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Puppet - an Essay on uncanny life - by Kenneth Gross

‘Puppet – an essay on uncanny life’ by Kenneth Gross is a tastefully presented small book, puppet like in its presentation. The letters of the title ‘puppet’ are on rods. Gross explores his (and our) fascination with the puppet world. He gets to the heart and soul of what the puppet is, referencing a broad range of sources, from folk puppet traditions to high art, literature and opera. It is an impressively detailed book, illuminating aspects of puppetry such as the problem of the puppet and voice (movement is intrinsic to a puppet, but voice always comes from outside the puppet – a problem I have practically wrestled with, but not seen discussed with such clarity).

Gross refers extensively to literary sources (appropriate as he teaches English at the University of Rochester). I found myself occasionally lost in the earlier chapters during some of the literary tangents Gross indulges in (especially where I was not familiar with the literary source in question) - but on the whole I would not begrudge Gross his literary tangents, as they are often eloquent, beautiful and thought-provoking.

The book overall feels like a well-structured performance, with changes of pace and dynamics holding the interest very well. I especially enjoyed chapter six (called Fables for a Puppet Theater)– short sentences about possible puppet scenes. Intriguing and tantalising. As a puppeteer I found the book inspiring and richly detailed, making me want to engage more with some of the traditions Gross has observed. There are a number of good black-and-white and colour pictures of the subject matter, including quite a few images of Paul Klees glove puppets. Gross furnishes an extensive and useful bibliography at the end of the book – most important as I was interested in further reading and investigation.

A book for puppeteers, intellectuals and anyone who is fascinated by puppets and wants to explore this fascination.

“Puppet – an essay on uncanny life” by Kenneth Gross is published by The University of Chicago Press.

Drew Colby
November 2011

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