Review of Public Performances: Studies in the Carnivalesque and Ritualesque

Review of Public Performances: Studies in the Carnivalesque and Ritualesque
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   Public Performances: Studies in the Carnivalesque and Ritualesque .Ed. Jack Santino. Utah State University Press, 2017. 320pp. $45.00 cloth. What might protest marches, street carnivals, sacred procession-als, and roadside memorials have in common? How might thesepublic performances assert their political agency?  Public Perfor-mances: Studies in the Carnivalesque and Ritualesque , edited by JackSantino, provides a wide-ranging exploration of public perfor-mance genres and draws connections with carnival, ritual, politi-cal, and spatial themes. The essays in  Public Performances , writtenby scholars who have presented research at the Conference onHolidays, Ritual, Festival, and Public Display, consider how pub-lic performances express identity, celebration, spirituality, grief,dissent, and memoriam, and reclaim contested public spaces. Theresult is a volume that illustrates the transformational power of public performance.The purpose of   Public Performances  is to work towards a “unifiedtheory of public display  —  that is, folk and popular ritual” (x) bysuggesting relationships between performance genres to furtheruncover political dimensions present in public performance. Specifi-cally, the volume aims to do so by shifting the binary between theo-ries of carnival and ritual to a continuum. Santino immediatelydraws distinctions between the two categories while maintainingthat they remain porous. Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the carniva-lesque refers to qualities of celebrations of great abandon, socialinversion, and a temporary establishment of alternative society (4).As Samuel Kinser writes, “The essence of Carnival is rather to refor-mulate people’s everyday experience in phantasmic, inversive, exces-sive forms” (21). Yet after the carnival period has ended, the socialcontract demands a return to the status quo. In comparison, theritualesque, a term introduced by Santino (2011), involves transfor-mational symbolic actions “undertaken with the intention of makinga difference” (12) and creating lasting change.The structure of   Public Performances  is effective in making a casefor this continuum, tracing pathways from the carnivalesque towardthe ritualesque. Early essays consider conditions of creativity .  Kinserargues that porosity, spectacularization, and political social 222  Book Reviews  conciliations increase “carnivalesque invention” (17) in a compara-tive study of the expansion of urban carnival traditions in Renais-sance Nuremberg and early twentieth-century Trinidad. Roger D.Abrahams follows by examining conflict displays and black vernac-ular creativity as carving out powerful social spaces in the creationof a transatlantic black world. John Borgnovo’s examination of theroles of political brass band cultures in Cork during the Irish revo-lution is a reminder of the agency of performance during times of societal upheaval.A few essays directly engage the carnival/ritual dichotomy toexplore how groups use the ritualesque as a social process where timeand space are manipulated to effect change. In “Protesting andGrieving,” Beverly J. Stoeltje examines links between contemporaryritual and political events, clearly laying out how the ritual frame-work, constituted by “form and structure, symbolic communication,and recognized authorities” (78), creates a sense of belonging, identi-fication, and unification. As familiarity with theories of ritual andperformance, particularly Victor Turner’s theories of liminality andcommunitas, is helpful in getting the most out of   Public Perfor-mances , Stoeltje’s clear layout of the ritual framework is of particularuse to emerging scholars. Later in the volume, Dorothy L. Zinnturns to Bakhtin’s idea of hybridization when considering the blend-ing of carnivalesque and ritualesque in a study of the antinuclearprotest march in Scanzano, Italy.Throughout the volume  , Public Performances  underscores the con-tested nature of public space, showing how spaces can be manipu-lated, co-opted, and subverted through performance. For example, in “ ¡ Que Bonita Bandera ! ”, Elena Mart  ınez argues that the usage anddisplay of the Puerto Rican flag in New York City has shaped a“politicized cultural nationalism” (120)  —  an identification with cul-ture creating new material expressions of identity and appropriatingplaces designed to ignore the community. For David Harrish, path-ways of political and spiritual processions in Indonesia become “ma-jor ethnic theaters” (148), which define participant groups and theunion emerging from the final processions.Theories of festivals are situated toward the midpoint. EmployingFrench theoretical references, Laurent Sebastian Fournier provides ahistory of the social anthropology of festivals while identifyingissues when studying the ritualesque and carnivalesque. Fournier Book Reviews  223  ultimately advocates for the importance of ethnographic fieldworkin taking into account relationships between elements, times, andplaces of festivals. Lisa Gilman’s essay, “The Politics of CulturalPromotion,” an ethnographic study of the Umethetho Festival inMalawi, is a reminder that public performance operates within aframework of power relations. Gilman argues that the liminoiddimensions of festival may also be used to reinforce existing hierar-chies, or “to establish or re-establish new hierarchies intended tocontribute to the exertion of social and political power” (165) out-side of the festival frame.Only two essays in the volume are focused on traditional stagedperformance. Both draw upon theories of spectacle in arguing for thelasting social effects of public performance. Pamela Moro’s study of LGBT choral singing, “Music as Activist Spectacle,” is of particularinterest to scholars of sound and embodiment, encouraging a focuson performers’ experiences and the role of sound in creatingcommunity in cause-oriented events. Scott Magelssen extends theritualesque to theater, arguing that the performative acts of radicaleco-protest performances appropriate and rework conventions of thespectacular.  Public Performances  concludes by examining performative elementsof material culture in the contestation of public space. Barbara Gra-ham analyzes roadside memorials in Ireland as performative acts of remembrance that question the nature of sacred space. Large, strik-ing photographs of the memorials make this essay particularlyimpactful. Finally, Daniel Wojcik contributes to the idea of the“performative environment” (258), as an engagement with ritua-lesque transformation of the physical environment and reclaiming of space in an analysis of the Heidelberg Project, a vernacular activistart movement in Detroit.In sum, the essays in  Public Performances  clearly demonstrate howpublic performances function not just as expressions of identity butas active agents of transformation and social change. It is a valuableaddition to the literature and recommended for scholars andadvanced students of cultural anthropology, heritage, and folklore. Leah BushUniversity of Maryland, College Park 224  Book Reviews
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