Johanna Karlsson holds a BA in Theatre and Performance Studies from Stockholm University. Major research interests are minority languages and the Olympics.
Trans-Forming the Nation: Male Bodies Performing Postcolonial States
Supervisors: Professor Adrian Kear and Dr Roger Owen
This Performance Studies research project will present three different cultural performances in which three different male bodies became symbols of their respective countries. The image of the female body has been present throughout the history of the nation state. When England and France respectively colonised large parts of the world, it was done with the help of female figures that came to represent these powerful nations. For the idea and staging of the nation as a community, the fecund female has been an essential element within the nation state.
What happens to the idea of the nation if men, just as well as fecund and fictitious women, can become not only the symbol, but also the embodiment, of it? Which are, in these cases, the attributes that accompany the nation as body?
The three performances researched are the following:
Sprinter Ben Johnson’s part in the so-called “Dubin Inquiry”, a 1989 televised court hearing-style investigation of the consumption of performance enhancing drugs among Canadian athletes. Johnson’s body had been the symbol of national pride at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. After the revelation of his drug abuse, the Dubin Inquiry was initiated. In tears and covered up in smart suits during the process, Johnson appeared a broken man. The body that so often had been displayed, was now to be hidden in an attempt to heal the country after the national trauma.
Welsh nationalist MP Gwynfor Evans’s threat of a hunger strike in 1980 to protest the Tory government’s decision of not establishing a Welsh-language television channel. His meticulously planned staging of a potentially deadly hunger strike was finally called off before put into practice, but Evans’s whole life was a long series of activism for the cause of the Welsh nation. As the first ever Welsh nationalist to win a seat in Westminster 1966, Evans came to embody the struggle for independence within the very place of power, i.e. Westminster.
The 1976 inauguration ceremony of the Central African Republic’s dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa; a re-enactment of the 1804 ceremony that saw Napoleon Bonaparte crowned the Emperor of the French. The event marked the end of Bokassa’s rise from a private in the French colonial army to Emperor of the Central African Empire; from being a body at the service of the colonizer to covering up that body in full regalia and, like Napoleon, placing the imperial crown on his own head.
I will start by establishing the concept of the nation and the staging of it – from the nation state and its iconographic national personifications, to the construction of the postcolonial state and the embodiment of it through the three cases studies. France and England, along with their respective colonies, will be studied as two different fields. By applying Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the field to England and France respectively, I look to establish where in the field Wales, Canada and the Central African Republic at the time of the events were to be found in relation to the centres, i.e. Paris and London. Although Bourdieu speaks of the literary field, his theories of the field as a place of complicated power structures can be adapted to politics.
My intention for this research project is:
- to further examine the cultural performance that is the postcolonial, sovereign state in relation to its former colonizers;
- to investigate the male body in situations in which it is scrutinized and questioned;
- to offer a discussion within the postcolonial discourse on linguistic minorities in Europe.
I also hope that my research will contribute to a further discussion on the concept of the audience within Performance Studies. During a time in which the political ideas of the extreme right are gaining ground, citizenship grows more and more important. If politics is performance, do citizens equal audiences? If yes, to which extent are audiences expected to partake in the performance?