE Inventing Carmen: Prosper Mérimée and the Gypsy Presence in Western Europe

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pp. 9-31

...In this chapter I examine the writings of Prosper Mérimée and his lifelong, archeological relationship to the figure of Carmen, whom he develops into myriad fictional shapes throughout his literary career. Mérimée’s historical interest in Carmen parallels the French Romantic obsession with...

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CHAPTER TWO Georges Bizet and the Genealogy of Carmen

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pp. 32-67

...Within the powerful expression that bursts forth from Carmen’s body, the history of the Gypsy in Europe is renewed and reinforced. What Bizet ultimately achieves is not only the art of song but, perhaps more importantly, the art of memory. He reconfigures Mérimée’s understanding of what is most essential in Carmen and Don José: freedom...

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CHAPTER THREE Mythic Space and Ancient Carmen

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pp. 68-92

...Looking closely at Mérimée’s Carmen and her musical transmutation in Bizet, we discovered that Carmen inhabits a liminal space. Across a small gulf of time, we imagined a conversation between Mérimée and Bizet that invokes in the Romantic era a creation myth.3 Carmen is a woman of mythological status: she lives with one foot in life and the other in death. Her body, the landscape...

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CHAPTER FOUR The Gypsy Inside and Outside of History

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pp. 93-131

...If you are left off the map, do you exist? Can a people without a homeland, exiled from every country they enter, have an identity, a sense of themselves drawn from geography and cultural tradition? Is it possible that, if the center keeps shifting, a people can stay alive, cognizant of history in the present? If you travel into exile without return, does your identity disintegrate? What if your people are gone...

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CHAPTER FIVE Gypsies in the Dance Cafés of the Islamic Mediterranean

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pp. 132-152

...Napoleonic Egypt represented the supreme Orientalist crossroad, located geographically in the French Orientalist mind between the ancient worlds of the Middle East and the proto-capitalist societies of Western Europe. “Placed between Africa and Asia, and communicating easily with Europe, Egypt occupies the center of the ancient continent . . . it is the homeland of...

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CHAPTER SIX Picasso, the Bull, and Carmen

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pp. 153-177

...In the history of the Mediterranean world, the bull and the moon goddess survive, absorbed into new rituals, those of the Madonna and the bullfight being the most significant. Carmen’s sacredness as a woman is associated with her beauty, will, and independence — the inability on the part of men to possess her. Her sensuality...

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CHAPTER SEVEN Space and Place in Islamic Spain: The Archeology of Flamenco

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pp. 178-193

...Let us retrace our steps through the architecture and landscapes of Mozarabic Spain, as a path to kinesthetic empathy with the Gypsy experience and a movement toward the archeology of flamenco. Gypsy Flamenco developed in the whitewashed pueblos along the Iberian Peninsula, in particular in Seville, the city of Carmen’s...

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CHAPTER EIGHT Carmen, a Close Reading of a Nomadic Opera

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pp. 194-204

...reception killed Bizet, who was heartbroken and ill at ease with the press. Today, the global list of past and present Carmens since its 1875 premiere is extensive — a genealogy in itself. With HD movie-theater screenings, it now reaches an enormous audience, unimaginable in Bizet’s time. Performed annually in almost every...


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pp. 205-206


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pp. 207-240


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pp. 241-244


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pp. 245-262


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pp. 263-269

About the Author

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pp. 270-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780819573544
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819573537

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013