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Biology 103
2003 Second Paper
On Serendip

"Ways of Knowing, Modes of Acting": The Therapeutic Theater

Biology Student 2003

Life, as it is represented through various media, has a brainwashing effect on the spectator: he consumes a fabricated world rather than producing one of his own. The unconscious is constantly repressed, while the conscious is force fed images which basely appeal to the controlled linear processes of the brain. Psychiatrist C.G. Jung writes:

"The source of numerous psychic disturbances and difficulties occasioned by man's progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation, i.e., by his uprootedness and identification with his conscious knowledge of himself, by his concern with consciousness at the expense of the unconscious. The result is that modern man can know himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself--his consciousness therefor orients itself chiefly by observing and investigating the world around him, and it is to its peculiarities that he must adapt his psychic and technical resources. This task is so exacting, and its fulfillment so advantageous, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being. In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively replace reality. Separation from his instinctual nature inevitably plunges civilized man into the conflict between conscious and unconscious, spirit and nature, knowledge and faith, a split that becomes pathological the moment his consciousness is no longer able to neglect or suppress his instinctual side." (1)

The prozac world we inhabit is a direct result of doctors eager to "fix" or "cure" disorders through administering prescription drugs. These drugs don't cure diseases, but rather numb their symptoms; the patient acts their daily ritual of dealing with life in a zombie like trance instead of confronting the horror, terror, and chaos essential to the Nature of the world so as to better understand the self and the self's place in it. It's easier to turn off the receptors that trigger emotions, ideas, or urges we don't like facing than to explore their origin. This method of treatment is not only dangerous, but frightening, because it threatens the very existence of humanity by crippling the self's internal communication necessary to forming individual identity. This calls for a radical change in the medical health care system (2)); where responsibility is placed on doctors to approach a patient's psychosis on equal ground with the rational consciousness which seeks to diagnose and treat it, while challenging patients to reject the petrified idea that the mysterious depths of our selves and our relationship to the world are somehow limited by the frontiers of language and reality.

The biological duality of theater as both a place and an art form (10) consisting of live representations which require the player and spectator to be present in the space and to each other, simultaneously triggers an autonomous unconscious reaction within the spectator's self--which, I argue, is a psychological process of renewal or rebirth of the spectator's spirit resulting from the exploration and emergence in the depths of theatrical ecstasy. The spectator consciously allows himself to entertain the psychotic idea and virtual reality of the spectacle: essentially, he capitulates himself to madness (8).

"The stage is a concrete physical place which asks to be filled, and to be given its own concrete language to speak. I say that this concrete language, intended for the senses and independent of speech, has first to satisfy the senses, that there is a poetry of the senses as there is a poetry of language, and that this concrete physical language to which I refer is truly theatrical only to the degree that the thoughts it expresses are beyond the reach of the spoken language. These thoughts are what words cannot express and which, far more than words, would find their ideal expression in the concrete physical language of the stage. It consists of everything that occupies the stage, everything that can be manifested and expressed materially on a stage and that is addressed first of all to the senses instead of being addressed primarily to the mind as is the language of words...creating beneath language a subterranean current of impressions, correspondences, and analogies. This poetry of language, poetry in space will be resolved precisely in the domain which does not belong strictly to words...Means of expression utilizable on the stage, such as music, dance, plastic art, pantomime, mimicry, gesticulation, intonation, architecture, lighting, and scenery...The physical possibilities of the stage offers, in order to substitute, for fixed forms of art, living and intimidating forms by which the sense of old ceremonial magic can find a new reality in the theater; to the degree that they yield to what might be called the physical temptation of the stage. Each of these means has its own intrinsic poetry."
(3) -Antonin Artaud, 'The Theater And Its Double'

Drawing from the Homeopathic Law of Similars (4) and Jung's statement that a schizophrenic is no longer schizophrenic when he feels understood by someone else (1) -- I nurture the idea that an entertainment of the very "madness" that afflicts the self and is essential to Artaud's organic theater, both illuminates the spectator's understanding of himself and his relationship to the world around him; and provides the self with a "safe" space to indulge the non rationality of language and culture, seeking understanding and therapeutic regeneration through the sacred kinship of player and spectator communicating via the language of gesture and symbolism. Active (whether conscious or unconscious) indulgence in the delusional reality and fantasy of the spectacle frees the spectator's instinctive impulses and challenges his archetypes (8). The result is a fascinating method of communication and web-like interplay between the spectator and player, the spectator and the spectacle, and the spectator's unconscious and conscious being; a suspension of the normal communicative, analytical, and articulative limitations of the brain to allow for understanding from reflection of self in space.

The unconscious, explained in Freudian terms (5), is the source of our motivations, desires, drives, and primitive instincts. It includes all things that are not easily available to awareness, housing those experiences that we cannot bear to consciously confront, which might result from a trauma of sorts. In our lives we are driven to deny and resist these motives, which makes them inaccessible to the conscious state of mind one normally occupies. It is difficult, if not impossible to know what's "in" our unconscious by thinking about it. The unconscious appears to us in a disguised or fragmented form (6), lacking the coherency or controlled linear processes central to the conscious. True theater, as Artaud describes (3), is organic in nature and boundless in time and space, breaking the barrier of language to create the psychologically disastrous void (9) that suspends all normal limitations of the player and spectator to make them see the world in the most abstract, mystical sense. Freedom from the constraints of self and "being" leaves the spectator present and open to the player for communication in the space, resulting in an exploration of the very nature of the unconscious. The abandonment of conscious existence from the world outside the theatrical performance requires the spectator to adopt the language of the space, living in the theatrical dialogue of gesture, movement, music, and dance; while actively engaging the senses in an open awareness of and communication with the various hieroglyphs, symbols, and sign systems used to communicate the play's larger metaphysical concepts. The biological boundlessness of this theater creates an atmosphere of decadent danger for the spectator. For the player to conjure a virtual reality, she must forge a sacred connection with the bodily presence of the spectator. This relationship has the potential to turn disastrous (9) for the spectator, as it is a delicate balance of mutual understanding for the purpose of knowledge (1). As master of the unknown, the player brings that which "does not yet exist into being" (3). Thus, she seduces the spectator into sensory intercourse, "sacrificing his own individuality so that it may be assimilated by that of the other" (1) --energizing the physical space through the absorption of the spectator. The cruel nature of the spectacle (3) manifests in the empty space of the spectator's mind. Bedazzled, mystified, terrified, and tempted by the disaster (9): the spectator undergoes an exorcism, loosing all power over his conscious Other, to essentially "die without disappearing" (3), subjected to the depths of the spectacle.

The language of the spectacle is the same as the language of dreams: in Lacan terms, it is the ultimate "language of the Self" (7), and a form of internal communication. The content of the dream reveals ideals, aspirations, ambitions, notions of perfection--all of which are in conflict with, or illuminate the dreamer's tension with the external world. Therefor, the dreamscape of the spectacle gives voice to the repressed ideals of the spectator which clash with cultural reality. The spectator "finds himself living in a psychic modality quite different from his surroundings. He is immersed in a myth world ... His emotions no longer connect with ordinary things, but drop into concerns and titanic involvements with an entire inner world of myth and image. Once lived through on this mythic plane, and once the process of withdrawal nears its end, the reconnection to the specific individual problems must again be encountered and worked upon. The archetypal affect-images await a kind of reinsertion into their natural context in the complexes, and their projective involvements in outer life" (8). As the spectator encounters the shadows of the images produced in the now empty space, he reclaims and reorganizes his self. Forced to confront the ideas, and motivations generated by the spectacle, the individual begins to make process in conquering his own performance anxieties in everyday life.


Works Cited:
1) Jung, C.G. The Undiscovered Self. The New American Library: New York, 1957. pp., 64, 92. An excellent introduction to modern psychiatry, Jung was a pioneer (with Freud) in exploring the conscious and unconscious aspects of the human psyche.

2Paul Grobstein, 'Psychoanalysis, Neuroscience, and Evolution'; Course forum area, on the Serendip web site, Provocative insights and dialogue in response to how "psychoanalysis and neuroscience can work together to improve the mental healthcare system." Explores using theater as a form of therapy, specifically the relationship between spectacle and spectator.

3) Artaud, Antonin. The Theater And Its Double. Grove Press: New York, 1958. pp., 13, 36-8. The figurehead of the avant garde theater movement, Artaud's manifesto claims the nature of the spectacle as magical and terrifying; space that speaks a language of gesture and symbols capable of transcending man beyond the limits of reality. One of the greatest books of all time, it serves as proof of the madness essential to genius.

4The Law of Similars, Homeopathic medicine is a natural alternative to conventional healthcare. Illnesses are treated in a manner which seeks to understand the phenomenon, treating the body and mind as a whole, restoring its balance and harmony without prescription drugs.

The Homeopathic Law of Similars:
The principle that like shall be cured by like, or Similia similibus curantur. This principle, recognized by physicians and philosophers since ancient times, became the basis of Hahnemann's formulation of the homeopathic doctrine: the proper remedy for a patient's disease is that substance that is capable of producing, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those from which the patient suffers.
In other words, a substance produces symptoms of illness in a well person when administered in large doses; if we administer the same substance in minute quantities, it will cure the disease in a sick person. Hahnemann suggested that this is because nature will not allow two similar diseases to exist in the body at the same time. Thus homeopaths will introduce a similar artificial disease into the body which will push the original one out. The dose is small so that there is no danger of any long term side effects.

5)Dr. C. George Boeree's Personality Theories, A resourceful site presentation of Freudian Theory.

6)Psychoanalysis & Sigmund Freud, Another Freud site, but more pertinent to the discussion of: dreams, displacement, the repressed, the unconscious, and sublimation.

7)Montage, Realism, and the Act of Vision, A lengthy, but fantastic excerpt discussing the psychoanalyses of Jacques Lacan, his idea of the "fragmented body," and the necessity for symbolization in the Nature vs. Culture realm.

8) Robert Couteau's review of John Weir Perry's The Far Side of Madness, Out of the four psychoanalyses offered in this paper, Perry's radical theories on hysteria, schizophrenia, and other behavioral disorders deserve careful attention. He believes mental disorders spring from the patient's pre psychotic personalities, and that during psychosis the patient creates and enacts a drama in a fragmented language of myth and symbolism.

9) Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of the Disaster. New Edition. University of Nebraska Press: 1995. pp., 1-8, 58-9. A great philosopher of Fragmentation of the self and world, and the Nature of the Disaster which plunges the self into the void. For Blanchot, the disaster solves everything.

10) McAuley, Gay. Space in Performance: Making Meaning in the Theatre. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor: 1999. pp., 7, 40, 92, 107. One of the heaviest influences on this paper-- the idea of performance space, space in performance, spectacle and spectator, and the importance of a performative language which transcends the play's text in creating the theatrical spectacle. McAuley notes the twisted psychology involved in a player's "conning" the spectator along for the theatrical joy-ride.

Additional Sources:

11)Sue Broadhurst's "Liminal Aesthetics", An intriguing essay on the "aesthetic theorizations" of philosophers and playwrights with regard to experimental theater, or "liminal performance," which the author defines as "being located at the edge of what is possible."

12)Victor Grauer's "Montage, Realism, and the Act of Vision".

13) Richard van Oort's "Performative- Constative Revisited: The Genetics of Austin's Theory of Speech Acts".

14)Art and Pain Abstracts. Estelle Barrett, "Reconciling Difference: Art as Reparation and Healing.

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