Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead: circum-Atlantic Performance. New York. Columbia University Press, 1996.

Selection: Chapter 2


Chapter 2
Echoes in the Bone

That which we remember is, more often than not,
that which we would like to have been; or that which we hope to be.

  - Ralph Ellison


The Poignancy of Ralph Ellison’s account of memory resides in its identification of amnesia as the inspiration to
imagine the future. Like performance, memory operates as both quotation and invention, an improvisation on
borrowed themes, with claims on the future as well as the past. Where time is sculpted as cogently as it is through
performance, a longing for clear beginnings (cognate to origins) accompanies an even more pronounced desire for the
telos of perfect closure. From the heritage of tragic drama in the West, I believe, circum-Atlantic closures especially
favor catastrophe, a word rife with kinesthetic imagination, which carries forward through time the memory of a
movement, a “downward turning,” redolent of violence and fatality but also of agency and decision. Like catastrophe,
with which it often coincides, the illusory scene of closure that Eurocentrists call memory (“what’s done is done”)
incites emotions that turn toward the future, in aspiration no less than in dread (“God’s will be done”). The
choreography of catastrophic closure—Fortinbras arrives, Aeneas departs, Creon remains—offers a way of imagining what must come next as well as what has already happened. Under the seductive linearity of its influence, memory
operates as an alternation between retrospection and anticipation that is itself, for better or worse, a work of art.

This chapter borrows its title from An Echo in the Bone (1974), a play by the late Jamaican dramatist Dennis Scott.
Scott uses the structure of the Nine-Night Ceremony, which, through the ritual magic of the Jamaican practice of
obeah, welcomes the spirit of a deceased person back into his or her home on the ninth night after death has occurred.
Restoring the behaviors pertaining to spirit-world trance and possession, the playwright shows how the voices of the
dead may speak through the bodies of the living. He enlarges on the Ninth Night return of one recently departed soul
in order to populate the stage with spirits resurrected from the depths of circum-Atlantic memory, including masters
and their human chattel on a slave ship off the coast of Africa in 1792, the traders and the traded in a slave
auctioneer’s office in 1820, a defiant band of Maroons, and the white and black inhabitants of a Jamaican sugar
plantation, past and present. Errol Hill, in the epilogue to his path-breaking Jamaican Stage, 1655—1900: Profile of
a Colonial Theatre (1992),places An Echo in the Bone in the complex historical context of Caribbean performance
traditions, including amateur and pro­fessional productions of Shakespeare in colonial Kingston and Afrocentric
spirit-world rituals such as Nine Night. Like Hamlet, a particular favorite of Kingston audiences since the eighteenth
century (Hill, passim), An Echo in the Bone dramatizes the cultural politics of memory, particularly as they are
realized through communications between the living and the dead.
It is precisely the politics of communicating with the dead that concern me generally in the following chapters and most urgently in the present one. Echoes in the bone refer not only to a history of forgetting but to a strategy of empowering
the living through the performance of memory. In Making History: Social Revolution in the Novels of George
(forthcoming), Supriya Nair stresses the importance of obeah and vodun as resistant practices in the
Caribbean: Haiti provides the obvious but far from the sole example of an imagined diasporic community coalescing
around spirit-world memories and performances (James); similar claims have been made for voodoo and hoodoo in
New Orleans (Mulira), claims that recognize the Ceremony of Souls not as nostalgia but as hidden agenda. If Frantz
Fanon remained skeptical about the political edge of vodun (Wretched of the Earth, 55-58), Lamming himself, in a
passage illustrative of the circulation of circum-Atlantic performance genres, evokes Shakespeare’s Hamlet to
describe the revolutionary potential of the spirit-world presence: “If that presence be no more than a ghost, then it is
like the ghost that haunted Hamlet, ordering memory and imagination to define and do their duty” (125).
In contrast to the linear narrative of catastrophe so powerfully present in Western tragic drama, however, spirit-world
ceremonies, celebrations of the cycle of death and life, tend to place catastrophe in the past, as a grief to be expiated,
and not necessarily in the future, as a singular fate yet to be endured. In this they closely resemble the great
Condolence Councils of the Iroquois, the action of which culminates in a “Lifting Up of Minds,” transforming
“dysphoria” into “euphoria” (Fenton, 19; Myerhoff; Radcliffe-Brown). An Echo in the Bone ends not in the
obligatory fifth-act carnage of revenge tragedy—the die is cast, the cast must die—but in celebration: “Play,” a
devotee tells the drummer, “for what [we] leave behind. Play for the rest of us.” The playwright brings down the
curtain only “When the stage is full of their celebration, somewhere in the ritual” (136-37). This affirmation
contests the closure of investing the future with the fatality of the past, a position more easily maintained by those
whose communication with their ancestors was continuous, dynamic, and intimate. However strange such relations
may appear to some, in world-historical terms they are actually quite normal. To educate the reader of Things Fall
Apart (1958) to this fact, Chinua Achebe dramatizes the regularity of the ancestors’ return, not as supernumeraries to
the apocalypse but as an annual board of visitors (62—66). In such circumstances, memory circulates and migrates
like gossip from location to location as well as from generation to generation, growing or attenuating as it passes
through the hands of those who possess it and those whom it possesses. As Achebe expresses the commonsense
negotiation of propinquity and difference: “Spirits always addressed humans as ‘bodies’" (64).
In the vortex of the circum-Atlantic world since the late seventeenth century, the peculiarity of the development of
European memory with regard to ancestral spirits is conspicuous. Later on in this chapter, I examine the nature of that
peculiarity by reconstructing memorial performances of different kinds at several apparently unconnected sites: the
mythic evocation of England’s Mediterranean origins in Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas (1689), the
segregation of the dead from the living as promulgated by urban planners in London (1711)and New
Orleans (1721),the interactive adaptation of African burial practices under the French Code noir in Louisiana
(after 1724),the “slave dances” of Congo Square (ca. 1820), and, briefly, the emergent secular sainthood of a gifted
but derivative rhythm-and-blues singer (ca. 1954). Before those performances can be addressed as if they do
somehow in fact belong to the same world, however, I need to define a general
phenomenon of collective memory that functions in all of them: the effigy. The effigy is a contrivance that enables the
processes regulating performance—kinesthetic imagination, vortices of behavior, and displaced transmission—to
produce memory through surrogation. Moreover, the effigy operates in all the cultural constructions of events and
institutions that I define as central to circum-Atlantic memory: death and burials, violence and sacrifices,
commodification and auctions, laws and (dis)obedience, origins and segregation.
The Effigy
Normal usage employs the word effigy as a noun meaning a sculpted or pictured likeness. More particularly it can
suggest a crudely fabricated image of a person, commonly one that is destroyed in his or her stead, as in hanging or
burning in effigy. When effigy appears as a verb, though that usage is rare, it means to evoke an absence, to body
something forth, especially something from a distant past (OED). Effigy is cognate to efficiency, efficacy,
effervescence, and effeminacy through their mutual connection to ideas of producing, bringing forth, bringing out, and
making. Effigy’s similarity to performance should be clear enough: it fills by means of surrogation a vacancy created
by the absence of an original. Beyond ostensibly inanimate effigies fashioned from wood or cloth, there are more
elusive but more powerful effigies fashioned from flesh. Such effigies are made by performances. They consist of a set
of actions that hold open a place in memory into which many different people may step according to circumstances
and occasions. I argue that performed effigies—those fabricated from human bodies and the associations they
evoke—provide communities with a method of perpetuating themselves through specially nominated mediums or
surrogates: among them, actors, dancers, priests, street maskers, statesmen, celebrities, freaks, children, and
especially, by virtue of an intense but unsurprising paradox, corpses. No doubt that is why effigies figure so frequently
in the performance of death through mortuary rituals—and why the ambivalence associated with the dead must enter
into any discussion of the relationship between memory, performance, and substitution.
From the work of Emile Durkheim and Sir James Frazer on, the anthropological classics have given great weight to
the revelatory meanings of funerary ceremonies and practices among diverse cultures. In his retrospective preface to
the 1922 edition of The Golden Bough, Frazer summarized the
importance of this subject to his entire project: “the fear of the human dead,” he wrote, not vegetation worship, was
“the most powerful force in the making of primitive religion” (vii). In Arnold van Gennep’s seminal formulation of death as a rite of passage, the binary distinction that creates two categories, dead and alive, simultaneously creates in its
interstices a threefold process of living, dying, and being dead. The middle state (dying, or more expressively,
“passing”) is the less stable stage of transition between more clearly defined conditions: it is called the “liminal”
(literally, “threshold”) stage, and it tends to generate the most intense experiences of ritual expectancy, activity, and
meaning. As further developed by Victor Turner, the concept of liminality—a state of betwixt-and-betweenness, a
“subjunctive mood” in the grammar of communal activity—characterizes as “social dramas” those behaviors in which
normative categories are transgressed or suspended only to be reaffirmed by ritual processes of reincorporation
(Forest of Symbols, 94).
Turner and others have hypothesized that celebrations of death function as rites of social renewal, especially when the
decedents occupy positions to which intense collective attention is due, such as those of leaders or kings. Digressing
on the power of royal corpses in their survey of the anthropology of death, Richard Huntington and Peter Metcalf (to
whom I am much indebted for the materials relating to mortuary ritual in this section) explain: “It seems that the most
powerful natural symbol for the continuity of any community, large or small, simple or complex, is, by a strange and
dynamic paradox, to be found in the death of its leader, and in the representation of that striking event” (182). It is
also in connection with the death of its leader or another similarly august luminary that a community is likely to
construct an effigy, animate or inanimate. As the Mande proverb elegantly sums up:“It takes more than death to make
an ancestor.”
The rich anthropological literature on this subject includes such classics as Frazer’s account, revised by E. E.
Evans-Pritchard, of ritual regicide among the Shilluk people of the Upper Nile (the Shilluks replaced the failing body
of their king with a wooden effigy until a successor could be named). It likewise includes parallel studies of the Dinkas
of southern Sudan, who buried their chieftain alive during what they took to be his final illness (Deng). These practices, which define as intolerable the decay of the body of the leader, resemble in certain respects the tribal customs of the
French and the English, including the British policy of early recall of colonial civil servants (before they reached the age of fifty-five) so that the
locals would never see their European governors falling into illness or decrepitude (Said,42). Such practices derive
from the venerable principle of divine kingship. They answer the need to symbolize the inviolate continuity of the body
politic (Huntington and Metcalf, 121—83). They do so by dramatizing a duality, a core of preternatural durability
invested within a shell of human vulnerability (Soyinka). This paradox of immortality amid physical decay symbolically
asserts the divinely authorized continuity of human institutions while recognizing their inherent fragility. It also discovers
the profoundly ambivalent emotions human beings harbor for the dead, who once belonged among the living but who
now inhabit some alien country whose citizens putrefy yet somehow endure.
In English and French history particularly, this paradox finds expression in the strange doctrine of the “king’s two
bodies.” As documented and explicated by Ernst Kantorowicz, the legal fiction that the king had not one but two
bodies—the body natural and the body politic—developed out of medieval Christology (the corporeal duality of
Man and God) and into an increasingly pragmatic and secular principle of sovereign succession and legal continuity
(Giesey; Kantorowicz). Tudor lawyers found it a particularly useful way of holding Queen Elizabeth, for instance, to
the grants of property made by Edward VI during his minority. They argued that while the boy-king’s “body natural”
may have been subject to the infirmities and even imbecilities of age, his “body politic” was always both adult and
By means of explicit enactments through the disposition of royal remains, the doctrine of the king’s two bodies
materialized into a spectacular stagecraft: beginning with the funeral of Edward II in 1327,the body of the dead king
was represented by a wooden effigy; with interruptions occasioned by the turbulence of the Wars of Roses, this
practice, juxtaposing an image of the indestructibility of the king’s sovereign body with the display of his rotting human
corpse, lasted until Charles II in England and the reign of Louis XIV in France. In the protocols of royal funerals, this
venerable contradiction added to the ritualized public announcement, “The king is dead,” an only apparently inapposite salutation addressed to the deceased incumbent: “Long live the king.” The supposed legacy of such symbolic
immutability—its living effigy—is the concept of a constitutional diffusion and continuity of governmental power, an
enduring “body politic” under the rule of law.
The principle of surrogation clearly operates here, as a mysterious but
powerful sense of affiliation pervades the community on the occasion of its most consequential single loss. That sense
of affiliation holds open a place into which tradition injects the rituals of ultimate reincorporation, the crowning of a
successor. But in the place that is being held open there also exists an invisible network of allegiances, interests, and
resistances that constitutes the imagined community. In that place also is a breeding ground of anxieties and
uncertainties about what that community should be—contra­dictory emotions that focus a range of potentially phobic
responses on the body of the deceased. Such contradictory responses do not unfold all at once. Death, as it is
culturally constructed by surrogacy, cannot be understood as a moment, a point in time: it is a process.
One crucial aspect of death as a process resides in the conception of marginality itself. In the creative scope of liminal
categories, periphery and center may seem to change places. Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, in their excursus
beyond Hegel’s master-slave dyad, accurately describe this reversal not only of dependency but of contested and
appropriated location: “The result is a mobile, conflictual fusion of power, fear and desire in the construction of
subjectivity: a psychological dependence upon precisely those Others which are being rigorously opposed and
excluded at the social level. It is for this reason that what is socially peripheral is so frequently symbolically central”
(5). This phenomenon operates in many different ways, but one pattern tends to recur: a contradictory push and pull
develops as communities construct themselves by both expanding their boundaries and working back in from them.
They pull back by excluding or subordinating the peoples those larger boundaries ostensibly embrace. Such
contradictory intentions remain tolerable because the myth of coherence at the center requires a constantly visible yet
constantly receding perimeter of difference. Sometimes this perimeter is a horizon; more often it is a mirage. Its mythic
and potentially bloody frontiers must be continuously negotiated and reinvented, even as its most alarmist defenders
panic before the specter of its permeability.
That is why performances in general and funerals in particular are so rich in revealing contradictions: because they
make publicly visible through symbolic action both the tangible existence of social boundaries and, at the same time,
the contingency of those boundaries on fictions of identity, their shoddy construction Out of inchoate otherness, and,
consequently, their anxiety-inducing instability. From this perspective, the funerals of performers provide particularly
promising sites for investigation
because they involve figures whose very profession, itself alternately ostracized and overvalued, entails frequent
transitions between states and categories. Performers are routinely pressed into service as effigies, their bodies
alternately adored and despised but always offered up on the altar of surrogacy.
The history of what happens at troubled borders needs no reiteration, but the theory of the effigy can clarify the nature
of the violence they both provoke and exculpate. In Violence and the Sacred (1972), Rend Girard explores the
propensity for violence in human societies through an examination of what he calls the “monstrous double” in rituals of
sacrifice. The double displaces violent desire to an agenda of disguises. Girard delineates the contradictory impulses
that create the “monstrous double”: the sacrificial victim must be neither divisive nor trivial, neither fully part of the community nor fully outside of it; rather, he or she must be distanced by a special identity that specifies isolation while
simultaneously allowing plausible surrogation for a member of the community. This occurs in a two-staged process: the community finds a surrogate victim for itself from within itself; then it finds an alien substitute, like an effigy, for the
surrogate. This is the “monstrous double” (160—64).
Behind Girard’s formulation of the deflection of ritual violence from the heart of the community to the “sacrificeable”
double and its critique (Bloch; Burkert; Detienne and Vernaht) lies the tradition defined by Marcel Mauss’s account of potlatch in The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies (1924), redefined by Georges
Bataille in The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy (1967), and reopened in a different register by
Jacques Derrida in Given Time (1992). Although he cites Bataille only in passing (222), Girard’s idea that sacrificial
violence operates as a kind of expenditure through which society prolongs its sense of coherence in face of a threat of
divisive substitutions owes its understanding of excess to him. In an economy where products accumulate more rapidly than they can be consumed, Bataille observed, people take an interest in relieving the consequent pressure by excess
or “unproductive” expenditure. In a gift economy, however, unproductive expenditure is hardly purposeless. Where
cultural values such as prestige are exchanged as well as goods, as Arjun Appadurai explains his introduction to The
Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (1986), reciprocity ensures that “one’s desire for an
object is fulfilled by the sacrifice of some other object, which is the focus of desire of another” (3). Lewis Hyde, in
The Gifi: Imagination and the Erotic Life of
Property (1979), reiterates the venerable comparison of the economy of sacrifice to the circulation of blood, which,
like a gift, “is neither bought nor sold and it comes back forever” (138). This chapter and those that follow explore the ways in which the restored behavior of sacrificial expenditure functions in an expanding circum-Atlantic marketplace
filled with commodities of all kinds. These include the sale of human flesh at public auction and the concomitant
commerce in images and representations of such exchanges that complicate the meaning of effigy with that of fetish.
For my purposes here, however, a stark definition emerges from Bataille’s meditations on “catastrophic expenditure”:
violence is the performance of waste. To that definition I offer three corollaries: first, that violence is never senseless
but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point;
second, that all violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend
things—material objects, blood, environments—in acts of Bataillian “unproductive expenditure” (or Veblenian
“conspicuous con­sumption”); and third, that all violence is performative, for the simple reason that it must have an
audience—even if that audience is only the victim, even if that audience is only God.
In the circum-Atlantic economy of superabundance, violence occupies a portion of the cultural category that includes
the aesthetic. Both represent a form of excess production and expenditure of social energy; that is, outside the
relatively rare instances of spontaneous self-defense, violence and the preparations for violence, like the aesthetic,
exist as a form of cultural expression that goes beyond the utilitarian practices necessary to physical survival. Whether
this excess expenditure is itself an absolute necessity in the establishment of what we call culture is another question,
but it incorporates the production of any ornament of culture—from Iroquois face and body painting to a couplet by
Alexander Pope—into a symbolic economy of performance that mobilizes the beautiful in the cause of the only
apparently disinterested. Here the common usage of effigy as the surrogate for violence perpetrated on an absent
victim brings together Girard’s notions of sacrifice with the idea of the functional similarity of violence and the aesthetic: burning in effigy” is a performance of waste, the elimination of a monstrous double, but one fashioned by artifice as a
stand-in, an “unproductive expenditure” that both sustains the community with the comforting fiction that real borders
exist and troubles it with the spectacle of their immolation.

Performing Origins
Wistfully portrayed by musicologists as sui generis, Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas descends as the masterpiece
without progeny in the abortive history of English national opera. Whatever its status as an atypical work in the
theatrical and musical history of England, I interpret it, like the Zulu parade in New Orleans, as a representative event
in the genealogy of circum-Atlantic performance. This enactment of encounter, rupture, and dynastic establishment
premiered in an amateur production “By Young Gentlewomen” at Josias Priest’s school in Chelsea in 1689 (Purcell
and Tate, 3). With the education of girls then something of a luxury expenditure in any case, the production of an
opera for their improvement and exhibition evokes Veblen if not Bataille. But the performance of waste is never
“senseless.” In an economy of slave-produced abundance, expensive young women may come to signify the
importance of excess itself, the symbolic crossing point of material production/consumption and reproductive
fecundity. Dido and Aeneas opened the same year that James II involuntarily turned his interest in the Royal Africa
Company, founded by his brother Charles in 1672, over to its ambitious investors and sailed away (Calder, 347).
There has been informed speculation about the local political allegory of Dido and Aeneas relating to the royal
succession and Williamite policy (Buttrey; Price, introduction to Purcell and Tate, 6-12), but my genealogical reading
resituates the opera, like King Zulu’s procession, as a performance of cultural memory amid conflicting performances
of origin.
By performance of origin I mean the reenactment of foundation myths along two general axes of possibility: the
diasporic, which features migration, and the autochthonous, which claims indigenous roots deeper than memory itself.
These myths may coexist or compete within the same tradition; indeed, they often do. In Racial Myth in English
History: Trojans, Teutons, and Anglo-Saxons (1982), Hugh A. MacDougall explains how two contradictory
theories of national origin shaped the ethnic fiction of Englishness. The first, which attributed the founding of Britain
(and indeed its name) to the Trojan prince Brute (or Brutus), dominated medieval historiographies of origin. The
Trojan myth began with Brute’s odyssey by a circuitous circum-Atlantic route to Albion. It then ascended through the
Arthurian legends of Celtic Britain to support the historic claims of British monarchs to an epic-born legitimacy rivaling
that of Rome. Though it had lost ground to modernizing historical research in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
the Trojan-Arthurian myth still resonated in the efforts of
John Dryden, Henry Purcell, Nahum Tate, and others to create an English national opera, including the semiopera
King Arthur as well as the through-composed Dido and Aeneas.
The second narrative of national origin, to which I will return in the next chapter, claims greater historicity and yet
remains at heart no less a myth. It traces the origins of Britain to Germanic peoples, namely the Anglo-Saxons, and it
attributes the supposedly unique “Liberty” of Englishmen and English institutions to the fierce independence and ethnic
purity of the Teutonic races (MacDougall). Perhaps the most virulent expression of this version of Anglo-Saxon
revisionism came from Richard Verstegen in the Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities Concerning the
Most Noble and Renowned English Nation (1605), the very title of which asserts the reclamation of an indigenous
As evocations of the past, both myths of origin—the diasporic and the autochthonous—also suggest alternatives for
the future. These alternatives inevitably raise the question of surrogation: diaspora tends to put pressure on
autochthony, threatening its imputed purity, both antecedent and successive, because it appears to make available a
human superabundance for mutual assimilation. At this promising yet dangerous juncture, catastrophe may reemerge
from memory in the shape of a wish.
The libretto of Dido is by Nahum Tate, better remembered for his neo­classical improvements to King Lear and his
consummately tactless revival of Richard II in 1681 at a particularly tense moment of the Exclusion Crisis. In fact,
several of Tate ‘s works for the stage derive directly or indirectly from the materials in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s
History of the Kings of Britain (ca. 1136), a narrative from which he grafted some details onto the fourth book of
Virgil’s Aeneid to produce the Dido libretto. In the 1670s Tate had begun a play based on the Dido and Aeneas
story, but he decided instead to adapt the plot to fit the epic voyages of the legendary Brute, Aeneas's grandson (or
great-grandson in some versions). In this play, called Brutus of Alba; or, The Enchanted Lovers (1678), the hero
loves and leaves the queen of Syracuse in the same way that Aeneas abandons the queen of Carthage: the grandfather sails away to found Rome; the grandson, according to Tate’s dramatization of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of the oral tradition, sails away to found Britain. Tate then returned to the Aeneas-version when he provided Purcell with a
libretto a decade later, but the two stories echo one another as hauntingly as the echo-chorus in the witches’ scene,
which itself doubles the actions of the Carthaginian court (Savage, 263—66),

culminated by an “Eccho Dance of Furies.” As each end phrase repeats in the dematerialized voices of an off-stage
chorus, lithe spirits choreograph the fated catastrophe:

     In our deep-vaulted cell the charm we’ll prepare,
     Too dreadful a practice for this open air.
                                 (Purcell and Tate, 70)

Operas of the time, in addition functioning as allegories of national or dynastic origin, typically employed witches:
Davenant’s musical version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, for instance, qualified to contemporaries as “being in the
nature of an Opera” by this reckoning (Downes, 71; see Plank). As in the West Indian deployment of obeah and
vodun, works of the political occult like Dido and Aeneas and Macbeth thus appropriated the echoing spirit world to
the secular allegory of imagined community. Witches, like the spirits of the dead, allowed those among the living to
speak of (and yet disavow) the hidden transcript of succession: in 1689 the Exclusion Crisis, to which Tate had
contributed nine years before, was finally resolved by means of revolution. A crisis of royal succession is perforce a
crisis of cultural surrogation, necessarily rich in performative occasions and allegories of origin and segregation.
The epic account of the Trojan Brute, with its echoes of Virgil, narrates the transoceanic movement of empire out of
the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic. From Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version, it may be inferred that this story lived
in an oral memory, as an epic of diasporic origin. Just as Homer and the tragic dramatists recorded and celebrated
what they saw as the enormous, epochal shift of cultural and political gravity away from the Asiatic world to the
Mycenaean, and just as Virgil immortalized the similar movement out from the Aegean into the larger world of mare
nostrum, so the poets, dramatists, and storytellers of the early modern period could once again poetically witness a
transfer of the imperial vortex from its historic locus. “Old King Brute” of the chronicles made himself useful to this
allegory of Atlantic destiny.
One vision of the role of Great Britain in the diasporic scheme of hemispheric memory took the form of an Augustan
ascendancy to the Roman imperium, which would, in the fullness of time, itself be replaced by new and vital cultures.
As Horace Walpole wrote: “The next Augustan age will dawn on the other side of the Atlantic. There will perhaps be
a Thucydides at Boston, a Xenophon at New York, and in time, a Virgil in Mexico, and

a Newton at Peru. At last some curious traveller from Lima will visit England and give a description of the ruins of St.
Paul’s” (Walpole, 24:61—62). The conception of history as a vast performance of diaspora and surrogation haunts
intercultural musings such as Walpole’s, which transform invented pasts into gloriously catastrophic futures. Such a
conception looks ahead to those who will someday prove worthy to become an audience for the spectacle of our ruin, as we have proven ourselves worthy spectators of the ruins of Troy, Rome, or Carthage. Just as Brute stands in for
Aeneas at Britain’s founding, so the transatlantic colonists stand in for Brute. The imperial measurement of human time
by millennia in evidence here requires a moment of contemplation: Charles II chartered the Royal Africa Company,
which operated the slave-taking forts on the Guinea Coast, for one thousand years, its patent to expire in A.D. 2672.
The imperial measurement of identity in evidence here requires another moment: even more ethnocentric than the
desire to replace others or the fear of being replaced by them is the assumption that their desire is to become what we
Although Africa in fact plays a hinge role in turning the Mediterranean-centered consciousness of European memory
into an Atlantic-centered one, the scope of that role largely disappears. Yet it leaves its historic traces amid the
incomplete erasures, beneath the superscriptions, and within the layered palimpsests of more or less systematic cultural misrecognition. This epic Dido, no less than King Zulu, performs, though in a different way. Moving from the
Mediterranean world to the Atlantic in its doubled narrative of Trojan heroes, Tate’s mythic reiteration of origins, an
evocation of collective memory, hinges on the narrative of abandonment, a public performance of forgetting.
In the score ‘s most stunning moment of musical declamation, which prepares for the death of the forsaken
Afro-Phoenician queen and the observances performed over her body, Tate gave Purcell a deceptively simple line to
set. As Aeneas sets sail for Rome and empire, Dido’s last words seem to speak for the victims of transoceanic
ambitions: “Remember me, but ah! forget my fate” (Purcell and Tate, 75). Dido pleads that she may be remembered
as a woman even as the most pertinent events of her story are erased, a sentiment that more appositely expresses the
agenda of the departing Trojans. Dryden’s translation of Virgil catches the drama of this moment of decision and
catastrophe, an evocation of memory with designs on an apocalyptic future:

                      Dire auguries from hence the Trojans draw;
                      Till neither fires nor shining shores they saw.
                      Now seas and skies their prospect only bound;
                      An empty space above, a floating field around.
                                                                          (Dryden, Virgil, 126)

As Aeneas casts a parting look back to the rising pillar of smoke, his ambivalence fuses memory and
forgetting into one gesture. In that gesture, he enacts the historic tendency of Europeans, when
reminded, to recall only emotions of deep love for the peoples whose cultures they have left in flames,
emotions predicated on the sublime vanity that their early departure would not have been celebrated
locally as deliverance.

The lush, feminized abundance of the Carthaginian court, the lavish exchange of gifts performed there,
the bloody sacrifice of the hunt, and the liminal status of the diasporic queen produce tremors of ritual
expectancy. Tate knows what effect must be delivered: in the laws of hospitality that govern the visit of
death to drama, a suicide offers up the fatted calf, the gift of closure, the performance of waste:

                                 Thy hand Belinda, darkness shades me,
                                 On thy bosom let me rest.
                                 Cupids appear in the clouds o’er her tomb.
                                 More I would but death invades me,
                                 Death is now a welcome guest.
                                                                         (Purcell and Tate, 75)

The eerie effect of lines of such gravity resonating in the slender vocal chords of a schoolgirl (though
quite possibly a schoolgirl of freakish musical and dramatic talent—Purcell knew how to compose for
exceptional voices) suggests that the opera produces the child as an effigy. Her nubile body,
impersonating the Carthaginian queen’s, might then activate a signifying chain of substitutions that
culminate allegorically in the origin of imperial superabundance on the sacrificial expenditure of Africa.

The key to the genealogy of performance derived from this moment in a Restoration opera, however, rests on the
musical setting for the text. The ground bass accompaniment for the vocal line of Dido’s lament, “Remember me,”
which immediately follows the recitative quoted above, is a chaconne (Mellers, 213). This form became widely
popular in Europe at the beginning of the seventeenth century, first in Spain as a dance in triple meter with erotic
connotations, then in France as a more stately court dance,
associated especially with weddings. The only agreement about the origin of what the Spanish call the chacona and
the Italians ciaccona, however, is that it wasn’t European and that it drove women crazy. Spaniards attributed it to the
Indians of Peru or perhaps the West Indies, where it gave its name to a mythical island, a utopia also called Cucafia
(or, in English, Cockaigne). Beauchamp, the French dancing master, confidently traced the chaconne to Africa
(Walker, 303; McClary, 87).
Whatever the precise history of the chaconne across four continents, the very confusions about its points of origin
suggest its emergence out of the diasporic métissage of the Caribbean. Its assimilation into the musical life of a
finishing school for daughters of English merchants suggests the invisible domestication and consumption of the Atlantic triangle’s vast cultural produce, which, like sugar, its textures effaced, metamorphosed from brown syrup into white
powder, until only the sweetness remained. That Dido’s final lament, stately threnody that it is, derives its cadences
and musical style from a forgotten Native American or African form lends an eerily doubled meaning to the queen’s
invocation of memory as her lover sails boldly away from the coast of Africa bound for amnesia.

The Segregation of the Dead

“I trade both with the living and the dead,” Dryden explains in the introduction to his translation of The Aeneid (1xiv).
The argument to book six further promises the reader that the sibyl will prophesy the hero’s future by returning him to
the past via a detour to the afterlife. This promise the poem keeps. Attending Aeneas on a journey into hell, the sibyl
introduces him to many of the shades who dwell there, including the ghost of his father, Anchises, “who instructs him in those sublime mysteries of the soul of the world, and the transmigration; and shews him that glorious race of heroes
which was to descend from him, and his posterity” (Aeneid, I 57). But into the exalted prospect of this dynastic scene, fate or guilty conscience introduces an unbidden memory. As Aeneas and his guide pass by the Mournful Fields where the shades of tragic lovers dwell but find no rest, the specter of Dido of Carthage, “fresh from her wound, her bosom
bath’d in blood,” appears. Aeneas doubts his eyes but readily credits local gossip:

                 (Doubtful as he who sees, thro’ dusky night,
                 Or thinks he sees, the moon’s uncertain light,)
                 With tears he first approach’d the sullen shade;
                 And, as his love inspir’d him, thus he said:
                 “Unhappy queen! then is the common breath
                 Of rumor true, in your reported death, And I, alas, the cause?”

                                        (Dryden, Aeneid,173)


Dido replies with stony silence, which no entreaties can induce her to break, until at last, still speechless, she fades
away, “Hid in the forest and the shades of night” (174). Aeneas seems to find this silence troubling but convenient; he
is quickly on his way again, while Dido, like the repressed, reenters the Stygian realms from which she staged her
silent and brief return.

Citing Virgil’s account of hell in a Tatler number devoted to the “Empire of Death,” Joseph Addison shows how the
boundaries that separate life from the afterlife provide a melancholy but not unpleasing occasion to contemplate the
idea of boundaries themselves. Addison calls these carefully defined perimeters “the Confines of the Dead” (2:363).
As the myths and beliefs of Mediterranean memory play themselves out in the circum-Atlantic world, these obscure,
symbolic boundaries, living memories in the minds of Addison and his readers, could be silently reinvented and
imposed through the literal construction of the most tangible forms of material culture. I am thinking particularly of that
characteristic invention of modern architecture, the behavioral vortices of death: cemeteries.

In a consequential but as yet only partially understood usurpation of popular custom, Europeans attempted to impose
on themselves (and on the peoples they colonized) a revolutionary spatial paradigm: the segregation of the dead from
the living. Although precedents may be cited in the great thanatological projects of antiquity, from Egypt to Etruria, the
ambition of the modern displacement of medieval tradition should be carefully considered (figure 2.1). In this light,
modernity itself might be understood as a new way of handling (and thinking about) the dead.

At one time in European tradition, as in many other traditions world­wide, the dead were omnipresent: first, in the
mysterious sense that their spirits continued to occupy places among the quick; second, in the material sense that
medieval burial custom crowded decomposing corpses into hopelessly overfilled churchyards and crypts, whence they literally overflowed into the space of the living. Though jumbled remains from generations of reburials in the same
graves saturated the earth, the burial ground often provided the most convenient public spaces available to merchants,
mounte­banks, jugglers, and their mixed audiences, who shared in this popular intermingling


of life and death, carnival and Lent (Burke). Hamlet’s hands-on eulogy of Yorick takes place in just such an
overbooked boneyard, and historians of social custom have noted the uncanny effects produced by the continuous
intersection of intimacy and dispossession.

In Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error (1979),for example, Le Roy Ladurie speaks of the obtrusive familiarity
of the dead: “They had no houses of their own. ... They might go every Saturday and visit the ostal where their widow
or widower still lived with their children. They might temporarily occupy their old bedroom” (348-49). As in many
traditional African societies, the spaces of the living and the dead in the medieval comté de Foix were not discrete:
“Before the harvest, Gélis joined in veritable drinking bouts with the dead, in parties of over a hundred” (347).
Indeed, one of the important elements that gave meaning to a particular place—that made it a particular place—was
the gregarious presence of the dead.
The rationalizing projects of the European Enlightenment, however, attempted to reform this scandalous propinquity.
Under a regime of newly segregationist taxonomies of behavior in several related fields of manners and bodily
administration, the dead were compelled to withdraw from the spaces of the living: their ghosts were exorcised even
from the stage; their bodies were removed to newly dedicated and isolated cemeteries, which in New Orleans came
to be called “Cities of the Dead.” As custom increasingly defined human remains as unhygienic, new practices of
interment evolved, eventually including cremation, to ensure the perpetual separation of the dead and to reduce or
more strictly circumscribe the spaces they occupied. As the place of burial was removed from local churchyard to
distant park, the dead were more likely to be remembered (and forgotten) by monuments than by continued
observances in which their spirits were invoked. Like the ghost of Dido, the enlightened dead were more likely now to observe the strict silence of the tomb.
As a vast anthropological topic, which I can only begin to outline here, the segregation of the dead has some precise
historical dates. When Adrien DePauger laid out the tidy grid of streets and public spaces for the French colonial city
of New Orleans in 1721, for instance, a bounded square marked “cemetière” appeared, not in the churchyard at the
center of the plan but out­side the walls of the fortifications at its perimeter (Huber, 3; figure 2.2).By 1819, when the
architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe visited St. Louis Cemetery No.1,a somewhat enlarged but not far distant version of DePauger’s detached City of the Dead, ithad been further segregated into neighborhoods—Catholic and
Protestant—and subdivided into apartment buildings and single-family residences: “[The tombs] are of bricks, much
larger than necessary to enclose a coffin, and plaistered over, so as to have a very solid and permanent appearance”
(Latrobe, 241).

As metropolitan theory responded to colonial practice, the philosophes had launched attacks on the church and its
monuments to superstition by attacking the ubiquity of the dead. In 1764 Voltaire denounced the unhealthy conditions
of the churches and charnel houses of Paris, where dogs rooted among the cadavers, and in 1776 Louis XVI forbade
further burials within churches except for high officials, dignitaries, and donors (Ragon, 199—200). First by royal
decree and then by acts of the Revolutionary Convention, the charnel house in the Church of the Innocents in


rue St. Denis, which contained an estimated four million corpses accumulated over five centuries, was evacuated. The
architect-engineer Latrobe, musing on the enormity of this public works project as he strolled through St. Louis
Cemetery No.1 in New Orleans, observed: “The great operation at Paris in removing the dead from the cemetery of
St. Innocent, is an astonishing instance of the expensive efforts that have been found necessary to get rid of them—an
operation that none but Frenchmen could have conceived or executed” (Latrobe, 245).Latrobe ‘s New Orleanian
perspective, however, did not do justice to the conceptual boldness of Londoners, though at the time the architect
wrote he was largely correct about the superior state of practical implementation by the French, particularly with the
establishment by Napoleon of Père-Lachaise cemetery in 1804 (Curl, 154—67).
The emerging practice of segregating the dead received powerful support in England as a consequence of the
rebuilding of London following the Great Fire of 1666. In Windsor-Forest (1713), Alexander Pope captures the
ambition of this enormous public works project, Augustan in scale, particularly the construction of fifty new parish
churches to replace those lost in the fire (and to supply the demands newly created by a rapidly expanding imperial

     Behold! Augusta’s glitt’ring Spires increase,
     And Temples rise, the beauteous Works of Peace.
                                                     (Poems, 1:187)

In his “Proposals” of 1711 for constructing the churches, Sir John Van­brugh, architect, dramatist, and comptroller of
works under Queen Anne, laid out the Enlightenment’s case for reorganizing urban space to ghettoize the dead:

          That [the new churches] be free’d from that Inhuman custome of being made Burial Places for the
          Dead, a Custome in which there is something so very barbarous in itself besides the many ill
          consequences that attend it; that one cannot enough wonder how it ever prevail’d amongst the
          civiliz’d part of mankind. But there is now a sort of happy necessity on this Occasion of breaking
          through it; Since there can be no thought of purchasing ground for Church Yards, where the
          Churches will probably be plac’d. And since there must therefore be Cemitarys provided in the
          Skirts of Towne, if they are ordered with that decency they ought to be, there can be no doubt but
          the Rich as well as the Poor, will be content to ly there. (251)

In Vanbrugh’s proposal the scheme of separating the living from the dead offers the city planner an occasion to
discriminate between the rich and the poor as well as between the civilized and barbarous. Unlike his senior colleague
Sir Christopher Wren, whose proposals envisioned the common interment of rich and poor in the new necropolis,
Vanbrugh refined the spatial differentiation to reflect differences among the dead themselves. In so
doing he provided one of the earliest descriptions of what would become a commonplace of the well-planned modern

          If these Cemitarys be consecrated, Handsomely and regularly wall’d in, and planted with Trees in
          such form as to make a Solemn Distinction between one Part and another; there is no doubt, but
          the Richer sort of People, will think their Friends and Relations more decently inter’d in those
          distinguish’d Places, than they commonly are in the Ailes and under Pews in Churches; And will
          think them more honorably remember’d by Lofty and Noble Mausoleums erected over them in
          Freestone (which no doubt will soon come into practice) then by little Tawdry Monuments of
          Marble stuck up against Walls and Pillars.(251)

The cemetery grows on the margins to define the social distinction of the fictive center: the dead will dwell in separate
houses suitable to their status. The bodies of the indigent, Vanbrugh does not go on to say, were stacked like
cordwood in open yards until a sufficient number of corpses accumulated to make digging a common grave

To the accompanying sketch (figure 2.3), the comptroller appends a most significant explanatory note. In it he credits
the idea for the segregation of the dead to the colonials in Surat, the East India Company’s concession near the coast
between Ahmadabad and Bombay: “This manner of Interment has been practic’d by the English at Surat and is come
at last to have this kind of effect” (Vanbrugh, 251). Surat first developed as a trading port in the reign of James I. By
1711 it had been active for nearly a century, and the high death rate among the British factors in residence there
created a constant demand for burial places in which the colonials could both visibly separate themselves from and
publicly compete with the magnificent entombments of the local moguls (Calder, 158). In their enormous freestanding
tombs, for instance, the brothers Sir George and Sir Christopher Oxinden (d.1659 and 1669, respectively) built
mausolea to rival the Taj Mahal (Curl, 136—45). They planted at Surat palaces for the dead that anticipated the
massy pretentions of Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor’s baroque country houses for the living at Blenheim and
Castle Howard. (As if to insist on this connection, a stately and hugely expensive mausoleum graced the picturesque
landscape garden of the latter palace, a kind of grand finale to its magnificent performance of waste.) Vanbrugh’s
“Proposals” of 1711 thus appropriate the discriminatory practices developed at the colonial margin for use


in rebuilding the metropolitan center. Although the actual implementation of his ideas for the London cemeteries
awaited the founding of Kensal Green by act of Parliament in 1832 (Meller, 6-11), Vanbrugh’s scheme serves as one
instance among many in which Enlightened Cities of the Dead offered themselves up as conceptual prototypes for the
cities in which posterity now lives.
Indeed, London and New Orleans were not the only cities in which emerged architectural spaces that effectively
masked the dead (and later the dying) from the daily experience of the living: “The modern West,” argues Michel
Ragon, “has tended to evacuate death” (14). Many consequences have no doubt ensued from this immense project,
this radical rationalization of space, this creation of a necropolis of exiles in the “[out]Skirts of Towne.” The most
persistently segregationist of these might easily have been the invention of the suburb, that bourgeois simulacrum of
heaven, where decency allots to every proper person an inviolable place, detached or semidetached, and where
ownership is individually privatized for eternity
along its silent, leafy avenues. The most poignant of them must have been the slave ship, the triangular trade’s
simulacrum of hell, where each of the living dead occupied no more space than a coffin, and the daily wastage
disappeared over the side to a grave unmarked except by the sea. The most pervasive of them surely must be the
weird silences and circumlocutions that wall off death from life in modern mortuary etiquette, especially in the United
States (Mitford). Perhaps a more general consequence resonates in a simple question at the heart of circum-Atlantic
modernity: If the dead are forever segregated, how are the living supposed to remember who they are?

Bodies of Law

The complementary projects of Norbert Elias and Michel Foucault suggest that “civilization” or the “carceral society”
of the panopticon might best be defined as the concentration of violence in the hands of the state (Elias, The Civilizing
Process) or its diffusion to the “capillary level” in the micropolitics of daily life (Foucault, Discipline and Punish). In
my discussion of collective memory and countermemory, I want to extend the concept of restored behaviors, including violence, to include the law. The tradition of retributive justice, of course, is intimately tied to violence as the
performance of waste, but I am especially concerned with the legal dimensions of memory in the creation of the body
politic. Imagined communities perpetuate themselves through the transmission of their prohibitions and entitlements. As a cultural system dedicated to the production of certain kinds of behaviors and the regulation or proscription of others, law functions as a repository of social performances, past and present. As such, it has been called “Second Nature”
(Kelly). It typically bases its legitimacy on precedents, mysteriously reconstructed performances whereby the dead, as in the Ceremony of Souls, may pass judgment on the living: through the operation of law, the state appropriates to
itself not only violence but memory. In such a circum-Atlantic resituation of Foucault, the law works like voodoo. It is
certainly true that through the magical sway of legal fictions such as “the reasonable man,” law transmits
effigies—constructed figures that provide templates of sanctioned behavior—across generations. Indispensably,
performance infuses the artifacts of written law with bodily action, a meaning that obtains when it is said that a party to a contract “performs.”
   Legal scholar Bernard J. Hibbitts, in “‘Coming to Our Senses’: Com­munication and Legal Expression in
Performance Cultures” (1992),
specifies the corporeal nature of performance in his reexamination of comparative legal theory:
   The dynamism of performance is arguably reflected in the performative inclination to think of law not as things but
   as acts, not as rules or agreements but as processes constituting rule or agreement. A performative contract, for
   instance, is not an object, but a routine of words and gestures. A witness to a contract testifies not to the identity or
   correctness of a piece of paper, but to phenomena seen and heard. Likewise, members of performance cultures
   tend to think of justice not as something that simply is, but rather something that is done. (959)

Attempting to distinguish between the effects of predominantly literate and oral cultures on legal processes, Hibbitts
articulates a function of law as performance that appears to operate in almost any culture: regulatory acts and
ordinances produce “a routine of words and gestures” to fit the myriad of protocols and customs remembered within
the law or evoked by it. These play a significant role in the collective memory of a society, what Connerton calls
“incorporation” of “habitual memory” (72) and Nora “true memory” (13).

However, the effect of law on corporeal performance, and hence on collective memory, is never wholly negative (or, if Foucault’s view prevails, even predominantly so). Even acts of rigorous prohibition produce alternative, displaced
versions of the proscribed behaviors when performers test the limits of the law, incorporating innovations that would
not have existed otherwise, creating routines of words and gestures on the margins of legal sanction. Because a law is
written and officially enacted does not necessarily mean that it will be obeyed or even enforced; because it is
disobeyed or circumvented, however, does not mean that it is without consequences. In his suggestive idea of “hidden
transcripts” as records of secret or displaced transgression, James C. Scott illuminates an array of restored behaviors
flourishing in the penumbra of the law. “Hidden transcripts” multiply in the interstices of the dominant or official
culture’s public discourse of legiti­macy and legality. “The practice of domination, then, creates the hidden transcript,”
Scott writes; “If domination is particularly severe, it is likely to produce a hidden transcript of corresponding richness”
(27).The circum-Atlantic world provides many sites where this hypothesis can be tested.

For instance, in 1685 Louis XIV signed into law the sixty articles of the Code noir, its full title translated as the “Black
Code; or, Collection of Edicts,

Declarations, and Decrees Concerning the Discipline and the Commerce of Negro Slaves of the Islands of French
America.” The preamble, addressed to the king’s colonial subjects now and in the future, requires him to be in more
than one place at the same time: “Although they inhabit countries infinitely far from our land, we are always near
them” (CN 1685). By the terms of the Code, which was adopted with some refinements in Louisiana in 1724,
hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of Africans from diverse cultures were incorporated into the king’s body politic. Under the aegis of Colbert’s assimilationist doctrine of “One Blood,” which had encouraged miscegenation in
Canada (Johnson, “Colonial New Orleans,” 23), the original Code noir provided for the manumission of the slaves
(CN 1685, articles 4,55,56), the emergence of a free black population (article 59), and inter­marriage between slaves and slaveholders, black or white (article 9). These liberal provisions were struck from the Louisiana edition, most
conspicuously the article on miscegenation, which was forbidden between Negroes and whites, and, revealingly,
between mulattoes and Negroes (CN 1724, article 6). When France briefly reacquired Louisiana in 1803, the newly
appointed governor reinstated the Code noir of 1724,sweeping away the more liberal Spanish slave codes, including
the right of self-manumission (Schafer 2-3,6-9). Article 6 never explained the presence of the mixed-blood subjects
whose existence it both forbade and recognized, but clearly enough, the intimate liaisons once legitimated by Colbert’s One Blood and the Code noir of 1685 continued to enjoy a degree of popularity in custom long after they had been
stigmatized by law. In all editions of the Code noir, owners were required to see to the Catholic baptism, instruction,
and burial of their slaves (CN 1685, articles 2and 14),incorporating them as “souls” into the heavenly kingdom of “the
Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion” (CN 1685, article 6). Owners were also enjoined from making their slaves
work on the Sabbath or on feast days (CN 1685, article 6).
“Soul” notwithstanding, the incorporated status of the slave’s body was inscribed in the Code noir’s draconian
provisions for the punishment of run­aways. The slave absent without leave for one month “will have his ears cut off
and [will be] branded on one shoulder with the fleur-de-lys; if he is guilty of a second offense…, he shall be hamstrung and also branded with the fleur-de-lys on the other shoulder, and a third time, he will be put to death” (CN 1685,
article 38; CN 1724, article 32).Branding with the lily of France, the time-honored emblem of her monarchial
continuity and collec­tive identity, subjects the slave who rejects the king’s legal incorporation (by
voting with his or her feet) to a most rigorous reminder of the long arm of his law. The body so marked becomes an
effigy by way of example, performing the law, so to speak, enacting the body politic in the materiality of the natural
body, wearing on his or her person the ineffaceable insignia of national memory.
Yet the Code noir contained a more subtle technique of marking— of identity, of continuity, of community—one
hallowed in African law and custom as well as in European. The legal status of the subject followed the condition of
the mother: the children of a slave father and a free mother are born free; those of a free father and a slave mother are
enslaved (CN 1685, article 13; CN 1724, article 10). This harmonized with the Bambaran principle of badenya, or
“mother-childness,” which, as Gwendolyn Midlo Hall has demonstrated in her history of Africans in Louisiana, “is also the term for the family compound, [and] represents the principle of order, stability, and social conformity centered
around obligations to home, village, and kinsmen”(55). It exists in opposition to the principle of fadenya, or
“father­childness,” which honors those who renovate social bonds through dissent or even disobedience. Whereas the
Bambaran juridical idea is that any community needs both badenya and fadenya, the Code noir encouraged the
former but stipulated exemplary punishments for the latter. The salient point is that Mandekan-speaking Senegambians like the Bambara arrived in Louisiana possessed of prolific arts of law and memory of their own, which, like those of
the Europeans, had to be adapted to fit radically transformed circumstances. Unlike the Europeans, however, the
Africans did not have the opportunity to publish these revisions and amendments; their most readily available medium
of cultural recollection and innovation was performance.
For the historian of unauthorized performances, those that take place in the penumbra of the law, the most poignant
written legal record of African retentions and adaptations resides in the Code noir’s prohibition of slave assemblies
and rituals. Article 3 of the original code forbids the public exercise of any religion other than Catholicism, and it
especially enjoins “all gatherings for this purpose.” Article 16 reads: “We also forbid slaves belonging to different
masters, to gather together, day or night, under pretext of weddings or otherwise, whether on the premises of the
masters or elsewhere, and especially along the highways or remote places, under penalty of corporal punishment
which must not be less than the lash or fleur-de-lys; and in case of frequent repetition and other aggravating

conditions, they may be punished by death” (CN 1685, article 16; CN 1724,article 13). The obvious motive behind
this prohibition is a fear of slave revolts. The rootedness of that fear, however, derives from an informed understanding on the part of the French about the power of public performances to consolidate a sense of community, inside or
outside of the law.
The Africanization of Louisiana included the powerful forms of musical celebration, dance, storytelling, and ritual that
developed in the interstices of European laws and religious institutions, creolizing them, as they creolized the African
ones in turn. Adaptations of African belief systems and spirit-world practices to the forms of Catholicism produced
syncretisms in Louisiana similar, though not identical to those found elsewhere in the French and Spanish Caribbean.
Immigration from St. Domingue following the French and Haitian revolutions reinforced these invented traditions,
though in contrast to Haitian practice, women dominated spirit-world religion in Louisiana (Hall, 302). Death often
provided the occasion for the public performance of semisecret memories, for the Catholic rites in and through which
they could emerge demonstrated their own adaptive capacity to accommodate as well as to transform African
retentions. Into the Code noir’s requirements for the proper observance of holy days, feast days, and the rites of
Christian burial, for instance, which contradict the proscription of assemblies, restored behavior inserts the living
memory of African mortuary ritual. And into the unenforceable spaces between the words of imposed litanies,
reinvented communities substitute themselves for living memories. Such displaced transmissions include celebrations of death inspired by apparently orthodox belief in the participation of ancestral spirits—call them “saints” —in the world
of the present.
Death has so many uses. After the suppression of the Pointe Coupée slave revolt of 1795, for instance, “festivals of
the dead,” in defiance of the authorities and the Code noir, honored the executed freedom fighters (Hall, 372).
Translating James C. Scott’s “hidden transcripts” into the funeral rites of creole Louisiana, such “festivals” permit the
unauthorized expression of solidarity masked by permissible, indeed obligatory observances. The fact of broad
participation itself silently subverts or transgresses the dominant public transcript. When the French naturalist
C. C. Robin visited New Orleans at the time of the sale of Louisiana to the United States, when the restrictions on
slave assembly had been intensified, not relaxed, he remarked: “I have noticed especially in the city that the funerals of
white people are only attended by a few, those of colored people are attended by

a great crowd, and mulattoes, quadroons married to white people, do not disdain attending the funeral of a black”
(248). The occasion created by death offered this community an opportunity to affirm its semiautonomous but
discreetly submerged existence within or against the obligatory rituals of the better publicized fiction called the
dominant culture.
A decade after Robin’s visit, Benjamin Henry Latrobe recorded in his journal the frequency and distinctiveness of
Afro-Catholic burials. His entry for May 4, 1819, for instance, describes a procession at twilight of “at least 200
Negroes men and women who were following a corpse to the cemetery.” Unlike the broad range of skin colors
observed by Robin, Latrobe sees uniformity: “There were none that I observed, but pitch black faces.” The women
and many of the men “were dressed in pure White,” and half the women carried candles, following the priests and
acolytes bearing “urns and Crucifix on silver staves as they began their chant” (301). Latrobe, like Aeneas passing
through the Mournful Fields, followed the procession to its destination. While children played among the human bones
turned up by the gravedigger’s shovel, the pallbearers lowered the coffin into the shallow, water-filled grave, and the
candle-bearing women “pressed close to the grave making very loud lamentations.” When the first shovel of dirt was
thrown in, “at the same instant one of the Negro women who seemed more particularly affected threw herself into the
grave upon the Coffin and partly fell into the Water as the Coffin swam to one side” (301—2).The gravedigger,
assisted by other mourners, pulled the keening woman forcibly out of the grave and carried her away, hand and foot.
Latrobe inquired after the identity of the dead person who had brought so many together on the occasion and inspired
such grief. His informant, one of the women dressed in white, answered that the deceased was a hundred-year-old
“African (Congo) Negress belonging to Madam Fitzgerald” (302) and that the woman who had thrown herself in the
grave was her granddaughter. In fact, many of those at the burial site were the children, grandchildren, and
great-grandchildren of the matriarch. Curious about the meaning of this passing to the mourners, Latrobe persisted: “I
asked if her Grand daughter who threw herself into the grave could possibly have felt such excessive distress at the
death of an old woman who before her death was almost childish and was supposed to be above 100 Years old—as
to be tired of her own life. She shrugged her shoulders two or three times, and then said, ‘Je n`en sçais rien, cela est
une maniere’ [I don’t know about that, that’s the way it’s done]” (302).

As Latrobe retired from the scene, rowdy boys among the mourners began playing catch with the old bones, pelting
each other with them, throwing skulls in the grave, laughing at the loud report they made as they struck the wooden lid
of the coffin, adding their din to the “noise and laughter,” which had become “general by the time the service was
over.” Before they joined the festive crowd departing the burial ground, the women picked blades of grass from
around the grave site (302).
From the granddaughter’s performance of grief and the informant’s explanation of it there emerge several assumptions
that link law to memory without the necessity of writing. It is not enough to say that the informant s answer simply
refers the questioner to custom or tradition, a ploy so often useful for brushing off the tourists, though something like
that could very well have been going on, particularly in the answers produced by a French-speaking female slave for
the edification of an important Anglo male. Her claim of knowing nothing pertinent, “I don’t know about that,” cannot
dis­guise the obvious competence of the graveside performance and the certainty of her summation of it, “that’s the
way it’s done.” The normalizing authority behind her claim manifests itself in the organization of the funeral itself.
Nearly all the mourners are wearing “pure White,” the color associated with death and mourning in the semiotics of
African, but not European, mortuary ritual. The candlelit cortege processes solemnly into the cemetery, following the
white creole clergy, who carry their Christian liturgical impedimenta and chant the ancient Latin words of the burial
rites required for all slaves under the articles of the Code noir of Louis XIV, the preamble of which addressed itself, in the conventional legal language of royal imperishability, “to all present and to come.” But within the pomp and
splendor of the Latin obsequies, required by the timeless majesty of French law and custom, founded on the
persuasive fiction of the king’s two bodies, Latrobe cannot imagine where all the rude noises are coming from.
Even before the graveside service ends, festivity has broken out. In the momentarily privileged spaces of public
assembly opened up amid the formal requirements of Eurocentric memory, there erupts a countermemory in which the living celebrate among the spirits of the dead. The living defy the segregation of the dead. Their celebration begins at a
point along the trajectory of mourning that must be sensed collectively by those present on the occasion, a moment in
which the community joyously affirms its renewal in the very act of marking the passing of one of its own. In the
traditional African-American jazz funerals, still performed in New Orleans to this day,


the moment of transformation is called “cutting the body loose.” It initiates a burst of joyous music, dance, and humor,
often ribald, in which there is no impiety, though there may be some quite pointed irreverence (figure 2.4). There is no
impiety because in these sacred rites of memory, death is not so clearly separated from life as it was for Eurocentric
observers like Benjamin Latrobe, the architect whose city planner’s eye could approve only a much more stringent
segregation of the dead. His understanding of memory favored monuments wherein ancestors could be safely confined rather than noisy behaviors whereby they could be turned loose.
Latrobe’s puzzlement at the juxtaposition of what he called “excessive distress” and the revelries that he apparently
thought of as merely excessive reflects the pronounced tendency of the literate observer to misrecognize incorporated
memory as spontaneous emotion. It is important to note that the caretakers of memory in the scene he recounts are
the women. The Code noir gave recognition and impetus to women’s responsibility for memory by predicating the
legal status of its subjects on the condition of the mother. As if in symbolic observance of this burden, which may
equally or alternatively honor the principle of badenya or “mother-child­ness,” it is the women who carry the candles
to the edge of the grave, as it is the women who gather the blades of grass and bear the mementoes away. Either the
French Code noir or West African badenya, then, could be cited as the law that deputizes the granddaughter to leap
into the grave. Her action may signify not only a willingness to accompany or even change

places with the deceased but also a bid to succeed her in the reborn community of the living.
The great age of the matriarch intensifies (not diminishes, as Latrobe supposed) what was at stake in her burial: the
unscriptable performance of memory under the gaze of other peoples at a time of acute cultural displacement. Her
funeral took place at the extreme limits of what might be called epochal memory and under the localized pressure of
larger circum-Atlantic dislocations. The United States suspended the importation of slaves from Africa and the
Caribbean soon after the Louisiana Purchase, although the trade was continued illicitly through smuggling. By 1819 the last of the elders from the French era who still possessed firsthand memories of Africa and could transmit those
memories to their progeny were passing away. As New Orleans filled with English-speaking Americans, black and
white, the francophone Creoles—black, white, and many tints in between—continued to assert their interdependent
traditions through various media of public performance. According to popular memory and recent historical research,
they persisted even after it was clear to everyone that their inevitable replacements had arrived. As the
Anglo-Americans set about the task of dismantling what they saw as dangerous leniencies in creole law and custom,
beginning with harsh amendments to the Code noir as early as 1806 (Schafer, 6-9), the imagined community still
organized by spirit-world memories discreetly differentiated itself through its hallowed rites of death and surrogation.
One of those resistant performances, a small but piquant demonstration, took place when the black woman in the pure white robes shrugged and countered Benjamin Latrobe’s bemused interrogation with an authority only partially
masked by her apparently deferential reply. Kinesthetically punctuated with appropriate gestures, her speech was in its way as obdurate as Dido’s stony silence: “That’s the way it’s done.”

Congo Square

“The most intense and productive life of culture,” wrote Mikhail Bakhtin, “takes place on the boundaries” (Speech
Genres, 2). For any genealogy of New Orleanian performance, Bakhtin’s argument contains a literal as well as a
figurative truth. Outside the original city walls and adjacent to the cemetière laid out by DePauger, was an unofficial
public marketplace, once a site for the corn feasts of the Poucha-Houmma Indians (Kendall, History, 2:679). Here
African slaves, free persons of color, and Native Americans


could mingle with relative freedom and sell their goods. The provision in the Code noir that made the Sabbath a day
free from work was interpreted (or ignored) to allow the slaves to work part-time for themselves, which might include
the marketing of their own produce on Sunday. To serve this purpose, creole custom set aside a portion of the
wasteland between the fortified city wall and the swampy ground leading away to the Bayou St. John. Nearby stood
the death house for the indigent sick and the cemetery, a cultural borderland by Bakhtin’s definition and many others
as well. Any public market becomes a site of cultural self-invention, exchange, and performance, but this patch of
ground on the boundary of the colonial city of New Orleans, now generally known to historians of dance and music as Congo Square, witnessed a particularly intense series of transformations and surrogations in its function as a
behavioral vortex.

Vortices of behavior tend to occupy liminal ground, situated in the penumbra of the law, open to appropriation by
both official texts and hidden transcripts: Congo Square, like the Liberties of London of an earlier date (Mullaney),
provides a detailed case in point. As Jerah Johnson has shown, the different names by which the square was known
recount its rich and contested history: site of the fête du b1é or Indian corn feast, Place des Nègres, Place du Cirque,
Place Congo, Congo Circus, La Place Publique, Circus Public Square, Congo Plains, Place d ‘Armes (when the
original of that name became Jackson Square), P. G. T. Beauregard Park (after the Confederate general), and finally
Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Park. As the city expanded outward, Congo Square, like the nearby cemetery, was
incorporated within its limits, but the liminal character of the old market remained. Although Signor Gaetano’s Congo
Circus set up in the square during the early years of the American period, the Cuban impresario’s animal acts and
rope dancers capitalized on what locals and visitors had already come to know as a unique holiday spectacle
(Johnson, “New Orleans’s Congo Square”; figure 2.5). For a time voodoo rites were practiced there, until they were
driven further underground. Liliane Crété’s reconstruction evokes the scene:

   In New Orleans, Sunday was a day of relaxation, even for the slaves. Dressed in their finest, they gathered by the
   hundreds under the sycamores in Congo Place, and from early afternoon until nightfall they danced to the rhythm of
   tom-toms and crude stringed instruments. The dances were lively and fast paced, with quick steps and many
   pirouettes. There were sensual, even blatantly erotic dances, in


   which the dancers mimicked the motions of lovemaking. There were bright, joyful dances that reflected the
   influence of European music; dances that were little more than the stamping of feet; dances with sacred undertones,
   such as the calinda; dances like the carabine, in which the man spun his partner like a top; frenetic dances like the
   bamboula and the coujaille; and mysterious dances like the pile chactas, in which the man first circles his partner,
   then sinks to his knees before her and writhes like a serpent. The slaves danced barefoot on the grass, as the civic
   guard looked on from a discreet distance and a horde of white spectators pressed round the gates of the square,
   their faces registering a mixture of amusement, astonishment, shock, scorn, and indulgence. The African rhythms
   and dances were obviously not to everyone’s taste, and some of the Americans in the crowd must have looked on
   the scene as a display of savagery that no one but a black or a Creole could savor or condone. (226)
One of the easily overlooked insights in Crété’s account of this
circum-Atlantic event is the carefully constructed performance of whiteness enacted by the onlookers, most
particularly by the “shocked” Anglo-Amer­icans among them.

Helpfully, Benjamin Henry Latrobe corroborates the attribution of fastidiousness and fascination to the newly arrived
Anglophones. While walking up St. Peter’s Street past the cemetery “in the rear of the city” one Sunday afternoon, he heard a most extraordinary noise.” Latrobe then noted that the crowd of five or six hundred “blacks” (his
emphasis—he saw only a handful of mulattoes) had divided itself into many smaller groups of dancers, who had
gathered around musical ensembles consisting of “African” stringed and percussion instruments, of which the architect
made some valuable sketches. One man sang in “some African language, for it was not French” (203-4). The sounds
filled the neighborhood around Congo Square for blocks, reminding Latrobe of “horses trampling on a wooden floor”
(203). Trying without success to find a comparable experience in his travels and observations, he concluded: “I have
never seen anything more brutally savage” (204). Coming from the architect who had overseen repairs to the
devastated White House after the remorseless sack and burning of Washington by the British, this critique is an
extraordinary piece of Americana indeed.

What he had seen and heard was a convergence of dance and musical forms, clustered feats of daring and invention,
which were deeply indebted to Africa yet no longer of it—living proofs of its impermanence and unforgettability. They
emerged from the margins of circum-Atlantic performance culture, from “in back of the town,” a displaced
transmission, rising, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of diaspora and genocide on wings of song. Latrobe, through the
meticulous words and images of his journal entries in 1819, responded as if he realized that he was, willingly or
otherwise, listening to the future as well as to the past. He had high praise for the liturgical music in the new Episcopal
Church in New Orleans, which he attended with his wife every Sunday (258), and he once translated the libretto for
the Metastasian opera Astrea Placata (106), but he presciently devoted a much longer entry in his journal to the
sounds and movements that almost every­body in the world now remembers as jazz.

Louis Armstrong, whose stone effigy smiles down on the site of Congo Square today (figure 2.6), described growing
up in New Orleans succinctly: “Yeah, music all around you” (26). What poet Tom Dent calls the Armstrong statue's
“shit-eating grin,” however, faces the huge Municipal


Auditorium, built next to the site of Congo Square, largely for the whites-only use of the carnival krewes. In the 1940s and 1950s, the auditorium became the object of a number of unevenly successful attempts at desegregation (Hirsch
and Logsdon, 270, 280, 284; Rogers, 37-38). It is a fortress built by whiteness astride the site of the only plot of
ground where slaves could act as if they were free to remember who they were. In “For Lil Louis,” Tom Dent puts the obvious question to Satchmo’s stone effigy:

                        did the moon-blood intrude
                        the sleep of your nights
                        even sleep of your days
                        did you carry moon-blood
                        memories to the grave?(68)


The association of Louis Armstrong with the city of his childhood is strong in popular memory, and few listeners fail to
respond to the raspy longing expressed in his version of “Home.” But locals cannot pass his statue in Congo Square,
that lieu de mémoire of ghost notes, without remembering his emphatic instructions regarding the final disposition of
his remains: “Don’t bury me in New Orleans.”

The King Is Dead—Long Live the King!
In circum-Atlantic terms, can on formation in Eurocentric culture parallels the spiritual principle to which bell hooks, in
her essay on “Black Indians,” attributes the deep affinity of African and Native American peoples: “that the dead stay
among us so that we will not forget” (180). The perseverance of memory must cross the threshold of performance, the only scene in which surrogated doubles stand in for absent originals. Dennis Scott’s An Echo in the Bone, for
instance, begins with Rachel, the widow, making obeah by announcing to the mourners, “Tonight I belong to the dead (76). Obeah, the once-outlawed practice of the Kumina and Pukumina religions of Jamaica, requires a medium to
assist the dead in their various journeys, visitations, and returns (Hill, Jamaican Stage, 227—29). On the duly
appointed Ninth Night, Rachel, as the caretaker of memory, succeeds in bringing back her husband’s spirit to possess the bereaved, one by one. Into the bodies of those possessed flow images of the past, bidden and unbidden.
At each moment of possession, the suddenly penetrated body becomes a magical thing, an animate effigy.

In the syncretism of Atlantic spirit-world memory, Scott’s subtle dramaturgy prepares for the climactic possession of
the dead man’s son, diminutively known as Sonson, by Rachel’s earlier revelation of his given name: Isaac. As his
dead father’s voice speaks through him, he is identified as the son whose blood does not have to be shed, in this case
because his father has already enacted the sacrifice for him. Thus, as the sacrificeable double is redeemed by his
father’s gift, the linear telos of catastrophe can be reimagined into a cycle. Today such intimate strategies of memorial
performance need not be circumscribed. They animate, for instance, the deeply moving account by Kwame Anthony
Appiah of the public dimensions of the funeral of his Ghanaian father, in whose house, we are made to understand, are many mansions: “Only something so particular as a single life--as my father’s life, encapsulated in the complex pattern
of social and per­sonal relations around his coffin—could capture the multiplicity of our lives in the postcolonial world (191). Around the Atlantic rim today, this principle of memory and identity still provokes intercultural struggles over
the possession of the dead by the living. These struggles take many forms, of which the most remarkable are those in
which the participatory techniques of orature—people speaking in one another’s voices—predominate.

This form of reversed ventriloquism permeates circum-Atlantic performance, of which American popular culture is
now the most ubiquitous ambassador. The voice of African-American rhythm and blues carries awesomely over time
and distance, through its cadences, its intonations, its accompaniment, and even its gestures. Elvis Presley inverted the
doubling pattern of minstrelsy—black music pours from a white face—and this sur­rogation has begotten others. It
seems to me that the degree to which this voice haunts American memory, the degree to which it promotes obsessive
attempts at simulation and impersonation, derives from its ghostly power to insinuate memory between the lines, in the
spaces between the words, in the intonation and placements by which they are shaped, in the silences by which they
are deepened or contradicted. By such means, the dead remain among the living. This is the purview of orature, where poetry travels on the tips of many tongues and memory flourishes as the opportunity to participate.

In the tabloid instruments of popular memory, the Tatlers and Spectators of the quickstop checkouts, The King
remains every inch an effigy.
The official constitution of imagined community, however, requires legitimating monuments of even more imposing
gravity. When the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Elvis a few years ago, it
sponsored a contest between two designs. One featured the young crooner holding a microphone. The other showed
the aging star, corpulent in his white, Las Vegas—style suit. Offered its choice between The King’s two bodies, the
American electorate voted its preference in a special election. By a landslide of 75 percent of the ballots cast in fifty
states, the people chose to remember Elvis in the immortality of his youth. The number of reported sightings in this
form suggests his secure place in the incorruptible body politic of imagined community. From Tupelo to Memphis,
from birth­place to final resting place, his homes are sacred shrines.
In my exhaustive but futile attempt to get the rights to reproduce in this book the cover of the U.S. Postal Service’s
catalog featuring the Elvis Presley stamp, I experienced through a revealing set of exchanges a practical confirmation
of my theory of the production of national effigies. Although the U.S. Postal Service maintains a most courteously
staffed licensing department to deal with requests to reproduce philatelic images, the actual negotiations concerning
celebrity stamps are conducted through an agent, Hamilton Projects, Inc., a unit of Spelling Entertainment Group, Inc.
Before it would issue a contract, Hamilton Projects required me to submit my request along with a copy of the
manuscript for approval by the licensing department of Graceland, a Division of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. The
spokesperson for Hamilton Projects explained that while the U.S. Postal Service holds copyright on the particular
image of Elvis on the stamp, Graceland has a fiduciary interest in the image of Elvis “in general.” Struck by the implicit
claim of inalienability of rights of property in one’s own person or persona, transcending even death itself, I rang
Memphis. As if in performative confirmation of the immortality of the body politic, the phone at Graceland was
answered by Elvis’s voice, on that day singing “Tutti Frutti.”
The Graceland licensing agent was most accommodating and agreed to review the relevant passages of my
manuscript. Her promptly delivered approval contained a bracing assurance: “Since books do fall under your rights of
first amendment, clearance from the copyright owner may be all that you need.” Despite Graceland’s defense of the
U.S. Constitution, however, the promised clearance ultimately proved impractical to obtain: in addition to a licensing
fee, Hamilton Projects required that I personally
obtain a certificate of insurance for one million dollars to be maintained in force for ten years, indemnifying and holding
harmless the U.S. Postal Service from any actions or damages, including attorney’s fees, arising out of the publication of Elvis’s image in this space. These stringent refinements of copyright law were of course generally unavailable to
Elvis Presley’s circum-Atlantic predecessors. They were applied in this case, I believe, to protect not intellectual
property per se but the effigy’s power of selection over what is remembered inviolately and by whom.
“The King lives on,” the United States Postal Service concludes, having first “revolutionized American music” (U.S.
Postal Service, 28—29). Elvis Presley’s role in the performance of circum-Atlantic memory is thus well defined: his
airbrushed face on a postage stamp, the circulating pantheon of national effigies, silently commemorates the staggering
erasures required by the invention of whiteness, while his voice still echoes in the bone.