Rethinking the Politics of Literature
Edited By Louisa Söllner and Anita Vržina
Restaging the Colonial Encounter: Exhibition Culture and Practices of Fictionalization
This essay explores a scenario from Herman Melville’s novel Typee (1843, 1892) and compares it to Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s performance Two Undiscovered Amerindians visit the West (1992). Both texts can be understood as comments on the history of exhibition practices, inviting readings from a postcolonial perspective.
Mieke Bal states that “exposition is always an argument” (2). If we follow her line of thinking, the reception of exhibitions and museum displays can be regarded as being defined by a specific communication routine. In her 1996 publication Double Exposures, Bal sketches these conventions with the following words: “a ‘first person,’ the exposer, tells a ‘second person,’ the visitor, about a ‘third person,’ the object on display, who does not participate in the conversation” (3f). This essay is dedicated to three moments in exhibition culture where the communication routine that Bal sketches is disrupted. All of these disruptive scenes invite reading strategies that are inspired by postcolonial perspectives. Bal, in her account, places much emphasis on the role of the “first person,” the curator of an exhibition. By contrast, I am intrigued by the role of the “third person,” the person who in Bal’s model “does not participate in the conversation” (4). Before I turn to those moments in exhibition culture that I have selected for closer analysis, I wish to further explore Bal’s reasons for privileging the “first person” within the triangular communication model that...
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