Deadline for Proposals: June 01, 2017
Call for Proposals for Working Group Imagining an Other “Eastern Europe”: Performances of Difference in Central-Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and Russia
American Society for Theater Research Conference 2017, November 16-19, Atlanta, Georgia
In Inventing Eastern Europe, Larry Wolff describes how eighteenth-century, European Enlightenment ideals created an ideological construct called “Eastern Europe.” As Wolff explains, this construct served as a monstrous mirror to the equally new construct of “Western Europe.” Though amorphous, the geography of “Eastern Europe” stretched from Prague to Moscow, into territory we now think of as Russia and the former Soviet Bloc. This area became an extraordinary part of Europe: neither Orient nor Occident, neither entirely civilized nor entirely barbaric, neither recognizable in custom nor entirely alien. It was “Europe,” but seen through an exoticized frame. For example, in his musings on Eastern Europe, Voltaire wrote of a “[Western] Europe that knows things” and an Eastern Europe that “waited to become known.” In so doing, Voltaire evinced himself of the Enlightenment desire to classify and master, and to situate “Eastern Europe” as a mysterious terra incognita. The “Western” compulsion to master “Eastern Europe” has not been historically limited to cultural and imperial domination. Anne McClintock writes, in Imperial Leather, of “an erotics of ravishment” in the narrative of male travel and territorial expansion. The imperial desire McClintock speaks of extended to Eastern Europe’s “extraordinary bodies.” Drawing from historical letters and travelogues, Wolff details bodily incursions the West made into Eastern Europe. This includes Giacomo Casanova—bon vivant of the Italian Renaissance—purchasing a thirteen-year-old Russian sex slave.
The ideological creation of Eastern Europe as an exotic “Other” of Western Europe was built on cultural, economic, and linguistic boundaries, and was carried through to the twentieth-century when in 1946 Winston Churchill described an “Iron Curtain” dividing the continent. The remainder of the twentieth century continued this division through the rhetoric and politics of the Cold War. According to Wolff, Eastern Europe transformed into a construct onto which “Westerners” could place their views of politics, economics, sociological thought, and racial theories. Eastern Europe was not—and has not been—an objective reality for them, but, instead, a way to legitimize notions of “civilization.” Today, this notion persists. According to rhetoric coming out of the U.S. intelligence community, a new Cold War is being fought in cyberspace with “Eastern Europe” caught between the so-called civilized/democratic “West” and a barbaric/autocratic “Russia.” Likewise, the idea of Eastern Europe/Russia being a place for sexual deviance continues with the New York Times recently releasing the “salacious” details of the 45th President’s sexual activities in Moscow. Regardless of the veracity of these reports, it is incontrovertible that the current U.S. President sees himself as a modern day Casanova, who stands before the world with his second Eastern European bride at his side. Thus, from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, the so-called West has utilized the construct of Eastern Europe as a fetishized “Other,” both philosophically and bodily.
Building on the idea of Eastern Europe as a monstrous mirror onto which the West casts its ideologies and pathologies, this working group takes Eastern Europe’s “difference” as a point of departure. It does so not to investigate “Eastern Europe” from the West’s point of view, but instead, to give voice to the actors within the states of that reified region. We invite participants whose work examines any aspect of Eastern Europe as a performing site that shifts and challenges our understanding of the “abnormal” body/politics and “extra/ordinary” aspects of the region prior and post-1989, as well as projects that address the proliferation and institutionalism of forms of performance that take the East European “extraordinary body” and transform it into a lucrative transnational figure under the demands of global capitalism that may work for or against human rights.
Accordingly, we are interested in a wide-range of topics including, but not limited to:
• bodily practices among refugees, migrants, and minorities
• medical and scientific uses of bodies
• virtual technologies and prosthetic-bodies such as performing objects and puppets in memory politics
• performance protocols of being “human” and influence of discourses such as human rights
• forms of cultural diplomacy and cross-cultural exchange
• economies of violence, as Jennifer Suchland calls the underlying causes of human trafficking
• performances of extra/ordinary bodies in the region’s historiography
In early September, conveners will request 5-10 page drafts of papers from group members. Based on common vocabularies, theoretical foundations, or contextual interests, the conveners will divide the papers into groups. Before meeting in Atlanta, the papers will be circulated to these groups, and discussion will be conducted via email among them, culminating in a final draft in mid-October. At that point, papers will be circulated to the entire working group for reading. In Atlanta, participants will be asked to bring an object, document, article or ethnographic anecdote specific to their paper that the previous virtual conversation made more crucial for their argument. For the first half of our meeting, we will split up into the same small groups from our virtual discussion where members will (a) discuss their research object and the question that object situates about Eastern Europe’s Otherness, and (b) respond to the group’s papers and broader theoretical intersections. In the second half, groups will report their discussion and present it to the other three groups and the audience at large, allowing for group conversation. Lastly, we will reserve time at the end of the session to discuss the prospect of an edited anthology on the subject of extra-ordinary bodies and performance in Central-Eastern Europe, Eurasia and Russia.
For any specific questions, please contact the working group conveners Jacob Juntunen, Southern Illinois University (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Margarita Kompelmakher, University of Minnesota (email@example.com).