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Notes from GAD Lecture (please understand that these are just notes for your reference. There are a lot of half sentences, thoughts, and probably spelling errors here. Feel free to email me with any questions.)
Active Allyship: Addressing the Harm of Colonial Dominance, Slavery, and Orientalist Projections in the Commercialization of Vernacular Dance
- Introduce myself, my research, my dance background, decolonization, political science, social theory, International Law, semiotics, performance studies…
- I want to acknowledge my teachers who have contributed so much knowledge and context, and taught me so much on this subject: Donna Mejia, Marcos Steuernagel, Nii Armah Sowa, Justin Desautels-Stein, Rabea Behalim, Dr. Djene Rhys Bajalan, Dr. David Romano, Amy Sigil, and Suhaila Salimpour.
- I started as a member of this community, Egyptian Raqs Sharki and folklore, moved into the Salimpour format and Improv Team Sync before starting my academic dance journey at 28. It was here I started studying western forms. It’s important to me that you know that I didn’t start in a western form, and then come into MENAHT movement, I started as a MENAHT human working in MENAHT movement and brought those experiences into the academy with me.
- I think it’s important for you to know that because academia can feel like an invader in our dance spaces (not universally) and an attempt to sterilize cultural knowledge (which can be true and has been true historically), but I think it’s important to acknowledge and support the ways that MENAHT/BIPOC voices and dance are increasingly occupying, subverting, and challenging the academic space and how important and difficult that is, and also needs support.
- This is not an easy journey. These aren’t just things I magically know and am now regurgitating them AT you. When you’re hearing me speak, you’re listening to long hours of study, reading, interrogating my own worldview, finding much-needed languaging for my own experiences, and then weaving all of that into the field of dance.
- Unpacking academia
- There is no finality in Academia.
- I am a dancer first, please keep in mind that there are brilliant people who have written dissertations on these topics, or lived specific examples. these are are tools I have used to understand the transmission and transformation of my art and my identity, but by no means are they my singular are of study.
- Inherent and indigenous knowledge is important and real…Homi Bhabha, Fred Moten
- How this is going to roll…
- I’m a conversationalist, so I want to connect with you as much as possible in this webinar format even though I can’t see you.
- I’ve got some goals for this lecture, but I want to be able to discuss things that are important and relevant to you, or for you to ask related questions that I haven’t covered but are maybe relevant to you, and see if/ how I can help or add.
- You are in charge of your own experience…excitement, acceptance, and resistance are all valid pieces of information.
- Which leads me to… information has a way of being stirring…it can stir excitement, discomfort, anger, confusion, etc… In an effort to encourage us into a place of responsiveness as opposed to reaction, I’m taking a pause after each section to offer the opportunity for questions, or to clarify any of the things I’ve talked about. I’ve created a little ritual for it, The format is: we’ll take a cleansing breath together and let out a sound, take a beat, then begin our discussion.
- I’m not using a powerpoint, I’m sorry visual learners! I’m using my voice and my bad handwriting. All of my sources are listed at brittneybanaei.com
- Uncover, Discover, Discard (Nafez Nazzal)
- We are making a sandwich with three ingredients: History, Theory, and Mythology, the theory will be the meat, the thing that links world history to our dance mythology.
- Introduce myself, my research, my dance background, decolonization, political science, social theory, International Law, semiotics, performance studies…
History: The colonization of Africa and the Middle East -these are only a few events that I feel like cover the most territory as far as hegemony and colonization, but it is NOT an exhaustive list by any means.
The scramble for Africa 1881-1914
- Colonization of the African continent by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the UK resulting in the subjugation of the African people, the depletion of African natural resources under colonial rule, and the state boundaries we know today on the African continent.
- For Subsequent decolonization of Africa:
- the UN meets (Mohammad Bedjaoui) discussion of how to decolonize, what constitutes a “people” and a “nation, “
- Different than the slave trade, which began much earlier. This is theorized by Atom Getachew as a direct response to the abolitionist movement, insofar that it attempts to continue the enslavement of African people in the wake of abolitionism.
- How to deal with the question of sovereignty, prioritizing state sovereignty over individual rights,
- Uti Possidetis: as you possess, so you shall continue to possess…respect for borders at the moment independence is achieved.
- continues to contribute to major economic hardship and hegemony on the African continent today.
- Post WWI Division of the Ottoman Empire (1918-1922)
- The Skyes-Picot SECRET agreement between UK and France, also Russia and Italy about who would gain control over the what parts of the Empire post- WWI
- British: Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Southern Iraq…France: SE Turkey, Syria, Northern Iraq, Lebanon
- Again, natural resources and military advantages involving the Suez canal and the Mediterannean sea are prioritized, again,
- forming states where there were none before. Not to say that there weren’t distinct ethnic identities, but now these boundaries, between Syria and Palestine for example, broke up these ethnic identities into arbitrary states, and left Europe in control of determining the future of these states based on western interests like resources and trade.
- The British Colonization of India (1858-1947)
- East India Trading Company…again…resources and economic advantage
- Dealt in slavery
- Had its own army which it used to subjugate the Indian states and continent
- An uprising that led to British Crown intervention in 1858
- Partition of India and Pakistan- leading to multiple conflicts
- Britain is criticized as leaving India poorer despite investments in infrastructure. Disruption of local practices in the service of western imperialism devastated, and arguably continues to devastate the Indian economic landscape
These historical events are not arbitrary, and reflect deeply imbedded systemic racism/xenophobia/eurocentrism in terms of international legal discourse and international law. “Great Powers” “Family of Nations” dynamic (Charmed inner circle) which is now defunct still sets the stage for international treaties and organizations that make decisions about the future of the “uncivilized” world, failing to take into account the existence of multiple modernities and indigenous intelligence, and promoting Eurocentristic values, customs, and norms in occupied territories.
2. The who, what, and why of Decolonial/Postcolonial Studies
Okay, now you know what colonization is in terms of the Middle East, this is the backdrop against which our theorists, Homi Bhabha and Edward Said are speaking. Theory is going to be our bridge between political history and our dance mythology. Hopefully we can use this sandwich meat to decode and make connections between the two.
Edward Said and Homi Bhabha, we talk about Said a lot (as we should), but my hope is that one day we can reference Bhbha, too. So these theorists are coming out of a very real and direct response to the aforementioned historical events, and the permissibility of colonization through western othering of the east. Said from Palestine and Bhabha from India.
- When you google Orientalism, different things come up. There is the French/British art history version of both real and imagined scenes of the Middle East, and…
- Edward Said’s Orientalism. The two things are related, but not the same. Orientalist art is more of a product of the thing Said is talking about.
- Said was Palestinian, and is a controversial character in the realm of Middle Eastern Studies because of that. (Bernard Lewis)
- Orientalism refers to the western “othering” of the “Oriental” (the east), categorizing the people as a homogenous group which is antithetical to European values. Barbaric, emotional, violent, hypersexualized, unintelligent, ‘frozen in time’ etc. Orientalism as a theory works in two directions: to promote continued imperialism,colonialism and superiority through comparison, and to subjugate and infantilize Middle Eastern and North African people and cultures
- I hope the history has given you some context that there is real economic skin in the game for the west, and a real need to justify direct colonization, and colonization by different names later: Mandate systems, Rentier States, “Responsibility to Protect,” Wars, NGOs,Missionary Work. All are features and functions of the mental and legal gymnastics required for continued colonial behavior that Said is naming Orientalism. US Governmental action in the ME exists in the legacy of this project.
- I think often in dance we talk about Orientalist depictions of MENAHT people, but I want to drive home the real existential imperative Said is digging at: Orientalism effects policy, military, economic governmental actions that to this day devalue and jeopardize the sovereignty of the Middle East while invisibilizing and homogenizing Middle Eastern identity. In the way systemic racism impacts BIPOC individuals on US soil, Orientalism impacts MENAHT people on their own soil but is still perpetrated by the west.
- There are a few critiques of Said’s work, including lack of impartiality, demonizing of the west (Ibn Warraq) and lack of solutions and forward-thinking (Hamid Dabashi) I’ve included them on my resource list but not because I agree with them.
- Said also wrote “culture and imperialism”, worth a read.
“The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the Western expert. From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.” -Edward Said, Orientalism
- Homi Bhabha
- Homi Bhabha is from India, he teaches at Harvard. Inspired by Said’s work.
- His main project is to challenge the production of “theory” as a western concept.
- The gatekeeping of theory and European thought as “universal”
- His question is: Why should I accept that I can only be the object of critical theory, but not participate in it?
- One of his projects in “the location of culture” is to challenge the “knowability” of culture within western institutions. Culture is not something stagnant that one day you do not know, and then one day you do and you are done.
- Bhabha’s “Third Space Theory” and notions of hybridity are relevant to us: Bhabha uses literary, cultural, and social theory to explain the process in which a colonizing force tries and fails to translate the identity of an “other” through a singular, hegemonic structure, therefore creating something new, yet familiar. It is the Third Space between colonizing forces, and the idea that culture is “pure” and fixed, which is also a colonialist fetishization.
“The theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualising an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity. It is the inbetween space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture, and by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.” Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture
Keeping all of the above in mind, I would like to challenge the following mythologies:
- The myth that there is a singular benchmark of “authenticity”
- While there are problems within American fusion dance, there are also problems within the discourse about “authenticity.”
- I would like to invite more nuance in our dance beyond “Fusion” and “traditional,” if, according to Bhabha, culture is not fixed, between what two points is a “fusion” resting? If a dance is traditional, but identity is ever-shifting, in what way is it traditional?
- “Dance in the field” vs. Reconstructionist dance (Anthony Shay), Traditional, neo-traditional, western art music (Pascal Yao Younge, Music and Dance Traditions of Ghana History)
- There is a problem with ultratraditionalism as it relates to people of multiple ethnicities and the diaspora, and there is a problem with eurocentrism when it comes to the standards of “high art’ and virtuosity. Hopefully you see how those notions have developed. How do we keep all of it without erasing any of it? The existence of the thing is not the problem, the unexamined hierarchy that stems from our political and historical actions is the problem.
- The myth of expertise
- The monetization and specialization within this form has called for a need to perform “expertise.”
- How do we allow for, as Said points out, culture to “represent itself” by releasing our need for performing expertise. How can we be an expert of something that is not fixed and is ever-evolving? Can we be satisfied with being experts in our own identity and experience?
Hopefully by now this sandwich we have made is looking more like a shawarma than a BLT, where everything is mixed in, cyclical, sitting on top of one another and dripping from the edges. There are no sharp corners in the projects of history, hybridity, and culture. My hope is that you are walking away from this with an understanding of why it is important to acknowledge the clandestine legacy of colonialism in the MENAHT, where our art form sits within that legacy, and how we might move forward with critical thought.