A Vision of Substance: A Phenomenology of Corporeality in Theatrical Spectatorship

Dissertation, University of Kansas (2001)

Using the corporeal phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, I will offer a description of the theatre spectator's perceptual experience and the performance as an intentional object designed for the distinctive vision of embodied spectators. I will examine how the spectator is an active contributor to the perceptual-aesthetic object of theatrical performance and how theatrical perception is uniquely identified by the spectator's own corporeal involvement in a highly charged, sensuous space. ;For the spectator, theatre space is an intersubjective space characterized by the mutual presence of living spectators in the presence of living actors and actual materiality. Spectators constitute the stage space as phenomenally heavy due to the direct appeal of the stage's materiality on the spectator's body and the intense self-awareness of the spectator among other perceivers. ;Nourished by this charged corporeal awareness within perceptual space, the mimetic engagement of spectator and spectacle originates from the existential reversibility of perceiver and perceived in their actual materiality. Theatrical mimesis is a temporal, intersubjective, and corporeally resonant process that is largely determined by the intentional consciousness of the spectator. The aesthetic object that is negotiated in theatrical perception always necessarily involves the original contribution of the spectator's felt experience in the presence of analogous staged bodies. ;This corporeal empathetic relationship is fundamental to the spectator's experience of self-presence in relationship to the spectacle. The meaning of the performance always involves a particular experience of the perceiver's self in relationship to the perceived bodies. Subsequently, theatrical spectatorship involves a deployment of corporeal energies in the presence of the spectacle, and, reversibly, the spectacle may create a deep impression on the embodied spectator. ;Finally, the phenomenological description of conscious experience may be useful in categorizing how specific performance practices invite productive responses in the spectator. Specifically, such description may aid in understanding how theatrical representations both reify and destabilize the spectator's comfortable associations with certain demonstrated behaviors on stage
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