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Reviewed by:
  • Performance Studies: An Introduction
  • James Harding
Performance Studies: An Introduction. By Richard Schechner. London: Routledge, 2002; 288 pages. $27.95 paper.

The recent publication of Richard Schechner's Performance Studies: An Introduction marks the coming of age of performance studies—with all its interdisciplinary conceits—not just as an acknowledged field of study but as an influential antidiscipline. Replete with photographs, diagrams, and a steady stream of offset excerpts from other primary sources, the book is both visually beautiful and innovatively formatted. Concluding each of its eight chapters with a section on "Things to Think About," "Things To Do," and "Suggested Read-ings," the book is commendable as well for the genuinely serious attention it gives to basic [End Page 535] pedagogical concerns. This attention carries over into the body of the text itself, which is not only marked by generally lucid and jargon-free prose but which is also complemented by bionotes (complete with reference to major works) on virtually every author mentioned in the text. To say that Schechner's book is reader-friendly is a bit of an understatement. It is one of those rare academic publications that is attentive to both the beginning and advanced scholar as well as to both student and teacher.

While all of these elements combine in what amounts to a refreshingly unconventional textbook, that textbook is as much chronicle and documentation as it is introduction. Indeed, one might legitimately characterize Schechner's text as the scrapbook of an emergent twenty-first-century institutional paradigm that, for lack of extant alternatives, couches itself in a disciplinary rhetoric which it ultimately challenges. This is not a circumlocution for saying that the book is interdisciplinary. The interdisciplinary proclivities in Schechner's book subtly raise the question: at what stage does the crossing of disciplinary boundaries cease to be a crossing and become their solvent?

In Schechner's text, the answer to that question emerges from two divergent trajectories that generate a subtle but amazingly provocative metacritical reflection on the organization of knowledge in and beyond the academy. Beneath its glossy appearance, the book is torn between its embrace of institutional discourse and its stark allegiance to the antitraditions of the avant-garde. The more obvious of these two trajectories coincides with the book's recourse to a disciplinary rhetoric that, in familiar terms, would introduce and, indeed, legitimize a field of study that, while established at many institutions, still carries a liminal aura in the profession at large. Since at most institutions performance studies is at best an area of concentration within a traditional theatre major or, more frequently, merely a special topic within the curriculum, the book's gesture toward legitimacy is not only understandable; it is an important barometer of the state of the profession. In this regard, the opening chapter of Schechner's book, "What is Performance Studies?"—for all its interdisciplinary nods—still plays discipline against discipline in an ironic bid to push the profession beyond its own self-imposed boundaries. More than anything else, perhaps it is this opening chapter that distinguishes Schechner's book from previous works, such as Marvin Carlson's Performance: A Critical Introduction (Routledge, 1996), which, rather than thinking in terms of institutional disciplines, explores the contours of a pivotal critical concept that resonates well beyond the study of theatre. While Schechner's subsequent chapters are comparable to Carlson's in that they also offer an array of perspectives on the broader concept of performance—addressing performance, ritual, play, performativity, performing, performance processes and finally global and intercultural performance—the disciplinary frame of the opening chapter situates each of these subsequent discussions within a paradoxical assertion of a discipline without borders—whether those borders organize geography and nations or universities and fields of inquiry.

Nowhere is the rhetoric of this assertion more evident and nowhere is it more radical than in the book's extensive use of lengthy excerpted passages from primary sources as diverse as Guillermo Gómez-Peña on "Globalization's Dark Side," Katie Hafner on "Emotional Simulations for the Military," and Werner Heisenberg on "Particles, Waves, and Uncertainty." These and countless other excerpts (which include a healthy sampling of...


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