Consciousness, Theatre and Literature

Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe and William S Haney II

Part One: Consciousness and Theatre

Meyer-Dinkgräfe will discuss the relevance of consciousness studies for theatre theory and practice focusing on five areas, representative of different disciplines engaged in consciousness studies. From philosophy, the relation between mind and body, in the context of some observations on Kleist’s Über das Marionettentheater. From psychology, the emotions and develop a model to explain the dual consciousness, which is desirable for the actor according to Stanislavsky. From physics, the discovery of a new form of matter, which can be of explanatory value for phenomena of theatre reception. From neurophysiology, the phenomenon of mirror neurones and their relevance also for reception research. From experiential approaches, finally, research into non-ordinary states of consciousness. They lead to models explaining concepts developed on the basis of their experience by leading theatre artists of the 20th century, including Artaud, Grotowski, Barba, and Brook                           

Part Two: Consciousness and Literature

Jean-Francois Lyotard says, “Simplifying in the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives” (1986, xxiv).  Lyotard’s notorious vagueness about the material causes of the decline of metanarratives has led to considerable speculation.  Haney will discuss one possible cause not mentioned before that centers on the complementarity between mind/history/narrative on the one hand and consciousness/ non-history/non-narrative on the other.  Grand narratives often deal with experiences on the margins of thought, beyond ordinary conceptual knowledge, like the nature of Enlightenment, the prospect of emancipation from bondage, the development of a more self-conscious human being or an evolved “Spirit” (Lyotard 1986, xxiii, 23).  These phenomena stretch the thinking mind’s intentional capacity to know through “knowledge-about” or “knowledge-by-acquaintance,” thus challenging the third-person means of investigating reality favored by reductionists like Daniel Dennett.  To talk about the rational subject becoming Spirit or “enlightened” is pointless if we limit this process to a function of the intentional mind, when it entails the transcending of thought through “knowledge-by-identity.”  

Narrative representations of trans-rational, trans-verbal experience in literature are in a sense mis-re-presentations insofar that they point beyond narrative form altogether, to an hors-texte.  The question is not whether literature as simulation can bridge the gap with reality, but whether literature can reveal the reality of consciousness responsible for all simulation.  Haney suggests that the crisis of metanarratives can be traced to the fact that narratives are challenged to re-present that which lies beyond symbol and interpretation.  While narrative can render phenomenal qualia, it can only intimate non-intentional consciousness through the aesthetic power of suggestion.  Incredulity toward metanarratives reflects the postmodern lack of a first-person appreciation of consciousness. 

Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe studied English and Philosophy at the Universität Düsseldorf, Germany, trained as a teacher, worked as manager of a computer software company, taught Literature and Philosophy in Norway (1989-1991) then obtained a Ph.D. at the Department of Drama, Theatre and Media Arts, Royal Holloway, University of London. Since 1994, he has been a lecturer, Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies, University of Wales Aberystwyth. He has numerous publications on the topic of Theatre and Consciousness to his credit, most recently Theatre and Consciousness (Studies): Explanatory Scope and Future Potential (Bristol: Intellect, 2005) and is founding editor of the peer-reviewed web-journal Consciousness, Literature and the Arts (

William S. Haney II received his AB from the University of California at Berkeley and, in 1984, his Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis.  Since 2003 he has been teaching in the Department of English and Translation Studies at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. His books and edited collections focus on contemporary British and American literature, often from a consciousness studies perspective.  They include: Literary Theory and Sanskrit Poetics: Language, Consciousness and Meaning (1993), in which he compares Sanskrit poetics and poststucturalist theories, constructing an alternative poetics through an exegesis of works by Barthes, Derrida, Joyce, Soyinka, Faulkner and Pynchon; and Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained (Bucknell University Press, 2002).  He is currently working on two book projects: Sacred Theatre (co-authored), and Cybercultures, Cyborgs, and Science Fiction: Consciousness and the Posthuman.