Annotation: Roach, Joseph. 1996. Cities of the Dead

Roach, Joseph. 1996. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance.

Roach uses the term “circum-Atlantic world” to denote a vast “behavioral vortex” (30), in which various spectacles of cultural surrogation can be observed. More specifically, he studies London and New Orleans as spaces for both encounter and exchange, and is interested in the “restless migrations” (xii) of performances between these places. He uses a “historical model of intercultural encounter” that is based on “performance genealogy in which the borderlands, the perimeters of reciprocity, become the center…of multilateral self-definition” (189). Memories of times and places have become “embodied in and through performances” (xi), particularly at venues such as the theatre, slave auctions, ritual, carnival, funeral, dance, popular culture, and everyday life, etc. “Culture” is the familiar term for the “social processes of memory and forgetting,” and it is carried out in various performance events. To perform, thus, means “to bring forth, to make manifest, and to transmit, as well as to (secretly) reinvent (xi). Roach suggests that there is a three-sided relationship of memory, performance, and substitution. Surrogation, he writes, refers to the process by which culture reproduces and recreates itself (2). For example, in the advent of colonialism, the concept of newness of the “New World” (i.e. the “discovery” of the Carribean) was a kind of surrogation that required the erasure of indigenous populations for sites such as New France to be established. In one’s search for origins, the voyage becomes “not of discovery but of erasure” (6). The key in understanding circum-Atlantic societies, writes Roach, is to find how societies reinvented themselves by performing their pasts in the presence of others, or how they defined themselves in opposition to others (5). What he calls “performance genealogies” may be analyzed using three principles: kinesthetic imagination (operates in the performance of everyday life); vortices of behavior (sites of memory; and displaced transmission (what may have been forgotten). Roach resists the notion that nations’ borders are fixed — the idea of a unified culture, he argues, is a “convenient but dangerous fiction” (5).

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