Learning to Kneel

Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching

Carrie J. Preston

Columbia University Press

Learning to Kneel

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Pub Date: December 2017

ISBN: 9780231166515

352 Pages

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ISBN: 9780231544290

352 Pages

Format: E-book

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Learning to Kneel

Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching

Carrie J. Preston

Columbia University Press

In this inventive mix of criticism, scholarship, and personal reflection, Carrie J. Preston explores the nature of cross-cultural teaching, learning, and performance. Throughout the twentieth century, Japanese noh was a major creative catalyst for American and European writers, dancers, and composers. The noh theater's stylized choreography, poetic chant, spectacular costumes and masks, and engagement with history inspired Western artists as they reimagined new approaches to tradition and form. In Learning to Kneel, Preston locates noh's important influence on such canonical figures as Pound, Yeats, Brecht, Britten, and Beckett. These writers learned about noh from an international cast of collaborators, and Preston traces the ways in which Japanese and Western artists influenced one another.

Preston's critical work was profoundly shaped by her own training in noh performance technique under a professional actor in Tokyo, who taught her to kneel, bow, chant, and submit to the teachings of a conservative tradition. This encounter challenged Preston's assumptions about effective teaching, particularly her inclinations to emphasize Western ideas of innovation and subversion and to overlook the complex ranges of agency experienced by teachers and students. It also inspired new perspectives regarding the generative relationship between Western writers and Japanese performers. Pound, Yeats, Brecht, and others are often criticized for their orientalist tendencies and misappropriation of noh, but Preston's analysis and her journey reflect a more nuanced understanding of cultural exchange.
What drew Western writers to an arcane, highly stylized form of Japanese court theater? As a scholar, Carrie J. Preston answers this question by way of the archive, unearthing a global network of dancers and writers. But she also pursues this question as a student, subjecting herself to the rigors of noh training. The result is an unusual blend of both approaches, a magisterial study in cultural history that is also a compelling story of teaching and learning. Martin Puchner, Harvard University
Eloquently, movingly, and persuasively, Preston traces modernism's fascination with noh through European and Japanese histories of poetry, drama, and performance. She asks us to reflect on the project of cross-cultural learning, what it means to know another culture as well as what it means to know one's own. A tour de force of memoir and scholarship, at once entertaining and erudite, Learning to Kneel shows us why mistranslation, partial fluency, and failing to understand have been crucial to the transnational history of modernism. Rebecca Walkowitz, Rutgers University
Kneel before this humbling account of submission and, at times, personal but never sentimental antidote to both easy celebrations of multiculturalism and easy critiques of cultural appropriation. Sitting with calm strength at the intersections of performance, pedagogy, and the politics of 'global modernism,' Preston successfully reinvents the modernist reinvention of noh as a timely, urgent topic by asking what it means to succeed or fail. Don't fail to read it. Christopher Bush, Northwestern University
In Learning to Kneel, Preston tells the story not only of the influence of Japanese culture and noh theater on modernist writers from Yeats to Beckett but also of her personal experience as a neophyte practitioner of noh. Together, these narratives brilliantly reframe received ideas about cross-cultural aesthetic transformation, the relation of success and failure in art, and the tension between subversion and tradition that underlies any form of training or pedagogy. Scott Klein, Wake Forest University
Preface
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction to Noh Lessons
1. Ezra Pound as Noh Student
2. Theater in the "Deep": W. B. Yeats's At the Hawk's Well
3. Ito Michio's Hawk Tours in Modern Dance and Theater
4. Pedagogical Intermission: A Lesson Plan for Bertolt Brecht's Revisions
5. Noh Circles in Twentieth-Century Japanese Performance
6. Trouble with Titles and Directors: Benjamin Britten and William Plomer's Curlew River and Samuel Beckett's Footfalls/Pas
Coda
Notes
Glossary
Bibliography
Index

Read the chapter, "Introduction to Noh Lessons":

About the Author

Carrie J. Preston is associate professor of English and director of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Boston University. Her book, Modernism's Mythic Pose: Gender, Genre, Solo Performance, won the De La Torre Bueno Prize, and her articles have appeared in Modernism/modernity, Theatre Journal, Twentieth-Century Literature, and Modernist Cultures.