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  • Editorial Comment:“Modernism”
  • Penny Farfan

In Bertolt Brecht’s theory and theatre, to treat something as if in quotation marks is to submit it to a process of alienation or “making strange” whereby that which has seemed “the most obvious thing in the world” is rendered at once familiar and unfamiliar.1 “Modernism” itself might be said to have been subjected to a process of alienation in recent years, as the so-called new modernist studies has problematized and expanded the traditional periodization, geography, style, and address of modernism.2 This rethinking of modernism has been integrally linked with the challenges to canonical Western modernism that have been posed from the critical and theoretical perspectives of feminist, gender, and queer studies, cultural studies, transnational, global, and intercultural studies, postcolonial studies, and critical race studies, among others. This issue of Theatre Journal exemplifies some of the ways in which theatre studies scholars are engaged in interrogating modernism both as it has traditionally been understood within the field and as it is currently being reconceptualized within the broader terrain of modernist studies.

Calling for a “planetary modernist studies” that reorients the field away from its traditional Anglo-European focus, Susan Stanford Friedman has argued for an understanding of modernism “in its different geohistorical locations and periods as a powerful domain within a particular modernity, not something outside of it, caused by it, or responding belatedly to it.” “Every modernity,” she argues, “has its distinctive modernism,” and therefore a planetary modernist studies must recognize “different forms [of] representational rupture … in connection with different modernities.”3 This insight is central to Aparna Dharwadker’s essay “Modernism, ‘Tradition,’ and History in the Postcolony: Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghashiram kotwal (1972),” which opens this issue. Despite Friedman’s caution that “modernist studies [cannot] be planetary if it is monolingual”4 and despite increasing attention to what Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel have called “geomodernisms,” by which they mean “a locational approach to modernisms’ engagement with cultural and political discourses of global modernity,”5 Dharwadker notes that there has been insufficient attention to non-European languages within modernist studies. Consequently, she observes, although “Indian-language theatre of the second half of the twentieth century contains the largest clustering of ‘modernist,’ as well as ‘postcolonial,’ drama outside the circuits of Euro-American textuality and performance, … the qualities that define it as a notable formation also contribute to its virtual exclusion from discussions of postcolonial and global modernisms.” The recent expansions of the field in what Douglas Mao and Rebecca Walkowitz have described as “temporal, spatial, and vertical directions”6 must therefore further extend to encompass language as a critical axis—what Dharwadker calls the expressive or lexical dimension of modernism. Vijay Tendulkar’s 1972 play Ghashiram kotwal, written in Marathi and set in the late eighteenth century, serves as a case in point, in that the play’s modernism is linked closely to its positioning in relation to the Marathi literary tradition, and, more specifically, to Tendulkar’s departure from the prevalent theatrical mode of social realism and his revision of [End Page x] the “theatre of roots.” In setting the form of the play in tension with its content, Dharwadker argues, Tendulkar critiques “cultural postures that valorize Indian/Hindu concepts of purity and piety and enforce heroic rather than satiric or ironic views of society and nation.” The features that mark Ghashiram kotwal as modernist in Dharwadker’s analysis are comparable to, and produce affects associated with, Euro-American modernism, yet they arise from the playwright’s engagement with Indian tradition: the play does not exemplify an “alternative” or “other” modernism as defined against Western modernism, but is modernist in and on its own terms.

In “A Modernist Audience: The Kawakami Troupe, Matsuki Bunkio, and Boston Japonisme,” Tara Rodman suggests that modernism is not necessarily an inherent property of the artwork itself, but may in fact arise from particular local and historical circumstances that condition the interplay between artwork and audience to determine the work’s reception as modernist. The Kawakami troupe was known in late-nineteenth-century Japan for its efforts to modernize the theatre, moving away from Kabuki style to encompass contemporary settings, topical political content...


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