«ing is ever too definitive with Joyce). Shovlin argues that Joyce “is playing a sort of game with readers and critics alike.making hares of us all ...»
Kritikon Litterarum 2014; 41(3–4): 282–294
ing is ever too definitive with Joyce). Shovlin argues that Joyce “is playing a
sort of game with readers and critics alike…making hares of us all with his
erudition and intelligence” (p. 154). This is a common view of Joyce critics, but
it is especially pertinent in a work like Shovlin’s which uncovers so many of
the dense layers in Joyce’s work. Instead of giving the feeling that we are closer to getting to the bottom, Shovlin’s work leaves us with the sense that the work may never end. Of course, Shovlin also intimates that uncovering all the allusions in Joyce is enjoyable, and no one is really seeking the end of such endeavors anyway.
The Elusiveness of Theories: Recent Works in Opera Studies and in Adaptation Studies DOI 10.1515/kl-2014-0068 André, Naomi; Bryan, Karen M.; Saylor, Eric (eds.). Blackness in Opera. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: U. of Illinois P, 2012. xiv + 289 pp.
Meyer-Dinkgräfe, Daniel. Theatre, Opera and Consciousness: History and Current Debates. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2013. (= “Consciousness Literature and the Arts” 33). 241 pp.
Rosen, Charles. Freedom and the Arts: Essays on Music and Literature. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 2012. ix + 438 pp.
Nicklas, Pascal; Lindner, Oliver (eds.). Adaptation and Cultural Appropriation:
Literature, Film, and the Arts. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012. (= “Spectrum Literaturwissenschaft / spectrum literature: Komparatistische Studien / Comparative Studies” 27). 277 pp.
Bruhn, Jørgen; Gjelsvik, Anne; Hanssen, Eirik Frisvold (eds.). Adaptation Studies: New Challenges, New Directions. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. x + 292 pp.
Reviewed by: Nassim Winnie Balestrini (Karl-Franzens-Universität, Graz) Unauthenticated Download Date | 5/23/16 12:22 AM American and English Studies 283 Murray, Simone. The Adaptation Industry: The Cultural Economy of Contemporary Literary Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2012. (= Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies 32). xvi–253 pp.
Since the mid-2000s, the field of adaptation studies has been experiencing an upsurge in publications in which scholars theorize and (re-)define their burgeoning and contentious field. A central concern of current scholarship resides in opening up the field by gradually expanding its purview beyond the wellestablished focus on novel-into-film adaptations and by incorporating a growing number of perspectives informed by cultural studies and media studies. Often, case studies have been replaced or at least complemented by new orientations toward contexts and processes rather than products that seem to exist in a sociohistorical and socioeconomic void. Whereas adaptation studies may thus be regarded as slowly ascending the ladder of acceptance in academic circles, opera (and scholarship about opera) has been struggling to overcome the cliché of the genre’s irrevocable death resulting from its outmoded elitism and rigid traditionalism. Simultaneous with the continuing prominence of derogatory attitudes toward either area of inquiry, both adaptation and opera studies – which are linked through opera as a form of musical theater that frequently involves adaptation from other media – have benefited from new impulses found in American Studies and related fields involving cultural studies, particularly those geared toward contextually and transnationally oriented research on the why and the how of artistic creation and reception.
Race and Opera on the Global Stage
André, Bryan, and Saylor’s volume Blackness in Opera gathers 12 essays predominantly written by musicologists and music historians. The authors take up “representation” as a central trope of cultural studies in order to scrutinize, on the one hand, how blackness has been represented in opera and, on the other hand, how the genre of opera figures within African American music and performance histories (see Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., “Foreword: Singing in the Dark,” pp. ix–x). As the editors point out, musicologists have neither been concerned with the issue of race to any satisfactory extent (“Introduction: Representing Blackness on the Operatic Stage,” p. 1), nor have they contextualized works by African American composers within larger artistic movements such as the Harlem Renaissance (p. 6). Accordingly, several essays advance claims about vaguely defined audiences and their supposed responses to operatic works; here, the authors do not take sufficient recourse to empirical data or to textual eviUnauthenticated Download Date | 5/23/16 12:22 AM 284 American and English Studies dence. Detailed descriptions of primary materials clearly show that opera historiography has much to offer within interdisciplinary opera studies, but all-toobrief references to complex and conflicted phenomena such as minstrel shows or the writings and reception of important African American thinkers are made in passing and do not yield convincing analyses and arguments.
Having said this, the volume does contain several essays that further interdisciplinary dialogue and research. Christopher R. Gauthier and Jennifer McFarlane-Harris’s “Nationalism, Racial Difference, and ‘Egyptian’ Meaning in Verdi’s Aida” (pp. 55–77) offers a convincing alternative to Edward Said’s Orientalist critique of Aida which tends to cement the East-West binary by focusing on the composer and his subject matter (p. 57). Gauthier and McFarlane-Harris instead read the opera in light of intra-African differences of power and racial self-definition. As a result, they interpret the fact that the opera’s Egyptians represent an African nation that wants to colonize another African nation, i. e., the Ethiopians, as evoking an analogous European power struggle that would have appealed to an Italian composer working during the Risorgimento (p. 58). This reading then provides the Egyptians, who construct the Ethiopians as racial “Others,” with the agency that they lack in Said’s interpretation (p. 59).
Gayle Murchison (“New Paradigms in William Grant Still’s Blue Steel,” pp. 141–163) makes a similarly pivotal point when arguing, from a historiographical vantage point, that African American opera composers created “a tradition of African American opera [...] in the 1920s that reflected and embraced the aesthetics of the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance (originally referred to as the New Negro Movement)” (p. 142) and that they struggled, along with their contemporaries, to avoid or subvert clichés imposed by white stage and music traditions (p. 143). Prudently, Murchison nevertheless eschews promoting anything like a genre definition that could potentially essentialize African American opera. Instead, she cogently explains how Still’s aesthetics were indebted to leading African American thinkers of the time (pp. 153, 157) but contends that further research, particularly through studying Still’s life writing, is necessary (pp. 151, 155). Here, as in some of the other essays, the Harlem Renaissance comes across as rather monolithic; I thus find that Murchison’s desideratum offers excellent opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaboration.
Further complex discussions of the issues involved in discussing race in the context of opera can be found in Gwynne Kuhner Brown’s excellent “Performers in Catfish Row: Porgy and Bess as Collaboration” (pp. 164–186), in which she discusses the continuing paradoxes in the creation and in the performance history of an opera by a Jewish composer based on a white Southerner’s novel about destitute black people in South Carolina. The closing contribution by George Shirley (“Il Rodolfo Nero, or The Masque of Blackness” pp. 260–274) yet Unauthenticated Download Date | 5/23/16 12:22 AM American and English Studies 285 again confirms that studying race and opera can benefit from life writing. In his informative and inspiring reflections on his own career and on the careers of other African American opera singers, Shirley offers insightful responses to the question of make-up as either intentionally racialized or as necessitated by practical requirements of the stage and of lighting. At the end, he calls for more operas on topics that reflect the African American experience and for a musical culture that unequivocally favors high-quality singing and ignores performers’ physical attributes. All in all, this essay collection fulfills its goal of demonstrating intersections between African American and opera studies. At the same time, it shows the need for further research, particularly of an interdisciplinary and collaborative nature.
Consciousness Studies with an Indian Slant
Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe, the author of Theatre, Opera and Consciousness, is also the editor of the series in which his monograph appeared. According to his introduction, “Consciousness Studies,” an interdisciplinary “discipline” that originated twenty years ago with the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona (p. 11), comprises “experiential approaches” and “culture and humanities” approaches (p. 12). The author’s survey of the field consists of lists of issues and interests without a clearly discernible structure or in-depth discussion (pp. 14–19). The focus of his monograph then is the application of the “model of consciousness” promoted by “Indian Vedanta philosophy” (p. 20). By focusing on “spirituality, as a sound, reliable and verifiable category of experience” (p. 20), Meyer-Dinkgräfe claims “to go beyond science, and it is this focus that makes my argument distinctive and unique” (p. 20). He intends to revise theater history and research on opera fundamentally by using subjectivity (which he employs quite synonymously with spirituality) as a category that is not available to science (I assume he means scholarship based on empirical data, experiments, and the like) (pp. 27 f.).
Not only does the author aspire to prove the paradox of theater history being both “non-teleological and non-causal” and “causal” regarding the sequence of epochs (p. 29) – he also avers that causality is derived from “universal principles of development embedded in pure consciousness” (p. 41). While the case studies in, for instance, Part One of the monograph contain thoughtful observations about theater culture in the Western world, the occasional conclusions could be drawn without recourse to the Vedanta model of consciousness (see p. 74). In his discussion of opera history in light of Hayden White’s theories combined with Vedanta philosophy, the author reduces White’s views to an inUnauthenticated Download Date | 5/23/16 12:22 AM 286 American and English Studies tellect-focused perspective that excludes affect and claims that only the Vedanta model allows consideration of “higher states of consciousness” (p. 98). Accordingly, the haphazard chapter ending in which the author discusses a dancer remains unconvincing.
In chapter two, similar problems arise when the author links the ethical turn in Western theater to an Indian text on the purpose of theater. How can this treatise be so central although it is not part of the discourse within the scrutinized theater culture? Similarly, chapter three regards the actor in a drama as a guru-teacher, using “subjective and anecdotal evidence” which supposedly “demonstrat[es] the importance of this approach” (p. 113). Why and how this method is preferable to empirical data or close analysis of multi-medial texts remains unclear.
The second part of the book tackles “Opera and Consciousness.” The section opens with the supposedly well-established claim that opera fans have a more emotional relationship to opera than theater fans to drama (p. 143). Having diagnosed a lack of “empirical research into the relation of music, including opera, and emotions” (p. 152), interview-based studies of various artists in chapters six and seven are meant to close this gap. The interviews in themselves grant insights into how several opera singers and conductors experience their work. The rather lean conclusion demonstrates that the outcome of this study is not commensurate with the sweeping claims made at the outset.