Consciousness, Literature and the Arts


Volume 4 Number 2, July 2003



Staging Consciousness: Updating Demastes


Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe


The current high level of interest in consciousness, across a number of disciplines such as philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, computer science and physics, is said to have begun in the early 1990s. The Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson has spearheaded this development with its bi-annual conferences (Towards a Science of Consciousness) since 1994 ( The peer-reviewed Journal of Consciousness Studies was also founded in 1994, and by 2002 it has increased its publication to eight issues per year of 96 pages each (See website at URL The Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (See website at URL was founded in 1996, and from it emerged the journal Consciousness and Cognition (See website at URL The British Psychological Association has had two sections directly dealing with consciousness since 1997: Consciousness and Experiential Psychology (See website at URL, and Transpersonal Psychology ( Over the same number of years, interest in the relationship of consciousness to literature and theatre has equally grown. Malekin and Yarrow’s individual contributions to the field culminated in their joint Consciousness, Literature and Theatre: Theory and Beyond. My own research into theatre and consciousness was published first in 1996, based on my Ph.D. research. Following several shorter papers, in 1999 I edited an issue of Performing Arts International on Performance and Consciousness, followed, in April 2000, by the launch of the peer-reviewed, web-based journal Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, and in December 2001, by the publication of an issue on Drama and Consciousness for Studies in the Literary Imagination. See the bibliography for the most important publications by Haney, Malekin, Meyer-Dinkgräfe and Yarrow.

        It is, therefore, exciting to see the publication of what is probably, after my own book of 1996, the second full scale book devoted exclusively to the relationship between theatre and consciousness, William W. Demastes’s Staging Consciousness: Theater and the Materialization of Mind (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, 2002). Reading the book, it came as a surprise that Demastes does not refer to any of the work relating literature or theatre to consciousness, by Haney, Malekin, Yarrow or myself. Demastes responded to my query into the reasons for this omission that he had completed work on his manuscript in 1998. This explains some of the issue, but not the lack of reference to, and discussion of, the highly relevant material available before that time. Having raised this serious point of criticism, I propose to proceed with an assessment of what the book does provide. Demastes’ argument is a plea for a new theatre, regarding both new ways of playwrighting, and new ways of directing existing plays. The plea is cogently placed in the context of the rest of consciousness studies except for the omissions noted above. Over the extraordinary four years (!) the book was in press, consciousness studies developed further. In this paper I provide an update on the debate on theatre’s relation to consciousness, in the form of a running commentary on Demastes’ argument.



Demastes begins by describing what he regards as the science-dominated Western world-view, which represents an amoral, mechanistic perspective. Within this world-view, he points out, over the last decades, quantum mechanics, chaos theory and complexity theory have initiated something like a shift of paradigm away from the mechanistic to ‘a more organic vision’ (5) that appears to be supportive of some of the vitalist ideas initially replaced by the mechanistic view. As a result of the mechanistic worldview, humans have developed science-based abilities which they have used undeniably to their advantage, but also to their disadvantage. To tackle science-caused problems, such as an ‘alarming increase in incurable diseases’ (5), we need to enter, or re-enter ‘the realm once allocated to artists, religious figures, and other non- or anti-empirical dreamers and visionaries’ (5). This is clearly a realm of mystery, characteristic of a ‘force beyond the domain affected by causality’ (123).



Mystery demystified: The Vedic Science Model of Consciousness


I agree with the need to move away from the mechanistic, materialist mind-set responsible for much of today’s theatre, deadly theatre in Brook’s terminology. From the perspective of such materialism and mechanism, anything outside the area defined by those two isms must, by definition, be mysterious. Thus a different perspective is needed to explain what must remain mysterious to a mechanistic perspective. Applying such a different perspective does not negate or deny the knowledge gained within the boundaries of mechanism and materialism. On the contrary, a different perspective may well enhance our understanding of aspects of knowledge gained within, and valid within, the boundaries of mechanism and materialism. Moreover, applying different perspectives to the same object of enquiry helps to expand the boundaries set, as a matter of course, by any one perspective.

          The term mysterious implies that the object, or process, thus described is incomprehensible. However, what appears as mysterious, incomprehensible, from within the boundaries of mechanism and materialism appears as quite comprehensible from a different perspective, and while no causality appears to operate in the realm of the mysterious when perceived from the perspective of materialism, it becomes obvious that a different nature of causality is operating in the no-longer mysterious when approached from a different perspective. Demastes argues that a different perspective has been open, traditionally, to artists and religious figures, whom he further characterises as ‘non-or anti-empirical dreamers and visionaries’ (5). Take as an example British poet Kathleen Raine, who reports her exper­ience of seeing a hya­cinth:

I dared scarcely to breathe, held in a kind of fine attention in which I could sense the very flow of life in the cells.  I was not perceiving the flower but living it.  I was aware of the life of the plant as a slow flow or circulation or a vital current of liquid light of the utmost pu­rity.  I could apprehend as a simple essence formal structure and dynamic process.  This dy­namic form was, as it seemed, of a spiritual not a material order; or of a finer matter, or of matter itself perceived as spirit.  There was nothing ­emotional about this experience which was, on the contrary, an almost mathematical apprehension of a complex and organised whole, apprehended as whole, this whole was living; and as such inspired by a sense of immaculate holiness.  (. ..) By "living" I do not mean that which distinguishes animal from plant or plant from mineral, but rather a quality possessed by all these in their different degrees (Raine, 1975, 119)

Such an experience can only sound mysterious to a materialist, who regards it within the materialist framework. From a different perspective on consciousness and the experience of consciousness, Raine’s experience makes perfect sense. Haney, Malekin and Yarrow have introduced and argued on the basis of such different perspectives of consciousness. Malekin and Yarrow (1997), for example, highlight the parallels of the Vedanta model to the model proposed by Plotinus. Yarrow has independently written repeatedly about neutral consciousness (1985, 1987, 2001). I now want to briefly outline such a different perspective from the context of my own approach in research. The model of consciousness contained in Indian psycho-philosophy is very efficient here. It is one of the models discussed in the current consciousness debate. In recent years, Indian philosopher and sage Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has subjected traditional Indian psycho-philosophy to thorough re-evaluation, which resulted in what he termed Vedic Science, with Vedic Psychology as one of its branches. Vedic Psychology proposes a model of the mind that allows for higher stages of the development of consciousness.

          Vedic Psychology proposes "(...) an architecture of increas­ingly abstract, functionally integrated faculties or levels of mind" (Alexander 1990: 290).  This hierarchy ranges from gross to subtle, from highly active to settled, from concrete to abstract, and from diversified to unified. The senses constitute the grossest, most highly active, most concrete and most diversified level of the mind, followed by desire, the thinking mind, the discriminating intellect, feeling and intuition, and the individual ego. Vedic psychology uses the term "mind" in two ways: "It refers to the overall multilevel functioning of consciousness as well as to the specific level of thinking (apprehending and comparing) within that overall structure". Underlying the subtlest level, that of the individual ego, and transcendental to it, is pure consciousness, "an abstract, silent, completely unified field of consciousness". This state is the neutral state proposed by Yarrow. Each subtler level is able to "observe and monitor the more expressed levels" (Alexander 1986: 291). 

Vedic Psychology not only describes distinct levels of the mind, but also proposes higher stages of the development of consciousness, stages that go beyond the ordinary states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping. The develop­ment is characterised initially by glimpses of a simultaneity of experience of pure consciousness together with either waking, or dreaming, or sleeping. When pure conscious­ness is permanently experienced together with any of the other three, this state is called cosmic consciousness. Cosmic con­sciousness is followed by refined cosmic consciousness, charac­terised by the refinement of sensory perception. Finally, in unity consciousness, a person is able to perceive everything in terms of his own transcendental Self (Alexander 1990: 290). The model of consciousness proposed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Vedic Psychology thus differentiates three distinct higher states of consciousness, whereas the model adopted by Malekin and Yarrow (1997) described only one, which is equivalent to unity consciousness in Vedic Psychology. In terms of the Vedic Psychology  model of consciousness, Raine’s experience of the hyacinth can be explained as a temporary experience of refined cosmic consciousness. While the experience does not lose anything of its intensity and desirability or any other quality once it has been explained within a context that is open to empirical and experiential research, it is no longer mysterious in the sense of incomprehensible. 


Such a revival of the artist has to take place, however, in conditions that are different from those in the past. The past, on this argument, was characterised by a ‘top-down hierarchy’, with faith, inspiration or vision, as characteristics of mystery. Today’s revival of the arts needs to be ‘bottom up’, ‘material to spiritual’ (6), assuming full acknowledgement of ‘the reality of the empirical world’ (5).


Top-down versus bottom-up: levels of the mind in Vedic Science

Demastes’ argument is fully accurate and appropriate from within the materialistic perspective. The dichotomy of top-down and bottom-up becomes obsolete, however, once the introduction of the perspective of Vedic Science has explained what used to be mysterious. Achieving ‘the spiritual’, in Demastes’ terms, is the unchallenged and undisputed aim that he argues for. However, the perspective of Vedic Science permits an explanation of faith, inspiration and vision as desirable altered states of consciousness, as regards both their characteristics and why and how they come about. Whereas materialism excludes anything beyond its framework, rejecting it as mystery, Vedic Science grants each level of consciousness its own right: ego, feelings, intellect, mind, desire, and senses.

           The ego is the subtlest level of the mind, further defined in Vedic Psychology as the inner value of the experiencer, the most immediate expression of the field of pure consciousness. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explains:  

The ego is that value of life which is most refined. The ego ... is the experiencer in the individual life ... Ego understands, ego feels, ego thinks. That faculty of the ego which thinks is called mind. That faculty of the ego which understands, discriminates, and decides is called intellect; That faculty which feels--feeling, emotion-- is called the heart (1972, lesson 19)

Alexander describe the ego from the perspective of Vedic Psychology as interface between pure consciousness and “the current process of knowing” (1990, 306). In the function of the ego, pure consciousness has become “localized and qualified by functioning through the levels of mind and corresponding structures of the nervous system”. At the level of the ego, all impressions or memories of an individual are stored: the ego provides the internal ‘reference point’ and ‘organizing power’ necessary to synthesise the information derived from all the levels of mind through which the ego experiences the world (emotions and feeling, mind, intellect, desire, and senses). For each ego, the impressions stored will be different, as will be the organs of perception, thus accounting for the fact that the ego differs from person to person, making each one unique.

          The growth of the ego in the direction of higher states of consciousness is characterised by an “enhanced synthesizing capacity. On this basis, information provided through all other levels of mind could be more objectively appreciated and integrated” (307). However, the ego still remains an expressed level of consciousness, and without the simultaneous experience of pure consciousness, the ego will remain “localized and constrained” by the limits imposed by the information provided by the other levels of mind, which will also be limited if devoid of the experience of pure consciousness.    

          According to Vedic Psychology, feelings “operate at and interconnect all levels of mind” (304). However, they are especially important as interfaces between mind and senses, and between ego and intellect. At an early stage of development, called early representational period, feelings function “primarily as extrinsically motivated desires” (304), they are dominated by linguistic expression and sequential formal reasoning. At a more mature stage of development, however, feelings help connect the intellect back to the ego and pure consciousness. More self-validating, feeling at this stage become less dependent on intellectual analysis, and function in a more subtle, rapid, holistic and intuitive mode. “Mature feelings and intuition provide an internal ground for guiding the reflective intellect” (305).

           The function of the intellect is to “discriminate, logically evaluate, and decide” (303). Intellectual activity provides the basis for abstract reasoning and formal operations as defined by Piaget: thinking goes beyond the “concrete actual” to the “abstract hypothetical”. Alexander comments:  

This property derives from the intellect’s emerging capacity to reflect consciously upon the contents of the mind, rendering thoughts as possibilities rather than actualities in which the knower is immersed. (303)

  The intellect without simultaneous experience of pure consciousness is limited in so far as it can only develop concepts about the self, but does not enable direct awareness of the self, i.e., pure consciousness.  

The limits of the intellect are further reflected in the methods of conventional science, which, while making enormous progress in gaining objective knowledge of the laws of nature, has as yet made little progress in gaining equal understanding and mastery over subjective existence (304)

 The level of the mind is still more active and expressed than that of the intellect. According to Vedic Science, it is characterised by language-based thinking, “responsible for apprehending, remembering, comparing, and conceptually organizing the multiplicity of perceptions to plan speech and action to fulfill desires” (302). Maharishi Mahesh Yogi comments on the relationship of mind and intellect:  

The intellect filters the information which comes to it through the mind. Useful things are accepted, useless things are rejected. The mind is like an open camera: it receives all the impulses from everywhere. The mind takes in everything that comes in through the senses. We see so many things. The vision gets drawn to one thing which seems to be more enjoyable, more useful, and then the intellect evaluates: it decides whether it is good or bad, and then accepts the good and rejects the bad. On the basis of that, we act for greater fulfillment and achievement. (Dillbeck, 1988, 264)

Desire is located between the mind and the senses: it may be understood “as motivating the flow of attention and thus, in daily experience, connecting the mind with the environment through the senses” (Dillbeck, 1988, 264--5). Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explains the relation of desire to the subtler levels of the mind thus:  

Experience results when the senses come into contact with their objects and an impression is left on the mind. The impulse of this new impression resonates with the impression of a similar past experience in the mind and associates with that impression. The coming together of the two gives rise to an impulse at the deepest level of consciousness, where the impressions of all experiences are stored. This impulse develops and, rising to the conscious level of the mind, becomes appreciated as a thought. The thought, gaining the sympathy of the senses, creates a desire and stimulates the senses to action (1969, 284). 

The senses, finally, serve as the link between the individual mind and the environment.



Demastes’ argument is clearly a further development of his earlier work relating theatre to chaos theory, which is, as he puts it, ‘a creative, interactive fusion of naturalism/determinism and absurdism/randomness, the two dramatic extremes that have held sway in the twentieth century’ (7). The emerging paradigm in science reemphasises the existence of patterns. Similarly, theatre has begun to abandon character (representing the urge to understand individual motivation) in favour of abstract pattern, a phenomenon discussed in depth by Elinor Fuchs (1996). Neither science nor theatre dealing with such patterns, however, go beyond description and tackle the question from where those patterns derive. Are they merely an expression of the postmodern fascination with anything on a meta-level, in this case metatheatre, theatricality of life, performativity? ‘Or can this new idea of theatre (…) be a way to engage these emergent fundamental patterns and get them to get us closer, in some way, to the emergent essence of life itself’ (8).



Pure consciousness and / as the unified field of quantum physics

          According to Vedic Science, the essence of life is its very basis, pure consciousness, an experience (more than merely a concept) increasingly researched in contemporary consciousness studies. Forman describes that the current "received view" groups pure consciousness with all kinds of mystical ex­periences, quite true to its tradition. Regarding the Pure Consciousness Events (PCE), materialist "constructi­vism" argues that  

mystical experience is significantly shaped and formed by the subject's beliefs, con­cepts and expec­tations.  This view, in turn, emerged as a response to the so-called perennial philosophy school.  Peren­nialists-- notably William James, Evelyn Underhill, Joseph Maréchal, William Johnston, James Pratt, Mircea Eliade, and W. T. Stace--maintained that mystical experience represented an immediate, direct contact with a (variously defined) abso­lute princi­ple.  Only after that immediate contact with the "something more" according to this school, is such a direct contact interpreted according to the tradi­tion's language and beliefs. (1990, 3)

 Shear very succinctly summarises the relativist argument of hermeneutic critic Stephen Katz:  

All mystical experience, like all other experience, is contextual. Consequently no such experiences can be understood outside their appropriate social, linguistic, epistemological etc. contexts. We know in general, therefore, that there can be no universal, culture-independent mystical experience. Thus, in particular, the IME [Introvertive Mystical Experience] cannot be such an experience. In short, despite appearances to the contrary, there is in fact no single, culture-independent IME experience at all. (Shear, 1990, 393) 

Shear argues against Katz that the IME experience (which is equivalent to the experience of pure consciousness), is universally described as  

absolutely devoid of all empirical content. There are no colors, shapes, sounds, or other sensory content to it. Nor are thoughts or conceptual processes experienced in it. Indeed, not only is the experience described as devoid of spatio-temporal content, but by all accounts even spatiality and temporality themselves are not present in it. (392) 

Thus, Shear argues, the kinds of “culture-dependent factors” Katz is concerned with, “neither do nor even can play any ‘shaping’, much less any ‘defining’ role” in the experience of pure consciousness (394). Shear also points to empirical evidence from research “on people of different races, religions, cultures and nationalities throughout the world” which strongly suggests that there is “a single ‘core’ experience which underlies the descriptions in question and reflects a specific central nervous system state, independent of all external matters or beliefs and other culture-dependent factors (397-8). Shear is keen to point out that culturally dependent factors “do influence the content of our experiences”, as hermeneutic philosophers such as Katz insist. “But this should not be taken to imply that our experiences do not in general also have components which are independent of such cultural factors” (400).

           Pure consciousness as proposed by Vedic Science has been linked, mainly by Hagelin (1987) to relevant insights in quantum physics. According to Vedic Science, pure con­sciousness is self-referral, or self-re­flexive. This level of consciousness is "fully awake to itself. (...) there is noth­ing else to be aware of but awareness itself. (...) All the forms and phenomena in the universe arise from the self-referral manifestations of the field of pure consciousness" (Orme-Johnson, 1988, 168-9). Self-referral is also the principle at the basis of many of the latest insights in quantum mechanics.  At the beginning of the seventies, quantum field theor­ies had their difficulties in explaining the phenomena they could observe in par­ticle accelerators.  The problem was based in the assumption that the respective basic fields (elec­tro-magnetic, strong and weak interactions, gravity) had so many and so complex interactions that it was difficult to clearly describe the relationships of those interac­tions. The discovery of the spontaneous symmetry break­ing, which shows deeply hidden symmetries of nature on fundamental space-time scales, made it possible to unify electro-magnetic and weak interac­tion forces to an elec­troweak field.  This unification is possible by regarding both fields as parts of the same mathematical symmetry group.  Thus the inter­actions of the two become self-referral. Theories of "grand unification" unify--accord­ing to the same principle--weak, strong and electromagne­tic forces and particles. A further principle of sym­metry, called supersymmetry, allows the unification of fields with opposed spin.  By incorporating all other forces into gravity, a unified field theory is now expres­sed.  Today, quantum field theorists work on the most elegant formulation of this unified field theory.  All these de­velopments, which took place during the last fifteen years, are based on regard­ing the different basic forces more and more as self-referral phenomena of a unified field (Hagelin, 1987).  Vedic Science  identifies this field within the human being as the field of pure consciousness.

           Hagelin has explored "striking parallels between uni­fied field theories of physics and the field of pure con­sciousness" as described by Vedic Science: 

One of his arguments for asserting that the unified field is the source of consciousness as well as of physics involves demonstrating that at the scale of super-unification, nature dis­plays attributes charac­teristic of pure consciousness: self-referral, self- sufficiency, and infinite dynamism. (Orme-Johnson, 1988, 175) 

In proposing pure consciousness to be at the basis of all creation, ex­pressed consciousness as well as expressed matter, Vedic Science  is also in accord with Bohm's implication that "in some sense a rudimentary mind-like quality is present even at the level of particle physics” (Bohm, 1990, 283).  Vedic Science  provides a theory of the processes of manifestation from within the field of pure consciousness to expressed consciousness and matter (Dillbeck, 1988).  Within the scope of this study, it will suffice to indi­cate that the process suggested is very close to Bohm's view that "that which  we experience as mind, in its movement through various levels of subtlety, will, in a natur­al way ultimately move the body by reaching the level of the quantum potential and of the "dance" of the particles” (Bohm, 1990, 283). A final interesting parallel between Vedic Science  and Bohm's theory is Bohm's statement that even far distant particles can affect each other on the quantum mechanical level through the quantum potential (Bohm, 1990, 287). 

          Hagelin maintains that there “is a precise correspondence between the descriptions of the detailed structure of Natural Law, as described by the Lagrangian of the Unified Field, and the structure of Natural Law as found in Rk Veda Samhita” (Dillbeck and Dillbeck, 1997, 14). It is possible to derive forty qualities as emerging from the Unified Field as described in the Lagrangian, which correspond to the forty qualities involved in structuring Rig Veda, which in turn are commented upon and expanded in the 40 bodies of text comprising Vedic Literature. All those qualities and the mechanisms of their functioning are open to direct experience of the human mind on the level of pure consciousness.



Demastes’ argument is very accurate within its chosen framework. The need for theatre to overcome the dangers of becoming ‘deadly’, in Brook’s terms, suggests the need to get away from reductive materialism characteristic of much current theatre, and re-emphasise ‘mystery’, which need not be intangible or immaterial. It may (and should) find physical manifestations and explanations. Taking a look at theatre history of the late 19th and 20th centuries, Demastes argues that realism moves from the material reality of the world ‘up’ to consciousness, whereas expressionism ‘moves from the top down, sojourning through consciousness and affecting the ‘reality’ of the material world beneath it’ (15). Stronger dramatists, defined as more complex, are increasingly able to combine and integrate both approaches, in an attempt to overcome the dualism of mind and body inherited from Descartes. The same attempt of finding an alternative to Descartes’ dualism is characteristic of current approaches to consciousness in consciousness studies. Demastes refers to Dennett and in particular Chalmers, although they are predominantly philosophers and not scientists. He also refers to theatre academics Stanton B. Garner and Bert O. States, who have studied theatre from a phenomenological perspective and ‘convincingly argue for increased understanding via concentrating on the physicality of theatre’ (25), a perspective backed by applying the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty. In a way that is close to phenomena discussed in complexity theory, the various physical elements of theatre ‘somehow’ combine to form a phenomenon of higher complexity. This higher level is what Brook refers to as holy theatre, it is the theatre that is searching for, and finding, new beliefs, rather than following the pattern of most of 20th century theatre in representing a ‘theatre of revolt’ against held beliefs rather than for new ones.


Artaud, the language of nature, and Vedic linguistics

          Demastes’  ‘somehow’ is reminiscent of Artaud’s as yet undiscovered grammar of the language of nature which Artaud seeks to develop for theatre to revive its magic and to immediately and strongly affect the spectator. Artaud calls the language beyond speech, which he intuits, the language of nature. Vedic Grammarian Bhartrihari describes several levels of language, vaikhari, madhyama, pashyanti, and para. Vaikhari "is the most external and differentiated level", on which speech is uttered by the speaker and heard by the hearer (Coward, 1980, 128).  Its temporal sequence is fully deve­loped.  Madhyama represents, in broad terms, the thinking level of the mind.  

It is the idea or series of words as conceived by the mind after hearing or before speaking out.  It may be thought of as inward speech. All parts of speech that are linguistical­ly relevant to the sentence are present here in a latent form. (129)  

The finest relative level is that of pashyanti. At this level "there is no distinction between the word and the meaning and there is no temporal sequence" (131).  Beyond the very subtly manifest level of pashyanti, Bhartrihari locates the fully unmanifest level of language, para (131). 

          Bhartrihari associates the pashyanti level of language with the concept of sphota.  It represents meaning as a whole, existing in the mind of the speaker as a unity. "When he utters it, he pro­duces a sequence of different sounds so that it appears to have differentiation" (73).  The process of differentiation into sounds proceeds from the sphota on the pashyanti level of language via madhyama or inward thought to expressed speech on the vaikhari level.  For the listener, the process is reversed. Although he first hears a series of sounds, he ultimately per­ceives the utterance as a unity--"the same sphota with which the speaker began" (73). The sphota or meaning-whole thus has two sides to it: the word-sound (dhvani) and the word-meaning (artha) (12). Sound and meaning are two aspects residing within the unitary sphota, which, according to Bhartrihari, is eternal and inherent in consciousness (12).  Meaning is thus not con­veyed "from the speaker to the hearer, rather, the spoken words serve only as a stimulus to reveal or uncover the meaning which was already present in the mind of the hearer". (12)  

          Haney points out that the unity of name and form, of sound and meaning on the level of the sphota in pashyanti applies mainly to the Sanskrit language.  In other languages, tradition of usage has led to associating specific sounds with given objects or concepts. Haney argues, however, that 

because Sanskrit is considered by orthodox Indians to be the oldest documented language and probably the source of all languages, the same unity of name and form found in it must exist to some extent in other languages when experienced on sufficiently refined levels of consciousness. (1991, 316) 

If subtler levels of language, corresponding to subtler levels of consciousness, are open to individual experience, the identity of name and form should be within experiential reach. For example, in Ayurveda, the Vedic system of medicine, ideal treatment is administered when the Vaidya (doctor) tells the patient the name of the herb which is to be used for treatment. Simply experiencing the name of the herb on the subtlest level is expected to have the effect of taking the physical herb, because of the identity of name and form on the subtler levels of language and consciousness. Similarly, if “red” could be experienced on the level of the sphota in pashyanti, all aspects of its form (the redness of red) will be available to experience, which in turn could ultimately be processed through the more expressed levels of language. A major task here for Western psycho-linguistics to accommodate the Vedic paradigm of language within existing theories. 

          Pashyanti, then, represents the subtlest manifest level of nature, and must thus be assumed to be closest to nature itself.  The grammar of this language, Artaud argues, has not yet been discovered.  However, in the context of Indian linguistics, experience of sufficiently refined states of consciousness, i.e. direct experience of the pashyanti level of language, should be able to reveal that grammar.  Artaud assigns an "ancient magic effectiveness to the language beyond speech". In parallel,  Abhinavagupta, the main classic commentator on Bharata's Natyash­astra, states that it is the poetic experience of dhvani, the sound aspect of speech, that brings about the experience of rasa  

as a transcendental function of suggestion removes the primordial veil of ignorance from our minds and thereby allows the bliss associated with the discovery of true meaning to be experienced. (Coward, 1980, 76)       

Artaud may well have sensed levels of language beyond speech actively expressed in Balinese and other Oriental forms of dance, though he associated the levels of the mind gained by the specta­tor through watching such performances with the intellect rather than with the emotions, let alone the even subtler level of pashyanti: "Thus we are led along intellectual paths [my empha­sis] towards reconquering the signs of existence" (Artaud, 1974, 45).  Artaud here shows influence by contemporary science which places the intellect above the emotions and has no place for a level of the mind beyond speech. The lack in Western psychology of a model of the mind which takes levels of language beyond speech, as the pashyanti-level described by Bhartrihari, into account, leads to the vagueness and confusion of terminology in Artaud's argumentation. Vedic Science clearly associates para with the level of pure consciousness.  

Theatre in search of new beliefs

Theatre that searches for, and finds new beliefs is reminiscent of the claim in the Natyashastra, the ancient Indian treatise on theatre, that theatre was created by Brahma, the creator, to enable humans to regain their lost state of liberation, enlightenment, moksha. This is the state of at least cosmic consciousness according to the Vedic Science model of consciousness.


Demastes discusses further points of contact between consciousness studies and theatre. Descartes, the founder of dualism, suggests that a homunculus (little human) is located in the brain, and, guided by the mind, causes the brain to function in accordance with what the ‘I’, that is the mind, wants to be done. This has been called the Cartesian theatre. Current thinking in consciousness studies tends to discredit this analogy, just as current developments in theatre attempt to do away with the homunculus of the director, or with the passive spectator who, homunculus-like, ‘merely observes materialized events placed before it’ (28).

Having settled for the need of a model of consciousness that is materialist so as to avoid being mysterious, Demastes is at pains to emphasise that although materialist, the required model must not be reductionist. He thus discards Crick’s ‘astonishing hypothesis’ that all conscious experience is ‘no more than behavior of nerve cells and their associated molecules’ (30, Crick 3). Instead, Demastes favours Dennett’s approach, which is in line with Armstrong’s ideas about the function of theatre in the context of human evolution.

           Were theatre a reflection of the struggle, in consciousness studies, with Cartesian dualism of matter and consciousness, with realism/naturalism equated with materiality and impressionism/ expressionism with consciousness, the demarcations of what are realism/naturalism, and impressionism/expressionism, should be distinct. However, Demastes finds that they are not. He concludes that ‘Either consciousness or materiality is not really a choice. Inevitably, theatre uses a both/and proposition of confronting consciousness integrally through materialism rather than discretely through mystical or spiritual channels’. (41). Demastes uses parts of the prologue to Shakespeare’s Henry V to support his argument: whereas at first the muse is invoked, apparently suggesting a top-down approach, Shakespeare immediately turns to a material approach, asking the spectators to engage their ‘imaginations with the material, splicing the imagined into the physical’ (41). Because whatever we see on stage is material, theatre necessarily ‘forces us to think materially about everything before us, even the apparently immaterial’ (42).



Thinking versus experience

        Demastes argues that whatever we see on stage is material, theatre necessarily ‘forces us to think materially about everything before us, even the apparently immaterial’ (42). This is correct if we consider thinking. The immaterial cannot be thought about immaterially, because thinking is a function of the intellect, and the intellect, on the model of mind in Vedic literature, cannot grasp any more refined levels than itself, and thus cannot grasp the level of the immaterial, which is the level of pure consciousness. However, while the immaterial cannot be thought other than materially, the immaterial, pure consciousness is nevertheless open to direct experience. Such experience can be enjoyable (by nature, blissful) for its own sake; it is ideally simultaneous with a sensory impression also created in the theatre.


Academic endeavour has conventionally focused on ‘serious’ analysis of meaning in theatre, revealed in both text and production. Such plays are didactic, ‘we are asked to think about the world differently’ (44) as a result of having seen a production of such a didactic play.  Some plays defy such analysis, for example Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, as does ‘alternative, nondidactic theatre, where the boundaries to performance art begin to disappear. Watching a performance that does not expect us to think about the world differently does still have an effect, though, Demastes argues. Rather, by undermining not what, but how we think, such performances have the potential of changing patterns of thought that are established in our minds on the basis of neurones. Theatre is thus argued to have, potentially, a direct influence on the neuronal functioning in the brain, at a paradigmatic level, which may then influence thought processes on higher levels of consciousness—here defined as levels of serialized processing. Demastes provides an example for this with reference to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House: an antifeminist spectator watches a performance of the play. Although he is not convinced by the play’s message (on the level of serial processing), some rewiring of the more paradigmatic level of consciousness might have occurred, which may ‘someday result in a transformation of this antifeminist’s serial thought’ (45).



Neuronal changes through theatre

         Some years ago, researchers discovered the phenomenon of mirror neurones. Vilanyanur S Ramachandran, 2003 BBC Reith lecturer, called them possibly as groundbreaking in today’s neuroscience as the discovery of DNA in its time (2003). When we see movements of another person, neurones in our brains start firing in such a way that we should immediately copy the observed movements. Sometimes we do mirror observed behaviour, as in yawning or laughter. Usually, however, at the same time, different neurones start firing as well, and their activity prevents the mirroring action (Votluk 2001). The following hypothesis results from this discovery: if the spectator in theatre sees the actor’s movements, part of the reception or response process involves the firing the two sets of neurones: mirror neurones and those neurones that prevent an imitation of the observed movement. Although the spectator will not imitate most of the actor’s observed movements, some impact of the neuronal activity related to mirror neurones could well have an impact on some part of the spectator’s physiology, the immune system, for example. This hypothesis obviously also applies to the actors themselves, and the production team, anyone who is present during rehearsals and performances.



For Demastes, theatre is a ‘grounding mechanism’. In realism, he argues, mind and environment are interlocked, with environment foregrounded. Expressionism is characterised by the same components, mind and environment; however, in contrast to realism, mind is foregrounded (51). The dividing lines need not be strict: in later Ibsen, for example, such as When We Dead Awaken, realism and non-realism merge. Such merging leads to theatre that is no longer driven by plot and character, but becomes a ‘theater of direct experience’ (52). In that sense, Demastes regards theatre as ‘that place where ‘mind-stuff’ and ‘physical stuff’ intermingle in a manner precisely parallel to our growing sense of material consciousness. In the theatre matters are just more focused than in the diffusion of daily existence’ (53).

Philosophers of consciousness, Daniel Dennett and Owen Flanagan, argue that the human mind succeeds in absorbing a multitude of potentially contradictory, and certainly isolated impressions (through the senses), and constructing a fiction of unity from those numerous impressions. This fiction of unity is at the basis of what we think we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, and it is equally at the basis of our selfhood. Demastes discusses the nature of the Characters in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author in this context. Turning to Beckett, he notes that Winnie in Happy Days is literally grounded, and is revealed through her responses to the world. Similarly, ‘we see that mind can only reveal itself as consciousness of something (59).

Noting that conventional Western science, grounded in Aristotle, has, until recently adhered to an either / or approach, Demastes argues that some current representatives of science, as well as some cutting edge theatre artists (Robert Wilson and Sam Shepard, among others) attempt to disrupt this tendency towards clear distinctions in favour of multivalence characteristic of Confucian philosophy and ‘fuzzy logic’. ‘The more we accept multiple values’, instead of a binary either/or, ‘the more accurately we begin to depict reality’ (69). Such an approach leads from binary (either/or) to parallel processing referred to earlier. The danger inherent in multivalence is information overload, which is likely to result in creative paralysis. What is required is thus a balance between binary and parallel processing procedures.



Theatre, Time and Simultaneity

            All theatre has to take time into consideration. On a practical level, the question arises as to how long a performance should last? How many hours can a given audience be expected to pay attention to the theatre event? In the West today, attention spans are bemoaned to become shorter and shorter; only subsidised companies, such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, or the Royal National Theatre London may exceed this limit, as may occasional experimental productions by acknowledged stars of the theatre, such as Peter Brook’s nine-hour Mahabharata, or Peter Stein’s 21-hour production of Goethe’s Faust. In some plays, authors attempt to achieve simultaneity of multiple events. In Noises Off, Michael Frayn juxtaposes events on stage with simultaneous events backstage, presenting us first with the on-stage scene (the play within the play), then the backstage events while the scene we had seen before on-stage takes place off-stage. The same span of time (the presentation of a scene from the play within the play on the fictional stage on the real stage) is shown twice, from different perspectives. In one of Alan Ayckbourn’s more recent plays at the Royal National Theatre, London, House and Garden (2000), the same fictional time span is presented simultaneously in two of the three theatre spaces in the RNT (Olivier and Lyttleton) by the same cast, presenting indoors and outdoors perspectives.

            Time in Indian philosophy is eternal, of dimensions beyond immediate intellectual comprehension, but open to direct conscious experience: the state of pure consciousness, conceptualised in Vedanta, and increasingly discussed in current consciousness studies, implies a coexistence of past, presence and future. If a form of theatre forces the human mind to engage in the experience of simultaneity, it trains it in functioning from that deep level. Repeated exposure to such theatre stimuli may serve in parallel to repeated exposure to pure consciousness in meditative techniques. Theatre, understood and practised in this way, may thus well serve as a means of developing higher states of consciousness.



            Against this background, Demastes analyses the concept of (artistic) creativity. He concludes that chaos theory is not a likely model to explain creativity, since it suggests that ‘nothing is new except in the way it is arranged’ (72), and since even chaos theory is ultimately a computational model, and, following Penrose, no computational model can ever duplicate human thought. Following his materialist approach, Demastes rejects a top-down input by the muses in the creative process, re-emphasising his credo that there is no need for mystery. He describes Penrose’s quantum theory based model, which suggests that non-computational, microcosmic processes at the quantum level integrate with the macrocosmic events, ‘marking those events with their own noncomputational processes’ (73). The result of such marking could be the noncomputational, creative spark. An alternative model, which Demastes terms  ‘organic’, is based on Bohm and Peat and refers to the soliton, ‘self-organised, self-generated entities that force their ways through otherwise random material bodies’ (76). Satellites have been able to follow soliton single waves ‘rippling for thousands of miles in the ocean’ (76). Bohm also favours the hologram as an illustration to explain the connections between mind and universe: taking a part of the hologram reveals the whole picture, albeit in a less sharp focus and with less possible viewpoints. Demastes proceeds to Dawkins’ concept of memes, units of information, which struggle for survival in our minds: strong ideas remain and are multiplied by communication, weak ones die out. The faith meme contains the meme for a disembodied soul. The soul is another object that material scientists are searching for, and which they can rescue from mystery: Demastes suggests that soul is ‘a sort of meta-awareness, an accumulation that floods into an awareness of the discrepancy between our mind’s linearized awareness of the explicate world around us and our brain’s data that houses an implicate reality of underlying forms and patterns’ (80). Taking this one step further still, Demastes asks whether in discovering ‘patterns of reality’ science could, almost inadvertently, have discovered God. Thus there is a major paradigm shift, initiated by science, suggesting that soul and God exist, but that we have been looking for them in all the wrong places.



Artistic creativity

          It would be useful to consider further the possibility that the various different models of artistic creativity that Demastes rejects or explains and develops further, actually refer to one and the same process, from their different perspectives.



            In this broad and major paradigm shift, theatre has its major function. It can contribute in furthering the shift ‘by capturing these new visions and triggering an explosion in the cultural imagination. What could be the goal of this new theatre is to reflect a sense not only of what science is telling us but also of what we need to relearn in order to live in this increasingly complex world. The new theatre could assist in demonstrating how memically to be infected by this necessary, new paradigm shift. And it can do so in ways that satisfy and even transcend the discursive celebration of science. Theatre could help to promote the shift by giving us a place to experience the possibilities’ (83).

            The remainder of the book represents an analysis of elements of this new theatre. Demastes is looking both for a new art form, and, equally important and valid, a reemphasis, in terms of criticism and direction, on ‘the stage’s language of rhythms of consciousness’. Physicist David Bohm posits the existence of an implicate order which is ‘neither mind nor body but rather a yet higher-dimensional actuality which is their [mind’s and body’s] common ground and which is of a nature beyond both’ (87-88). Bohm proposes the development of a new language to capture ‘the essence of this new level of reality’ (88). In that proposed new language, emphasis is on movement, on flow, on the verb, rather than on the noun.



The paradigm shift from textual to performative

         ‘Cultures of Performativity’ is the title of an impressive and far-ranging research project under way at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. Its major point of departure is the insight that ‘[c]ultural studies - the humanities as well as the social sciences - are currently undergoing a shift of paradigm: from text based models of culture to models based on the notion of performance’ (See website The time of the paradigm shift is located in the late 1980s.




Production of an artefact

Performative character prevails

Art work


Formal interpretation


A set of discursive formations

A set of dynamic practices

Structuralist, static view of culture

Exchange, negotiations or transformations

Looking at products of cultural construction

Looking at the processes of cultural construction

Represent cultural events or social identities

Constitute cultural events or social identities

Culture defined by objects, monuments or works of art

Culture defined by the dynamic relations and processes that determine, produce and validate these objects

Central importance of the artist

The relation between the artist and her/his audience

Audience as passive recipient

Audience as active participant in cultural production

Established scholarly positions

Need for review of positions on identity formation, representation, the body, self-fashioning, notions of space and time, or cultural norms and values

Systematic analysis based on verifiability, repeatability and constancy

Requires modification of aims and methods of cultural critique


The shift towards the performative, as defined above, is ‘new’ and relatively recent in the context of cultural studies.



            Demastes shows that while much of Aristotle’s philosophy is clearly binary, as far as theatre is concerned, in the Poetics he ‘fundamentally acknowledges that nonlinear data processing is central to the stage, and he concedes that a multivalent perception of reality results’ (89). Flow is the ultimate aim of Stanislavski as well as of Method Acting. Those experiences of the actor, just as equivalent experiences of the audience (as Brook sees it, once they are attuned with each other and with the impulses coming from the stage) are more than the sum of the parts. Western culture’s preference for taking phenomena apart in order to understand them, without putting them together again, has led, so far, to ultimate failure in comprehending experience (‘explaining a play never does justice to the experience of a play’ (90). Demastes acknowledges that much can be learned from Eastern traditions, but prefers to look closely at the Western tradition itself to see whether we are not overlooking relevant material there.

            Demastes explains that Artaud’s endeavour of converting the ineffable into the concrete has been interpreted, conventionally, as a process of alchemy, ‘of rarefying and mystifying mundane reality’ (95), characteristic of a top-down approach. Taking recourse to the new materialism, Demastes argues in favour of a bottom-up reassessment, according to which Artaud’s alchemy becomes ‘a process of materializing a heightened reality’ (95). Linear language is to change into non-linear language, a clear parallel to Bohm. Artaud sensed the implications of the new science, without having access to them—in his days they had not been developed. Thus he sought explanations for his intuitions in immateriality, alchemy and Gnosticism. However, reassessing Artaud against the background of the kind of new materialism suggested by Demastes helps to understand Artaud better, and ultimately might lead to a theatre of the kind Artaud envisioned. In an earlier comment, I have already proposed to enhance our understanding of Artaud with recourse to Indian linguistics.

            Grotowski’s approach of via negativa is subjected to a similar reassessment. Here, Demastes concludes that whereas some of the ideas and concepts discussed by Grotowski suggest placing him on a level with Artaud as mystical, much of what he has to say actually makes much sense from the new materialist perspective. Grotowski’s agenda, on that reading, is to allow the actors, and through them the spectators, to free themselves from the restriction of linear thought, allowing non-linear patterns to be discovered and experienced. The relationship of mind and body is important for Grotowski. The assumption that the purified body can serve as an antenna for signals from God is reassessed to reveal, applying new materialism, that higher levels (not clearly defined, though), are the cause of neural phenomena. The ultimate aim, an experience beyond the mind-brain barrier and, more rarely, the now-then, or spatio-temporal barrier, is given credibility. Grotowski realises that such experiences are non-linear and cannot be achieved following linear modes. His theatre employs a range of approaches intended to break linearity, including the audience’s recognition of the actor behind the character, ‘of the man behind the part, of the nature of man which compels him to mask, play roles, and act at the same time that he most wants to break down the defences, narrow distances, and unmask’ (Wiles 156, D 103).



Grotowski, translumination and the Vedic Science model of consciousness

          Grotowski aims for a state of consciousness and body where the actor transcends incompleteness and the mind-body-split, where he achieves totality, full presence, where he becomes a holy actor.  Such translumination is clearly an experience of not only cosmic consciousness, characterised by a separation of pure consciousness and activity, but an experience of unity consciousness as defined by Vedic Science: subject and object are experienced as a unity, the striking duality of pure consciousness and expressed levels of consciousness, characteristic of cosmic consciousness, disappears. For the duration of the experience of cosmic consciousness or unity consciousness, all action, performative or other, is fully spontaneous, there is no longer a time-lapse between inner impulse and outer action.  At the same time, all activity in those states of consciousness will be fully disciplined in the sense that there will be no entropy, no waste of energy, actions will lead to the intended result following the principle of least action.



            Neither Artaud nor Grotowski managed to achieve their aims of reaching what they called the ineffable, at least not beyond fleeting glimpses. Demastes explains that they failed because they were stuck in the dualist world-view characteristic of their time, ironically the world-view they unknowingly tried to overcome by rejecting linear processes and striving for non-linear, multivalent ones. They looked for something, i.e., the ‘beyond’, the ineffable, the invisible, seeking to make it visible through theatre, ‘where that something was not. The something they sought was entwined with the physical reality they sought to liberate’ (105).



 Theatre's aims to make the invisible visible

          Precisely because physical reality and the invisible something are entwined, each aspect can influence the other. Theatre that follows the guidelines set out in the Natyashastra may serve as one means among others for the actor of using the body in such a way that development of higher states of consciousness results from such use. Alternatively, it is equally possible, and should be equally effective, to train the mind, through meditation, for example, to become able to guide the body in such a way that it expresses experiences of consciousness. Both Artaud and Grotowski, and later Barba and Brook, among others, describe experiences in and through theatre that, in terms of Vedic Science, are experiences of higher states of consciousness. Based on such experience they try to find ways of recreating those experiences in a systematic way. Neither Artaud nor Grotowski had the depth of Vedic knowledge at their disposal. This is why they failed to find systematic methods of expressing the invisible which they had encountered coincidentally. In particular, Grotowski’s problems with intercultural theatre practice are rooted in the way he understands and uses Indian material: Mudras are first described in the Natyashastra. The mudras are not isolated means of histrionic representation: in specific situations in a given play, specific means of histrionic repre­sentation have to be used to create a specific emotional and aesthetic experience in the spectators.  As I have explained elsewhere (1999d) , the Natyashastra func­tions on two levels: it is both a description of what a "perfect" actor, an actor who has reached a state of enlightenment, or moksha, liberation, will automatically, spontaneously do to create a specific emotion, a specific aesthetic experience in a specific audience.  For an actor who is not yet "perfect", the techniques described in the Natyashastra are a means to achieve perfection, enlightenment, moksha, parallel to reaching this state through yoga or meditation practices.  Thus, though the mudras and other means of histrionic representation are apparent­ly fixed codes, laid down and described as such in the text of the Natyashastra, they originate in the very moment they are created by the enlightened actor. Grotowski's argument that Indian signs are fixed thus loses its ground.       

          Grotowski was disillusioned with yoga as leading to introverted concentration harmful to the actor.  There are techniques that are meant for people who have consciously chosen the way of life of a monk, in a monastery.  Renouncing the world, they hope to gain enlightenment.  However, this is not the only path to the same goal: there are also methods specifically for the individ­uals who have to deal with everyday activities; in this case, the meditative practices do not draw the person's mind inwards with the result of such individuals becoming incapable of ordinary day-to-day activities.  Rather, the techniques are geared to produce deep physical relaxation together with refined states of consciousness during the meditation, allowing the mind to access levels of consciousness otherwise not open to experience.  Such subtler levels of the mind reverberate with energy, which is taken out into the activity after meditation.  Thus, meditative practices intended for householders as opposed to monks will support the householder's activity.  Indeed, activity is an inte­gral part of the development to enlightenment: in alternating meditative experience of samadhi with ordinary activity, the nervous system is trained to maintain a state where samadhi can co-exist together with the ordinary state of consciousness (Orme-Johnson, 1987, 336).  Such co-existence is not an intellectual understanding, but a profound holistic experience, is the aim of both the monk and the householder.  What differs are the paths adopted by the different types of individuals to obtain that state of liberation. 



          Robert Wilson’s ‘theatre’ is a prime example of ‘theatre of consciousness’, since it works on a level of parallel processing which is prior to serial processing. ‘Wilson’s theatre is, to remind ourselves of Brook’s charge, a Holy Theatre created from the physical that supplants the mystical via an idiom digestible by a postmodern consciousness’ (112). Alternative theatre must avoid being, or becoming solipsistic. Instead, it must be open, accessible and available to a wide range of audience. At the same time, ‘through that apparent solipsism we arrive at a larger conception of humanity’s means of contacting at least the trace of some cosmic essence. … Awareness of existence unadulterated is impossible, but awareness of its existence via parallelly absorbed traces is not. (116). Further discussions of Foreman and Spalding Gray support this view. In the context of Gray comes a further pointer to Demastes’ understanding of mystery, when he writes about a ‘mystical force beyond the domain affected by causality’ (123). In his discussion of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, another basic assumption about the world-view he argues against becomes clear when he ascribes to Kushner an ‘assault on the notion of discrete individuality/ consciousness hovering above inferior nature awaiting manipulation by that discrete and superior consciousness’ (124). Demastes’ analysis of Shaffer’s Equus points to the multivalence in both Alan Strang and Dysart’s characters. This view is in opposition to the more conventional critical view that Stang and Dysart represent, bivalently, the Dionysian and the Apollonian. Rather, both represent different forms of an inability of creatively fusing those two forces which are at work in both of them. ‘If Dysart could fully engage a multivalent logic, if he could see nature and his place in it more fully, completely, and roundedly, then perhaps his consciousness could engage a nature with postmodern sophistication, minus primitive mystery but with a contemporary material reenchantment replacing that mystery. The difference between saying this and actually offering a parallel experience of this parallel potentiality is what separates discursivity from the theatre experience’ (141).  It is the actors playing the horses/gods with their status as actors never in question that allow this experience of god as bottom-up, non-mysterious, comprehensible, the material reenchantment.

           Following an assessment of Sam Shepard’s work, Demastes comes back to Shaffer, and his The Gift of the Gorgon. It’s central character, dramatist Edward Damson, reveals his ‘fundamental materialist urge to manifest the mysteries of existence physically’ (150). Theatre’s role, Demastes concludes from this play, is that of ‘distilling reality by making it material on stage and offering it to the audiences to see… ‘(151). ‘The theatre re-minds our consciousness, literally, and in a material way, to that in us that can attune to the patterns inherent in that reality’ (152).  Ultimately, Demastes concludes that ‘united—or reunited—the sciences and arts could effect the changes envisioned by cutting-edge artists and scientists alike’(170).



Processes for spirituality

        Malekin and Yarrow provide a detailed account of processes through which ‘spirituality is made available to the receiver’ (1997: 129). They identify three constitutive elements of theatre: performer, character and audience, and locate processes involving neutrality (pure consciousness in terms of Vedic Science), witnessing (a characteristic of cosmic consciousness) and play (characteristic of refined cosmic consciousness and unity consciousness for each of the elements, giving references to numerous relevant plays. Neutrality for the character in theatre, for example, is a liminal state. Malekin and Yarrow explain:  

Deaths, displacements, demands to do the ‘impossible’ or resolve the unresolvable all present the character with the paradigm of the familiar and known, and of hesitation before a threshold of new forms of knowledge and being. (1997: 137)  

Such liminality is represented, for example, by Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, two characters who are ‘cut off from any obvious criteria of personality, geographical situation or function (1997: 137). Exposing the performers and spectators to those processes serves the function of heightened spirituality, of development of consciousness in terms of Vedic Science. 

Demastes Reassessed

The following points in Demastes’ argument remain unchanged and unchallenged within the context he limits himself to:


1.    Theatre has unfathomed and to a large extent unused potential in enabling, in theatre artists and audiences, a holistic experience which is non-ordinary, non-day-to-day, what Brook calls holy theatre.

2.    Hitherto, this extra-ordinary experience could be described only in vague terms, suggesting something mysterious, coming from outside, from above (God). Such an explanation is characteristic of Cartesian dualism

3.    Today’s postmodern view tends to be more materialistic, reluctant to accept anything mysterious.

4.    Reductive materialism is unable to explain or account for the extra-ordinary experiences in relation to theatre hitherto described in terms of mysticism, and can provide no conceptual or practical tools to enable further development of such holy theatre.

5.    Non-reductive, emergent materialism, as found in complexity, chaos and quantum theories, offers a model to explain or account for the extra-ordinary experiences in relation to theatre hitherto described in terms of mysticism, and can provide conceptual and practical tools to enable further development of such holy theatre.


In the comments I have offered on Demastes’ argument, I have argued that if we apply the model of consciousness proposed by Vedic Science,


1.    what the mechanistic framework adopted by Demastes qualifies as mysterious is fully explained and thus demystified

2.    the top-down versus bottom-up dichotomy becomes obsolete


3.    the argument for a shift in paradigm initiated through chaos theory and quantum theory is supported by the argument that pure consciousness is the unifield field described on quantum physics

4.    we are able to understand the principles at work when elements combine into a higher complexity: Artaud’s as yet undiscovered grammar of the language of nature

5.    we are able to give a new meaning to theatre’s search for new beliefs;

6.    the important difference between thinking about something, and directly experiencing it becomes clear;

7.    the recent discovery of mirror neuones further supports Demastes’ argument for neuronal changes through theatre;

8.    further thought about time and simultaneity in theatre further support Demastes’ call for increased multivalence in theatre;

9.    artistic creativity should prove a rich field for further research;

10.  Demastes’ argument for a new language of theatre, with its emphasis on the verb rather than the noun, is further supported by the insight of a major shift in paradigm in cultural studies from the textual to the performative.

11.     we can understand better what Grotowski may have had in mind when he wrote about translumination

12.    we gain a better understanding of what it means for theatre to make the invisible visible, and why earlier attempts were not always completely successful

13. The range of processes to achieve spirituality (in Malekin and Yarrow's terms) or higher states of consciousness (in terms of Vedic Science), is broadened and enriched.

The aim, for Demastes and myself, to argue for a wider application and use of theatre, a theatre for fundamental change of consciousness, is the same. The perspective from which we argue is different. Demastes’ book shows the strength of the bottom-up, non-reductive materialistic and mechanistic approach. He explores that approach in its application to theatre to its limits. The limits become apparent when the perspective is broadened; the broadening element, in my argument, is provided by various aspects and concepts proposed by Vedic Science. The Vedic Science based argument encompasses the arguments proposed by Demastes, and expands them, towards an even fuller understanding of the theatre. Note that I do not claim to have exhausted the potential of the Vedic Science perspective in the twelve comments I offered on Demastes views. Much remains to be investigated; most important of all, Vedic Science based theatre needs to meet a major challenge: the theory which Haney, Malekin, Yarrow and I have begun to develop (see bibliography) needs to be tested, explored and refined further in theatre practice.





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