Beyond national identity: Kuo Pao Kun’s contemporary theatre and an open culture
ABSTRACT This article argues that the artistic-cultural work of the late Kuo Pao Kun (1939-2002) from the mid-1990s commenced on what tentatively can be called an extraterritorial theatre practice that engaged with the modern state’s capacity to make national identity singular in the interests of political, military and economic goals, and in which cultural formation and identity must exceed the nation-state’s purview. The present, “globalised” moment requires freedom from local jurisdictions: this is the line of thought regarding a truly contemporary theatre’s direction cut short by his demise in 2002. Two plays represent Kuo’s new direction: Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral (1995) and the The Spirits Play (1998 and 2000). His deliberations on contemporary art and culture draw from older ideals of modern cultural formation and is conjoined, it may be contradictorily, with postmodernism’s rhetoric of the decentred and the multiple; but if so, this contradiction becomes an adumbration of the fraught attributes of the contemporary.
Kuo Pao Kun; contemporary art; national identity; multiculturalism; globalisation and art; memory practice
C. J. W.-L. Wee is Professor of English at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has held Visiting Fellowships at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, India and the Society for the Humanities, Cornell University, among other institutions. Wee is the author of The Asian Modern: Culture, Capitalist Development, Singapore (2007) and is a co-editor of Contesting Performance: Global Sites of Research (2010).