- Politics and Performance in Post-Dictatorship Argentine Film and Theatre by Philippa J. Page
"Performance" and "performativity" are terms that have become rather common when discussing post-dictatorial politics in Argentina. Leigh Payne, for instance, provided an original perspective on the country's fairly recent historical events through a detailed analysis of the performative elements present in the public confessions of individuals responsible for past state violence (Unsettling Accounts: Neither Truth nor Reconciliation in Confessions of State Violence. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008). Antonius Robben, for his part, also presented the element of performativity, although he did not give it that name, in his article on the 1983 public trials of the Junta commanders ("How Traumatized Societies Remember: The Aftermath of Argentina's Dirty War." Cultural Critique, 59, Winter 2005, 120-164).
Philippa J. Page's volume applies this interest in performance and politics to theatre and cinema as media that wanted to "re-establish their agency as politically and socially engaged art forms" in the period that followed the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina. According to Page both, film and theatre, enjoyed a particularly rich period of societal influence during the 1960s and 1970s, even though Argentina as a whole was suffering under military dictatorships at the time. What seems to differentiate theatre and cinema in the 1960s and 1970s from the 1976-1982 dictatorship is the ambivalence that plagued these media in the latter period when they enjoyed a heightened status as agents of social change. Moreover the experience of the 1976-82 military dictatorship differed from the military governments of the 1960s and 1970s in that it wiped out political opposition by using disappearances, kidnappings, and government-sponsored torture. The post-dictatorial period after 1983 did not see theatre and film reprise the utopian and socially-committed impulses of the past; instead, these media engaged in [End Page 57] a process of "re-politicisation [sic] and socialization" (2) that was indeed preoccupied with politics, but also with questions of identity, genre, and hybridization as well as the boundaries between theatre, film and politics. Starting in 1983, societal mores were becoming increasingly de-politicized in Argentina, a phenomenon that Page attributes to the collapse of the left, to "the fact that politics can no longer be mobilized along specific ideological lines" (3), and to Argentina's opening up to neoliberalism and globalization. The latter tended to increase the "aestheticisation" (3) of politics. Following performance theorist Richard Schechner, Page's volume examines the boundaries between aesthetic and politics, as theatre and film negotiated the aestheticisation of politics and the politicization of aesthetics and provided a postmodern response to modern ideals of historical progress until then identified with utopian political models and the autonomy of the art object. Each of the chapters of Page's examination takes as its point of departure a series of appropriations made by theatre and film from each other, as well as from neighboring genres, art forms and media. Those appropriations are instrumental in examining the boundaries between theatre and film, their collaborations through the codes they share as performance arts, and their goal to carve a space for themselves as legitimate narrators of the nation as against the dominant genres of literature and television.
The volume's introduction maps out the theoretical framework Page uses in her examination of "contemporary Argentine theatre and cinema through the optics of genre and performance" (4), focusing on the ways in which the political enters into the genres' aesthetic forms and the ways in which the fluidity among the genres' boundaries generated anxiety about their autonomy. Page also discusses the dimension of hybridity which, according to her reading of García Canclini, provides a "fundamental paradigm in conceptualizing Latin America's inconsistent experience of (post)modernity" (5). Genre crossing and hybridization are not new to Argentine culture, and Page calls attention to their presence in works such as Sarmiento's Facundo and Borges' short stories. Indeed, hybridity can be said to be at the core of the culture in a nation built on waves of immigration...