The Canadian Association for Theatre Research has awarded R. Darren Gobert, a professor of English in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University, the 2013 Ann Saddlemyer Award for his book The Mind-Body Stage: Passion and Interaction in the Cartesian Theater, which was published in September 2013 by Stanford University Press.
Interdisciplinary in scope, The Mind-Body Stage uses methodological techniques from literary study and philosophy to theatre history and performance studies, and draws on scores of documents (including letters, libretti, religious jeremiads, aesthetic treatises and architectural plans) from several countries in which Gobert did archival research during a fellowship year. The book braids philosophical investigation together with theatre-historical research to provide an original picture of one of the most consequential and confusing periods in the histories of modern theatre and philosophy: the century after René Descartes’ death in 1649. As Martin Puchner of Harvard University writes on the book’s jacket, “Far from being mortal enemies, theater and philosophy engage in a passionate pas de deux from which emerges nothing less than a Cartesian Theater.”
“The book grew from my reading of Descartes’ late work in a graduate seminar in 2008,” Gobert says, “when I was struck again by how much Descartes had qualified and even undermined his earlier doctrine of mind/body dualism. And as someone who sees his work at the intersection of disciplines, I wanted to set the ostensibly immaterial work of philosophy alongside the fundamentally material business of theatre, with its costumes, sets and props – just as Descartes had turned his attention to the interaction of mind and body.
“The book’s methodology is unusual; its corpus of texts is eclectic – ranging from Swedish court ballet to French grand siècle tragedy to English comic curtain raisers,” Gobert notes. “I worried that I would have no audience, so winning this prize is thrilling and beyond belief. It means that the book is appreciated by more than just my incredibly supportive editor at Stanford! I am so grateful to the CATR for this honour and sorry that I could not accept the award in person.” Gobert is currently in England, teaching in York’s Summer Abroad program.
“The contributions the volume makes to theatre studies and performance studies, as well as to the emerging discourse of performance philosophy, are significant,” wrote the jury in their examination of the book. “Gobert’s extensive archival and theoretical engagements demonstrate the lack of veracity underpinning our currently dominant scholarly shorthand of ‘Cartesian’ as that which would establish a bifurcated relationship between ‘mind’ and ‘body’ . . . Descartes’ significant contributions to thinking around acting are shown to have influenced an entire genealogy of writing and performance practice in France and in England, and by extension an entire practice of European theatre.”
The Ann Saddlemyer Prize is given every two years to an outstanding book on drama or theatre published in either English or French. Saddlemyer was the first female master at the University of Toronto’s Massey College and a major figure in Canadian and Irish drama studies.
Gobert had begun his next book before finishing The Mind-Body Stage. The Theatre of Caryl Churchill will be published by Bloomsbury in September 2014.