Book Review Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity by William Mazzarella

Censorium Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2013.

pp. ix +284. Notes. Bibliog. Refs. Index. Pb.

£16.99. ISBN 9 7808 2235 3881

Commissioned by: Dr. Jacob Copeman


Review by

Amitabh Vikram Dwivedi,

Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Jammu, India


In his carefully researched ethnographic project, William Mazzarella uses the dialectical approach to analyze censorship in the Indian film industry, and he highlights that censorship has become a “burning topic of public controversy in India” (p. 3). To do so, he develops a theory of performative dispensation to show that “any claim to sovereign power is also a claim on a particular relation between sensuous incitement and symbolic order” (p. 3).

The book is organized into six equal, thematic sections, including introduction and other five interpretative chapters, and eschewing conclusion as a chapter, deliberately it seems, so that this work should be evaluated as a “contribution to the political anthropology of mass media” rather than “a history of Indian film censorship” (p. 3-4).

The author demonstrates a close reading of contemporary literature and popular culture, including, quotations, excerpts from newspapers’ editorials, interviews, film scenes, and court cases. His ethnographic approach throughout this book is amply justified and informed by the growing scholarship and references on the themes of public culture with reference to history, society and politics inside and outside India from 1830 to 2013.

Every chapter has a title and sub-titles; in the first chapter the author explores Performative Dispensation. He gives an outline of the history of censorship in India

juxtaposes a problem of distance between audience’s pleasure and moralizing discourse which professes liberal principles and practices authoritarian pragmatics, which the author defines “a classic colonial symptom” to Indian film industry (p. 74). The author gives a reference of Article 19(1) (a) and Article 19(2) that ensures freedom of speech and expression, and also limits it respectively in India, probably to show that the transition period in India demands a permanent institutionalized discourse.

The second chapter recounts the grounds of the censor’s judgment by interrogating who the hell do the Censors think they are? Mazzarella actively argues whether the age of strife/a transitional phrase in India calls for incompetent Censor Board members whose “parallax view” fails them to synthesize between policing and pedagogy (p. 78). Quite suggestive in his tone, the author engages himself with everything in cinema that is against the so-called healthy entertainment of Indian cultural/social/political perspectives. He quotes Polanski’s remarks “Fuck the censors… … …” while giving references of political and social intervention for the flicks e.g. Shyam Benegal’s Ankur (Trans: The Seedling) (1974) (Trans: and Nishant (Trans: End of Night) (1975); Amrit Nahata’s Kissa Kursi Ka (Trans: Tale of Thorne) (1977); Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (1994).

The book is largely jargon-free but Mazzarella coins his own register for his narratives: “the pissing men” represents ignorant and illiterate Indian minds which he uses throughout the book (p. 13). The same pissing men, echoing in the chapter three, according to the author is responsible for not getting a “unified performative dispensation” and it also helps other Indians to project the “uncannily extimate self-relation” and maintaining distinction between “continent spectator-citizens and incontinent pissing men” (p. 191). Probably, this line of thinking in India makes “public man” as an actively engaged citizen and “public woman” as a prostitute (p. 13). The chapter provides references of how the pissing men react to Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (1994), Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995), and Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1998).

The next chapter Quotidian Eruptions is supported by the theory of Slavoj Žižek and Jacques Lacan to describe “something in the way” which is in between aesthetic distinction and extimate squirm (p 190). The author argues that the role of the censorship is to fill the gap between something that is uprooted from tradition and not properly educated. The final chapter argues that obscenity is a tendency, and it should not be seen as obscene materials. He further suggests that is not an obstacle but a “provisional name for the amorally generative potential” (p. 191). As Deleuze puts that the virtual tends toward actualization, without undergoing any form of effective concretization.

This documentary on censorship shows that censorship is essential to the sovereignty of a state, and it presents an analysis to the regulation of mass publicity in India. The book is informative and worth reading. Researchers and readers who are interested in ethnographies, anthropology, media studies and critical theory are advised to read this book as well.

There is but one criticism of this book. The consistency of providing a sort of summary or wrap-up chapter has been employed only partially. The author should have translated the Romanized names of the Hindi movies to give more meaning to the narration. There are no posters and movie stills in this book, I think these inclusions will make it more reader’s friendly and consequently increase the sale of the book.

Amitabh Vikram Dwivedi is Assistant Professor (Linguistics), School of Languages & Literature, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Katra, Jammu, India….PDF Version of the Review

Having Your Beefcake and Eating it Too: Capitalism and Masculinity

Jonathan Kemp, Birkbeck College, University of London

This paper locates the roots of contemporary patriarchal mainstream masculinity in late nineteenth century developments in body building and the emergence of beefcake photography. It identifies the ways in which the rise of Capitalism is inextricably bound up with the image of musclebound masculinity. Examining the conceptual limitations at work in the term ‘beefcake’, the paper will argue that our toxic attachment to a monolithic masculinity which finds it most profound expression in destruction and force is a form of Stockholm Syndrome; as if testosterone were a race poison to which we’ve developed a fatal addiction.

I. The Body As Object

Theodor Adorno, in his book Negative Dialectics, reminds us that ,“objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder”. In other words, every time we create a concept there is always something left out, something that doesn’t fit in, something lopped off in order for the concept to circulate and function in its ideal form. Like the ugly sisters hacking off toes to squeeze their bloodied feet into the glass slipper in the hope of marrying the handsome prince, our standard ways of conceptualizing inevitably distort the realities they purport to describe in order to establish a seamless identity between the concept and its object. Every concept thus requires conformity to its idealized form, and what doesn’t conform to the ideal is violently amputated in the rush to define and control. In other words, to define is to limit. It’s never the full picture. The full picture is messier, more complex, and includes all those things that don’t conform to the concept in its idealized form. The act of conceptualization, in other words, always produces a remainder.

Adorno calls this remainder the non-identical and it is here, he claims, where what doesn’t fit in is discarded, that something approaching the truth can be found. It is precisely the things that do not fit in that will provide the supplement necessary for the full picture to emerge. Every definition thus helps shapes an ideology at the expense of the truth, peddling as somehow natural or inevitable what is, in actuality, a conglomeration of custom, political motivation, cultural assumption, and embedded historicity. Concepts have a history which is always political, charged with implicit values whilst nonchalantly parading as self-evident, as purely and simply ‘what is’.

With this in mind, I’m going to start to think about some of the things erased or removed from our conceptualization of the term “beefcake”. I’m going to focus on the non-identical, on the excluded or erased aspects of that concept. On what isn’t being said when we use that word. In this way, I hope to expose the ideological oppressions, the violent hierarchies, that lurk just outside the ring fencing of that concept.


Rules of Language in Rules of the House: Study of Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s Tibetan English Poetry

Shelly Bhoil, Research Scholar, Barzil

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The displacement of Tibetans in exile has also displaced the Tibetan language to some extent among the new generation of Tibetans who are born or educated in exile. However, with the new languages and forms of expression in exile, they are negotiating their culture, identity and aspirations. Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, the first Tibetan woman poet in English to be published in the West, is one of the representative voices of New Tibetan Literature in English (NTLE). Her first book of poems Rules of the House was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Awards in 2003, and brought NTLE to academic attention. This paper is a thematic study of the philosophical and the social aspects of language in the poems from Rules of the House.

Voicing Colourspaces: Colour-usage and Response as Alternative Narration in Dennis Cooley’s Bloody Jack

Ashes Gupta, Tripura University, India.

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Dennis Cooley has attempted to unsettle several complex issues relating to post modernity, intertextuality, mingling of genres, decentering authority et al.  His poetry is rich in complexity and in dealing with the problems of the text. He has published three books of poetry.  Leaving (Turnstone 1980), Fielding (Thistledown 1983) and Bloody Jack (Turnstone 1985).  His poetry reveals his interest in formal departures from the tyranny of orthodox running rhythm, and the left hand margin.  From Leaving to Bloody Jack, Cooley has decentred authority from its traditional formal and ideological strongholds including the author, and placed it in the mind and heart of the reader.  In his books of poetry, especially Bloody Jack, Cooley tends to deal with flexibility, knowledge and tolerance and seeks to voice the sparsely populated and neglected space of the Canadian prairie. This paper is an attempt to read Dennis Cooley’s Bloody Jack from the semiotic perspective of his use of colour as sign-code in it and the other related issues that it voices.

What is Performance Studies?

Richard Schechner, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University

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Because performance studies is so broad-ranging and open to new possibilities, no one can actually grasp its totality or press all its vastness and variety into a single writing book. My points of departure are my own teaching, research, artistic practice, and life experiences.

Performances are actions. As a discipline, performance studies takes actions very seriously in four ways. First, behavior is the “object of study” of performance studies. Although performance studies scholars use the “archive” extensively – what’s in books, photographs, the archaeological record, historical remains, etc. – their dedicated focus is on the “repertory,” namely, what people do in the activity of their doing it. Second, artistic practice is a big part of the performance studies project. A number of performance studies scholars are also practicing artists working in the avant-garde, in community-based performance, and elsewhere; others have mastered a variety of non-Western and Western traditional forms. The relationship between studying performance and doing performance is integral. Third, fieldwork as “participant observation” is a much-prized method adapted from anthropology and put to new uses. In anthropological fieldwork, participant observation is a way of learning about cultures other than that of the field-worker. In anthropology, for the most part, the “home culture” is Western, the “other” non-Western. But in performance studies, the “other” may be a part of one’s own culture (non-Western or Western), or even an aspect of one’s own behavior. That positions the performance studies fieldworker at a Brechtian distance, allowing for criticism, irony, and personal commentary as well as sympathetic participation. In this active way, one performs fieldwork. Taking a critical distance from the objects of study and self invites revision, the recognition that social circumstances– including knowledge itself – are not fixed, but subject to the “rehearsal process” of testing and revising. Fourth, it follows that performance studies is actively involved in social practices and advocacies. Many who practice performance studies do not aspire to ideological neutrality. In fact, a basic theoretical claim is that no approach or position is “neutral”. There is no such thing as unbiased. The challenge is to become as aware as possible of one’s own stances in relation to the positions of others – and then take steps to maintain or change positions.

Cooking as Performance: Negotiating Art and Authenticity in Ratatouille

Poushali Chakraborty, Rabindra Bharati University, India

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 Be it quotidian or haute cuisine, ‘Caviar’ or ‘Quesadillas’, cooking has always been a performance, in its experimentation to create an “appetite appeal” (Carafoli 146). This paper, through an analysis of Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava’s directed, Disney animation Ratatouille, explores the engaging analogies and correlations between the processes in cooking and performance. The stage is being replaced by a single performative site – the kitchen, which becomes the theatre of action, producing the ultimate ‘orgy of olfaction’ (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 7). A direct communication is shown to be re-established between the spectator and the spectacle, between the actor and the spectator, from the fact that the spectator is invited to share the secret of the kitchen, and ultimately, is, not only affected by the sight, feel, taste, or smell of the final performative outcome – the food, but also impacted upon by the identity of the performer – Remy, the ‘tiny chef’ – nothing but a provincial rat.

Semiotic Encryption of Women, Violence and Hysteria in Indian Women Dramaturgy

Praggnaparamita Biswas,  Banaras Hindu University, India

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The juxtaposing depiction of women, violence and hysteria as semiotic elements in women-centric play-texts attempts to translate the theatrical meanings because of its demonstrable approach to unearth the textual meanings and its relational politics of representation. From semiological aspect, the interplay of women, violence and hysteria generates a kind of semiotic femaleness in order to prognosticate the feminist route of cultural politics imbedded in the narratives of female composed drama. The present paper intends to analyze the semiotic transformation of Indian women dramaturgy in the plays of Padmanabhan, Mehta and Sengupta. Each of their plays tries to interpret new meanings hidden under the semiotic signs used by these playwrights and also attempt to project the gender politics visualized in the realm of feminist theatre.  

Ravaged Bodies, Embodied Performance: Performativity in Dattani’s Brief Candle

Samipendra Banerjee, University of Gour Banga, Malda, India

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Brief Candle, Mahesh Dattani’s latest play concerns itself with the plight of cancer patients but in the process takes important strides in performativity. This paper is an attempt to evaluate performance and performativity within the theatrical space through an analysis of the centrally dominant stage prop, the mask or ‘Face of Cancer’ and performing bodies. Touching upon the genealogy of Performance Studies as a discipline and its intricate and fraught relationship with the theatre I seek to explore performative elements in the play. I also seek to look at the ‘derogated’, cancerous body as a charged site of performativity and argue that bio-medical and technological intervention crucially transforms the human body. The play could also be read as a space that explores the post-human body and its performative possibilities.

Modern Rendition of Ancient Arts: Negotiating Values in Traditional Odissi Dance

Shreelina Ghosh, Dakota State University

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Recent innovations in remediating performances allow dancers to perform, collaborate, teach, learn and forge new inter-body relationships that substitute the traditional Guru-Shishya or master-disciple relationship. The divide between technologized and traditional practices in dance creates a productive space that can help scholars understand how digital and networked technologies are transforming embodied cultural memory. Tradition-technology encounters and formations of a deviant discourse challenge the dominant (traditional) norms of embodied cultural memory. My qualitative study of the field reveals that innovation has been encouraged by the most members of the dance community. However, if mediated dance compromises values associated with the dance, like its sacredness, the importance of the body, and the importance of the Guru, it can be potentially subversive to the traditional practice. The main points of conflict between traditional dance and technologically mediated practices indicate moments of compromise in the traditional values.

The Entangled Vocabulary of Performance

Sruti Bala, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

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This article attempts to map the concept of performance, in terms of its genealogy and the diversity of its application. Such a mapping is an unavoidably reductive step, since the productive force of the concept partly relies on the difficulty of pinning it down to a precise typology or set of definitions. The act of mapping out the concept can itself be interpreted as a kind of performance, as has been argued by Richard Schechner (Performance Studies, 40-42), it is not a neutral or interest-free undertaking, and however persuasive the mapping may be, it may not necessarily simplify the application of the concept, nor resolve the disputes around it. As a “keyword” in the sense of Raymond Williams, performance is an operative concept, “whose meanings are inextricably bound up with the problems [they are] being used to discuss” (Keywords, 13). The concept is not merely descriptive, but programmatic, in that the choice and justification of the uses of the term lead to and imply specific effects. German theatre scholar Erika Fischer-Lichte describes the concept in terms of the range of its semantic shades, ‘Begriffsabschattungen’ (Kulturen des Performativen, 9), arguing that these shades need to be seen in relation to each other in order to trace the histories and contexts of the concepts of performance and the performative. Fischer-Lichte derives the semantic shades of the performative with reference to different disciplinary influences and deployments of the term, such as anthropology, linguistics, language philosophy, technology, economics and aesthetics. A typology and historicisation of the concept is a necessary though not entirely sufficient step in understanding its usage. Even if one makes sense of each of the shades of the term, one does not know how to make sense of the entire range of these shades.