Sunday, December 7, 2008
Reading Against the Orientalist Grain:
Syed Jamil Ahmed
Reading Against the Orientalist Grain:
Performance and Politics Entwined with a Buddhist Strain
Kolkata: Anderson, 2008
357 + xv pp, 173 colour images
Available at: Anderson House, EN 11, Sector V, Salt Lake City, Kolkata 700091, India.
Reading Against the Orientalist Grain: Performance and Politics Entwined with a Buddhist Strain is exploratory and self-questioning, crystallized around the post-colonial location of the author. From this location, the phrase ‘against the grain’ connotes a bit of wry humour. The grain in wood, if planed in the wrong direction, will tear rather than lie smoothly. And that precisely is the intention of this volume. Recognizing 'politics' as a pervasive struggle for power and the ‘political’ as that which seeks to expose, subvert or enhance transactions of power, this volume is unashamedly political on two fronts: Orientalism’s ‘natural’ tendency for dealing with the ‘Orient’ and the hegemony of culture mobilized in ‘benign’ and ‘exotic’ ‘Oriental’ performances.
Reading Against the Orientalist Grain, as a study of performances, intends to read, i.e., to make sense of, to construct meaning out of eight performances. These are Caryā Nṛtya and Indra Jātrā from Nepal, Pangtoed Cham from Sikkim, Lhamo from Tibet, Paro Tsechu from Bhutan, Devol Maduva from Sri Lanka, Yoke Thay from Burma and Bauddha Kīrtan from Bangladesh. These performances are entwined with one common thread — Buddhism — more specifically, Theravāda and Vajrayāna Buddhism. The volume is the product of and an attempt to communicate the author’s experience of Buddhism as transience — ironically, in the past tense of these pages — against the Orientalist grain. It seeks to examine how various representations of ‘Buddhist’ performances, as networks of signs where the signified is infinitely delayed, are constructed and to what effects and consequences these representations are mobilized.
Syed Jamil Ahmed (b. 1955) is a director in theatre based in Bangladesh and Professor of Theatre at the Department of Theatre and Music in the University of Dhaka. He graduated from the National School of Drama (New Delhi, India) in 1978, obtained his MA in Theatre from the University of Warwick (Coventry, England) in 1989, and his PhD from the University of Dhaka (Bangladesh) in 1997. His reputation as a director is well established with credits such as Biñād Sindhu (based on the Karbala legend) and Behulār Bhāsān (an adaptation of the Manasā-maìgal) in Bangladesh, The Wheel in the USA, Ek Hazar Aur Ek Theen Ratein (an adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights) in Pakistan, and Pāhiye in India. His design credits include Acalāyatan, Kittankholā, Kerāmat Maìgal, TheTempest, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, The Measures Taken, Oedipus Rex and Urubhaìgam in Bangladesh, Iphigenia in Tauris and Good Woman of Setzuan in India. His works stand out distinctly because he succeeds in impinging ‘traditional’ materials with a sharp contemporary relevance, and because he seeks passionate flights of imagination by blending Euro-American theatre practice with elements drawn from the indigenous/folk theatre of Bangladesh. He has published in the New Theatre Quarterly, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Asian Theatre Journal, TDR: The Drama Review, and Research in Drama Education. His full-length publications include Acinpākhi Infinity: Indigenous Theatre in Bangladesh (Dhaka: University Press Ltd, 2000) and In Praise of Niraan: Islam, Theatre, and Bangladesh (Dhaka: Pathak Samabesh, 2001). He has traveled extensively in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, and has taught as a scholar-in-residence under Fulbright Fellowship at the Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA (1990), a visiting faculty at the King Alfred's College, Winchester, UK (2002) and a visiting scholar at the San Francisco City College under Fulbright Visiting Specialist Programme (2005).