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Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Performative Identity and Racial Borderland

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2010, 23(3), pp.33-52
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Hyun-joo Ki 1

1세종대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This essay examines ‘performative identity’ in Twilight by Anna Deavere Smith. In this documentary play, Smith represents about forty people who are involved directly or indirectly with LA Riot in 1992. Performing these different characters, Smith demonstrates that identity is not essential but fluid. Therefore, the poststructural concept of identity, which emphasizes performativity, provides a clue to understanding the play. Judith Butler theorizes ‘performative identity’ redeploying a linguistic term from J. L. Austin’s ‘Speech Act Theory.’ According to Butler, identity related to gender is formed through repeated acts associated with gender. Diverse characters represented through Smith’s body are individuals, but they are connected with one another through the mediation of her performance. Mimicking people’s language, accent, and gesture, Smith travels from one self to another. Because of this trait, her performance sometimes risks stereotyping racial minorities. However, she confuses and destabilizes racial identity constructed in accordance with binary opposition. From a white police officer to a beaten white truck driver and from a black mayor to an ex-gang member, white and black people are not just portrayed as victimizer and victim. In particular, Korean Americans depicted as scapegoats express not only their fear and hatred toward black and Latin people who are mainly responsible for the destruction of their stores but also sympathy and understanding for the predicaments black people suffered through history. By performing different characters, Smith foregrounds the fact that racial identity is in motion. In a theatrical space created by the unique dramaturgy, characters from different racial, gender and class categories come out of their selves and have a dialogue with other people through Smith’s body. Therefore Twilight is newly defined as challenging to and negotiable with essential identity of race and gender and provides a route in which characters from different racial and cultural backgrounds can understand each other. If politics establishes the borderlines among groups of people and places them in appropriate space based on difference, Smith’s experimental play implies powerful political message by trying to disrupt the lines.

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