Trance, Possession, and Memory

In the last chapter ("Masks and Trance") of his book Impro, Keith Johnstone waxes rather more mystical than usual in section 5, "Trance". He quotes Sybil Thorndike:

'When you're an actor you cease to be male and female, you're a person, and you're a person with all the other persons inside you.'

After other such quotations Johnstone muses:

In another kind of culture I think it's clear that such actors could easily talk of being 'possessed' by the character. It's true that some actors will maintain that they always remain 'themselves' when they're acting, but how to they know? Improvisers who maintain that they're in a normal state of consciousness when they improvise often have unexpected gaps in their memories which only emerge when you question them closely.

It's the same with Mask actors. ... An improviser writes, '. . . If a scene goes badly I remember it. If it goes well I forget very quickly.' Orgasms are the same.

Normally we only know of our trance states by the time jumps. ...

... How much then are we to trust what anyone tells us about their state of mind?

We don't think of ourselves as moving in and out of trance because we're trained not to. It's impossible to be 'in control' all the time, but we convince ourselves that we are. Other people help to stop us drifting. ...

In 'normal consciousness' I am aware of myself as 'thinking verbally'. In sports which leave no time for verbalisation, trance states are common. ...

... Zen Masters, and sorcerers, are notoriously difficult to creep up on. (Castaneda's Don Juan, for example.) In Mask work people report that perceptions are more intense, and that although they see differently, they see and sense more.

I see the 'personality' as a public-relations department for the real mind, which remains unknown. My personality always seems to be functioning, at some level, in terms of what other people think. If I am alone in a room and someone knocks on the door, then I 'come back to myself'. ...

Shades of Daniel Dennett's theory of Self as the "narrative center of gravity" in Consciousness Explained!

^z - 2013-02-19