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  • Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible by Malik Gaines
  • Camille S. Owens (bio)
Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible. By Malik Gaines. New York: New York University Press, 2017; 248 pp.; illustrations. $89.00 cloth, $28.00 paper, e-book available.

Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible. By Malik Gaines. New York: New York University Press, 2017; 248 pp.; illustrations. $89.00 cloth, $28.00 paper, e-book available.

In Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left, Malik Gaines argues that black performers across 1960s music, theatre, cinema, and experimental art harnessed the decade's energies of "excess" (3) to radically destabilize gendered, racialized, and capitalist systems of dominance. These acts of disruption were as revolutionary as they were provisional. The performances of sonic affect, antistate critique, queer sexual dissent, and gendered spectacle that Gaines traces did not programmatically reorder social relations; they instead left ambivalent and ephemeral imprints that Gaines limns with care. Constellating Nina Simone's defiant performance personae, Ghanaian black feminist theatre by Efua Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo, the cinematic collaborations of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Günther Kaufmann, and the queer communal life-world of the San Francisco Cockettes into a genealogy of possibility, Gaines contributes a rich archive and an original approach to black performance and its temporal, political, and representational dimensions.

Gaines's emphasis on the critical possibilities of black queer and feminist performance resonates with paradigms of utopia, excess, and afro-alienation generated by scholars José Esteban Muñoz, Tavia Nyong'o, and Daphne Brooks, yet Gaines offers a unique location from which to theorize. While writing in conversation with this body of scholarship, he locates the outskirts of the Left as a particular site of black performative energy. For Gaines, the transgressive, radical, and "excessive sixties" (3), the transnational routes of African diaspora, and blackness as a historical and representational sign form the "three complicit registers" (4) that together collate the subjects of his study. The US civil rights movement, the unfolding of West African independence, anticapitalist social movements of postwar Germany, and queer scenes of late-1960s California comprise the Left through which the subjects of Gaines's study embody and animate heterogeneous forms of dissent. While Gaines risks reifying the Left as putatively straight, white, and male in relation to its queer, female, and black margins, he deftly troubles this relation by identifying the multidirectional circuits of power and multiple sites of articulation that comprised these networks of political affiliation; for Gaines, outskirts and margins do not wholly conflate.

Gaines reads archives of live performance footage, scripts and lyrics, cinema, interviews, and memoirs to excavate these circuits. In chapter 1, "Nina Simone's Quadruple Consciousness," Gaines multiplies Du Boisian double consciousness to explore Simone's virtuosic deployment of genre, affect, and protest to marshal "multiple positionality [as] a source of provisional power" (22). Detailing how Simone drew jazz and blues traditions, Brechtian alienation effects, and Marxian analysis into her own affective alchemy, Gaines suggests that Simone produced a potent ambivalence that "staged agency where it [was] a structural impossibility" (20). In chapter 2, "Efua Sutherland, Ama Ata Aidoo, the State, and the Stage," Gaines analyzes [End Page 161] the texts of Sutherland's plays, Edufa (1962) and Foriwa (1962), and Aidoo's The Dilemma of a Ghost (1964) as they challenged the Ghanaian state's imperative to create a synthetic "African Personality" (55) by presenting tensions of gender and diasporic alienation as central to their dramatic dilemmas.

Chapter 3, "The Radical Ambivalence of Günther Kaufmann," explores the eponymous black Bavarian actor's role as a "radical agent" (111) in Fassbinder's filmic oeuvre. Considering works such as Gods of the Plague (1969) and Pioneers in Ingolstadt (1970), Gaines argues that as an emblem of difference, a sexualized object, and an insurrectionist revolutionary, Kaufmann disrupted German national identity and sexual politics while withholding utopian alternatives. Kaufmann's ambivalence—which Gaines locates somewhere between Fassbinder's directorial control and the actor's embodied agency—confounded rather than resolved Fassbinder's filmic narratives. Confounding spectacularity forms the...


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