The Aesthetics of Restraint in Tumultuous Times: Performing Arts in Java, Bali and Burma
Open lecture with Professor Ward Keeler, the University of Texas at Austin
The classical arts in Java, Bali, and Burma, where I have done fieldwork over many years, have suffered considerable decline in public interest over the past several decades. I start from an account of how those performance genres illustrate hierarchical understandings and so resonate with long-standing conceptions of how all social relations work. I go on to describe recent performances I have seen, performances that lay claim to people’s attention in more immediately accessible ways than did earlier ones. I suggest that the modifications typical of current practices reflect a loss of faith in hierarchy’s promises but in the absence of alternative ideologies better able to address current circumstances.
Ward Keeler is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Java and Bali (Indonesia), and in Burma since the 1970s. His work has focused on performance, gender, language, and hierarchy in all three societies. His publications include monographs on Javanese shadow plays, and on Burmese Buddhism and gender, textbooks for the Javanese and Burmese languages, his translation of an Indonesian novel, and CDs of classical Burmese music, as well as a number of academic journal articles. As a recent fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Study, and currently a guest at Stockholm University, he is writing about shifting aesthetic preferences in Southeast Asia and links between those shifts and larger issues in social relations more generally.