(Syn)aesthetics and Disturbance - A Preliminary Overview

How to Cite

Machon, J., 2001. (Syn)aesthetics and Disturbance - A Preliminary Overview. Body, Space & Technology, 1(2). DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/bst.268


Download HTML





In this paper I will argue that the '(syn)aesthetic style', is a contemporary performance practice and mode of appreciation which has emerged and developed in recent years. I have appropriated and re-evaluated the term (syn)aesthetics to describe both a performance style (encompassing the artistic process), and the audience receptive experience.

(Syn)aesthetics - A Contemporary Practice

(Syn)aesthetics derives from 'synaesthesia' (the Greek syn meaning 'together' and aisthesis, meaning 'sensation' or 'perception'). 'Synaesthesia', and thus 'synaesthetic', is defined as a sensation in one part of the body produced by a stimulus applied to another part and further as the production of a sense-impression of one kind, of an associated mental image of a sense-impression of another kind. (Syn)aesthetics thus encompasses both a sensory experience and an aesthetic potential. I argue that (syn)aesthetics is an aesthetic potential within performance which embraces the sensory experience, in both the process and the means of production, insofar as it consists of a blending of disciplines and techniques to create an interdisciplinary, inter-textual and multi-sensational work, coupled with a sensorial mode of appreciation affected within the audience resulting from exposure to such work.

Characteristic of the (syn)aesthetic performance style is its consolidation of a variety of artistic principles, forms and techniques, manipulated in such a way as to fuse the physical and the linguistic, the cerebral and the corporeal, the somatic, ('affecting the body' or 'absorbed through the body') and the semantic (the 'mental reading' of signs) in order to produce a visceral response in the audience. It explores various combinations of verbal, physical, design and technological texts, with a particular predominance given to the actual body in performance and to playfully-disturbing writerly texts (thus play-texts) which are marked by a visceral-verbal quality. A crucial feature of the (syn)aesthetic style is the (re)claiming of the word, the act of writing and verbal delivery, as an embodied event and a sensual act.

(Syn)aesthetics also describes the explicit recreation of sensation through the visual, the physical, the word, scents, sounds and so on. By this I do not simply refer to the mere description of a sensual experience but the sensation itself being transmitted to the audience. This fusing of sense (semantic 'meaning making') with sense (sensation) establishes a double-edged rendering of making-sense/sense-making which is important to understanding the (syn)aesthetic strategies of performance and appreciation.

The (syn)aesthetic style in performance has the ability to communicate that which is intangible in a live and sensate manner enabling an encounter with ideas as much as with actual presence. It thus provides a '(syn)aesthetic sense' within appreciation, the intuitive sense that presents the unpresentable, articulates the 'unarticulable', going beyond conventional dramatic techniques to present ideas that are beyond conventional communication, as well as thoughts, emotional experience, psychological states and so on. As a result this performance style can make, to paraphrase Peter Brook, 'the invisible visible' (see 1986: 47).

(Syn)aesthetics is a style in practice and a mode of appreciation that embraces performance work which constantly resists and explodes established forms and concepts. In this way, (syn)aesthetics is always open to developments in contemporary practice and analysis. (Syn)aesthetic work shifts between performance disciplines and sensorial modes. As a result it can be understood to have a certain 'shape-shift'[1] morphology and is concerned with a primordial, or chthonic (from the Greek, 'of, or beneath, the earth'), response to creating and receiving performance. Its one constant is the somatic/semantic manner of its performance style and subsequent audience response.

(Syn)aesthetics provides a discourse that defines simultaneously the impulse and processes of production and the subsequent appreciation strategies which incorporate reception and interpretation. It presents a discourse for 'polysemantic', non-genre specific performance embracing intertextual practice and celebrating the interface between, and flux within, linguistic, corporeal and technological praxis. In responding to performance work which resists closure, so too does the (syn)aesthetic method of appreciation resist closure.

(Syn)aesthetics presents an original theory for performance as it combines both an artistic principle of (syn)aesthetics, marrying the interdisciplinary with the multi-sensual in artistic terms, with characteristics of the neurological 'synaesthesia' (the fusing of the senses) within the appreciation process, to provide a 'complete' and extraordinary perceptual function. 'Complete' here defines the 'complete body' as an entirety - physiological, cerebral, emotional and so on - thus (re)connecting body and mind. In order to clarify fully the process of audience appreciation, I have appropriated certain quintessential features of the physiological condition of synaesthesia to elucidate traits of the (syn)aesthetic.

'Synaesthesia' and (Syn)aesthetics - Disturbing Sensations

The physiological condition known as 'synaesthesia' is a neurological complication where there is a crossover between the senses. To return to the Greek derivation of the word, syn ('together') and aisthesis, ('sensation', 'perception'), synaesthesia can be understood literally as the joining of sensorial effects coupled with a combining of cognition and consciousness. In the physiological condition a fusing of sensations occurs when one sense is stimulated which automatically, and simultaneously, causes a stimulation in another of the senses. There are arguments that suggest that this physiological peculiarity is a result of the limbic system (the area of the brain that is the source of the emotional responses) collecting fragments of memories from all over the brain and pasting them together to produce a 'complete memory'. Certain diagnostic features of the condition are interesting to note, as regards my argument, for they can be applied to the manipulation of aesthetic elements within performance and can equally define the response that an audience will experience. Firstly, the sensations experienced are involuntary, they cannot be suppressed or incurred, though the intensity can be influenced by the situation they occur in. Secondly, the sensations can result in a highly emotional response. Documented evidence of individuals who have synaesthesia detail how having such experiences can on the one hand be distracting and difficult to cope with, and on the other, cause ecstasy and be viewed as an accomplishment.[2]

A. R. Luria documents how 'synaesthetic sensations' produce states within an individual where 'there is no real borderline between perceptions and emotions . . .where sensations seem so vague and shifting it is hard to find words with which to convey them.' Key terms he refers to throughout his study are 'primitive, "protopathic" . . . sensitivity', the 'visual quality of the recall' and 'overall sense' (Luria, 1969: 28-80).

Particularly interesting as regards my focus on the potential of speech text in the (syn)aesthetic performance style is Luria's consideration of language as a physical, defamiliarised and sensational act that draws on the powers of the imagination - hearing, appreciating, interpreting and understanding words as rich visual images - which enables their sensual recall and (re)perception. Luria documents how the interpretation of words 'synaesthetically (determining meaning, that is, through both sound and sense)' ensures that the 'experience of words' is 'a measure of their expressiveness'. In highlighting this 'visual quality of . . . recall' Luria clarifies the notion of embodied and imagistic word perception and interpretation referring to this as 'graphic vision' and the ability to 'see every word', asserting that synaesthetic appreciation means seeing the details (1969: 28-124).

Luria states that the physiological condition can mean that the synaesthete is 'forced to convert senseless words into intelligible images'. In doing this, Luria draws attention to how synaesthetes '"semanticize" images, basing them on sounds' (1969: 43- 44, emphasis original). He describes how a synaesthete has 'a different form of extended reference, based on the synaesthetic sense one has of a word'. Unlike 'usual' word perception which means that individuals 'do not pay much attention to the phonetic elements of words . . . for they are primarily concerned with meaning and usage' in a synaesthetic response it can be the case the meaning of words is reflected in the sound they embody (1969: 86). Thus confirming the unusual and powerful mode of appreciation to be had by giving into sensation and not engaging the critical faculty of the mind until later.

Of great significance to this argument is Luria's highlighting of the power of the imagination within a synaesthetic response. He posits that most individuals who receive and interpret in the usual manner have in place 'a dividing line between imagination and reality'. Yet in those who experience synaesthesia this borderline between imagination and reality has 'broken down'. As a result images 'conjured up' by the imagination take on 'the feel of reality' (1969: 144). Luria states that 'a mind which operate[s] through vision' in this way is able to 'see what other people think or only dimly imagine . . . vivid images . . . so palpable as to verge on being real'. He highlights further, 'graphic images remain on the periphery of consciousness' which allows 'transition to another level of thought' (1969, 96-133). Following on from this Luria compounds the notion of a somatic, imagistic response dominating the semantic as 'images begin to guide one's thinking, rather than thought itself being the dominant element' and as a result the imagination has the ability to 'induce changes in somatic processes'. Luria affirms it is such 'vivid imagination' which breaks 'down the boundary between the real and imaginary' (1969: 116-144)

The quintessential features of the physiological condition as documented by Luria encapsulate the (syn)aesthetic mode of appreciation within the field of performance. Fundamental to such an audience response is 'primitive sensitivity', a 'visual quality of recall' and the experiencing of such work via an 'overall sense' where the somatic response dominates the semantic as 'images guide thinking, rather than thought itself being . . . dominant' (Luria, 1969: 28-116). (Syn)aesthetic disturbance defamiliarises 'known' experience and causes a (re)awakening of both cerebral and corporeal memory. It thus has the potential to provide an audience member with a 'complete memory'. Also significant is the breaking down of the boundary between the real and the imaginary to provide a (re)perception of hidden state, of 'the invisible' which equates with the emergence of the (syn)aesthetic sixth-sense and the potential of visceral cognition. The (syn)aesthetic performance style is concerned with harnessing the full force of the imagination and in breaking down boundaries between the 'real' and the 'imaginable'. It uses graphic images, palpable forms and visual imagery to (re)present abstract ideas. It takes its audience back to this primitive level of thought and, in doing so, brings the periphery of consciousness to the forefront and allows a vividness of imagination to break down 'the boundary between the real and imaginary' (Luria, 1969: 144). The 'real' is thus defamiliarised and perceived anew which accounts for the complete perception capable of being produced within the audience.

Of absolute relevance is the insistence on language as a physical, defamiliarised and sensate act. Significant here is the way in which the synaesthetic condition illustrates the potential for words to be perceived in a new and exhilarating way within the visceral-verbal play-texts of the (syn)aesthetic style. With (syn)aesthetic speech texts the word is defamiliarised and has to be (re)cognised and made sense of. Thus, within a (syn)aesthetic appreciation process there has to be some conversion of 'senseless words into intelligible images' and a certain 'semanticising' of the somatic experience during and/or following a performance where the 'meaning' of the words is reflected in the sound, and I would add the feeling (both emotion and tactility) they embody.

At its very essence then, the physiological condition of synaesthesia is a disturbing procedure in terms of sensory impressions; of cognition and reaction, of memory and emotion. Such features are integral to a (syn)aesthetic performance style. As with the physiological condition, this disturbance can be difficult, unsettling, even alarming, and/or exhilarating and liberating. It requires a degree of interpretative, (re)cognition by the audience. It is a performance style which attempts to reawaken the spectator as a participant that reads, and responds in a complete manner to the performance. Following on from the discussion of the body as the modality for experiential appreciation, in terms of phenomenology[3] a (syn)aesthetic performance mode can deeply affect the way an individual perceives their immediate world and the way in which they perceive themselves in this world. Both body (corporeality) and mind ('cerebrality') are activated which dislodges and disturbs reception, causing the receiver to 'wake up' to how they have responded to the work. This visceral impact ensures that the receiver becomes highly sentient and that she or he holds onto the moment they have experienced. In this way thinking is disturbed which causes the spectator to see the performance, the idea, in the moment and presented anew. This can shock the audience into (re)perceiving the state presented as if for the first time. In this way, it is a very 'real' and complete (re)presentation through performance.

(Syn)aesthetics and Disturbance - A Somatic/Semantic Appreciation Strategy

Crucial to my argument is the understanding that, for a performance to be wholly (syn)aesthetic there must be an element of disturbance, of disquiet and (re)cognition, in (syn)aesthetic appreciation. Steven C. Dubin describes 'disturbatory art' as that 'which is confrontational, in which there is an immediate connection between artist and audience (1992: 153). Disturbance and the idiosyncratic connection it forms between the audience and the work is an important factor in the appreciation strategy of the (syn)aesthetic style.

Norbert Servos' argument for a 'theatre of experience' helps to clarify the disturbatory impact of this complete experience within the (syn)aesthetic style. He describes theatre 'as a communication of the senses' where the work presented is 'made experienceable' (1998: 38-9, emphasis original). With (syn)aesthetic performance work, 'passive reception is impossible' (Servos, 1998: 39), because it fuses the senses with sense. The double-edged rendering of making-sense/sense-making within performance means that the performance 'does not anaesthetise the senses. It sharpens them'. As a result the spectator 'is included in a total experience . . . in a state of sensual excitement'. It is this that 'allows curiosity to be reawakened' and ensures that 'the logic of emotion and affects does not depend on reason' (Servos, 1998: 39-41). Such a response demands that the audience absorb and 'make sense' of this complete experience in a way that the 'dissemination of knowledge is secondary to the experience'(Servos, 1998: 39).

(Syn)aesthetic disturbance is a direct result of the unusual manipulation of combinations of performance elements, specifically the verbal and/or physical alongside light, sound, digital technology, film, video and so on, to procure an exciting, complete experience that affects a complete perception - cerebral, corporeal and emotional. The ability to activate a (syn)aesthetic sense that makes the intangible tangible also has a disturbatory, visceral impact on the senses. Aside from the sensually responsive potential of the mind, performance can produce sensations in the individual's body which can move from one part of the physiological body to another. Finally, these effects themselves at some point (whether simultaneous or consequent) return to the mind for a cerebral interpretation, so that the 'dissemination of knowledge is secondary to the experience'(Servos, 1998:41). Such a response stimulates a visceral cognition and encourages, as Neil Bartlett asserts, 'complete, visceral recall' in the processes of interpretation and of recollecting the experience (1999: 4).

It is this disturbatory, visceral cognition of the (syn)aesthetic response that adheres to Immanuel Kant's theories of 'the sublime', a state which articulates 'the mere capacity of thinking which evidences a faculty of mind transcending every standard of sense' (1911: 91). The sublime is a representation of the imagination and thus has the potential for expressing the inexpressible. Kant's sublime aesthetic supports the (syn)aesthetic mode of appreciation via the experience of 'negative pleasure'. '[T]he sublime . . . merits the name of negative pleasure . . . . [T]hat which . . . excites the feeling of the sublime, may appear . . . in point of form to contravene the ends of our power of judgement, to be . . . an outrage on the imagination . . . judged all the more sublime on that account' (1911: 91, emphasis original). Kant's 'negative pleasure', 'strains the imagination to its utmost' and is 'capable of being excited . . . by the imagination in conjunction with the understanding' and 'the sensations' (Kant, 1911: 120, 131). Thus, Kant's sublime aesthetic directly equates with the disturbatory experiential nature of appreciation integral to (syn)aesthetic work.

It is this visceral disturbance within appreciation that produces an affective reading, highlighting traits of immediacy and transgression. What is crucial to the (syn)aesthetic appreciation strategy is the potential of the body to 'read' the performance and become the experiencing and interpreting agent thereof. The sensory experience within the (syn)aesthetic response is more immediate, more tangible than the cerebral even though the cerebral often follows the sensory. In this way, the somatic combines with the semantic, the corporeal with the cerebral, to create a response that is complete, where knowledge is secondary to experience. Therefore, important to the somatic response is the notion that the body is the sentient conduit for appreciation strategies.

With (syn)aesthetic signification and reading, the body produces and interprets a language of the flesh. What I intend by this is the sensate external body produces its own language in performance which is read through the traces of this language in our own flesh, both the external sentient flesh and the internal sensate body. This 'internal' encompasses both the emotional and the physiological/sensational capabilities of the physical body. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf argues that the emotional and sensational capabilities of the body, which incorporates emotional, physical and sensate expression, creates 'its own morphology' which can 'produce its own meaning' (1999: 314). Thus, making an entirely sensate form of expression, communicable in a visual form. Corporeally it is language creating as well as (in terms of linguistics) language destroying. To use Elaine Scarry's term, the flesh is 'the sentient source' (qtd. in Bakare-Yusuf, 1999: 318) which exists outside of linguistic sign-systems. The performing body has the ability to communicate through the traces and memories of corporeal experience in the spectator's body. It is thus 'pre-language' (Bakare-Yusuf, 1999: 314), simultaneously asserting and reclaiming a primordial mode of communication. Thus the complete, sentient body is crucial in making sense of and from the senses.

(Syn)aesthetics - an interdisciplinary and sensate performance style

There are three key performance strategies peculiar to the (syn)aesthetic style. Namely, a special manipulation of the Gesamtkunstwerk (from the Wagnerian 'total art work'), a predominance of the actual body in performance and an unusual rendering of the writerly speech text to establish a visceral-verbal play-text. This is not to say that a (syn)aesthetic performance always incorporates all three of these strategies. Instead, any (syn)aesthetically styled work can be a combination of any of these elements, or one in particular may dominate. The (syn)aesthetic style when manipulated to its full encourages performance to be more than a play, more than spectacle, but to be an 'experience' in its purest definition, to feel, suffer, undergo.

It is necessary to emphasise exactly what I intend by the special use of the Gesamtkunstwerk within the (syn)aesthetic style. It is arguable that any theatre work manipulates various design and performance techniques within the staging to particular effect, which renders the term Gesamtkunstwerk unnecessary. However, it should be stressed that I employ the term here to refer to the particular way in which these elements are 'fused' in order to generate a visceral quality within the processes of production and appreciation in such a way that the (re)presentation itself is called into question through the disturbatory set of (syn)aesthetics. The symbiotic relationship between all the performance elements (speech, movement, dance, design, light, sound, music, technology) are manipulated in an exciting manner in order to produce a (syn)aesthetic response.

The (syn)aesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk develops the early Romantics arguments for the inherent unity of all the arts. Rose-Lee Goldberg affirms that such cross-fertilising of various aesthetic disciplines, explored further by Modernist artistic practitioners (Dadaists, Surrealists and so on), established the effectiveness of 'an exchange between the arts', in the pursuit of the 'development of a sensibility' (1996: 46, 9). It is the particular nature of the (syn)aesthetic 'exchange' within the Gesamtkunstwerk, that procures an unusual, or 'defamiliarised', fusing of the aural, visual, olfactory, oral and tactile within performance. 'Defamiliarised' in performance terms is developed from the idea of Ostranenie ('making strange'), first coined by the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky.[4] This unusual manipulation of sensate performance elements is crucial to the (syn)aesthetic style as it is this that creates a disturbatory mode of communication, thus developing a sensate 'sensibility'.

The (syn)aesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk equates exactly with Artaud's theories of 'Total Theatre', combining speech, movement, dance, design, sound (organic and composed), light, puppetry, mask, technology and so on, making use of advances in technology, site and performance techniques (see Artaud, 1993). The (syn)aesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk embraces a variety of arts disciplines and practices from high and low culture (theatre, dance, circus, stripping, puppetry, film, video, music, design, technology) and manipulates each element in an entirely playful, inherently disturbing and/or exhilarating way. The work of Robert Lepage, Theatre de Complicite, De La Guarrda and Improbable Theatre is exemplary of such.

Of the second key strategy, the predominance of the body in (syn)aesthetic performance, a crucial aspect is that it is both signified, or 'told', and experienced, or 'read', through the actual body. It is this factor that is responsible for the immediacy of the appreciation experience.[5] The body in performance is a sensual/sensate text which can be 'read' via sense impressions. By prioritising the body in this way, a (syn)aesthetic performance style ensures that, as Robert Ayers suggests, 'tactility is hyper stimulated' (1999: 10).

The performing body in the (syn)aesthetic style can be, as Rebecca Schneider argues, both 'sight' and 'site' of performance thus demanding a 'sensate involvement' from, the audience (1997: 22-36). The somatic approach to performance, foregrounded in the corporeal, produces what Carol Brown refers to as 'sensuous contact' between performer, performance and audience (1999: 13). The body can be manipulated in the (syn)aesthetic style in a variety of ways. Choreographer Sara Giddens', Not all the Time . . ., and Marisa Carnesky's Jewess Tattooess, are excellent examples of practice which foregrounds the body as both form and content, using technology to produce live and mediated situations, which enforce a questioning of the (re)presentation itself, within a (syn)aesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk.

Finally, the third key element of the (syn)aesthetic style is the visceral-verbal play-text. As with the physical performance language of the (syn)aesthetic style, verbal language takes on a corporeal signification when disfigured and played with in a (syn)aesthetic manner so that it 'reads' in an entirely sensate and disturbatory way. In short, language is both a cerebral and a corporeal act, and the cerebral and corporeal potential of verbal texts fuse in (syn)aesthetic performance presentation and reception. (Syn)aesthetic writing crosses boundaries, cross fertilises itself with other discipline and discourses, interweaving dance, music and design within the substance of the text, and juxtaposing various linguistic registers, in order to produce a defamiliarised, visceral impact which disturbs 'reading' and activates the senses. Caryl Churchill's The Skriker (1994) and The Lives of the Great Poisoners (1998) are strong examples of such. As a result, (syn)aesthetic writing becomes an 'opening' process rather than a reductive or limiting process in terms of appreciation strategies.

(Syn)aesthetic writing crystallises and concentrates the intensity of personal, lived experience and themes, revealing the invisible (experiences, emotions, states, taboo concepts) through the words. Sarah Kane's work, in particular Crave (1998) and 4.48 Psychosis (2000), is exemplary of this. Play-texts can explore the border between language and sound, often demonstrating the effects of language at its most damaged and destroyed in order to reve(a)l in its sensate and physical quality. Defamiliarised language, like that presented in Churchill's The Skriker (1994), Blue Heart (1997), or Far Away (2000) and Kane's 4.48 Psychosis (2000), demonstrates how verbal language can be destroyed and reinvented, 'destruct(ur)ing' language as an 'understood' semantic tool in order to produce a more visceral form of verbal communication and thereby find the somatic essence of words and speech.

Deconstructing words in this way enforces a (re)perception, explores words afresh to reveal ideas and achieve a new point of making-sense/sense-making. Words themselves, via their sound and form and their disfigured, or disturbed, 'meaning' have the potential to transmit emotive and sensate experience and become, to use Gabrielle Cody's description, 'verbal lacerations'(1998:122), etching themselves into the perceptive faculties of the complete body. This ludic disfiguration of language can 'discomfort' and 'unsettle' the audience in a sensate and cerebral manner. It causes a (re)cognition of language and allows a (re)cognition of ideas, events, states, experience and so on.

Live Performance - A (Syn)Aesthetic Medium

It is my opinion that performance, due to the very nature of its 'liveness', and the fact that it is an amalgamation of all of the senses within a three-dimensional, heterogeneous form, reaches beyond the experience of sensations in singular (aural, visual, tactile, olfactory, oral). Performance is a medium which can encompass all of the senses, both in production and reception, and thus provides a complete (syn)aesthetic experience. Being a blend of many different artistic impulses, disciplines and techniques (word, movement, design, sound, light, dance, technology), it has the ability to communicate and affect in the greatest sense.

Live performance differs from any other artistic medium due to the very fact of its 'liveness'. Although such performance work may well manipulate technology and multi-media design, weaving pre-produced technological elements with the live physical and verbal elements of the work in order to add to the sensate quality of the piece (as in the work of Giddens or Carnesky), the experience is not mediated in the same way that a cinema or television experience is. With cinema, television and on-line performance, the work can only be viewed via a screen - there are no alternative, live performance elements to challenge and stimulate. Design and technological aspects are manipulated in order to strengthen and foreground the 'liveness' of the 'live' performance. The (syn)aesthetic response here then, has a far greater impact, is immediate and intense, more powerful because the physical body live in the audience responds to the physical body (alongside additional elements) live in performance, thus establishing 'sensuous contact'(Brown,1999: 13) via the 'sensual presence of bodies' (Servos, 1998: 39) in the audience. Movement, speech, design, technology are all presented and received in 'real time' (even if time is played with in the performance itself). Thus, the complete experience is concentrated within actual space and time.


In summary, (syn)aesthetics is an exciting mode of performance and appreciation which has emerged in recent years. For a performance mode to be truly (syn)aesthetic there must be an element of disturbance and disquiet, of (re)perception and (re)cognition, within the processes of reception and interpretation. Live performance is exemplary of this artistic mode as it is a medium that encompasses all the senses within the processes of production. (Syn)aesthetic performance has the ability to communicate a (syn)aesthetic sense which can make the intangible tangible. It focuses on the body as the sentient source, foregrounding it as the modality of experiential interpretation.

(Syn)aesthetics defines both the performance style and the appreciative mode required for the interpretation of such work, providing a discourse for polysemantic work that resists closure and encompasses intellectual, physiological and sensate appreciation strategies. It is an interpretative mode that has a dual nature, blending somatic appreciation with semantic interpretation, as one stimulates the other, thereby allowing a crossover of sensations in the reading and appreciation of the work. The quintessential features of the physiological condition of synaesthesia, as documented by Luria, are crucial to understanding the (syn)aesthetic appreciation strategy.

The (syn)aesthetic performance style celebrates the interface between, and flux within, linguistic, corporeal and technological praxis and can manipulate various combinations of performance texts to establish a special Gesamtkunstwerk. Particular emphasis is placed on the actual body in performance and on the visceral-verbal play-text.

The (syn)aesthetic performance style has arguably existed in ancient practice through to current performance, which suggests that the style itself is not new (although, this naming of it is), and attempts to articulate it are not new. Where my theory intends to instil a new discourse is by way of its drawing together the various critical tools which describe such work and tracing the connections between them in order to clarify the (syn)aesthetic style. These include, amongst others, Friedrich Nietzsche's arguments for a 'Dionysian' artistic impulse; Roland Barthes' theories of 'pleasurable text'; H- l" ne Cixous and Luce Irigarays' theories of - criture f- minine ('female writing'); and the performance theories of Artaud, Val" re Novarina, Howard Barker and Susan Broadhurst.[6]

The analytical strategy of the (syn)aesthetic style demands a blend of theories that support, elucidate and celebrate performance work which generate a multitude of meanings and interpretations due to a multi-textual mode. It is my opinion that (syn)aesthetics goes some way to answering the antagonism between performance work and critical analysis as the (syn)aesthetic style is the work itself as well as the accompanying mode of analysis that describes an individual and complete response to the work.

(Syn)aesthetics presents a performance theory that is open and embraces immediacy, ambiguity, disturbance and playfulness. In doing so it celebrates creative work that shares these essential traits and provides a means of articulating a response to such work. Crucially then, (syn)aesthetics provides a foundation for the analysis of both performance and appreciation strategies simultaneously.[7] The (syn)aesthetic style denies a single accepted valuation as the nature of the work presented strongly favours individual reaction and appreciation. It is a process of interpretation which prioritises complete perception, engaging the senses, the imagination, and the intellect in an alternative way. Consequently, a personal, innate response is respected over accepted codes of analysis and judgement.


1. 'Shape-shift' here is taken from 'shape-shifter', naming Caryl Churchill's mythical underworld creature, the Skriker, which has the ability to morph and change form as desired (see Churchill, 1994).

2. I have clarified this information from diagnostic features given on the web-page, Science Net - What is Synaesthesia? p1 of 2.

3. Phenomenology, as I refer to it here, is best identified by Stanton B. Garner Jr. in the following way: 'How does my "life-world" (Lebenswelt) constitute itself as a world? What are the modes of presence and absence by which this world manifests itself to me? In what ways do I come to know and interact with a world of which I am always, inescapably and ambiguously, a part? . . . Defining consciousness as an intentional relation to its object, phenomenology deals with the modes of givenness intrinsic to experience, and it seeks to uncover the invariable structure of these modes' (1994: 2-3).

4. Raman Selden, Peter Widdowson and Peter Brooker stress that the Formalists were more concerned with the 'nature of the devices which produce the effect of "defamiliarization" . . . This emphasis on the . . . process of presentation is called "laying bare" one's technique'. Defamiliarisation and 'laying bare' are notions which directly influenced Bertolt Brecht's Epic Theatre and his Verfremdungseffekt ('defamiliarisation devices') whereby performance processes are made clear, designed to awaken an audience to an active and political way of receiving theatre (see Selden et al 1997: 33-5, 97-8).

5. As with the physiological condition of synaesthesia where a synaesthete's experience of 'reality' or 'cerebrality' cannot be disassociated from 'corporeality'.

6. My doctoral thesis, (Syn)aesthetics and Disturbance - Tracing a Transgressive Style in Contemporary British Female Performance Practice explores the connections between these and other critical and performance theories in order to support the argument for a (syn)aesthetic mode of practice and appreciation. See also, Nietzsche, 1967; Barthes, 1975; Cixous & Catherine Clement, 1993; Irigaray, 1985; Artaud, 1993; Novarina, 1993; Barker, 1997 and Broadhurst, 1999.

7. In this respect, (syn)aesthetics is an exciting mode of analysis as it suggests what Richard Schechner calls, a 'theory-to-be' (1995: 27) and is a discourse that is constantly in the process of re-evaluating itself.


Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and its Double. Trans. Victor Corti. London: Calder Publications Limited, 1993.

Ayers, Robert. 'Meg Stuart: not really dance at all', Dance Theatre Journal, volume 15, no. 1. 1999: 9-11.

Bakare-Yusuf, Bibi. 'The Economy of Violence: Black Bodies and the Unspeakable Terror', Feminist Theory and The Body - A Reader. Eds. Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999: 311-323.

Barker, Howard. Arguments for a Theatre (Third Edition). Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1997.

Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. Richard Miller. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1975

Bartlett, Neil. 'What moves: Pina Bausch', Dance Theatre Journal, volume 14 no. 4, 1999: 4-7.

Broadhurst, Susan. Liminal Acts: A Critical Overview of Contemporary Performance and Theory. London: Cassell, 1999.

Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. Middlesex: Pelican Books, Penguin, 1986.

Brown, Carol. 'Unpacking the Body', Dance Theatre Journal, volume 14, no. 4, 1999: 13-16.

Churchill, Caryl. The Skriker. London: Nick Hern Books, 1994.

- - - . Blue Heart. London: Nick Hern Books, 1997.

- - - . 'The Lives of the Great Poisoners', with Orlando Gough and Ian Spink. Plays: 3. (1990.) London: Nick Hern Books, 1998.

- - - . Far Away. London: Nick Hern Books, 2000.

Churchill, Caryl & David Lan. 'A Mouthful of Birds', Plays: 3. (1993.) London: Nick Hern Books, 1998.

Cixous, H- l" ne & Catherine Cl- ment. The Newly Born Woman. (Theory and History of Literature, Volume 24). Trans. Betsy Wing. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Cody, Gabrielle. 'Woman, Man, Dog, tree - Two decades of Intimate and Monumental Bodies in Pina Bausch's Tanztheater', The Drama Review 42, 2 (T158), Summer 1998: 115-131.

Dubin, Steven C. Arresting Images - Impolitic art and uncivil actions. New York and London: Routledge, 1992.

Garner, Stanton B. Jr. Bodied Spaces - Phenomenology and Performance in Contemporary Drama. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1994

Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance Art - from Futurism to the Present. 1988. Singapore: World of Art - Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Irigaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Jewess Tattooess. Written, devised and performed by Marisa Carnesky. Films by Alison Murray. Soundtrack, Dave Knight with specially commissioned tracks by Katherine Gifford & James Johnson. Tattoos and set, Alex Binnie. Battersea Arts Centre, London 1999 and ICA London, 9 December, 1999.

Kane, Sarah. Blasted and Phaedra's Love. London: Methuen, 1996.

- - - . Crave. London: Methuen, 1998.

- - - . 4.48 Psychosis. London: Methuen, 2000.

Kant, Immanuel. 'Analytic of the Sublime'. Kant's Critique of Human Judgement. James Creed Meredith. Trans. introductory essays, notes and analytical index. Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1911: 90-203.

Luria, A.R. The Mind of a Mnemonist. Trans. Lynn Solotaroff. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1969.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Trans. and commentary, Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.

Not all the time . . . Produced and choreographed by Sara Giddens. Performed by Patricia Breatnach. Sound composed by Darren Bourne. Interviews, Maggie O'Neill. Video produced and directed by Tony Judge. Recorded at the Body, Space, Image Festival, The Bonington Gallery, Nottingham. 11 March. 1999.

Novarina, Val" re. 'Letter to the Actors', trans. Allen S. Weiss, The Drama Review 37, no. 2 (T138), Summer, 1993: 95-118.

Schechner, Richard. The Future of Ritual - writings on culture and performance. (1993) London: Routledge, 1995.

Schneider, Rebecca. The Explicit Body In Performance. London: Routledge, 1997.

Selden, Raman, Peter Widdowson & Peter Brooker. A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory - 4th edition. London: Prentice Hall Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1997.

Servos, Norbert. 'Pina Bausch: Dance and Emancipation', The Routledge Dance Studies Reader. Ed. Alexandra Carter. Trans. Patricia Stadi- . London & New York: Routledge, 1998: 36-45.

internet web-pages

Science Net - What is Synaesthesia?




Josephine Machon





Creative Commons Attribution 4.0


Peer Review

This article has been peer reviewed.

File Checksums (MD5)

  • HTML: cb113f284f4e4c0ea5bc0d174247a52d