Representing India’s Pasts: Time, Culture, and the Problems of Performance Historiography
Like other forms of modern history-writing in India, theatre historiography is an inherently embattled field because it seeks to reconstruct the past in a culture where “history,” “historicity,” “historical experience,” “historical consciousness,” and “the historical sense” have been, and continue to be, deeply contested concepts. To a large extent, this crisis is a product of cultural difference: it registers the conflicts between Indian and Western, intrinsic and extrinsic ideas of time and history that were inevitable under the asymmetrical power relations of colonialism between the late-eighteenth and the early twentieth centuries. In the postcolonial period, a sophisticated rethinking of Western and Indian models of historiography has thoroughly professionalized the academic discipline of history, and revisionist historians (notably the Subaltern Studies collective) have undertaken an “Indian
historiography of India” that systematically critiques and displaces colonialist historiography. Theatre history, however, remains a largely amateur field fragmented by region and language, and even the more ambitious historians tend to recirculate orientalist or revivalist positions as they grapple with the challenges of constructing a “national theatre history” for a multilingual, multifaceted performance culture spanning more than two millennia. The activity of representing the past in Indian theatre historiography is therefore inseparable from the problem of the past: of how to approach, define, and order the vast performance archive of an ancient culture that allegedly lacks a sense of history, and is deeply invested in tradition even as it negotiates the ruptures of colonial and postcolonial modernity. In this talk, I approach the subject of time as an ordering principle in theatre history by way of the polarized philosophical-cultural arguments that problematize the ideas of time and history and underscore the necessity of creating desiderata for Indian theatre historiography outside both indigenist and orientalist frameworks.