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  • The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas
  • Marvin Carlson (bio)
The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. By Diana Taylor. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003; 326 pp.; 109 illustrations. $79.95 cloth, $22.95 paper.

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In the introduction to this timely collection of essays, Diana Taylor describes it as her "personal intervention in two fields: performance studies and Latina/o American (hemispheric) studies" (xvii). Taylor weaves together insights, examples, and critical strategies from these two fields and her exemplary book makes a major contribution to both. The title is somewhat misleading, since although it emphasizes the most significant part of the book, it suggests a somewhat different, and more limited project: not the book's association of performance studies and hemispheric studies in general, but the application of material from these fields to the more specific processes of cultural memory.

The archive Taylor defines as the collection of material traces of a culture, such as texts, while the repertoire enacts embodied memory in performance. The division recalls, as Taylor notes, Pierre Nora's famous distinction between lieux de mémoire and milieux de mémoire, but while Nora takes the position that in modern society textual memory has essentially replaced embodied memory, Taylor, working from a performance studies orientation, argues against this model, providing [End Page 191] a series of detailed and convincing studies of various ways in which the repertoire operates both on its own and in conjunction with the archive, to create and sustain cultural memory.

The opening chapter, after a grounding discussion on archive and repertoire, illustrates the complex relationship between these two approaches to memory as they were utilized in the struggle for control of cultural materials and images in the postcolonial period, especially in Mexico. This in turn leads naturally into the following two chapters, both dealing with the colonial project and cultural memory. The first begins with a detailed analysis of the performative scenario of discovery and continues with an illuminating discussion of a famous modern performance piece, Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña's Two Undiscovered Amerindians (1992). The next chapter uses Mexican dramatist Emilio Carballido's play Yo también hablo de la rosa (I, Too, Speak of the Rose, 1965) as an entry into the relationships of embodied memory and racial mixing.

Chapter 4, devoted to the Latin TV star Walter Mercado, continues the exploration of the performance of identity and the troubling of boundaries performance allows, thus it is rather more about cultural expression than cultural memory, the claimed focus of the book. Chapter 5, however, clearly returns to memory, and more specifically to memorialization, studying the marking of the death of Princess Diana in Latin America, with its curious melding of a foreign archive and a native repertoire. Chapter 6 also deals with an interaction of archive and repertoire in a striking and powerful example of performance and cultural memory: the work of the Children of the Disappeared in demanding recognition of a suppressed past, a trauma-driven cultural expression.

The subsequent chapter takes the relation between trauma, memory, and performance in another direction, studying the work of the Peruvian experimental theatre Yuyachkani, bearing bodily witness to the violence committed against indigenous people. Here, when the archival record has been suppressed or destroyed, the repertoire of performance provides the only testimony. Chapter 8 seemed to me, like chapter 4, something of a digression: an analysis of the work of Brazil's Denise Stoklos. Certainly the themes of intercultural communication, gender expression, and political performance connect this chapter in various ways to the others, yet its relation to the operations of cultural memory is not readily apparent. Memory and memorialization return to the center of chapter 9, which deals with the reactions of the author and several friends to the events of September 11 and with some of the many strategies of memorialization and dealing with trauma that they experienced themselves and witnessed in others. Chapter 10, a kind of coda, revisits the book's concerns with a more sophisticated and nuanced view of performance in this hemisphere. More...


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pp. 191-192
Launched on MUSE
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