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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 7, Number 2 (June 2009) : 299--318
Aesthetics of Unease
A Brechtian Study of Anna Deavere Smith’s Eyewitness Performance in Fires in the Mirror
Carola Hilfrich
Rubric A: Eyewitness Narratives


This paper discusses the aesthetic and social implications of enacted eyewitness accounts. For Brecht, the principles of eyewitness performance served as a “basic model” for contemporary epic theater as a performed critique of social life, with the “Street Scene” (1940) and a camp scene (1939/40) as the paradigmatic sites of eyewitness acts. With Brecht and Smith, who superimposes these sites in her multi-media work on the Brooklyn Crown Heights Race Riots in 1991 (1992-94), the theatricality of eyewitness accounts, their “uneasy” aesthetics and acting technique, becomes crucial to understanding the present moment in culture.  Concomitantly, enacted eyewitness accounts politicize and de-psychologize our understanding of their scenes. They are not about identity – what we are – but about personhood, about how we are as social creatures, in legal, aesthetic, and material terms.

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