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Reviewed by:
  • The Performance of Human Rights in Morocco
  • Marvin Carlson (bio)
The Performance of Human Rights in Morocco by Susan Slyomovics (University of Pennsylvania Press, Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights2005).

The first thing that must be said about this book is that it does not in fact do what its title and introduction might lead a reader to expect. The foregrounding of performance in the title is repeated in the introduction, which promises that at the heart of this study" are the "many ways in which everyday life can be viewed as performances of human rights." Examples promised for study are "funerals, eulogies, mock trials, vigils and sit-ins, political rallies, conferences, public testimony and witnessing, storytelling, poetry recitals, and letter-writing campaigns."1

The title and this preliminary statement will almost certainly lead the reader with an interest in performance studies to expect a book somewhat similar in approach to Diana Taylor's model Disappearing Acts, which dealt with just these sorts of concerns as they have been developed by the people of contemporary Argentina.2 Oddly enough, Taylor's book, which one would have thought to have been an excellent model for the sort of performative approach to cultural analysis that Slyomovics is claiming to pursue in contemporary Morocco, is never mentioned by Slyomovics; not even in the bibliography, which contains several works dealing with the disappeared in Argentina. The absence of Taylor's highly relevant study points to an even more basic problem. Among the more than 400 titles listed in the bibliography, there is only one item that directly deals with performance, and this is an introductory article on the subject by Deborah A. Kapchan which appeared in The Journal of American Folklore and which is the only source cited for Slyomovics' discussion of performance in her introduction.3

It is therefore hardly surprising to find that this book is not really about the performance of human rights in Morocco. More accurately, it is a study which contains a certain amount of information about activities that might be analyzed performatively, as Taylor and many other cultural and performance theorists have done with similar material in Africa and Latin America; but this book does not do this. The most obvious performative activities in Slyomovics' list—funerals, mock trials, vigils and sit-ins, political rallies, and conferences—receive very little commentary and even less analysis, especially in their function as cultural performance. The major attention is to textual matters, testimony and witnessing, especially the publication of written and iconic descriptions of prison interiors and interrogation, the creation of poetic statements, and the writing of letters. Even here the matter of [End Page 1122] how torture is enacted in writing is not dealt with in terms of any sophisticated performative analysis, as one may readily see by comparing how Taylor deals with the same subject in her chapter "Writing Torture."4 A chapter in Slyomovics called "Women and Testimony,"5 promises to provide consideration of the profoundly important interaction of gender roles and the performative enactment and revelation of human rights abuses, but a serious discussion of this interaction is never developed. Again, the work of Taylor and other theorists of Latin American human rights performance such as Coco Fusco could have provided some excellent models of what might be but is not done with this material.

If this book is not a study of human rights questions inflected by performance analysis, then what is it? It is in fact a much more traditional and, in terms of material collected and presented, very useful guide to the recent history in Morocco of human rights abuse. Although Slyomovics has not apparently acquainted herself with the literature of performance studies, nor in any observable depth in the extensive human rights literature dealing with Latin America or elsewhere in Africa, she does clearly have excellent knowledge of the literature on human rights abuse in Morocco itself, both scholarly and popular and in English, French, and Arabic. This she brings together in a coherent and occasionally compelling study of the troubled history of human rights in that country since independence in 1956.

After the end of French authority, the French penal system...


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pp. 1122-1123
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