Mimetic Desires: Impersonation and Guising across South Asia


Hardback: $68.00
ISBN-13: 9780824892777
Published: November 2022

Additional Information

320 pages | 26 b&w illustrations
  • About the Book
  • Through an exploration of subjects such as Gandhi impersonators, “God-men,” performance artists, and participants in ritual enactments of sacred stories through dance and theatre, Mimetic Desires makes an intervention toward understanding the phenomenon of impersonation and guising in South Asia and the world. This volume defines impersonation as the temporary assumption of an identity or guise in performance that is perceived to be not one’s own, regardless of whether this assumption is deliberate, intentional, and conscious or not. Interrogating the legitimacy of the purported dialectic between the “real/original” and “fake/dupe,” Mimetic Desires refutes any ordering of identity along the lines of a binary or dichotomy that presupposes the myth of an original identity. Guising captures sartorial and kinetic play more generally. By peeling back the layers of performative masks to reveal the process of the masquerade itself, we can see that those with the most social capital are often those with the most power and opportunities to impersonate “up”—and “down”—social hierarchies.

    The twelve chapters in Mimetic Desires disclose sites and processes of socio-political power facilitated by normative markers of social status relating to race, ethnicity, gender, caste, class, and religion—and how those markers can be manipulated to express and enhance individual and group power. The first comprehensive study to focus on impersonation in South Asia, Mimetic Desires expands on previous scholarship on impersonation and guising in vernacular theatre, dance, public processions, and religious ritual. It is particularly in conversation with the robust scholarship on gender performance and trans-kothi-hijra engagement in theatrical and dance forms in South Asia. Mimetic Desires explores some of the contexts and forms of impersonation in South Asia, with its remarkable array of performing arts, to gain insight into the very human and quotidian practices of impersonation and guising.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Harshita Mruthinti Kamath, Editor

      Harshita Mruthinti Kamath is Visweswara Rao and Sita Koppaka Associate Professor of Telugu Culture, Literature and History at Emory University.
    • Pamela Lothspeich, Editor

      Pamela Lothspeich is associate professor of South Asian studies in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and director of the New Faculty Program in the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


    • Christian Lee Novetzke
    • Kellen Hoxworth
    • Rosie Thomas
    • Chaya Chandrasekhar
    • Janice Glowski
    • Sumathi Ramaswamy
    • Shehzad Nadeem
    • Aniruddha Dutta
    • Claire Pamment
    • Shilpa Menon
    • Sailaja Krishnamurti
    • Rich Freeman
    • Pamela Lothspeich
    • Harshita Mruthinti Kamath