From Liveness to “Lifeness”: Autopoiesis and an Enactive View of Performance

Maiya Murphy

Constructivist Foundations 17(1): 070–081

Context: Unsettled issues within the theatre and performance liveness debates include how to account for co-presence, what to make of intangible and elusive qualities often attributed to live encounters, and how to account for the coexistence of concrete and intangible phenomena within liveness. Problem: The problem is two-pronged: (a) the liveness debates in theatre and performance remain ripe for further development beyond these unsettled issues and (b) theatre has not yet been fully explored as an experimental platform for researching human-made systems and their consequences. Method: Through three case studies of different kinds of performance, I home in on three main conceptions of systemic life in performance – biological, cybernetic, and enactive – anchored in conceptions of autopoiesis. Results: I show how an enactive view with a cybernetic flair can usefully redefine the elusive phenomena of “liveness” as concrete biocognitive synchronicities between the larger system of the performance and the individual system of the spectator, no matter the performance style. Implications: This systemic view reorients what might be considered “live” in the discipline of theatre and performance, moving the liveness debates to matters of process, organizational structure, and observation. By resituating these debates in theatre and performance, performance events themselves are revealed as robust and diverse platforms for researching processes and consequences of systemic resonances between human and human-made systems. Constructivist content: This article suggests that an enactive view of “liveness” in performance, complemented with the cybernetic interest in observation, can make use of the explanatory power of biological and cybernetic accounts of autopoiesis, while explicitly pointing toward the resonances between biology, cognition, and the sense-making practices of theatre and performance.

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