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Fall 2008 71 Hala Khamis Nassar is an assistant professor of ModernArabic Literature and Culture in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization and in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University. She is the recipient of a Rockefeller Fellowship and has taught courses on contemporary Arab culture and literature at Bethlehem University, Palestine, University of California Berkeley, Columbia University, and Evergreen State College. She has published articles on Palestinian and Arab cultural productions. She is the senior editor of Mahmoud Darwish: Exile’s Poet (Interlink 2007), Performing the Nakba on the Palestinian Stage (forthcoming Winter 2008 from Interlink). She is currently working on two manuscripts, on urban insanity inArab women’s fiction, and the performance of militant iconography in the Middle East. Joseph Shahadi is a Ph.D. candidate in Performance Studies at New York University. A 2004 winner of the Performance Studies Award, he writes on the intersections between contemporary performance, politics, and culture. He has co-convened seminars on Arab theatre and performance at the American Society for Theatre Research in 2006 and 2007. A Brooklyn-based performance artist, his work has been produced in New York, regionally, and internationally. Introduction: Articulations of Contemporary Arabic Culture in Theatre and Performance Edward Said famously postulates that in order to organize and explain itself to itself the West needs the East as both a space of fantasy and an abject other. In other words, the imaginary construction “Western civilization” requires an external limit which, in a manner of speaking, will act as the “black” background against which its “white” borders become visible. The creation of this limit demands the generation and management of a parallel imaginary construct: the “Middle East.” Said posits that the “idea” of the Orient is “an integral part of European material civilization and culture.” Therefore, “the Orient has helped to define (the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience.”1 However, despite the intimacy of this foundational relationship, the West’s understanding of the East is perpetually colored by destructive stereotypes, which infect discourse at the level of culture, politics, the law, and even academic inquiry. To speak about scholars, media, and the Middle East, Said reminds us, is to “speak first of the contemporary United States.And the U.S.” To discuss the Middle East, one has to take into account how the mainstream press and broadcast media are different from the ones either on the left or right wing. This distinction also applies between scholarly work on the Middle East, often excluded from certain venues and publications, and from those that enjoy widespread circulation. Since Said wrote these words in 1986, scholarly work on the Middle East has often had difficulty finding its footing in mainstream academic venues and publications, due to this historic (if imaginary) binary, a situation that has become even more complex in recent years. Classical orientalism as an approach to the Middle East, with its familiar dominant motifs and essentialist themes—“Islamic fundamentalism,” “the oppression of the veil,” “primitive East vs. civilized West,” etc.—has gained 72 Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism renewed vigor since September 11, 2001. The cumulative effect of these dominant narratives about the Middle East, in spite of many well-intentioned efforts, reinforces a simplistic outlook on complex and diverse cultures and performances. Presenting the Middle East from one axis and an orientalist point of view raises questions of impartiality, detachment, expertise, knowledgability, and objectivity providing insights into the Middle East “while remaining hostile, or at least antithetical to and substantially reserved, about its central object: the religion and culture of Islam.”2 In light of this one understands why theatre, cultural festivals, plays, novels, and critical essays from the Middle East are rarely discussed. As guest editors of this special section of JDTC we would like to offer alternate views to the study of Middle Eastern cultures and identities by exploring performances from the Middle East from multiple viewpoints and disciplinary foci. The idea for this special section originated at the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) conference in 2007, where we co-convened a seminar called Articulations of Contemporary Arabic Culture in Theatre and Performance. It...


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