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Comparative Literature Studies 40.1 (2003) 81-88

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Performance Crossing Boundaries

Eugene Eoyang

East of West: Cross-cultural Performance and the Staging of Difference. Edited by Claire Sponsler and Xiaomei Chen. New York: Palgrave, 2000. x + 230pp. $49.95

C. Clifford Flanigan was a colleague of mine in the Comparative Literature Program at Indiana University for over twenty years. His primary interest was in medieval drama, and he had a particular fondness for Christian liturgy, which he sometimes help to stage with early music enthusiasts in the Indiana University School of Music. Cliff may have been a medievalist, but he was far from medieval in his mindset. He always reminded me less of a monk than a friar, for his habits were far from ascetic, and his appetites, for learning, for friendship, and for the quotidian pleasures, were protean. What he lacked in discipline he more than made up for in a zest for life. His teaching can be characterized as interactive; what for others was only metaphorical, for Cliff was literally true: he learned as much from his students as he taught. What he conveyed was an equal enthusiasm for the student's field of interest; and an even-handed respect for any topic as intellectually worthy. I can imagine no tribute to Cliff Flanigan more worthy than this compilation of ten essays, written by eight of his students and two of his colleagues.

That the collection may be characterized as "motley"—far from being a criticism, is a reflection of the vitality and the breadth of Cliff's teaching. Only two of the essays—Karen Winstead's "Vulfolaic the Stylite: Orientalism and Performing Holiness in Gregory's Histories" and Kathleen Ashley's "'Strange and Exotic': Representing the Other in Medieval and Renaissance Performance"—focus on Cliff's special interests on the medieval period. The others range chronologically from the ancient Greek (Marvin Carlson's "The Macaronic Stage") to the contemporary Korean [End Page 81] (Jinhee Kim's "On Making Things Korean: Western Drama and Local Tradition in Yi Man-hûi's Please Turn Out the Lights). The essays are organized into three sections: Carlson's study of "The Macaronic Stage," Claus Clüver's update on "Concrete Poetry and the New Performance Arts," and Winstead's piece on "Vulfolaic the Stylite" comprise the section labeled "Textual Border Crossing: Linguistic, Semiotic, Performative"; Kathleen Ashley's "'Strange and Exotic': Representing the Other in Medieval and Renaissance Performance," Kim's "On Making Things Korean," Sheldon Lu's "Representing the Chinese Nation-State in Filmic Discourse," and Xiaomei Chen's "The Making of a Revolutionary Stage: Chinese Model Theatre and Its Western Influences" comprise the second section, titled, "Occident Meets Orient: Nation, State, and Local Tradition." And the final three contributions—Cynthia Erb's "King Kong in Johannesburg: Popular Theatre and Public Protest in 1950s South Africa," Claire Sponsler's "Traveling Players: Brazilians in the Rouen Entry of 1550," and Robert L. A. Clark's "South of North: Carmen and French Nationalisms" fall under the rubric, "Crossing Other Borders: The Politics of Co-optation."

To say that these divisions are factitious and forced, a product of editorial ingenuity, is not to deny their validity. A more ethnocentric division could have been entertained, with one section grouping the three Asian essays together—Kim's on Korean theatre, Chen's on China's revolutionary theatre, and Lu's on contemporary Chinese film, another comprising the essays involving only the Western tradition—Carlson's on Greek theatre, Winstead on the depiction of holiness in Gregory, Clark's history of the performance history of Bizet's Carmen, and Ashley's report on representing the other in the medieval and Renaissance periods; and the final section comprising those essays that are explicitly cross-cultural: Clüver's on Concrete Poetry, Cynthia Erb's analysis of the American film classic King Kong in South Africa, Sponsler's report on the appearance of a Brazilian traveling troupe in France in the sixteenth century.

These transverse and interdimensional relationships make categorization extremely difficult and utlimately futile. There are parallels between the essays regardless of...


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