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the Complete Review
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Greg Dening

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To purchase Performances

Title: Performances
Author: Greg Dening
Genre: History
Written: 1996
Length: 272 pages
Availability: Performances - US
Performances - UK
Performances - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting essays, quite well done -- but not in depth enough.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Contemporary Sociology . 9/1997 Tia DeNora
Current Anthropology . 4/1999 Ivan Brady
Journal of American History A 12/1997 Craig Calhoun
TLS . 19/12/1997 Peter Gathercole

  Review Consensus:

  Interesting ideas, well presented (though most reviews are fairly non-committal),

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)n expansive, eccentric, theatrical book, in the genre of one reflecting back from the summit of a scholarly career." - Tia DeNora, Contemporary Sociology

  • "(E)ngagingly written, full of insights, and shaped by both broad and deep theoretical reflection -- though this is worn disarmingly lightly." - Craig Calhoun, Journal of American History

  • "Performances offers the reader the satisfaction of concrete historical analyses and more uncertain rewards from the author's meditative reflections. But the two approaches, conjoined, can have consequences not immediately apparent.(...) It seems fair to ask if such meditations should be laid before, let alone be expected to concern, the reader. They may even alienate." - Peter Gathercole, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Greg Dening offers a variety of readings of history in this collection of essays. In an engaging style and using fascinating examples, Dening shows how varied views of events ("history") can be, and how pervasive such history is in our culture -- as something that is constantly used and referred to in fashioning the present and how we see it. History, Dening claims, can be seen as theatre, and the events that shape much of it (particularly those when cultures first meet) can be seen as performances. The interpretations of these performances by the audience often go disastrously wrong. As Dening shows, it can be a useful way of reexamining events, and understanding them better.
       Much of this is familiar from one of Dening's previous books, the brilliant Mr. Bligh's Bad Language (see our review). The Pacific, an area of interest for the Australian historian and anthropologist Dening, offers a number of other examples (though the mutiny on the Bounty is also revisited), and Dening also brings in examples from farther afield. They are interesting stories, well told, and Dening makes a convincing case for his "poetic for histories".
       Among the subjects of the essays are: Cook's encounters in the Pacific, the Battle of Valparaiso (off Chile in 1814), the various films about the mutiny on the Bounty (familiar material from Mr. Bligh's Bad Language), the "Songlines" Bruce Chatwin wrote about, and Anzac Day.
       The only real disappointment is that the essays are relatively brief, and that Dening's treatment remains somewhat cursory. Spoiled by the riches of Mr. Bligh's Bad Language the reader wants equally rich detail here. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating collection and it is certainly recommended.

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Performances: Greg Dening: Other books by Greg Dening under review:

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About the Author:

       Greg Dening (1931-2008) was Professor of History at the University of Melbourne.

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