Date of Award

8-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Mike Sell, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

David Hanauer, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Todd Thompson, Ph.D.

Abstract

My dissertation on multilingual performance addresses language politics in relation to inter-racial, cross-gender, and border-crossing issues, all of which are pertinent to the ongoing history of postcolonialism. It is essentially a response to a crucial question in postcolonial studies, shared among prominent postcolonial scholars like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Frantz Fanon: if a language has colonial history and has been used as a colonial instrument, what is the political status of the language after colonialism? With this inquiry as the target of my investigation, this study provides a contextual analysis of English language performance, informed by a contextual understanding of the political status of English in various contexts where English has colonial histories. I convey these contexts by developing three case studies on postcolonial drama and performative pieces in Malaysia, Singapore, and the U.S.A. My first case study, “Politicizing English-language Theaters in Postcolonial Malaysia,” articulates the potential of language performances in Kee Thuan Chye’s 1984 Here and Now that blur the distinction of ethnicity and add complexities to ethnicity as sociolinguistic identity markers. The second case study, “A Dialectic between Language and Gender Politics in Global Gender Performance,” offers critique of cross-cultural gender stereotypes through a detailed discussion of the role of language performance in gender construction. The third case study, “Code-Switch Across the Borderline: Multilingual Visions in Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s The New World Border,” exemplifies bilingual performance as a form of social activism, and how it fosters critical dialogues with the normalization of multicultural discourse. Each case study demonstrates a performance imperative, especially the dramatist and performative artists’ efforts to perform across cultural/ gender/linguistic stereotypes, and negotiate various contradictions between the global, national, and local. My analysis of these three pieces of drama and performance illustrates the artists’ performative negotiation with the state power over the politics of language, gender, and ethnicity/race. I conclude that the performance artists position themselves in various vantage points of language politics, from which they add power dynamics to the politics of gender and race/ethnicity that are prescribed in the national discourse.

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