Volume 12 · Number 3 · Pages 316–325

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Audience and Eigenform: Cybersemiotic Epistemology and the “Truth of the Human Spirit” in Performance

Tom Scholte

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Context: Despite the best efforts of postmodern, social constructivist scholars to discredit the notion that “realistic” works of theatre and film could contain genuine onto-epistemic goods, many lay observers (i.e., audiences) continue to describe individual performances and productions as more or less “truthful” than one another. Recently, some performance scholars have pushed back against the postmodern position and turned to contemporary cognitive science to undergird their insistence that the embodied nature of reception and perception does, in fact, allow audiences of such works to access “truths” within them. The literature of cybernetics (first- or second-order) has been almost entirely absent from the debate. Problem: While the hardcore scepticism of social constructivism may be unsatisfactory in fully accounting for the enduring power and appeal of dramatic art, a retreat to epistemic certainty in the name of cognitive science would be equally unwise. This article proposes the notion of “eigenbehavior” as a conceptual bridge that might facilitate the synthesis of the most useful insights from both perspectives and open up new avenues of study and research. Method: The article uses synthetic argumentation to propose a theory of eigenform within the context of theatrical performance. Results: Emerging from this argumentation is a conception of eigenform that is novel in its emphasis on the distinction between its bio-structured and socio-structured features. Implications: The insights in this article will be of value to scholars and practitioners of the dramatic arts and can be productively extended into cognate domains across the humanities. Constructivist content: The article draws on the works of constructivists such as von Glasersfeld, von Foerster, Maturana, Varela, and Luhmann and is grounded in such constructivist perspectives as cybersemiotics, theory of autopoiesis, and systems theory. Key Words: Social systems, semiotics, language, acting, culture, ethics.


Scholte T. (2017) Audience and eigenform: Cybersemiotic epistemology and the “truth of the human spirit” in performance. Constructivist Foundations 12(3): 316–325. http://constructivist.info/12/3/316

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