Lion on display: Culture, nature, and totality in a circus performance

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This article deals with exclusion and the construction of periphery as modes of ritualizing and binding together a dominant social order. Under scrutiny is the peripheral British traveling circus and the way its traveling and performance define the margins of the modern fragmented order, particularly vis-à-vis the crisis of the premodern Culture/Nature paradigm. A lion act presents the Culture/Nature opposition, that is, human trainer, props, routines versus animals, in the context of circus traveling (fieldwork carried out in 1975-79). The circus display of both animals and humans as exemplifications of their own kind erases their "realness," turning them into images in the public's perception. However, a totalization of the performance and of the display of circus traveling reifies the animal and human images and the circus image, with the effect of placing them out of social time and relations. On the margin of the fragmented modern order, the reified traveling circus thus embodies transcendence of culture/nature categories and implies its own ontological apartness. For its nostalgic spectators, it thereby illusorily resurrects a totality of order - from which the circus itself is apart.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-90
Number of pages26
JournalPoetics Today
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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