Textures of Thought: Theatricality, Performativity and the Extended/Enactive Debate
Navigating cognitive approaches to theatre and performance studies, this chapter claims that extended and enactive philosophies of mind bear strong rhetorical affinities with the well-worn humanistic idioms of theatricality and performativity, and that these family resemblances help to identify blind spots in both approaches. Most explicitly, versions of enaction and performativity converge in renouncing pre-given essences for acts of ‘bringing forth’ worlds and identities (Varela et al. The embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. MIT, Cambridge, 1991; cf. Butler. Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of ‘sex’. Routledge, London, 1993). However, there are differences in how the two idioms navigate ensuing paradoxes of novelty and normativity: while an enactive approach could provide the more textual/deterministic notions of performativity with a more positive account of embodied agency, it lacks as yet the tools for properly engaging the cultural and political (how the ‘natural’ may work to conceal its performative constitution)—the very prop room from where ideas of extended cognition take off. It is no accident that Andy Clark leans on resolutely theatrical language in arguing for the constitutive ‘role’ of ‘nonbiological props’ in the cognitive ‘drama’ or ‘ensemble’ (Clark. Natural-born cyborgs: minds, technologies, and the future of human intelligence. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003). Likewise, the ‘biochauvinistic prejudice’ of Clark’s opponents seems motivated along much the same lines as those traditionally pitted against theatricality (Barish. The antitheatrical prejudice. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1981), viewing the extended component of thinking as derived and artificial, secondary to and corruptive of some prior essence. As implied by their few applications to theatre and performance studies, there is a sense in which the enactive and the extended bet their stakes on the actor and the scenery, respectively. Where the former derives ‘mind’ from the specifics of biological embodiment, the multiple realisability of the latter comes close to that of theatricality: just as humans need not be depicted by humans on stage, so the functional networks of cognitive extension may well disregard the particulars in which they are realised. In the terms I will elaborate, if performative textures of thought are typically enacted over time and depend on further histories of sensorimotor experience, then more theatrical ones may recruit external scaffolding opportunistically assembled on the fly; where the performative tends to evade consciousness, theatrical manipulations may also be intuited as such and indeed heighten our sensitivity to their performative constitution.