- Peace in Pieces:A Postmodern Study of Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus
The re-writing of history is therefore an endless task.—Trinh Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other
In her essay “Possessions,” Suzan-Lori Parks questions “the history of History,” calling a play “a blueprint of an event: a way of creating and rewriting history through the medium of literature.”1 Parks’s endeavor to create “a blueprint” of Saartjie Baartman’s history in her pseudohistorical play Venus manifests that she takes issues with the represented history in order to challenge any totalizing view of history and insert her own mininarratives into the context of history.2 The insertion of her mininarratives is an attempt to deconstruct the metanarratives of white supremacist racist and sexist logics that have maintained hegemonic relations of power and legitimation and to “otherize” the represented history rather than authorize it.
In addition, through reinscribing and restaging the Venus’s history, Parks contributes to exposing and re-membering of history and questions the fixed identity imposed on people of African descent. She re-members the past in order to question the present modes of thoughts and stereotypes formed based on those representations. As Jeanette R. Malkin observes, through ‘“bringing up’ the past,” Parks re-members the past, and “by conflating and displacing the chronologies of the past,” she distances and even attempts to forget the past.3 To create the dialectic of re-memberment and distance, Parks makes repeated references to a wide variety of materials, but to distance them, she revises and recontextualizes them. The implication of hosting a wide range of other materials is that postmodern drama does not deny the existence of represented history but attempts to reenvision or retheatricalize it, which stands as rehistoricization of history.
Rehistoricization is an attempt to offer a reinscribing of history from new perspectives that can help to redefine the views of history and fill readers and/or audiences with new significations. Through questioning the total concept of History and replacing it with many histories, rehistoricization provides the ground for the [End Page 29] arrival of different narratives of an event and accordingly creates a dynamic view of history, or “history of becoming.” Unlike “history of being,” history of becoming no longer sees history as a static, fixed entity but an open, fluid, and dynamic system that is constantly in flux.4
Postmodern drama also sees history as a set of linguistic constructs or manmade discourses that are neither given nor natural and are pregnant with a number of devices that make them indeterminate. Indeterminacies save the texts from closure and completion, make them ambiguous and equivocal, and open them to different interpretations. Since postmodern drama maintains that there exists no absolute truth, it follows that there exists no basis for absolute interpretation; rather, interpretations are individually and/or socially constructed, and the interests of individuals and/or groups can play a significant role in forming their interpretations. Thus, indeterminacies can change passive readers and/or audiences to active agents who can function as coproducers with their participatory roles.
In this essay, I explore the repercussions that postmodern drama has exerted on Parks’s Venus. I first explore the wide range of intertexts, metatexts, and paratexts used in the play and argue that the inter/meta/paratexts help Parks to recontextualize and rehistoricize the Venus’s history. I then show how Parks links the past to the present so as to reform the history of the present, and argue that the link between the past and the present enables the playwright to revise and reshape the represented knowledge of the past and history, surpass the history of being, and move toward the history of becoming. I then focus on indeterminacies as a feature of postmodernism in this play to show how the use of indeterminacies, embodied in the play’s themes, form, figures, and language, creates heterodoxy and a plurality of interpretations, undermining the playwright’s authority over her play and its performances.
Inter/Meta/Paratextuality and Revision
As Henry Louis Gates, Jr., writes, “It is clear that black writers read and critique other black texts as an act of rhetorical self-definition...