Dance This Diss Around

By Bhabha, Homi K. | Artforum International, April 1995 | Go to article overview

Dance This Diss Around


Bhabha, Homi K., Artforum International


There would seem to be no reason in the world why readers of Artforum should want to hear about Professor Harish Chandra, chairman of the Literature Department of the University of Pataniganj - a small cantonment town, 350 dusty, derelict miles from Bombay, where the oranges are sweeter than almost anywhere in India. But the kind of "connectivity" that comes with the entanglements of E-mail turns us all into vernacular cosmopolitans, and it is unwise, anymore, to presume we know where the center lies and where the periphery falls. And there is another reason: like the U.S., the University of Pataniganj is involved in a culture war.

My electronic informant tells me that it all started, those many thousands of miles away, with a few lines from Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus":

Dying Is an art, like everything else. do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell. It's easy enough to do it and stay put. It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day

That knocks me out.

It is the theatrical display of suicide that knocks out Professor Chandra: "dying as an art," he argues, cannot be the subject of critical study. By working her suicide attempts into a poetic act, Plath violates the critic's most fundamental requirement of the poet, the "ideal of disinterestedness." That disinterestedness can only operate when the artist transcends the narcissism of self, when suffering, victimage, hurt, and historical or personal trauma are purified in the uplifting, injury-immolating fire of Spirit.

Some of Chandra's colleagues have suggested that Plath destroys any vestige of narcissism when she moves from her own suicide attempts to the historical trauma of unwilled mass death - to the Holocaust. This idea leaves Chandra cold and furious, for he believes that the individual sovereignty of the spirit should not be obscured by the trials of history, however urgent they may be. For him, Plath represents victim art. In the name of the autonomy of art and the freedom of criticism, he has decided that Plath's poem will not be taught in the Pataniganj Literature Department; out of respect for the dead, deeply ingrained in his form of Hinduism, he will remain forever silent on her work.

Despite technology's hot rush, news that comes over the Internet can easily turn into nothing more than an exotic turn-of-the-21st-century traveler's tale. Not this time: the debate on the art of dying that is playing itself out in the betel-juice-stained tea-shops of provincial Pataniganj quietly clarifies the afflatus set off in New York last December by Arlene Croce's now-celebrated New Yorkeressay, "Cussing the Undissable," sorry, "Discussing the Undiscussable."(1) Croce's succes de scandale, you'll remember, arose from her refusal to see Bill T. Jones' dance work Still/Here on the grounds that his use of HIV-positive dancers, and of video testimony by AIDS patients, turned the art of dance into "victim art," a "traveling medicine show." The scandale lay in the fact that her refusal to see the show didn't stop her from writing about it. What Susan Sontag has described as the "storm of mostly self-serving responses to Croce's 'non-review'" is now overflowing the proverbial tea cup, and every available empty vessel and shallow receptacle has been commissioned to catch the effluent.(2)

Pious pleas that Croce should have seen Still/Here before writing her piece entirely miss the radical point of her polemic. By creating a defiant hole at the very heart of her essay, in the space where, customarily, the experience or analysis of the work would have appeared, Croce makes it clear that hers is no simple act of critical interpretation and evaluation, nor even a meditation on those arts: it is a frankly ideological maneuver. If Still/Here, present in her argument only as the spectral subject of controversy, prepublicity, rumor, and report, is by any standard an example of what Croce deplores as the use of art "to meet this or that social need," she in turn uses the work to make this or that political argument. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dance This Diss Around
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.