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Unmaking mimesis essays on feminism and theater



Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theatre. By Elin Diamond. London and New York: Routledge, 1998; pp. 226. $75.00 cloth, $19.99 paper.

With the publication of Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theatre. Elin Diamond affirms her international reputation as one of the most important feminist theorists of Western theatre. Synthesizing and extending several of her trenchant critical essays from the last decade, Diamond vividly engages a host of theoretical concerns. Whether couched as a means of navigating psychoanalysis and historical materialism or as a way to reconcile representational and experiential feminisms, feminist theatre emerges again and again throughout this book as an arena of cross-disciplinary theoretical and political conversation. In the process, Unmaking re-makes feminist theatre criticism.

Diamond’s introduction surveys and revises a range of Western mimetic theory, moving from Freud to Benjamin, from Irigaray to de Lauretis, from classical theorists to theorists of twentieth-century performance art. Rather than reproducing a critique of its conservatism, Diamond works toward a mimesis differently read—and sometimes differently made—through a feminist lens. She thereby exposes the generative potentials and self-deconstructive doubles that already circulate in conventional models of representation. Her follow-up chapter, “Realism’s Hysteria,” is based on earlier work that linked a feminist recuperation of hysteria to a feminist recuperation of dramatic realism. Now Diamond gives the link fuller historicization by situating her argument in the overlap between the histories of aesthetic and medical “theatres.” The combination produces inventive readings. At one point, Diamond interprets Ibsen reception as feminist hysterical excess; at another, she foregrounds the transferential underpinnings of Elizabeth Robins’s realistic acting. The chapter culminates with an analysis of Robins and Florence Bell’s Alan’s Wife. arguing that its re-use of realist convention simultaneously short-circuits the possibility of referential reading. This “realism-without-truth” will be one of many places that Diamond stunningly fulfills her promise to offer an alternative mimeticism.

The next essay lays more theoretical foundation for arguments in Unmaking ’s subsequent chapters. Adapting her nearly canonical TDR essay, “Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory,” Diamond investigates connections amongst feminism, critical theory, and Brechtian theatrical technique. Not only does she ingeniously match a Brechtian “not. but” to a Derridean “differences within,” she also maintains that a gender-conscious use of Brechtian performance de-naturalizes gender performativity. Theorizing feminist gestus as both a representational practice and a way of reading, Diamond goes on to make use of the latter mode in the next chapter on Aphra Behn. Reading gestically means, for Diamond, seeing Behn’s wedding tableau in The Forc’d Marriage or her many breeches-sporting females as early types of “historicization” onstage, moments that make seventeenth-century concepts of women’s commodity status available for critique. Having tested her models on earlier source material, Diamond continues with a study of Caryl Churchill’s plays, finding in this avowedly politicized feminist playwright’s work not only the usual forms of Brechtian defamiliarization but also yet another alteration of imitative convention. The result in works like Fen or A Mouthful of Birds. says Diamond, is not so much “the foregrounding of theatrical illusionism” but rather an extension of “the boundaries of what can be seen and said as representation” (93). Yet again Diamond makes good on her promise of a re-made mimesis.

Devoted to the theorizing of a “feminist postmodern,” the third and final section brilliantly develops concepts of temporality and syncopatedness as central tropes. Diamond’s readings of [End Page 223] Adrienne Kennedy’s funnyhouses continue a penchant for unorthodox connection and theoretical revision. Not content to dismiss identification as inevitably regressive, for instance, Diamond finds gestic potential in Kennedy’s psychically devastating racial alignments and affective fantasies. Pushing further the belief that the “visceral and cognitive sense of temporal otherness” could become “methodological” for a gestic feminist criticism (104), Diamond’s final essay re-marshals Walter Benjamin and Teresa de Lauretis to frame the work of feminist performance artists such as Robbie McCauley, Peggy Shaw, and Deb Margolin. Here the “not. but,” the deconstructive supplement, and the flash and shock of Benjamin’s dialectical images coincide in a performance practice and.

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