A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Theories of Spectator- Character and Actor-Character Identification in the Theatre
Turri, Maria Grazia
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
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From Aristotle’s theory of tragic katharsis to Brecht’s formulation of the Verfremdungseffekt, theorists of the theatre have long engaged with the question of what spectatorship entails. Such question has, directly or indirectly, extended to the investigation of acting. In the wake of Brecht’s critique of conventional theatre, emphasis has been put on the study of spectatorship from the point of view of its cultural determinants and its conscious cognitive aspects, while unconscious processes have been mostly ignored. In this thesis I take a psychoanalytic perspective to analyse theories of the theatre that have investigated the process of identification of the spectator or the actor with the character. According to psychoanalysis, mechanisms of unconscious identification, such as projection and introjection, are fundamental to psychic development and to the construction of the self. By analysing Aristotle’s theory of tragic katharsis through Freud’s theory of transference, I propose a new understanding of spectatorship as transference dynamic. I then conduct an in-depth enquiry into eighteenth-century theories of acting which lead up to Diderot’s Paradoxe sur le comédien. I investigate the paradox of the actor, in its fruitful tension between sensibility and understanding, from the perspective of Melanie Klein’s concept of unconscious phantasy and Bion’s theory of alpha-function. I hence interpret the art of the actor as the performing of alpha-function on the spectator’s unconscious emotions. The new insights afforded by a psychoanalytic perspective of spectating and acting illuminate the moral function of theatre and resolve some of the controversial points brought forward by various theorists, including Brecht and Rousseau. The moral function of theatre can be construed as a transpersonal process in which unconscious identifications between spectator and actor promote the development of a reflective view of the self.
PhD in Drama