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Reviews129 William W. Demastes. Staging Consciousness: Theater and the Materialization ofMind. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Pp. 193. $47.50. William W. Demastes's esoteric book is essentially an argument that theater can be a viable link between the mind and nature. Drawing upon theories ofcognitive psychology, quantum mechanics, and philosophy, he explores die notion that, despite apparent cultural differences, humans have much in common. He argues that performance can be a collective experience to free the soul through rhythms and patterns that unite humanity collectively. In the first two chapters of die book, Demastes discusses the dichotomy between die mind and die universe. He states that existence falls somewhere between die absurdist view that life is based upon random experience and the naturalist belief that reality is ordered, deterministic. Random experience becomes associated witii chaos tiieory, whereas the scientific view ofthe universe as logically patterned is equated witii "bivalence," "serial consciousness," "linearity ," "reductive reasoning," and the "discursive"—words that are constantly repeated tiiroughout the book. Demastes states that consciousness, which directs die universe, is fundamentally different from the Cartesian separation of mind and body tiiat precludes the view that we are merely cogs in the universe. Instead,cognitive psychologists disagreewitii Descartes since theyviewthe mind as flowing from one instant to die next rather than lying in a leveled state of consciousness. Demastes convincingly demonstrates that many expressionist and impressionist plays such as those written byArthur Miller,August Strindberg, and Tennessee Williams have roots in the naturalist tradition that focuses on the rationalism ofplot, mydi, or story and derive from the fact-gathering activities associated with the scientific notion of consciousness. Such is not the case with Oscar Wilde's The Importance ofBeing Earnest, which defies serious analysis as a play about nothing, or Gertrude Stein's What Happened: A Play, a drama that focuses on the creation of a theater experience that becomes more important than the representation ofthe event. Demastes implies that the most viable type of theater that can connect mind and nature is a tiieater of perception rather than linear-based Western drama. He uses Beckett and Pirandello as examples of playwrights who create characters who feel or experience selfhood through linking narratives rather than through rationally based consciousness and who thereby probe the union of nature and mind. Arguingdiat bivalent,rigid, and deterministicWestern thought has its roots in nineteendi-century logic that was clear-cut widi no shades ofgray, Demastes notes that Artaud turned to Eastern tiiought, which was multivalent and more 130Comparative Drama sensory oriented. Artaud understood that the flow of performance could disrupt linear and serial expectations associated with Western thought. Artaud's stress on the tiieater of alchemy, the double, is a much more suitable means of applying die mind to nature since it advocates me metaphoric/nonlinear rather man the discursive/linear approach and turns tiieater into something more than an event based upon reductive reasoning. Grotowski applies Artaud's theories widiout die latter's Gnostic despair. Grotowskis acting techniques mandate an awareness ofour own physicality in a way that Descartes never understood as a conduit for metaphoric consciousness that defies the serial, bivalent shackles of Western thought and philosophy. Demastes spends one chapter focusing on how the dramas of Robert Wilson , Spalding Gray, and Tony Kushner transform human consciousness.Wilson uses total tiieater and works widi images to produce a significant shift in the way we look at the world distinct from a preconceived bivalent, serial, or linear drama that dictates meaning for the audience. Gray's work, particularly Gray's Anatomy,integrates die mental and physical through apostmodern consciouness tiiat attaches itself to its own physicality as performance becomes a means to "concretize"thebody. In Kushner'sAngels in America,AIDS functions asArtaud's plague, assaulting consciousness mired in serial mentality while grounding the validity of our own senses. Demastes's last major chapter focuses on Peter Shaffer's Equus and The Gift of the Gorgon, Sam Shepard's plays (none discussed in any detail), as well as David Edgar's Pentecost. Rejecting the notion ofEquus as a contrast between the Apollonian versus die Dionysian, or between the civilized normalcy of Dysart versus die liberated primitivism of Alan...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 129-131
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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