- Neoliberalism and Global Theatres: Performance Permutations ed. by Lara D. Nielsen, Patricia Ybarra
In what ways do theatre and performance reflect the basic conditions and ideologies of contemporary capitalism? And how might they become practicable for the purposes of critique and resistance? Given the increasingly [End Page 133] violent and repressive direction capital has taken in recent decades, discussions surrounding these questions are every bit as urgent as they are challenging, and Neoliberalism and Global Theatres makes a welcome contribution to them. Alongside the recent publication of Rebecca Schneieder’s Performing Remains (2011), TDR’s special issue on “Precarity and Performance” (2012) and Nicholas Ridout’s Passionate Amateurs (2013), among others, it participates in a larger turn in recent theatre- and performance-studies scholarship toward what might be described as a more expressly Marxist orientation,.
These essays are not introductions to neoliberalism for the interested non-academic. Nor are they concerned with defending the merits of neoliberalism as a category of analysis against those who would debate its conceptual-historical coherence. Rather, the book presumes an already thorough familiarity and agreement with the foundational critics of neoliberalism and capital (David Harvey, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Foucault, and Marx). It is addressed to scholars engaged with questions of social welfare and economic justice (1–2). As a study in comparative performance, its global reach – drawing in case studies from across East and South Asia, Latin America, North America, and Africa – is among its most noteworthy assets.
The volume begins with a substantive introduction by Nielsen that briefly adumbrates some of the key characteristics of neoliberalism as an economic configuration (6–7); namely, transnational corporatism, financialization, post-Fordist labour models (including immaterial, affective, and virtuosic forms of labour), and economic restructuring in the form of austerity and privatization measures. But neoliberalism is as much an ideology as a practice, and following Foucault, Nielsen defines it as “a governmental regime” (2–3) responsible for the re/production of a certain kind of citizensubject: one who is flexible, entrepreneurial, and individualist (6–7). In keeping with Foucault’s dictum about politics, it functions to prosecute war by other means against the global third estate (9).
Drawing upon the work of Paolo Virno, Nielsen asserts that performance is uniquely susceptible to commodification under neoliberal conditions, in which “some kinds of work no longer result in a produced object but instead demonstrate symptoms of (artistic) virtuosity” (12). But theatre and performance can also serve as a means to combat neoliberal governmentality, and this political ambiguity is among the contributors’ most central and pressing concerns. It finds its articulation again in Ybarra’s separate essay – a case study on the art and activism of the mostly female Tlaxcalan theatre group, Soame Citlalime – which eloquently illustrates how efforts to “critique neoliberalism” are systematically forced to “speak within its modes of transmission” (113). Hence, the need for “thinking about performance against neoliberalism as neoliberal performance” in its own right (114) and [End Page 134] to find “openings within neoliberal circuits of culture [that] can make critique possible – but from inside, rather than outside its networks” (121).
Of the seventeen essays assembled here, many of the best make their interventions at the site of this double bind and in recognizing the needfulness of immanent critique, they offer some possibilities for resistance tactics. (The book’s contents are divided into four units: on institutions and institutional critique; on transmission, broadly construed; on formal economies – the most heterogeneous and vaguely defined of the four; and on questions of space and site.) For example, Eng-Beng Lim’s analysis of the arts within the global university, reprinted from an earlier publication in Social Text, emphasizes a culturally wide-ranging and interdisciplinary performance scholarship as just one means to resist the “epistemic recidivism” (i.e., neo-colonial Eurocentrism) that results from the neoliberal transnationalization of the academy (54, 63). Patrick Anderson’s contribution, “I Feel for You,” draws on Vischer’s nineteenth-century theories of observer empathy (Einfühlung) to produce...