Birzeit University | West Bank, Palestine
Theatre in Palestine and its Other Documents
This paper bridges the two tracks of inquiry articulated in this year’s symposium on political culture and the culture of politics. On the one hand, my paper theorizes a modality of US imperial power that shapes Palestinian political culture, and on the other analyzes cultural practices in Palestine that mediate the normalizing standards of global governance.
Specifically, I develop an analysis of what I call ‘performance-based’ politics as a process of subject-formation that is based on transnational governing norms. The articulation is drawn from the Roadmap—“A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli Palestinian Conflict”—which I use to show the constitutive element of performance as a practice of US transnational power. I deconstruct on-the-ground implications of the performance paradigm used by US political brokers to “normalize” Palestine and Palestinians into the ‘civilized’ world of nation-states, a globalized neoliberal economy, and structures of self-disciplining. To analyze the ways targeted populations negotiate these governing norms, I devote attention to the production and reception of performances that Palestinians construct in response to or in dialogue with colonial-imperial modes of representation and the global market. Cultural and political performances of the nation, the state, and what it means to be human, in addition to exhibitionary practices of protest demonstrations, museums, and theatre productions, reveal the degree to which Palestinian performance mediates global spectatorship.
By breaking down the constructed binary between art and politics in a contemporary settler colonial context, I also interrogate how a discourse of the ‘real’ has shaped the culture and politics of the Palestinian struggle. Building on relationships between theatricality, violence, and the historical narrative among different modes of aestheticpolitical performances, I question not how politics are staged or how art reflects reality, but rather how a discursive logic of the real circumscribes imaginings and performances of politics, nation, and art.
Compared to studies that focus on nationalism, land and settlement, political economy, and international politics, the role of performance has not been substantially addressed and is crucial to understanding representational and governing politics in and of the Third World. I therefore analyze the ways in which performance protocols (spectatorship, staging, role-playing, ‘liveness’) have been constitutive in the struggle over Palestine and are defining elements of settler colonial practices. Making use of a cultural and performance studies approach, my research is based on in-depth ethnographic research, literary and visual analysis, and theories of spectatorship, representation, and resistance.