between stage, brain and body: using cognitive science to flesh out the embodied act of looking
Freitas Vale Germano, I.
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This thesis explores connections between the natural sciences and the humanities, by combining knowledge from cognitive science with knowledge from theatre and performance studies. Theories of embodied and embedded cognition are put in conjunction with Maaike Bleeker's study on visuality in the theatre, and joined together they are used to form a better understanding of the embodiment of the act of looking. The youth performance NATURE or NURTURE by Dutch theatre director Alexandra Broeder is used as a case study, and is analyzed to answer the question how the corporeal experience of the spectator relates to meaning-making in the embodied act of looking at this particular performance. The analysis fleshes out how the body of the spectator is biologically built to respond to the address that visuality places on the body of the spectator in the specific case of this performance, while keeping in mind that this biological body is deeply encultured. This thesis argues that cognition is not only embodied but also encultured. Therefore, cognitive science is used not only to shed a light onto the nature of processes of perceiving and meaning-making that spectators perform when looking at a theatre performance, but also as a way to inscribe the specific performance at hand in the social and cultural context that is relevant to it. Alexandra Broeder's NATURE or NURTURE specifically addresses the way that childhood and selfhood are conceptualized in our culure. Therefore our cultural constructions of both concepts (childhood and selfhood) are analyzed as part of the performance analysis. One of the assumptions underlying this thesis is that NATURE or NURTURE addresses preconceptions, desires and fears concerning childhood and selfhood that are typical of contemporary society, and that are grounded in the same visual paradigm that Maaike Bleeker discusses in her study. The idea is that these concepts (childhood and selfhood) are both embodied in the brain in ways specific of our culture, and that by placing the audience in a ´vision machine´ (Bleeker) that produces how we see childhood, a performance like NATURE or NURTURE provides the kind of experimental set-up that can reveal how these concepts are related to the senses, to movement; to the experience of what it is like to live in a human body in our specific environment.