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Animal Performance Studies

Laura Budriesi

Filosofia, zooantropologia, teoria della performance, etnoscenologia, studi teatrali

Animal, anthropologist and teacher

Jean-Marie Pradier

Texte intégral

1. A real horse

  • 1 Often present on the Parisian stages, he was invited in 1954 to perform Cyrano de Bergerac at the (...)

1At the age of fifteen, a student in Naples for a year at the prestigious Nunziatella Military High School, where after the death of his father he had been enrolled, Eugenio Barba experienced his first initiatory encounter with the theater. His mother invited him to see Cyrano de Bergerac, the play by Edmond Rostand in which Gino Cervi (1901-1974) triumphed. With his tall stature and imposing voice, expert, agile and fluid in his acting, the famous actor was already internationally renowned, and excelled in the roles of flamboyant heroes1. The show was of a high standard. However, it was not the plot, the star and his companions that made the teenager feel emotional:

But it was neither he (Cervi) nor the other actors who impressed me, nor the story which they were telling and which I followed with interest but without amazement. It was a horse. A real horse. It appeared pulling a carriage, according to the most reasonable rules of scenic realism. But its presence suddenly exploded all the dimensions which until then had reigned on that stage. Because of this sudden interference from another world, the uniform veil of the stage seemed torn before my eyes (Barba 1985, 27-28).

2Rather than the surprise produced by a staging trick, was it not what Elisabeth de Fontenay calls «the silence of the beasts» that captured the spectator’s attention? Without a text to declaim, occupied with the animation of a body forced to accomplish a task for which it had been educated, the horse simply offered a presence, to be experienced, to be shared and not a speech to be heard. The philosopher, who devotes a chapter in her eponymous work to the spirit of horses returns at length to the comments of humans who were taken aback by the unusualness of the wordless energy that the Latins called animal, animalis – «living being» -, generated by the anima «breath of life, vital principle» (Fontenay 1998, 127). Lucretius – she comments – wondered about what happens to the original impulse of wild animals that declines in power in domestic animals to which is instilled the animus – breath of thought.

3Fallacious supplement that condemns on the battlefield the horse ridden by a rider, to suffer that the horns of the furious bull ploughs his entrails! The Greeks had the word Zôon ζωον, which according to Plato and Aristotle designates any elementary or complex living being, including humans. The living is distributed on a scale of value at the top of which stand the gods and goddesses whose bodies are of unlimited beauty, with at the bottom of the last rungs the plant, itself hierarchical. This setting in order, with porous borders sometimes allowed to establish more than analogies between the categories, to the point of noting that the human animal could become the worst of the ζωα when, degenerated, it fell into the “bestiality” θηριοτης.

4A pure carnal evidence, quivering, powerful, hadn’t the horse appeared on the stage, giving birth in the imagination of the future creator of shows based on the actor’s bios, the Bergsonian intuition of the vital impulse? The rest of his testimony is revealing:

In the theatre I went in the following years, I searched in vain for the disorientation that had made me feel alive, that sudden dilatation of my senses. No more horses appeared. Until I arrive in Opole (Poland) and Cheruthuruthy (India) (Barba 1995).

2. Βιος bios and pre-expressivity

5When Gino Cervi moved with fervor, in the manner of Berma playing Phèdre, what was perceived of the horse was «the bios of the actions and not their meaning» (Barba 1995, 107). The performing arts that Barba discovers in India are not those of snake charmers, nor of trained elephants. The bodies he observed during a three-week stay at the Kathakali school Kerala Kalamandalam in Cheruthuruthy in September 1963 were those of very young students learning the art of Kathakali. Their training was particularly rigorous. They were meticulous, analytical, repetitive, codified exercises, bringing into play the whole person, the personality, the muscles and gestures, the movements and posture, the expression of the face and eyes. Compared to the psychological realism it was not the quality of the simulacrum that gave its exceptional price to these performers, but what under the seductive surface of the visible, emerged from the depths of the bios: the living. Barba called pre-expressivity (Barba 1993-1995) the level of the being enlightened by this slow learning of the return to the sources of the vitality. Much later, in July 2019, in Greece, receiving his umpteenth honorary doctorate from the University of the Peloponnese, he thanked his hosts with a speech that summarized more than half a century of work: «I persist with my actors in letting performances flourish which cannot be understood in their entirety because they are not addressed to the spectators’ intellect but to their being-in-life» (Barba 2019).

6The horse of the green years had been a good master, and one could think of him when reading La Canoa di carta (1993), The Paper Canoe. A guide to Theatre Anthropology (1995). In many ways the book seems like a treatise on ethology that would teach human performers how to recover the basics of animal performance that have been lost in an evolution that is actually more technological and industrial than cultural. This would be a mistake insofar as Barba consistently refers not to a class of the vital – the animal – but to the inclusive notion of bios – the living – which is nowadays imposed in the thought of ecology (Morizot 2020). If the principles of theatrical anthropology present analogies with animal behavior, it is because, nourished by a multicultural experience, it is less marked by eurocentrism and the tendency to hypostasize reality.

7The crisis that affects the biosphere, caused and experienced by dominant human societies is the crisis of their relationship with the living, the tear operated at the end of its fragmented and hierarchical conception built and cultivated in the West to better enslave, colonize (Mbembe 2019) and consume it (Lowenhaupt Tsing 2015). The fate of the word Zôon ζωον and its passage into scholarly vocabulary illustrates the fracture and relationship of domination between species, and within the same species, when after the Renaissance it designated the science of animal study, and then at the time of colonization from the 1870s, shows qualified as human zoos staging fellow creatures judged “primitive” and “wild” (Blanchard, Bance 2008), and in the psychiatric vocabulary the word zoophilia, a disorder of sexual preference that is characterized by sexual fantasies or behaviours that include animals.

3. The body, animal of perception

  • 2 Reprinted by Freud on several occasions, the article is entitled A difficulty in the path of psych (...)

8The experimental reform of the Western living spectacle participates in the slow change of paradigm which not without difficulties renews in the urgency the links which were deteriorated then broken in the complex symbiotic system to which the human ones belong. In an article published in 1917 in a Hungarian magazine, Freud had described how the universal narcissism of “men”, their self has up to the present suffered three severe blows from the researches of science: Copernicus, demonstrating that the earth was not at the center of the world; the second by Charles Darwin, whose point of view the psychoanalyst adopted: “Man” is not a being different from animals or superior to them; he himself is of animal descent, being more closely related to some species and more distantly to others2. The third blow “psychological in nature” was about the discovery of the psychic unconscious and its authority. However, notes Merleau-Ponty (1995, 380), Freud pays his tribute to the psychology of his time by considering the libido in terms of «unconscious representations» as opposed to a philosophy of the flesh. From 1956 to 1960, the philosopher had devoted his lectures at the Collège de France to the concept of nature, showing how much the idea of an all external being, made of external parts, external to man and to himself as a pure object had impregnated the thought and the orientation of sciences. After having approached the animality, the human body and the passage to the culture (1957-1958) he had come to the human body by concluding on the expectation of a “esthésiologie”, that is to say to the study of the body as animal of perception. Thus, he noted in response to the Freudian libido: «The body that has senses is also a body that desires, and aesthesiology extends itself into a theory of the libidinal body».

9Considering animality presupposes that one is able to return to the question of a general “aesthesiology”, a prerequisite for an ethological project in the full sense of this term – εθος, ethos: custom, usage, behavior – that is, the system of perceptions, reactions and actions that ensures the integrity of the living, its development and renewal through constant, multiple interactions with the biosphere, conspecifics included. It is necessary to underline that the ethos refers to a dynamic totality and not to a single aspect. It is now necessary to underline it when the media glare of neurosciences tends to build a neuro-centrism as detached from the body.

10As for me, I consider that the movement known as “animal studies” within performance studies is a continuation of the new spirit born of the emergence of ethology more than half a century ago, an important step towards ecosophy, that is, the recognition of the symbiotic reality of the world. Ethology was initially the awareness of the need to reconsider what Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) called “the river of life”. Initially, it was defined as the science that studies the evolution of animal behavior, before extending itself, not without difficulty and dispute, to the study of human behavior.

11The epistemological rupture with what had preceded was considerable. Whereas the animal had been considered in the multifunctional services that it could render as a worker, a nourisher, an ornament, a performer, a toy, a warrior, a sexual object, an emotional stimulus, a companion, a reserve of resources that was all the more inexhaustible as it was colonized, domesticated, caged, hunted it was now considered for itself, detached from humans and placed back in its ecosystem. The experimental physiology of the 17th century had used it as a model of the human body devoid of soul, conscience and affects on which it was possible to practice vivisection, to cut the tissues, to subject its nerves and viscera to any operation to extract knowledge. At the end of the 19th century, the dog had allowed Pavlov to discover the conditioned reflex by hanging a cannula under his stomach. Later, in the early 1930s, Skinner designed an experimental device – the Skinner box – to facilitate the study of conditioning mechanisms in animals.

12Marginal pioneers, adept at fieldwork rather than studying in a cabinet of curiosities, had challenged certain received ideas, but many were neglected by their peers, such as Charles Henry Turner (1867-1923) an African-American zoologist who pioneered animal cognition. Today, the systemic orientation of ethology leads it to adopt a multidisciplinary approach – from genetics to the field – with varying degrees of success depending on the national academic cultures, training, theoretical choices and ideological biases of researchers. The avatars of the notion of behavior, the questioning of the nature/culture duality, the effervescence of biological, anthropological and ecological thought, the rise of molecular biology and neuroscience, the technical innovation in the observation of the constituent elements of living beings, the epistemological contribution of research into the world of atoms constitute as much progress as they do new difficulties to overcome.

4. Birds in love

13Fourteen years after the founding episode experienced by Barba, it was not a horse but birds in love that were the source of inspiration for one of the most stimulating colloquiums of the nascent ethology. Even before this new discipline was recognized by the award of the Nobel Prize, the British naturalist and traveler Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1975) organized a multidisciplinary meeting in London in 1965 under the auspices of the Royal Society. First director general of U.N.E.S.C.0. (1946-1948) and initiator of the World Wildlife Fund – he had chosen a daring theme: Ritualization of behaviour in animals and man. He outlined the objectives of his project in a typed report to Unesco. The originality of the proposal and its radicality lay in its epistemological foundations, while it was part of the International study on the main trends of research in the science of man: «(it) is intended by the Royal Society to establish links between the natural and the social sciences and other human studies – in this case between evolutionary biology and ethology on the one hand, and other social sciences and humane learning» (Huxley 1966a, 2).

14Remarkable by its magnitude, the event was a significant step in the movement of ideas in Western societies. At the very beginning of the 20th century, while ritualistic anthropologists and certain theorists of the theater attributed the origin of spectacles to “religion” and the rites that are proper to it, the British ornithologist Edmund Selous (1857-1934), hidden in the reeds, had observed and described the spectacular nuptial dances – courtship behavior – of a common species of aquatic birds, the Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus). Copulation took place only after the curtain fell, after the female had chosen the best performer. A new chapter in the biological foundations of the living spectacle had just been opened. Huxley had continued Selous’ observations. He recalls it in his report:

Over 50 years ago, I published a long paper on the courtship of that widespread species the Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, in which I was, I believe, the first to make a scientific study of mutual display (so surprisingly overlooked by Darwin), and to suggest that it served to forge a biologically valuable “emotional bond” between mate pair; to employ the idea of ritual in animal behaviour; to describe what is now called a displacement activity: and to denote certain displays as “self-exhausting” (in modern terminology self-rewarding). This, together with a further series of studies, helped to restore scientific respectability to Natural History, and especially to observational and comparative field studies of behaviour in wild species (ibid.).

15It was bold according to common dualistic philosophical conventions to link animal sexual choreography, the battles of rutting males with ecclesiastical pomp, royal and military parades and spectacular social rites. This connection was obvious to anyone who frequented the countryside, forests and ponds at the time of the rut. Humans have always paid great attention to the phenotypic beauty of animals, to the point of creating breeds of pleasure by crossing. The pre-copulatory parades of birds had fascinated ornithologists by the organization of the sequences, the rhythmic mastery and the choreographic precision of the duets served by the finery of the partners. The organic power of the show took its impetus from a primary vital requirement, not learned, essential to the survival of the species. It was not a simulacrum. Long before the scientists were interested in it, the artists had learned the lesson: «Art is an an organic phenomenon, a biological process. Like flowers and fruit, plumage and song, it is a product of the life-force itself» (Read 1965, 68). For a long time, performers have been inspired by animal behavior to refine the quality of their presence (Pradier 2000, 11-22; Heggen 2017, 229-273). For Huxley the evidence of an aesthetic consanguinity between the zoophany and the human had a theoretical basis:

As an evolutionary biologist I can see no escape from true psychophysical monism, in which objective and subjective material and mental are seen as two indissoluble aspects of the single process of biological existence and where a particular elaboration of sensory and cerebral mechanism enables the organism to psychometabolize the raw materials of extero- and intero-ceptive experience into qualitatively distinctive and biologically meaningful organizations of awareness, in the same sort of way as the elaboration of biochemical and physiological mechanisms enables it to metabolize the raw materials of its physical and biological environment into biologically meaningful chemical organizations (Huxley 1966a, 2).

16The conference sessions took place in the comfortable lecture theatre of the Zoological Society of London, a stone’s throw from the Mappin Terraces where the caged monkeys were visited.

5. Human a generalist animal

17The fruitfulness of the colloquium owed much to the academic diversity of the speakers. The psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (1961), a pioneer of psycho-ethnology, returned to his research on the uniqueness of man’s extended learning period and his outstandingly slow post-natal development to maturity. This aspect of development necessitates a succession of behavioural ritualizations, he said, adapted to the successive stages of his psychological evolution. One of its consequences is a phenomenon of social and cognitive confinement for which he proposed the concept of pseudospeciation which is fueled by historical and cultural experience, and creates a false sense of unique identity in groups and ignores humans’ genetic integrity. Twenty years later he reconsidered the political dimension of the concept of pseudo-speciation:

the term denotes that while man is obviously one species, he appears and continues on the scene split up into groups (from tribes to nations, from castes to classes, from religions to ideologies, and I might add, professional associations) which provide their members with a firm sense of unique and superior human identity – and some sense of immortality (Erikson 1985, 214).

18However, referring to the ornithologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) who had qualified the human as a “generalist animal”, Erikson, by underlining the power of psycho-social conditioning, which he metaphorically assimilates to a sort of manufactured instinct, seems to neglect the question of sensory losses to which contemporary research is attached. For Erikson Human is: «a creature who is potentially ready to fit into any existing society, provided it has undergone a cultural specialization during the long human childhood in which it could learn, step by step, stage by stage, to develop an equivalent to the animal’s instinctive adjustment to its genuine environment.» (ivi, 215).

19This adjustment is not always positive. Clinical and ethological studies have shown that the adaptation of animals – including humans – can lead to a weakening of certain psycho-physiological potentialities when the environment is poor in sensory stimulation. Thus, the young of a “wild animal” taken in by humans will lose its ability to survive in the usual ecosystem of its fellow creatures. In humans, sensory and cognitive deprivation can lead to psycho-social and behavioral pathologies. Research on brain plasticity and the neurophysiology of learning has highlighted the human paradox inherent in its quality as a generalist animal with remarkable cognitive potential: adaptability has the effect of orienting the acquisition of acquired expertise according to the stimuli of the environment in the broadest sense of the term. This is how we perceive only what we have learned to perceive, as non-Chinese speakers who hear Chinese spoken by native speakers and cannot distinguish tonal variation can experience. The neurophysiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux had asked the question to know what this phenomenon corresponded to the fact that synapses continue to proliferate postnatally permits a progressive “impregnation” of the cerebral tissue by the physical and social environment ?

20«Does the environment “instruct” the brain by leaving its imprint, as a bronze seal does in a piece of wax? Or, on the contrary, does it simply selectively stabilize successive combinations of neurons and synapses as they appear spontaneously during development?» (Changeux 1997, 242).

21The hypothesis of epigenesist by selective stabilization, offers a satisfying answer: spontaneous or evoked activity in the developing neuronal network controls the elimination of excess synapses formed during the stage of transient redundancy. Changeux concluded his demonstration with a seemingly provocative formula: “To learn is to eliminate”: «To learn is to stabilize pre-established synaptic combinations, and to eliminate the surplus.» (ibid.).

6. Ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism

22Opposition was strong among some western intellectuals – philosophers and anthropologists – critical of the appropriation by zoologists of notions relating to human behavior, in the sense of behavior forged by culture, that is to say by the mind and the capacity for abstraction, and not by “instinct”. In the final part of L’Homme Nu, Claude Lévi-Strauss, in criticizing «the use usually made by zoologists – and too often by ethnologists in their wake – of the notion of ritual», clearly states the principle of an essentialized binarity between man and animal. He writes about the stereotyped behaviors that one notices in numerous animal families on various occasions such as courtship or the meeting of congeners of the same sex:

their complication, their meticulousness and their hieraticism has earned the name of “ritualization”. In spite of appearances, these characteristics put them in opposition to ritual, because they demonstrate that these conducts consist of mechanisms set up in advance, inert and latent until a stimulation of a determined type manifests itself and triggers them automatically [...] the term “ritualization” is therefore inappropriate (Lévi-Strauss 1971, 610).

23Lévi-Strauss, seems to contradict what he had written for UNESCO a decade earlier about ethnocentrism: «one refuses to admit the very fact of cultural diversity; one prefers to reject outside of culture, in nature, everything that does not conform to the norm under which one lives» (Lévi-Strauss 1961, 20). Unless the formula carries the trace of the conception of nature conveyed by the old anthropology which made of it the topical space of the wild and the primitive. To qualify animal ritualizations as «mechanisms set up in advance, inert and latent», amounts to relegating them to the field of nature, and to denying the possibility of an animal culture.

24At the time of the imperial, colonial and missionary societies the travel journals, the learned publications and the novelistic literature dwelt on what the philosopher anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857-1939) in his study on the mental functions in the inferior societies calls “the law of participation” (1910, 76-110) according to which the primitive human beings consider themselves dissolved in a body of undifferentiated interrelations with the animal, the flora and the natural elements and then between themselves. For the author, a man of the city, this fusional relation to the natural world blocks, the distanciation essential to the exercise of the “reason”. The ethnocentrism which it is difficult for him to get rid of is based on an old anthropocentrism as illustrated by the common vocabulary: to the urbanity of the urban – urbs, the city – is opposed the animality of the savage – silvaticus who lives in the forest – and the vulgarity of the barbarian – βαρβαρος barbaros, the foreigner who does not speak Greek. The barbarian does not speak Greek but a bird’s chirp, i.e. he does not possess language, and consequently conceptual thought. During the 1965 colloquium a prominent British Latinist, Sir Maurice Bowra saw dance as a common pre-theatrical feature of primitive animals and humans: «Animals dance, and so does man […]. So long he confines himself to gestures, such as dance and ritual, man does not in fact improve much on the animals, but when he turns to words, he exploits something which is peculiarly his own». (1966, 387-391).

25The dialogue belatedly initiated by Maurice Leenhardt (1878-1954) – a Protestant missionary turned ethnologist – with Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, his illustrious elder, about the mentality of the Melanesians illustrates the fundamental epistemological difficulty for the researcher in search of objectivity in observation, description and interpretation. The field experience in the unsettled rural area, and the interest in linguistics led Leenhardt to discuss the notion of “participation”, and considering as a prerequisite the question of language, of the Word and its capacity to carry within it the aesthetic affective elements. In the end it turns out that the motor of ethnocentrism is anthropocentrism, that is to say an implicit abstract metaphysics of the Human.

26In fact, it is on the very conception of the Human that the 1965 symposium acted in a radical way on one of the participants: the anthropologist Victor Turner (1920-1983), a pioneer of performance studies. He explained this seventeen years later in Chicago during an important symposium on Ritual and Human Adaptation in a paper that he admitted was «one of the most difficult I have ever attempted» (1983, 221-245). Insisting that the “hard core” of the conference in London consisted of zoologists and ethologists, what he heard destroyed the axioms of the anthropology of his time: «These axioms express the belief that all human behavior is the result of social conditioning». In Chicago Turner seemed to succumb to the attraction of the new advances in neuroscience at the risk of adopting a neuro-centric conception: «Does the new work on the brain further our species’ self understanding?». His conclusion nuanced his statement:

Each of us is a microcosm, related to the deepest ways to the whole life-history of that lovely deep blue globe swirled over with the white whorls first photographed by Edwin Aldrin and Neil Amstrong from their primitive space chariot, the work nevertheless of many collaborating human brains (Turner 1983, 243).

27Delivered a year before his death, this communication opened up to the unknown rather than locking itself into a doctrine.

28Contemporary anthropology (Godelier 2013, 432- 486; 2015, 149) and ethology (Lestel 2009) have broken with the metaphysical foundation of the Western humanities. However, the anthropocentric worldview survives in many theoretical foci. Thus, the proponents of the religious origin of theater imply that meaning, myth, belief precede the dramatic action that is its staging. In this case, the rite is considered only as a physical expression of a spiritual Revelation that orders the body to involve itself in actions of veneration and submission. On the other hand, John Blacking’s proposal to consider two possible cognitive modes – “thought in motion”, and “thought in concepts” – allows us to consider differently the coalescence of the spectacularity of action and its meaning in the world of the living.

29The illusion that prevails in human communication is to believe in the possibility of penetrating the interiority of the other. The dialogic capacity reinforces this feeling which masks the phenomena of projection fed by the unconscious as much as by ignorance, inattention and other factors. As silent, varied and stimulating as the boards of the test invented by Rorschach, the animal world is the privileged space of exercise of the cognitive, affective and psychic biases of humans who have difficulty accepting the limits of their interpretations. Research never ceases to bring to light subtleties of behavior, new cognitive capacities within the species. However, the specific data do not allow us to extrapolate and elaborate general theories. As with humans, “the subjective character of experience” is beyond the reach of objective study. Yet, by empathy, it is possible between humans of a homogeneous environment to imagine it – that is to say, to create reality – in the manner of a reader of a novel. The American philosopher Thomas Nagel anatomizes this insurmountable obstacle quite well in his article What Is It like to be a Bat?:

Our own experience provides the basic material for our imagination, whose range is therefore limited […] I want to know what is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task (Nagel 1974, 435, 450).

30The world is much larger than what our senses appreciate, notes oceanographer and diver François Sarano, which does not prevent us from establishing sensory relationships – with a sperm whale, for example – without having the pretense of thinking sperm whale (Sarano 2020). The face-to-face relationship is a sharing of a nourishing presence, without having to be conceptualized.

7. The epistemology of symbiosis

31It is not surprising that the most effective epistemological lesson comes to us from the alterities that seemed to us the most radical – qualified formerly as “primitive” and “animal” -, and on the other hand, from the sciences that are the most distant from the living: theoretical physics. By analyzing Melanesian languages – notes James Clifford (1982) – Leenhardt had found them particularly apt to express complex sets of interactions which in Levi-Bruhl’s theory of “participation” were perceived as amalgams. In August 1938, at Kronborg Castle, Niels Bohr – winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 – had given a lecture to the participants of the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in excursion to Elsinore on the epistemological aspect of the latest development of natural philosophy and its bearing on general human problems. The physicist did not intend to propose a method, let alone a protocol of quantum analysis. He was careful not to go beyond his field of study and competence, as the popularizers – or their editors – would do later on, calling their work “quantum” in order to emphasize it:

Relativistic viewpoints are certainly also helpful in promoting a more objective attitude as to relationship between human cultures, the traditional differences of which in many ways resemble the different equivalent modes in which physical experience can be described. Still, this analogy between physical and humanistic problems is of limited scope and its exaggeration has even led to misunderstandings of the essence of the theory of relativity itself (Bohr 1939, 269).

32The new physics has for object of study a world foreign to the common experience. Its organization does not answer any more to the rules of the old causal determinism. The observation, the measuring devices and the experimentation itself modify the nature of the object. The situation requires a new language, and new grids of interpretation:

We are here faced with an epistemological problem quite new in natural philosophy, where all descriptions of experiences has so far been based upon the assumption, already inherent in ordinary conventions of language, that it is possible to distinguish sharply between the behavior of objects and the means of observation (ibid.).

33The contradictory aspect of certain phenomena led Bohr to propose the concept of complementarity, difficult to understand for the uninitiated, but more accessible when one sees his coat of arms – the tao – and the Latin motto contraria sunt complementa, both adopted by Eugenio Barba for the Odin Teatret. However, Barba is careful not to claim quantum theory, preferring to evoke the anantiodromia of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus summarized in the formula “opposites are complementary”. The logic of classical physics allowed the understanding of certain aspects of reality. On the other hand, it proved to be inadequate at certain sub-atomic levels. Thus the question arose of the analysis of unity in the diversity of its elements and the complexity of their relationships. The axiom according to which the same causes produce the same effects could only be verified if all the causes were known, which is only possible for coarse problems, but not for complex systems and disordered states.

34The physicist had recalled the decisive weight of language in humans who had constructed the exclusive concepts of “instinct” and “reason” instead of conceiving what they mean in terms of complementarity:

We shall first stress the typical complementary relationship between the modes of behaviour of living beings characterized by the words ‘instinct’ and ‘reason’ […] what we are concerned with is however, only the practical way in which these words are used to discriminate between the different situations in which animals and men find themselves (ibid.).

35Bohr insists on the unity of the Zôon:

Of course, nobody would deny our belonging to the animal world, and it would even be very difficult to find an exhaustive definition characterizing man among the other animals. […] but of course our power of speech places us in the respect in an essentially different situation (ivi, 270).

36This is how the representation of “reason” is associated in the common mind with the singularity of “speech”. It is therefore necessary to think differently about the best adaptation to the environment, of the animal, and of the “primitive”. This seems to us to be a paradoxical observation.

The astonishing superiority of lower animals compared with man in utilizing the possibilities of Nature for the maintenance and propagation of life has certainly often its true explanation in the fact that, for such animals, we cannot speak of any conscious thinking in our sense of the word. At the same time, the amazing capacity of so-called primitive people to orientate themselves in forests or deserts, which, though apparently lost in more civilized societies, mays on occasion be revived in any of us, might justify the conclusion that such feats are only possible when no recourse is taken to conceptual thinking, which on its side is adapted to far more varied purposes of primary importance for the development of civilization (ibid.)

37Pronounced one year before the outbreak of the war savagery of the second world war, the word “civilization” does not designate an ethical value, but more simply a socio-economic and political reality for which reason and conceptual thought are the engines of self-destruction.

8. zôon, anthropos’ re-educator

38It now seems necessary to consider a break with the classical paradigm whose deterministic and causal descriptive logic has led to a mechanistic vision of nature. Formerly colonized and objects of consumption, it is the plant and the animal that now become teachers. Bohr’s notion of complementarity can be found in the project outlined by the Indian historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam in his famous article Connected History, published in 1997. He announced the new perspective of a connected, or global, historiography. Subrahmanyam believed that the competence of the researcher does not lie in an identity that would bind him to the object of his research, but in the crossing of views. This point of view has now been adopted by a number of disciplines: cross anthropology, ethnoscenology, integrative medicine and more recently the current trend carried by the journal One Health, published by Elsevier since 2015, which considers the interdependent links between the health of humans and that of wildlife and ecosystems.

39Is a connected anthropology combining animal and human competence possible? In fact, it has existed for a long time, as evidenced by ancient examples and in the work of ethnosciences. As a child of adventurers emigrating to Suriname, François Le Vaillant (1753-1824) accompanied his parents in their campaign to capture wild animals. What interests him is the animal in freedom, its posture and its behavior, in the manner of an ornithologist and an ethologist before the letter. One of the episodes he reported from this period shows an astonishing quality of observation. It prefigures the major discovery made in 1958 by the American primatologist and psychologist Harry F. Harlow (1906-1981), at the origin of the notion of attachment, theorized by the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst John Bowlby (1907-1990). Le Vaillant in the 18th century, and scientists in the 20th century had noted the essential role of touch, tactility, in the mother/father/child relationship.

40Each element of the living system, in constant evolution, contributes to the intelligence of the whole. However, if animals are producers of information, we still need to pay attention to them. In the early 1960s, the decrease in the number of swallows in the American sky worried the marine biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964). She linked this to the military and civilian use of DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, as a particularly effective insecticide and miticide. In fact, the destruction of insects deprives birds of their usual food. The book she published in 1962 under the title Silent Spring led to the banning of the product in the United States, to the fury of the chemical industry. Subsequent studies proved her right, and broadened the spectrum of harmful effects on wildlife and human health. Later, the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss would say, «It wasn’t me, it was Rachel Carson who invented deep ecology». This was the case with the problems encountered by the timber industry in Brazil after the construction of a highway in a forested area: it turned out that the noise of the traffic had disrupted the fertilization cycles of the birds that had abandoned their wooded habitat, and at the same time favored the proliferation of the wood-eating insects they usually fed on. The quality of the trees was affected.

41Close to Bowlby, active in the emerging ethology movement, and an ardent supporter of the study of primates in the field, Robert Hinde (1923-2016) directed the doctoral thesis of Jane Goodall, an amateur with no university degree. At the request of the paleontologist Louis Leaky, she had undertaken a mission to observe chimpanzees in the wild. For six months, living on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in a rough camp, accompanied by her mother and a guard, the young woman had watched them live, noting their actions and gestures. Unlike the “scientists” who, in the zoos of Europe, studied these “research objects” by giving them a number, she had given a name to these “subjects” and tried to get to know them. To her surprise and that of her mentor, J. Goodall realized that these Hominids presented traits that brought them closer to humans, such as the use of tools and the transmission of learning. Moreover, she witnessed spectacular organized events that occurred at certain times and brought groups together for effervescent collective performances that, it seemed, played an important role in intra- and inter-group relations, particularly with regard to feeding activity. The study of caged chimpanzees showed nothing similar. In contrast, in their natural ecosystem, chimpanzees periodically engaged in loud, rhythmic movements and calls. The scenes of high emotional intensity combined simulated aggression and empathic behavior. Corroborated by the observations of other primatologists, these animated encounters were described as “carnival-like” by analogy with the carnivals of Rio and New Orleans.

42In a book of comparative anthropology, Margaret Power (2005) devotes an entire chapter to the social function of carnival gatherings, drawing a connection between the carnival of humans, and the chimpanzee carnival-like. Many reasons have been advanced to explain the feeding behavior behind chimpanzee carnivals, she notes. Field scientists seem to agree that the intensity of the demonstrations helps relieve initial tensions. These gatherings renew and strengthen social bonds between individuals and groups, and while there is an increase in sexual activity, there is little interest in food at these multi-group social gatherings.

43This work has led scholars to reconsider Emile Durkheim’s early study (1912) of the elementary forms of religious life (Kalkhoff et al. 2012, Hopcroft 2018). Although basing his comments on readings rather than field observations, Durkheim had advanced hypotheses about the origin of religious feeling based on analysis of the corrobbori of Australian aborigines. The description he gives of this moment of collective exaltation specific to the totemic system in Australia has seemed to several anthropologists of religions to evoke the “carnival like” situations described by primatologists. Considering the emergence of religious sentiment from an evolutionary perspective, following Victor Turner (1983) and Eugene G. d’Aquili (1979), Jonathan H. Turner and Alexandra Maryanski (2008) consider that the experience of emotional exaltation, lived by primates during carnival like meetings, is capable of generating a psychic state akin to the intuition of a supernature, close to that of the Australian aborigines during the corrobori.

9. A symbiotic view of life

44The risk that animal performance studies runs is to infiltrate in its relations with the zoosphere the errors of the old anthropology in its relation to the “primitives”. If ethnocentrism is a form of anthropocentrism, it will only be mastered if we consider the interrelations of symbionts, from the infinitely small to the infinitely large. Symbiotic phenomenon par excellence, the living spectacle is only in real presence of the participants. Its obviousness should not stifle our curiosity about the living in its most humble forms, and the search for its contact. Life is a symbiotic phenomenon (Gilber, Sapp, Tauber 2012, 325-341). While the various biological disciplines have focused their studies on the “biological individual”, “nucleic acid analysis, especially genomic sequencing and high-throughput RNA techniques, has challenged each of these disciplinary definitions by finding significant interactions of animals and plants with symbiotic microorganisms that disrupt the boundaries that heretofore had characterized the biological individual”:

Thus, animals can no longer be considered individuals in any sens of classical biology: anatomical, developmental, physiological, immunological, genetic, or evolutionary. Our bodies must be understood as holobionts whose anatomical, physiological, immunological, and developmental functions evolved in shared relationships of different species. Thus, the holobiont, with its integrated community of species, becomes a unit of natural selection whose evolutionary mechanisms suggest complexity hitherto largely unexplored (Gilbert, Sapp, Tauber 2012, 334).

45After having trained the animal, and colonized the “primitive” it is time to consider them as the teachers of which to relearn what the living is.


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1 Often present on the Parisian stages, he was invited in 1954 to perform Cyrano de Bergerac at the first international festival of dramatic art of the city of Paris, which later became the Théâtre des Nations. Gino Cervi acquired an international popular celebrity in the cinema.

2 Reprinted by Freud on several occasions, the article is entitled A difficulty in the path of psycho-analysis.


Emeritus professor of ethnoscenology at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis. Researcher at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Paris Nord. Founding member of the ISTA International School of Theatre Anthropology. With a multidisciplinary background (life sciences and humanities), he came to theater through practice before taking it as an object of study. After doing research in Kurdistan (Iraq), he taught at Istanbul University, expelled by the Turkish authorities due to his publications on the Kurdish liberation movement, was appointed to Uruguay – where he founded the Teatro Laboratorio de Montevideo – and later at the Mohammed V University of Rabat (Morocco). Latest publication related to the symposium: Jean-Marie Pradier, Emna Manis, Hyun Joo Lee, Action, sensory stimulation and narrative imagination: applying Odin Teatret’s training in the management of the recovery process of post-stroke patients, «Theatre, Dance and Performance Training», vol. 12 (2022), pp. 266-279


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