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Alkazi Theatre Archives

A Bibliographic Listing from the Archive

Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance

Book: Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance
Written by: Joseph Roach
Published by: Cambridge University Press (1996)

Cities of the Dead: circum-Atlantic Performance explores how memories of some particular times and places become embodied in and through performances. The author studies the cultural activity and history of the circum-Atlantic region through two cities— London and New Orleans— as embodied through performance. The concept of a circum-Atlantic world (as opposed to a transatlantic one) refers to the diasporic and genocidal histories of Africa and the Americas, North and South, in the creation of the culture of modernity. The book tries to explain that the voices of the dead in cities may speak freely through bodies of the living; through behaviours enacted in certain social contexts, through memory, transmitted through performances. Surrogation, genealogies of performance, environments of memory are some of the key concepts the book explores. Roach examines how culture reproduces and recreates itself through a process of ‘surrogation’. The process of surrogation goes on without a beginning and an end in the life of a community. The repeated behaviours, actions, live performances can be seen as successive surrogations where one stands in for another. Roach states that “newness enacts a kind of surrogation- in the invention of a new England or a new France out of the memories of the old- but it also conceptually erases indigenous populations…” (p.4)

Exploring the relationship between memory, history and performance, the author studies burials, parades, carnivals, death and stage plays as ‘the aesthetic tangibility of live performances.’ Through his concept of ‘genealogies of performances’ Roach tries to bring out the dead in cities, the history that has been dispossessed. 

“Genealogies of performance attend not only to “the body,” as Foucault suggests…but also attend to “counter-memories” or the disparities between history as it is discursively transmitted and  memory as it is publicly enacted by the bodies…”(p.25)”

Cities of the Dead- Circum-Atlantic Performance