Epilogue: The End of Nostalgia
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Epilogue: The End of Nostalgia In Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, Joseph Roach writes: Performance, in other words, stands in for an elusive entity that it is not but that it must vainly aspire both to embody and replace . Hence flourish the abiding yet vexed affinities between performance and memory, out of which blossom the most florid nostalgias for authenticity and origin. (Roach 1996, 3-4) Focused on performance practices in London in the eighteenth century and New Orleans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Roach's formulation is also useful for understanding the performance history of classical Athens. In this book, I have argued that the theater and its critical discourses in ancient Greece-and, by extension, in the European canon-are forms of a cultural nostalgia. This model of cultural production, born from the desire to resurrect an idealized and ever receding past and the masculine subject who occupies and sanctions that past, is obviously tied to the notion of memory as Roach describes it. In the Greek context, the importance of memory for preserving the great deeds of the great men of the past has long been recognized as the enabling mechanism of the epic. But it is obvious that this act of preservation does not end with the epic. Nor is memory a disinterested human phenomenon. Rather, like the history it makes possible, memory is a function of selection and deletion. I have tried to show in this book that the Muses-the daughters of Greek cultural memory-are also daughters of desire and, more precisely, that desire and memory are the active agents of the Greek theater both as a collection of plots and as a history of social practices. In temporal terms, both memory and desire allude to a perpetual looking back. Yet they are also predicated on a perpetual deferral-a deferrral of present time in the case of memory and of present satisfaction in the case of desire. But these rather abstract notions fail to 245 Acting Like Men address the more important and difficult issue of cultural specificity, that is, of how we come to understand memory and desire as the twin sources of particular forms of cultural production. In the ancient Greek context, desire and memory create and sustain what I have called the normative masculine subject of (Western) antiquity, whether as a figure in epic poetry, in monumental sculpture, in historical or ethnographic narrative, or in theatrical performance. And whether we take them to be the sources of specific forms of representation (like drama) or of socialand academic practices,memoryand desireare ideological,political , and gender specific. Thus, when I say that the Greek theater is an overtly disciplinary space, I am referring not only to its role in the preservation of a Greek style masculinity but also to its prominence in the history of classics as an academic discipline. As the most highly prized examples of the "flowering" of Greek culture, the dramatic texts of fifth-century Athens have borne much of the burden of shaping and sustaining a narrative of the aesthetic, political, and cultural virtues of ancient Greece. The plots of individual tragedies and comedies are frequently cited as evidence for those virtues. But the representation of dramatic characters and their situations cannot be disengaged from the theatrical practices by which they become a form of public display and academic study. Those practices have a history that helps us to better understand both the dramatic plots and their civic context. I have argued that that history is produced in representations of bodily display in the epic, of tyranny in the early political history of Athens, and of the Dionysiac experience in Greece and Athens. There are certainly other scenes from the vast panorama of Greek antiquity that contribute to this history; the theater-like use of the first person in lyric comes immediately to mind.1 But the aforementioned representations have seemed to me to be the most useful for illustrating the ways in which Greek self-representation is constituted in theater-like acts. It has become a commonplace in American academic writing to assert that any account of cultural production must acknowledge the primacy of ethnicity, class, and gender. The challenge is to demonstrate how this primacy represents itself in a particular historical or cultural 1. See duBois 1996 for a relevant discussion of Sappho's poetic persona. See also Stehle 1997. Epilogue 247 context. As I suggested in my introduction, critical accounts of...



Subject Headings

  • Nostalgia -- Greece.
  • Men -- Greece.
  • Nostalgia in literature.
  • Gender identity -- Greece.
  • Masculinity -- Greece.
  • Men in literature.
  • Greek drama -- History and criticism.
  • Literature and society -- Greece.
  • Gender identity in literature.
  • Drama -- Psychological aspects.
  • Masculinity in literature.
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