“Whether I like it or not, the history of the country in which I live is, to me, a borrowed history”—Albert Memmi, Portrait of a Jew
The word diaspora (Gr: dispersion or scattering) gained currency in infiuential metropolitan (Northern, affiuent, modern) contexts in the late nineteenth century, as the rise of Zionist sentiment and agitation in response to heightened nationalism in Europe gave new impetus to old Jewish desires to find and found Israel in Palestine. It has since then referred most often to the Jewish experience and understanding of physical, philosophical, and religious exile (Hebrew: galut) from the “promised land.” More recently, however, diaspora has been used to characterize other traumatic migrations, most powerfully the dispersion of African people and culture by the slave trade and its aftermath, but also the less than fully willing migration of the Irish, Indians, and others under the sway of transnational empires and economic forces. In its expanded usage, the concept of diaspora also raises questions about its seeming opposite—home—enabling us, for instance, to query the standard presuppositions about the stability of national, regional, or local cultures and affiliations as well as about the presumed instability of migration. The articles and reviews in this special issue explore the terrain marked by diaspora and by the politics of “home” by examining the ways in which performances, texts, languages, and the institutions within which all are embedded are shaped by their location—or dislocation—in and against particular national or regional spaces and times.
We begin with Gad Kaynar’s critical account of the “paradox of Habima,” which relocates the Israeli National Theatre and its first decade or so of work within the international institutions of the modern theatre, especially, but not only, in its Russian manifestation under the aegis of the Moscow Art Theatre. As a dramaturg at Habima and a scholar of theatre in Europe and in Israel, Kaynar examines Habima’s intercultural aspirations from what could be called a critical inner-cultural perspective, arguing that the ongoing authority of Habima as a Hebrew National institution should not obscure the ambivalence of that institution, especially in its early stages, toward the very Zionist and Jewish ideals that inspired it, and the acquiescence of its participants to anti-Jewish stage representations.
The following two articles meet on the terrain of the African diaspora in the Americas. Joseph Roach’s article, “Barnumizing Diaspora,” returns to the site of his book, Cities of the Dead (reviewed in this issue), the selvage of New Orleans, point of contact in the circum-Atlantic route that encompassed Africa, Europe, and the Americas during the ninteenth-century’s most turbulent migrations. Here, the marketing and performance of Catherine Hayes allows Irish- and Anglo-American citizens to shed a tear for suffering Ireland while averting their gaze from the survivors of the Irish Famine who meet a fate in some ways worse than many slaves in ante-bellum Louisiana. Jill Lane’s article on “Blackface Nationalism” examines the blackface stereotypes of the teatro bufo in colonial Cuba to show how the figures of the bozal and the catedrático enabled the dramatization of anti-colonial sentiment as well as criollo anxieties about racial difference inscripted on bodies as well as in speech. While she provides valuable points of comparison between Cuban and U.S. blackface performance, she offers a timely warning against U.S. presumptions of ownership or general authority over the conventions associated with the practice.
Lane’s discussion of the place of mestizaje in the enactment of Cuban nationalism also provides a welcome corrective to readings that reduce the performance of race to the representation of “the Other.” Christopher Balme picks up this theme in “Staging the Pacific” when he argues that “native” performers at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawai’i play with tourists’ expectations of an authentic “Other” and so represent themselves as agents on their own (albeit staged) territory, rather than as spectacular foreign objects of the tourist gaze.
The final article in this special issue brings together the topoi of home and diaspora, own and foreign. Aparna Dharwadker’s essay on “diaspora, nation, and the failure of home” uses...