Monday, March 23, 2009

Lynching Reenactments and Passion Plays?

I recently spoke at Boston University's Department of African-American Studies, on my research on an annual multiracial lynching reenactment near Monroe, Georgia. (The talk, "We come back to life: Regeneration and Traumatic Memory in a Multiracial Lynching Reenactment," was broadcast on WBUR and can be accessed on line at: ) I touched on an idea suggested to me by Robert Weiss, at University of Massachusetts-Boston: the intriguing parallels between the reenactment and late medieval passion plays. Both involve amateur actors who reenact a dreadful martyrdom out of a sense of moral or spiritual duty and a desire to engage in transformative public pedagogy. The day-long lynching reenactment moves across a local landscape, compressing the events of several weeks into the space of a half day, in a manner that recalls earlier passages along "stations of the cross." I still need to think more, however, about the parallels and discontinuities between the two cases. The organizers of the lynching reenactment, for instance, seem to resist redemptive narrative closure of their mise en scene: there is no mimetic enactment of rebirth and ascension at its conclusion (although, as seen in the photograph above, a local church choir member does sing over the prone bodies of those playing the victims.) And, while passion plays tended to involve whole communities, the reenactment remains controversial, with few local whites attending (although many local whites have watched, at a distance, over television.)

I am uncertain how to conceptualize these evident paralllels. I don't see evidence that the organizers knew of passion plays as such, although they are all deeply familiar with Gospels. Is the Passion Play a cultural form that, in effect, reproduces itself as a kind of meme or symbolic paradigm over time, emerging in new forms, genres and guises from time to time? I remain grateful, in any event, to Robert Weiss for his rich and intriguing suggestion, which I continue to ponder.

No comments: