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Reviewed by:
  • Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cross-Cultural Transactions in Australasia
  • Ric Knowles
Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cross-Cultural Transactions in Australasia. By Helen Gilbert and Jacqueline Lo. Studies in International Performance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007; pp. x + 245. $74.95 cloth.

Helen Gilbert and Jacqueline Lo's Performance and Cosmopolitics investigates the relationship between "the new cosmopolitanism" and performance, exploring the mechanics of cosmopolitanism within the social, cultural, and political landscape of Australia. "New cosmopolitanism" attempts to move beyond both the Western, elitist aura of the old cosmopolitan model, and beyond old models of the multi-, inter, and cross-cultural in a number of ways and with a number of investments. On the one hand, there is the sophisticated global cosmopolitanism that is seen as politically necessary to bolster economic globalization, replace multiculturalism as a strategy of "ethnoracial management" (17), and evade multiculturalism's aura of social engineering. As Hugh Mackay says, "cosmopolitanism sounds like something we achieved, not something that was imposed on us" (qtd. on 17). This is old white cosmopolitanism refashioned for the new age, an aesthetic and consumer cosmopolitanism that transcends xenophobic nationalisms, but that, like "white multiculturalism" (Ghassan Hage, qtd. on 87), celebrates the aestheticization, reification, and commodification of cultural difference for the well-heeled. On the other hand, there is a recent array of "critical cosmopolitanism[s]" (Paul Rabinow, qtd. on 4) emerging out of the US academy and intended to address the failures of multiculturalism. Gilbert and Lo cite James Clifford's "discrepant cosmopolitanism," Mitchell Cohen's "rooted cosmopolitanism," Benita Parry's "post-colonial cosmopolitanism," and Pnina Werbner's "working-class cosmopolitanism," all of which carve out "middle-path alternatives between ethnocentric nationalism and particularistic multiculturalism" as cosmopolitanisms "from below" (5).

Gilbert and Lo classify these new cosmopolitanisms into three types: moral (rooted in the Kantian idea of a "universal community" and hospitality); political (rooted in transnational governance and notions of cosmopolitan democracy); and cultural (rooted in a disposition of openness to divergent cultures and a practice of navigating across cultural boundaries). Arguing that cosmopolitanism "is increasingly gaining purchase as a form of sociocultural capital" (10), and pointing out "the ways in which specific ideological positions unravel at the point of embodiment" (such as in performance) (12), they set out to examine how, in practice rather than theory, the sociocultural capital of these new cosmopolitanisms circulate within a wide range of Australian performance-cultural practices and sites—both intra- and internationally. Their central contribution is to argue that "there is, inevitably, a politics to the practice of cosmopolitanism—a cosmopolitics that is caught up in hybrid spaces, entangled histories, and complex human corporeographies" (11, emphasis in original).

The book can be divided into two parts. The first, in four chapters, functions as a survey of Australian cross-cultural performance, focusing on representations of and by Aboriginal and Asian experience and performance forms, and analyzing the central motifs and problematics of cross-cultural praxis in Australasia. Gilbert and Lo begin, in chapter 1, with familiar postcolonial analyses of representations of, and very occasionally by but rarely for, Aboriginals and Asians in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century performances, which were largely "anti-cosmopolitan" in their support of a white settler invader nation in the making. The best parts of this chapter are those where cracks and anxieties show through, as in the 1909 "Asian invasion" play White Australia, where excessive focus on "extreme whiteness" is seen to betray whiteness as a construct, unconsciously making it visible, marked, and therefore vulnerable. But the book comes into its own when it surveys the contemporary scene in chapters 2–4: "Indigenizing Australian Theatre," "Asianizing Australian Theatre," and "Marketing Difference at the Adelaide Festival." These chapters expose many of the hypocrisies of political and economic opportunism in Australia's new turn to its Aboriginal cultures and to Asia. They also celebrate many of the successes of evolving Aboriginal, Asian, and cross-cultural performance cultures. But they are most effective because they locate the analyses within specific national and global social, cultural, and political contexts, and because they offer nuanced analyses of complex negotiations across different stakes and scripts as assimilation, co-optation, codification, and exoticization trade off against new...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 319-320
Launched on MUSE
2008-06-25
Open Access
No
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