- Terror and Performance by Rustom Bharucha
The literature on terror has grown substantially since 9/11. Most of these books either reinterpret the concept of terror in the light of American war on terror or critically examine terror in the wake of discursive readings of critics such as Edward Said. Surprisingly, both readings underline the Muslim and Judeo-Christian divide. By rethinking terror in the wake of Hobbes’s idea of war of “every man against every man,” Rustom Bharucha’s book Terror and Performance offers a much awaited perspective beyond the Muslim and Judeo-Christian world to the existing scholarship on terror in the field of theatre and performance studies.
Besides being a provocation for the emerging scholarship on terror and performance, the book offers a reengagement with real people who were lost in a rigid dichotomy between subject and object. Above all, in writing terror using the parlance of performance studies, the book, intelligibly, puts humans at the center and challenges state-centric approaches on terror in which humans are often presented as war machines. The book’s content defies partisan feeling that has been running high against the Muslim world after September 11, 2001, by questioning lopsided views of anti-terror political think tanks. In the process of revealing the “undiscovered” contours of terror in continents ranging from Asia to Africa, Bharucha constantly engages with and expands the discourse of his theoretical predecessors such as Tzvetan Todorov, Paul Virilio, Talal Asad, and Mahmood Mamdani.
We are informed that the initial provocation of the book is located in an uncanny accident in the Manila bar, which was the actual site of the Genet [End Page 681] play directed by Bharucha. Three days after the last production of the play, the bar was consumed in a blaze and became a burning site for Bharucha to question the nexus of terror and performance. Although Bharucha has registered this connection before in an essay titled “Genet in Manila: Reclaiming the Chaos of Our Times” (2003), the book provides a larger canvas to “think through it [terror]” (p. 2). In this process of considering, Bharucha destabilizes all hegemonic definitions of terror and frees it from its most circulated definition as premeditated and politically motivated violence. The introduction makes it clear that the book does not address terror at a purely dramaturgical level of theatrical representation but that “it prioritizes those instances of terror which are unscripted, unplanned, undetermined” (p. 20). Following this argument, Bharucha reads performance not as a “rehearsed, time-and-space-bound event framed within the cultural norms of civic institutions like state theatres,” but as an event “linked to social interactions, behaviours, strategies, deceptions, manipulations and negotiations of terror in the public sphere” (p. 21). This reading of performance by Bharucha expands the spectrum of performance studies and makes it go beyond its conventional focus.
Although the book is primarily a performance studies text, chapter 1 briefly engages with the critical methods of theatre studies. Using the vocabulary of theatre studies, Bharucha analyzes the writings of Genet and Artaud, and reads them in the context of brutality and torture. The chapter explores the politics of Genet by reading Genet’s writings against the backdrop of his love for the Palestinian struggle and his defense of the Baader-Meinhof terrorists. Explicating the writings of Artaud, Bharucha rewrites the dynamics of Artaud’s theatre of cruelty, by rereading him as “a victim of medical terror whose life was destroyed by the regulatory mechanisms of clinical psychiatry” (p. 53).
Over the course of 250 pages, the book, divided into four chapters, explores terror in all its implications: personal, public, real, imaginary, voluntary, and involuntary. One of the best examples of this engagement is seen in chapter 1, in which Bharucha rewrites debates connected to 9/11 in the light of his own production of Genet’s The Maids in Manila. The chapter beautifully highlights the confluence of real/voluntary and imaginary/involuntary as the production of The Maids overlapped with the actual protests against the corrupt regime of...