“More than memory” : haunted performance in post-9/11 popular U.S. culture




Manis, Raechelle Lee

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This dissertation combines performance analysis, rhetorical criticism, and psychoanalytical theory to analyze three performance “texts” as sites of haunting in post-9/11 America: Tony Kushner’s 2001 U.S. debut of Homebody/Kabul, the Broadway musical Wicked, and ABC’s television drama Lost. It contributes a nuanced, theorized reading of the civil implications of post-9/11 popular American culture as “more than memory” by demonstrating how these performances suggested “what might be” in ways that subverted Bush’s responses to the attacks. The first chapter reads Homebody/Kabul against the national addresses delivered by Bush in the first weeks after the attacks and argue that the 2001 New York Theatre Workshop performance created a space for audiences to reconsider the version of “mourning” encouraged by the Bush administration. The type of mourning modeled/enabled by Homebody/Kabul, I assert, is different from that against which Derrida warns. Rather than “silencing ghosts” (Gunn 82) through the integration of loss, Homebody/Kabul makes a space for conversing with, and models living with, ghosts. The second chapter argues that the Wicked’s Ozians are stuck in a state of melancholia, refusing to speak to/with the ghost of Elphaba. Because they refuse to reckon with Elphaba, they literally finish exactly where they began—with “No One Mourn[ing] the Wicked.” By reading Wicked against the celebratory rhetoric of the Bush administration after declaring “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, we can understand the way the United States as a nation was (and may still be, in 2010) haunted by the Bush administration's failure to lead the nation in mourning effectively and ethically and by its incessant rhetoric of evil. The third chapter advocates for Lost as a hauntological reckoning with 9/11 that models ethical witnessing as a potentially generative meeting of human beings across cultures at the site of trauma. An alternative to the fear that the Bush administration encouraged leading up to Lost’s premiere and through its final season, ethical witnessing as modeled on Lost suggests that civilization stands to thrive where difference is honored—and risks toppling into chaos where the alternative “us against them” mentality (Other anxiety) prevails.



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