Steven T. Brown's Theatricalities of Power: The Cultural Politics of Noh adopts a 'new historicist' approach to the study of Noh Theater. In contrast to the dominant tendencies of western scholars, Brown is not interested in "reducing Noh to its theatrical conventions nor abstracting its style and poetics from its performance materiality" (1). Rather he concentrates on Noh as an example of a "micropolitics of culture" (3), which, according to him, is a type of politics grounded in "power relations and effects associated with figurations of authority, gender, subjectivity, naming and patronage" (3).
Brown's primary intention in the Theatricalities of Power is to trace the historical process whereby Noh became institutionalized as the official art form of Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867). Although Brown narrates the history of this institutionalization by highlighting specific historical events and practices in medieval and early modern Japan, he is also anxious to disclose the dynamic relationship between history and performance. To this end, he is concerned to investigate the "history in Noh" as much as the "history of Noh" (1). This statement is crucial: it highlights the productive power of Noh theater, the way in which it was used to consolidate shogunal authority and create new identities and subject positions:
Rather than simply mirroring the socio-political contexts in which they were performed, I argue that these plays constituted an active, productive force in the theatre of the medieval cultural authority [in Japan].
Theatricalities of Power is composed of six chapters divided into three sections. Section one, 'Theatrical Technologies of Power, Self, and Signification in Medieval Japan', charts the historical development by which Noh theater shed its folk and ritualistic trappings and became the official, state-sponsored form of entertainment. According to Brown, the key moment in this process occurred in the late fourteenth century when the young shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408), decided to patronize and financially support the Yuzaki troupe, led by Zeami's father Kannami. For Brown, patronage radically transformed the aesthetics and purpose of Noh because it caused practitioners to create a new, more sophisticated form of drama that would appeal to and reflect the desires and aspirations of the aristocracy and military elites. Thus, while there is Noh explicit political agenda in the theories of Noh's great dramaturge, Zeami, Brown concludes that his theatrical ideas are enmeshed, implicitly, in cultural politics and material practices:
Although Zeami never wrote in any of his treatises that the characters in Noh speak politically [ ... ] nevertheless, Zeami's aesthetics of alterity is historically marked by the political ambition to secure and maintain patronage from the ruling military aristocracy upon which it depended.
Brown accounts for the subsequent institutionalization of Noh in Japan by referring to Pierre Bourdieu's notion of symbolic capital, the exchange mechanism whereby cultural forms and artifacts perpetuate existing power relations via a process of mimetic transference from one social class to another:
In a strange turn of events, court aristocrats began to imitate the cultural interests and practices of military aristocrats such as Yoshimitsu, insofar as their continued survival depended to a large extent on the generosity of the military.
In the second section, 'The Powers of Performativity', Brown reads the spiritual rhetoric of the Noh play Aoi no Ue as an attempt to mask harsher socio-economic realities. In Brown's view, the haunting of Lady Aoi, the pregnant wife of…