Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Perdigao, Lisa K., and Mark Pizzato, Eds. Death in American Texts and Performances: Corpses, Ghosts, and the Reanimated Dead. Burlingtive

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Perdigao, Lisa K., and Mark Pizzato, Eds. Death in American Texts and Performances: Corpses, Ghosts, and the Reanimated Dead. Burlingtive

Article excerpt

Turning from the body to the spirit in part 2, Anne Fletcher's "Thornton Wilder's 'Eternal Present:' Ghosting and the Grave Body in Act III of Our Town" is the only essay focusing on a specific theatrical performance. Looking at both the playwright's language and a particular dramaturgical interpretation of the ghosts in act 3 in Our Town, she posits that "Wilder's schema parallels Buddhist thought with regard to living, dying, and letting go" (79). In contrast to Fletcher's direct examination of ghosts as a trope, Belinda Kong's analysis of spirits in her essay "When Ghosts Dream: Immigrant Desire in Lan Samantha Chang's Hunger" gives less attention to addressing the use of a ghost as a narrator and instead focuses on Chang's redefining of the Asian immigrant's experience by exploring the language, name meanings, and mythology in Asian-American literary narratives. In counterpoint, Ian W. Wilson's analysis of narrative, "A Return to Memory, Possibility, and Life: The Spirit of Narrative in John Edgar Wideman's 'The Cattle Killing,'" offers up a more comprehensive examination of "ghostliness" by spotlighting how Wideman utilizes a historical model "that forces a sort of ghostliness on its subjects, a ghostliness that carries beyond historical events to personal remi-niscences, suggesting that storytelling is complicit in this framework as well" (122). The final essay in part 2, Mark Pizzato's "Ghosts of Proof in the Mind's Eye," compares and contrasts stage and film versions of Proof. Using cognitive neuroscience and Lacanian analysis, which although interesting occasionally bogs down his analysis, he posits how both the performance and audience mirror and externalize the mind's internal theater.

Part 3 of Death in American Texts and Performances focuses solely on literary texts. "'For the Union Dead': Robert Lowell's American Necropolis" by William S. Waddell provides a close particulate reading of Lowell's poem as a literary manifestation of Lowell's fear of American commercialism replacing "transhistorical ideals" (153). In "Locating the Front Line: War, Democracy, and the Nation in Toni Morrison's Sula and Song of Solomon," Kathryn Nicol takes her disagreement with the ideals expressed in Hannah Arendt's On Violence concerning death as her starting point. Asserting that Arendt's work is based on a conception of both democracy and the United States which is ambiguous and contradictory when examined through the experience of African Americans in the twentieth century, Nicol illustrates how Morrison's two texts complicate reading the narrative of the United States' identity. In another essay analyzing the work of Don DeLillo, Andrew J. Price's "Tele-vised Death in Don DeLillo's America" engages with the paradox between advertising and its emphasis on bodily pleasure and how advancing technology regards the body as superfluous. Price's examination of DeLillo echoes prior essays in asserting fiction as a way for the dead to speak to the living about death and thereby resituate the reader in the body and in the world (197). The final chapter of this section also centers on DeLillo as it offers a summation of the essays and how they reflect the current understanding of how American culture depicts death. "'Everything now is measured by after': A Postmortem for the Twenty-First Century" by Lisa K. Perdigao, for the most part, views death's current treatment within American performance and texts as transcending and crossing the conventions and boundaries of genre and narrative wherein "Death becomes a trope for cultural change" (199). Death, rather than acting as an end point, becomes the point of origin for the narra-tive itself "so that the scenes of death become sites for reanimating the dead and recovering meaning" (199).

Death in American Texts and Performances consists of several good stand-alone essays and a few less engaging that together, unfortunately, make for an underwhelming collection. As a whole, the essays were inconsistent in their focus on both the theme of the book and the section in which they were placed. …

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