Scenes from Bourgeois Life
Reveals theatre’s central role in the formation of bourgeois subjectivity
Scenes from Bourgeois Life proposes that theatre spectatorship has made a significant contribution to the historical development of a distinctive bourgeois sensibility, characterized by the cultivation of distance. In Nicholas Ridout’s formulation, this distance is produced and maintained at two different scales. First is the distance of the colonial relation, not just in miles between Jamaica and London, but also the social, economic, and psychological distances involved in that relation. The second is the distance of spectatorship, not only of the modern theatregoer as consumer, but the larger and pervasive disposition to observe, comment, and sit in judgment, which becomes characteristic of the bourgeois relation to the rest of the world. This engagingly written study of history, class, and spectatorship offers compelling proof of “why theater matters,” and demonstrates the importance of examining the question historically.
Praise / Awards
“Ridout’s prose is a pleasure to read; his glosses on theory are illuminating; his excavations of primary texts are surprising; his argument is timely, and substantial enough to influence the course of scholarship in the field.”
—Julia Jarcho, Brown University
“An important contribution to theater studies and the study of the role of spectatorship... the book also deepens our understanding of the public character of theater (and art in general) and their relationship to the social and cultural processes in capitalism.”
—Bojana Kunst, Justus Liebig University Giessen
“Ridout identifies what other scholars of spectatorship have failed to see: that the ongoing wrenching of hands about how spectators watch suffering on a stage but feel or assume an inability to do anything about it other than observe and talk and critique, is a historical condition that can be changed… This is the new necessary book on spectatorship.”
—Maurya Wickstrom, CUNY Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island
"Scenes from Bourgeois Life is a stunning piece of scholarship, and one of the most enjoyable texts to be published on the politics of spectatorship in recent years.In challenging the privileged position of a disinterested observer, what it offers is a prompt and a methodology for appreciating and potentially acting upon the contingent circumstances of our own historical moment, in which the ‘distance’ of suffering from bourgeois subjecthood risks serving as an alibi for silence."
—Adam Alston, Theatre Research International
"...Scenes from Bourgeois Life will have a significant impact on conversations across the disciplines of theatre and performance studies. Scenes from Bourgeois Life provides an account of the historically contingent mode of spectatorship that remains dominant today, an account that must be reckoned with by any effort to theorize the capacity of theatre to make political subjects, to impact its audiences, or to play a role in addressing the oppressions it so often depicts."
—James R. Ball III, Theatre Survey
"Its impressive analytical and historical scope, paired with Ridout’s engaging prose, produce a fascinating read. Importantly, it methodically puts together an innovative, focused, expansive, and self-reflective argument on the significance of re-thinking (bourgeois) spectatorship not only as a theatrical trope but also, crucially, as a means of subjectivation that is complicit in the twin projects of colonialism and capitalism."
—Philip Hager, New Theatre Quarterly
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