Cover image for Cities of the dead : circum-Atlantic performance
Cities of the dead : circum-Atlantic performance
Roach, Joseph R., 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [1996]

Physical Description:
xvi, 328 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Reading Level:
1520 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GT4211.N4 R63 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GT4211.N4 R63 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The colorful handmade costumes of beads and feathers swirl frenetically, as the Mardi Gras Indians dance through the streets of New Orleans in remembrance of a widely disputed cultural heritage. Iroquois Indians visit London in the early part of the eighteenth century and give birth to the "feathered people" in the British popular imagination.

What do these seemingly disparate strands of culture share over three hundred years and several thousand miles of ocean? Artfully interweaving theatrical, musical, and ritual performance from the eighteenth century to the present in London and New Orleans, Cities of the Dead takes a look at a rich continuum of intercultural exchange that reinvents, recreates, and restores history.

Complemented with fifty-five illustrations, including spectacular photos of the famed Mardi Gras Indians, this fascinating work employs an entirely unique approach to the study of culture. Rather than focusing on one region, Cities of the Dead explores broad cultural connections over place and time, showing through myriad examples how performance can revise the unwritten past.

Author Notes

Joseph Roach is professor of English at Tulane University. He is the author of The Player's Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting, which won the Barnard Hewitt Award, and coeditor, with Janeele Reinelt, of Critical Theory and Performance.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This is one of those rare books that alters the landscape of the territory it covers. By focusing on "circum-Atlantic [rather than trans-Atlantic] memory," Roach links the cultural history of England with that of America, primarily with the festivities of New Orleans and tangentially with the Caribbean and with enslaved and emancipated Africans. Identifying a basin of intercultural history created in part by the trade in commodities and human flesh that traversed the Atlantic, Roach establishes the centrality of such interaction, reflected emblematically in specific cultural performances (e.g., the funeral of Thomas Betterton along with the visit of four "Indian kings" from the New World to London in 1710; a variety of New Orleans Mardi Gras activities and legal "plays" of power from the late 19th century on; and finally a New Orleans jazz funeral). In Roach's convincing analysis, each of these events bears centrally on the others. This wide-ranging book never seems disjunctive or haphazard. Calling on Richard Schechner's idea of performance as "restored behavior" (see The Future of Ritual, 1933) the author develops a "genealogy of performance" that focuses on traditions transmitted through memory, place of performance gatherings, and performance that expresses cultural collisions. Roach's thorough primary and secondary research acknowledges his predecessors (e.g., Samuel Kinser's Carnival, American Style, 1990, and Michael P. Smith's Mardi Gras Indians, 1994). The vocabulary of the book is beautifully expressive but not simple. Recommended for students and scholars who wish to understand the vital intertwining of "Old," "New," and "Third" world cultural history. M. C. Riggio Trinity College (CT)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: History, Memory, and Performance
Circum-Atlantic Memory
Locations and Bearings
Materials and Methods
The Everlasting Club
Genealogies of Performance
2 Echoes in the Bone
The Effigy
Performing Origins
The Segregation of the Dead
Bodies of Law Congo Sqaure
The King is Dead-Long Live the King!
3 Betterton's Funeral
"Sticks and Rags": The Celebrity as Effigy
Vortices of behavior
The Life of Betterton: Talking with the Dad
Canonical Memory and Theatrical Nationhood
The Pinacotheca Bettertonaeana
L Bibliography of origin
White SKin, Black Masks
4 Feathered Peoples
The Accursed Share: Abundance, Reproduction, and Sacrifice
Condolence Councils and the Great Peace
Windsor Forest Dimplomacy