- Performing Antiquity: Ancient Greek Music and Dance from Paris to Delphi, 1890–1930 by Samuel N. Dorf
Samuel Dorf begins his book by asking us to imagine a trip to the history museum. Whichever institution we picture ourselves in, he explains, the procedure is the same. We find some artifact that piques our interest and press our noses against the display to get a closer look. Of course, the nearer we get to the vitrine, the more difficult it is to get a good view. Our shadows loom over our object of study, or else we become distracted by our reflection in the glass. One's stance envers histoire thus activates un verre d'histoire, a border between present and past. Drawing from Jacques Derrida's characterization of the vitrifying power of mimēsis, we might conclude then that our representations of history too do not themselves reveal or obscure but rather put such oppositions into play for the viewer—they "cannot be described, only interpreted" (Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981], 233).
Even if he does not cast this process in such terms of obscurity and does not consider glazing-over the way Derrida's text would encourage, nonetheless such is Dorf's overarching theme, which he explores with reference to several reconstructions of ancient Greek music and dance by artists and historians working mostly in Paris. While his scholarly expertise and command of the relevant archives bring the details of these less-familiar moments of musical modernism to light, it is his analysis of how we might understand these figures' rep resentations of history that drives the book. Less interested in the authenticity of these reconstructions than with the intellectual and artistic decisions that make them possible, Dorf is concerned for how historians cast shadows on their work, and that is what breaks impressive ground.
Drawing from an array of disciplines, including performance studies, queer theory, and media studies, Dorf considers how his subjects and their reconstructions rely on both material archives and embodied repertoires, how they are intertwined with gender and sexuality, how they set the conditions of their reception through the production of artifacts, and how they isolate or unite individuals and communities across time. But weaving together all these disciplinary perspectives is the author's own, a fact that his study cannot ignore. Dorf takes up this topic throughout in a series of anecdotes and personal reflections, concluding with a meditation on musicology—its practices, purposes, ethics, and audience—in which the author begins to ask how scholars' reconstructions of history might enable reparative practices in the present.
In his first case study, Dorf takes up Théodore Reinach's transcriptions and performing editions of a Delphic hymn to Apollo, describing how the historian's claims of authenticity and objectivity conceal the editorial interventions undertaken to render the work performable (including an entirely invented accompaniment by Gabriel Fauré) and the more subtle, yet unavoidable aesthetic biases of Reinach's modern ear. Dorf describes the result as the inversion of Carolyn Abbate's neoclassical "uncanny," its disturbing sound a product of the work's concealing its artifice rather than laying it horrifically bare. Like the Sirens' song, Reinach's work "mesmerizes with its purported authenticity, … and in so [End Page 433] doing, makes us forget to question our subjective idealizations of that past" (p.43). Only by acknowledging these idealizing fantasies might we preserve history: to hear the Sirens' song we must lash ourselves to the mast (histos), which, Derrida might remind us, is ever the histos of metaphor—of spacing, the "pastness" of history.
Chapter 3 begins with an account of the author's visit to the former home of writer Natalie Clifford Barney and of his unsettled feelings at realizing the intrusive voyeurism that his role as a historian entails—an especially fraught issue, since her fragmentary archive might...