In the debates on contemporary politics, the category of performance often wavers between the extremes in terms of relevance. On the one hand, performance-even within the discussions on culture-often comes only as an afterthought in understanding politics. With the technological advances and the rise of the new media, which have broken down the constraints of space-time, and especially with a change in perception brought in by them (Lehmann 2006), performances are often seen, if not as archaic or redundant, then as sites of limited efficacy. It is against this general backdrop of understanding that theatre scholar Janelle Reinelt (2015), for instance, attempts to think through the relationship between theatre and democracy. Framing theatre as a ‘Worksite of democracy’, Reinelt highlights the need to understand ‘theatre as a part of a multiple and hybrid social engagement, peopled by a variety of publics, and making its contribution not as a huge stand-alone event or artefact, but rather as a communication node within a network of highly varied and sometimes contradictory nodes that together make up public discourse’ (ibid: 48-49).
On the other hand even as specific/actual performances have taken a backseat in the discourse, the category of performance itself and the qualities associated with it are often seen as extremely significant in their generalised state, impacting spheres outside its conventional ambit of influence. In this framework, for example, neoliberalism is often characterised in global scholarship as something that entails a regime change, where ‘Performance’ assumes a special status. Jon McKenzie, in his book Perform or Else (2001), puts forth a ‘general theory of performance’ based on the post-Second World War United States, where he asserts that to understand the transformation of the ‘performance’ regime as distinct from the earlier, disciplinary one. McKenzie argues that ‘performance will be to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries what discipline was to the eighteenth and nineteenth, that is, an onto-historical formation of power and knowledge’(ibid:18; emphasis in original), a formation that he suggests went global with the Cold War. Analytically making out three paradigms of performance-‘organizational sense of perfromance’,’cultural performance’ and ‘technological performance’-McKenzie argues that: Like discipline, performance produces a new subject of knowledge, though on quite different from that produced under the regime of panoptic surveillance. Hyphenated identities, transgendered bodies, digital avatars, the Human Genome Project-these suggest that the performance subject is constructed a fragmented rather than real. They do not occupy a single, ‘proper place in knowledge; there is no such thing as the thinging-itself. Instead, objects are produced and maintained through a variety of sociotechinical systems, overcoded by many discourses, and situated in numerous sites of practice. (Ibid.) The present study undertakes a selective exploration of what McKenzie would call the paradigm of ‘cultural performance’ whereby he marks how performance became an object of study with the formation of Performance Studies as a discipline. He argues that ‘Performance Studies scholar have constructed cultural performance as an engagement of social norms, as an ensemble of activities with the potential to uphold societal arrangements or , alternatively, to change people and societies’ (ibid.:30). While engaging with the ‘globality’ of performance regime, here I depart from McKenzie’s general theory of performance which categorically marks the substitution of the disciplinary regime by the performance regime. Instead, I open up the category of cultural performance that has an ontology which is conceptualised in the region, thereby foregrounding how performance offers a distinct lens to understand the political in the contemporary. Organised under five distinct modes of a series of mainstream cultural performances in Kerala across different genres, like theatre, poetry recitals, kathaprasangam (a popular form of storytelling that emerged in the 1920s in Kerala) and mimics parade. I highlight how performance is at the heart of the workings of the new modality of power, and following different strategies, how these cultural performances foreground what it is to perform, and therefore what it is to live the contemporary. This book posits performance as a critical site of enquiry to unravel the sensory and affective contours in the transformation of the region into a neoliberal regime.
In India the term neoliberalism is associated with the unprecedented changes that began to gain pace from the late 1980s with the deregulation and opening, up of the economy through ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’, privatisation initiatives and the rise of transnational medial. These changes are often conceived in the mainstream to have transformed India from a nation driven by state developmentalism to a nation organised by the free market. However, the complexities of the emergence of neoliberalism in India cannot be seen in terms of ‘liberation’ from the state-driven ‘past’ or a narrative of homogenisation through globalisation. Scholars have shown how consumption becomes critical with liberalisation in India, reconstituting figures such as the middle-class woman through her ‘sexualization as an actively desiring subject’ (John 1988:382), the dalit and lower-caste male (Dhareshwar and Niranjana 1996), the figure of the youth (Lukose 2005), etc., as ‘consuming subjects’. Further, it has been argued that the reconfiguration of domains such as ‘erotic’s at the intersection of ‘national belonging’ (Mankekar 2004) or the rise o the politics of the fundamentalist Hindu right enmeshed with new modes of capitalism (Rajagopal 1999; 2001) have to be seen as reconstitutions, where new consumption practices intersect with long-standing discursive structures and practices within the nation-state. The point of departure for the present work is to link the new identificatory structures of neoliberalism with an earlier, absolutist moment in Indian political history, namely the two-year long national internal emergency of 1975-77 (Emergency, hereafter). While ‘Press censorship, arrests, torture, and the demolition of slums and...forcible sterilisation campaigns’ (Tarlo 2003: 1) during the Emergency have been grounds for discussion in non-academic narratives, the complex relation between ‘democracy’ and ‘authoritarianism’ put into motion by the Emergency had received less critical attention. The trend of the freedom obtained from colonisation moving towards dictatorships has been seen in many third world nation-states. India, till the 1970s, was seen as an exception, a seeming model for democracy amongst the newly independent nations. With the declaration of a national emergency on 25 June 1975 on the basis of ‘internal disturbances’ that curtailed the fundamental rights of the people, and the reign of terror that ensued in the next nineteen months the claim of the unquestionable character of India as a functioning democracy become questionable. In the process, ‘disciplining’ the ‘excesses’ of the people was invoked as the central responsibility of the state. In the paper presented to the parliament after the declaration to put ‘democracy back on the rails’: No government worth the name could stand by and allow the country’s security, stability and economy to be imperilled. The nation’s interest demanded firm and decisive action to put democracy on the rails again’ (Appendix I in Puri 1978:136). One of the most controversial amendment to the Indian constitution brought in by the regime-the 42nd Amendment, which consisted of fifty-nine clauses-has been sometimes called a ‘mini-constitution’ due to quantitative and qualitative changes it brought about in the constitution. These amendments affected a transfer of power, first from the judiciary to the parliament and then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, and her clique. When Indira Gandhi surprisingly declared elections in 1977, the massive anti-governments in power had aligned with fact voted back to power in the polls of 1977. In the narratives around liberalisation policies, the Emergency is characterised as the moment that crystallised everything violent about ‘non-open’ economy and state developmentalismm an absolutism that has been seemingly put aside with the emergence of liberalisation.
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