Staging Consciousness

Theater and the Materialization of Mind
William W. Demastes
How theater has challenged the mind/body dualism that underpins much of Western thought


Staging Consciousness argues that theater is a living invalidation of the Western dualism of mind and body, activating human consciousness through its embodiment of thought in performance. While consciousness theory has begun to find ways to bridge dualist gaps, Staging Consciousness suggests that theater has anticipated these advances, given the ways in which the physical theater promotes nonphysical thought, connecting the two realms in unique and ingenious ways.

William W. Demastes makes use of the writings of such varied theater practitioners as Artaud, Grotowski, Beckett, Kushner, Shepard, Spalding Gray, Peter Shaffer, and others, illuminating theater as proof that mind is an extension of body. The living stage incubates and materializes thought in a way that highlights the processes of daily existence outside the theater. Theater, then, has an ally in the new sciences, resulting in a clearer vision of how theater works as well as how theater can contribute to the understanding of reality's material essence.

This book offers a new way for theater practitioners to look at the unique value of the theater and an invitation for philosophers and scientists to search for new paradigms in theater, the oldest of art forms.

William W. Demastes is Professor of English at Louisiana State University. His previous books include Theatre of Chaos: Beyond Absurdism, into Orderly Disorder and Clifford Odets.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . thought-provoking. . . . One is hard pressed to find any book on theatrical practice that tries to combine Western dualism and consciousness theory. Chapters touch on consciousness and modern dramas of consciousness' logic and creativity; multivalence and emergence; and what the author calls 'theatre of complexity' from the past to the future. He cites the plays of Churchill, Beckett, Kushner, Shaffer, Shepard, et al. and the theories of Artaud, Grotowski, Schechner, and others as examples of how the human mind is an extension of the body. He suggests that we can look at theater in new ways and that we have only begun to touch on ways in which theater encourages nonphysical thought. . . . Psychologists, philosophers, and those involved in the life sciences might find the book of some value, but it will be best understood and appreciated by those with a strong background in directing and dramatic theory and literature."
    —M. D. Whitlatch, Buena Vista University, Choice, April 2003
  • ". . . offers a feast of nearly Roman proportions in a moderately sized volume. . . . [A]nyone who cares to accept Demastes' invitation to a holy theatre and a healthy mind will find it worthwhile."
    Religious Studies Review
  • "William W. Demastes's new book is a rare find. It shows a new direction for interdisciplinary theatre scholarship, combining drama and performance with cognitive science, fuzzy logic, and complexity theory. With this challenging combination, Demastes extends the significance of theatre beyond its conventional place in the humanities and proposes specific ties between an ancient art form and recent scientific discoveries. . . . Drawing from Aristotle, Artaud, Barba, and Grotowski, Demastes expresses an optimistic view about future ties between the spirits of theatre and the 'new sciences of consciousness'. . . . . Yet even those readers who see neither a soul in the soliton nor God in the gap between mind and brain will be stimulated by this book to think in new ways about the various theatres of complexity: from page to stage, and from nature's material mysteries to the brain's theatrical realms, both inside and outside our mortal skulls."
    —Mark Pizzato, Theatre Survey

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Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 208pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11202-9

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  • $79.95 U.S.