- Theatre, Opera and Consciousness: History and Current Debates by Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe
Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe’s book Theatre, Opera and Consciousness marks a significant extension and further development of his previously published Theatre and Consciousness: Explanatory Scope and Future Potential (Intellect, 2005) and in many references directly draws from the earlier presented approach of understanding the relationship between consciousness and theater, particularly through the filter of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s reassessment of Indian Vedanta philosophy as “Vedic Science” .
Theatre, Opera and Consciousness opens its first part with reflections on the history of theater in relation to consciousness and the consequent theoretical and ethical implications. What might be synthesized as an approach to historiography “beyond the text and beyond matter,” is reminiscent of a cognate starting point to Shyrock and Smail’s Deep History (2011) in its recognition of the shortcomings of history in its traditional disciplinary reliance on documented evidence. Meyer-Dinkgräfe, however, addresses human consciousness as qualitative activity beyond or before materialized expression and as such ventures into a treatment of processes of consciousness that include experiences that are commonly referred to as the “spiritual” or the “extraordinary” nature of “higher”-level consciousness. In this way it is concerned with a practice of historiography that includes references to first-person accounts, anecdotes and speculation in order to address experienced aspects of consciousness that do not leave a materially tangible trace and pertain purely to the domain of consciousness. This approach follows thinkers such as Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana in recognizing the importance of first-person accounts for the study of human consciousness, accounts that go beyond the immediately observable and yet constitute most profound dimensions of human experience.
In a manner reminiscent of the rather skillful ability to synthesize, as well as the openness for transdisciplinary encounters in Aby Warburg’s treatment of affective diagrams that persist throughout periodic formalism and aesthetics, Meyer-Dinkgräfe poses the question why certain periods might have followed others. He opens the first part of the book with a brief overview on key movements in the context of the European theatrical tradition. By extending the current scientific framework he puts the Vedanta model of consciousness to test with its sequential stages of aspirational, intentional and underlying drivers of expressive activity as an explanatory model for the succession of intrinsic processes that mark the zeitgeist and the tendency of these historically defined periods. In this way he seeks to determine the traceable movements of conscious evolutionary dynamics as manifest in art (theater and opera specifically) through the Vedanta classification system of qualitative states of consciousness that ultimately lead to moksha (enlightenment). The following chapters depart from this conceptual framework and present extensive materials for discussion, consisting of an examination of biographical theatrical plays during the last 40 years, synesthesia as a neurological and spiritual phenomenon, the significance of the warming-up and cooling-down processes and an insightful reflection on ethics. This is contextualized by the “performative turn” in theater studies and the self-reflexive focus in academia revealing a similar tendency in recent theater productions increasingly characterized by self-reflective historiographical treatments and aesthetics (such as Stefan Herheim’s Wagner productions).
The second part of the book is concerned with a discussion of consciousness in relation to so-called spiritual experiences in the context of opera performance. By reflecting on interviews and biographical contexts of individual singers (Klaus Florian Vogt) and conductors (Peter Schneider, Karen Kamensek, Roger Norrington) it offers intimate and moving insights into the experience of conducting, singing, training and performing, which otherwise remain locked within the individual experience, with some traces translated via external expression and interaction. In this way Meyer-Dinkgräfe treats the “event” in its pluralistic happenings, including a recognition of its heterogeneous audiences, as a form of Gesamtkunstwerk, as Wagner might have envisaged, where all conscious players contribute with their awareness, expectations and conscious attention and not least with the elaborated skills of making...