Agitated States

Performance in the American Theater of Cruelty
Anthony Kubiak
American history as theater, and theater as the heart of American life


From the earliest Puritan stagings of piety and rectitude, through the present-day epidemic of theatricalized school assassinations, the history of America has been characterized by a dual impulse: a quick tendency both to cast public event and character as high drama and to dismiss theater and theatricalization as un-American, even evil. In this groundbreaking work, Anthony Kubiak rethinks American history as that very theater, looking to theater and performance as the ethos and substance of American life, but an ethos and substance ironically repudiated at every turn by the very culture produced by it. Beginning with the writings of John Winthrop and others, gesturing across the Federalist and "romantic" stages of American cultural life, and into the contemporary period, including the six o'clock news, Kubiak sees in the dramatic scripts and plays of both theater and culture an America not usually grasped in the traditional or materialist approaches to history. Using the psychoanalytic work of Jacques Lacan, the cultural theory of Slavoj Zizek, and the performance theory of Herbert Blau, as well as the insights of many of the most important philosophical voices being heard today, Kubiak presents us with an unparalleled and unique reappraisal of dominant American identity, culture, and history.

Anthony Kubiak is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Florida. He is also the author of Stages of Terror: Terrorism, Ideology, and Coercion as Theatre History.

Praise / Awards

  • "Kubiak insists that America is an inherently theatrical culture, and explores its history through texts and events that recapitulate moments of aphasia, amnesia, blindness, hysteria, and grief. The writing is clear, convincing, and acute; this book will make an important addition to any American theatre (or even cultural history) course."
  • "In a post-9/11 America, when we seem more disposed than ever before to explain our woes by recourse to a variety of big, bad Others, it is particularly meaningful that Anthony Kubiak argues that what we need to explain is why children in our country shoot other children. . . . Here, he . . . argu[es] that it is our refusal of theatre that leads to a uniquely American brand of violence. . . . Agitated States urges us not to remember who we are, but to wake up to it for the first time. Virtual violence is not the problem; real violence is. We desperately need to get real. And we can only do this, Kubiak persuasively argues, if we dare to truly understand our American theatre."
    Theatre Journal

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Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 256pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-09811-8

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  • $99.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06811-1

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  • $32.95 U.S.