Totus Mundus agit histrionem
Stage and cosmos - that vast starry infinitude hanging above our head - appear to have a yen for each other.
This mutual attraction found its expression in the open-air theaters of ancient Greece, where the deities descended from the cosmic heights to participate in human affairs. It became manifest in Sanskrit Drama when Shiva, the god of the actors, danced the universe into being. It came to light in Medieval Mysteries where the entire city transformed into a site of a cosmic pageant from Creation to Judgment Day. Throughout history, the stage often embodied cosmic processes just as the universe, too, embodied itself as theater.
Since there is no theater without an actor, in this cosmos-as-theater and theater-as-cosmos paradigm, the body of an actor by necessity acquires a cosmic dimension. In his or her body, the universe and theater unite. The actor’s body becomes both the theater-body (Theatrum), and cosmic body (Universum), in which the drama of a lived reality unfolds.
This tripartite somatic alignment - body, theater, cosmos - came into close relief during the European Renaissance, when the notion of Theatrum Mundi coincided with the concept of the human body as microcosm (Plotinus), while the theater itself became configured as the Globe. Jumping more or less four hundred years to the present moment, the triadic equation of body-cosmos-theater, may re-emerge again, delineating a rich field of far-reaching explorations into the nature of all three.
Why now? Why is this triadic paradigm a potent conceptual device at the present time? A short answer would be: because of the discoveries of science, which brought us an expanded and problematized notion of matter (body) itself.
Contemporary science challenged the inert and atomic structure of matter, configuring it instead as a primarily energetic and, potentially, proto-sentient phenomenon. This is of course a hypothesis, often challenged as pseudo-scientific and mystical. As hypothesis go, however, this above one is not disproved (and there's much evidence pointing in the direction of its veracity) and, moreover, should it be true, this vision of matter as alive brings with itself a rich and exciting philosophical paradigm, within which our reality becomes accessible through a vastly more complex and subtle epistemological apparatus and data. In other words, if one is to think about matter at all and if we don't really know what matter fundamentally is, and given, moreover, that we have to choose a working hypothesis, why not choose an exciting and interesting one? Which is to say that if we choose to regard performance as a philosophical discipline, we may finally have to make an existential decision: do we wish to inhabit an interesting universe or a dull one?
Choosing a paradigm of matter-as-proto-consciousness, the arts themselves -- such as visual arts for example - would cease to be merely subjective and critically irrelevant epiphenomena.They would become material manifestations of deep conscious codes hidden within the folds of matter itself. As such, they could become tools of deep knowing. If we, like Neo-Platonist, choose to configure matter again as alive, permeated with energy, and capable of transformations, if, in other words, we choose to regard it as embodied consciousness, then we can view such matter as enfolding creative codes that give rise to the supposedly immaterial formations such as art, literature and drama. Such matter would function then as what Neo-Platonist called a "storehouse of images" arising both “in the mind of God and in the flesh of the world.” Should we allow the hypothesis to function critically in the study of what happens on stage, then the actor’s body-as-a-cosmos-cum-theater would cease to operate only as a poetic metaphor and could becomes a site of practical explorations into the nature of cosmos and theater in one (actor's) body housed.
Aleksandra Wolska authored the articles in this blog. And to that, she says, "Meow."