Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Theatre and Performance


Maurya Wickstrom

Committee Members

Peter Eckersall

James Wilson

Rustom Bharucha

Subject Categories

Asian History | Cultural History | Other Philosophy | Performance Studies | Social History


performance of everyday life, Walter Benjamin, Banaras, South Asian history, historical consciousness, essentialism


This dissertation locates itself at the intersection of performance theory, South Asian studies and philosophy of history to examine the history of an urban consciousness known as banarasipan (literally, "Banarasi-ness") as performed by the people of Banaras in northern India. Over the course of the twentieth century, banarasipan, as a distinct way of being in everyday life, has been characterized by its valorization of heroic laziness, seditious laughter, subversive obscenities, and by its egalitarian subjectivity that overrides sectarian and class differences. In the context of South Asian history, this dissertation interrogates the theoretical premises of both Marxist and postcolonial modes of historiography as well as their implicit concepts of truth. Theoretically, it breaks with the postmodern legacy of performance studies that identifies performance, by virtue of being ephemeral, contingent and immanent, as being antithetical to any idea of truth, which is believed to be eternal and transcendent. Such postmodern concepts of performance of everyday life no longer concern themselves with the possibility of performance apprehending a truth immanent in everyday life, but rather strive to posit everyday life as performative by wresting all claims of truth from it. Drawing on Walter Benjamin's theory of translation and recent performance scholarship, this dissertation argues for a concept of performance of everyday life that understands performance, precisely because it is the art of contingency par excellence, as the most fertile locus for the distillation of a truth that is itself historically contingent and incorrigibly ephemeral. Premised on this renewed concept of performance and a concept of truth as "revelation," this dissertation writes a history of banarasipan that charts the historical and material conditions in which a certain capacity for leisure and pleasure that inheres in the Banarasi people reveals itself to consciousness. Analyzing cultural performances, popular literature, and oral histories, it argues that the "truth" of banarasipan crystallizes into a utopian historical consciousness in the early twentieth century precisely at the cusp of an era when the material and social world that sustained its forms of leisure and pleasure was rapidly eroding under the impact of modernity and the rise of Hindu fundamentalism. Furthermore, this dissertation shows that banarasipan, like translations of this "original" historical encounter, has continually renewed itself to assume new constellations of meaning in various historical epochs, and remains a powerful site for the conceptualization and performance of a radical immanent politics against contemporary regimes of neoliberalism and Hindutva in India.

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