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Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories. By Peggy Phelan. London: Routledge, I997; 187 pp. illustrations. $65.00 cloth, $17.95 paper.
The almost simultaneous appearance of these three works by three leading scholars in the field of performance studies provides fresh evidence of Routledge's continued commendable encouragement of this field. All three authors are strong and original voices, and these books, taken together, provide a fascinating and challenging representation of the range and depth of theoretical speculation now occurring in performance theory.
Each of the books consists in part of material that has appeared elsewhere. Indeed, readers familiar with the development of the field will recognize certain pieces that could be counted among the classic texts of modern performance theory, among them Elin Diamond's "Mimesis, Mimicry, and the `True-Real,'" and "Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory: Toward a Gestic Feminist Criticism"; Peggy Phelan's "Playing Dead in Stone"; and Philip Auslander's "Toward a Concept of the Political in Postmodern Theatre." Even this moderately familiar material, however, takes on new resonance when placed among other new or at any rate less familiar related theoretical speculations by the same authors.
Each of the books is oriented toward a central concern or closely related group of concerns. Phelan explores some of the ways in which performance seeks to articulate and negotiate the complex and ambiguous relationship of subjectivity and death, the body and its disappearance. Auslander explores the troubled and continually shifting relationship between modes of acting and modes of performance, with particular attention to how the performing body relates to political work. Diamond explores another complex and shifting relationship, between concepts of mimesis and feminist theories of sexuality and representation, both in terms of dramatic text and their physical enactment.
Probably no collection of three books, even books as insightful and important as these, can adequately serve as a way into all of the many complicated discussions now taking place under the general heading of performance studies, but so many of the most stimulating current issues are considered in depth by one or more of …