Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance

Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance

Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance

Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance

Synopsis

The colorful handmade costumes of beads and feathers swirl frenetically, as the Mardi Gras Indians dance through the streets of New Orleans in remembrance of a widely disputed cultural heritage. Iroquois Indians visit London in the early part of the eighteenth century and give birth to the "feathered people" in the British popular imagination.

What do these seemingly disparate strands of culture share over three hundred years and several thousand miles of ocean? Artfully interweaving theatrical, musical, and ritual performance from the eighteenth century to the present in London and New Orleans, Cities of the Dead takes a look at a rich continuum of intercultural exchange that reinvents, recreates, and restores history.

Complemented with fifty-five illustrations, including spectacular photos of the famed Mardi Gras Indians, this fascinating work employs an entirely unique approach to the study of culture. Rather than focusing on one region, Cities of the Dead explores broad cultural connections over place and time, showing through myriad examples how performance can revise the unwritten past.

Excerpt

Cities of the dead are primarily for the living. they exist not only as artifacts, such as cemeteries and commemorative landmarks, but also as behaviors. They endure, in other words, as occasions for memory and invention. This book shows how the memories of some particular times and places have become embodied in and through performances. But it also suggests how memories torture themselves into forgetting by disguising their collaborative interdependence across imaginary borders of race, nation, and origin. the social processes of memory and forgetting, familiarly known as culture, may be carried out by a variety of performance events, from stage plays to sacred rites, from carnivals to the invisible rituals of everyday life. To perform in this sense means to bring forth, to make manifest, and to transmit. To perform also means, though often more secretly, to reinvent. This claim is especially relevant to the performances that flourish within the geohistorical matrix of the circum-Atlantic world. Bounded by Europe, Africa, and the Americas, North and South, this economic and cultural system entailed vast movements of people and commodities to experimental destinations, the consequences of which continue to visit themselves upon the material and human fabric of the cities inhabited by their successors. As the most visible evidence of an oceanic interculture only now . . .

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