Make-believe as a mode of consciousness in theatre: Redefining “aesthetic distance”

Matthew William DECOURSEY

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Kendall Walton’s model of make-believe begins from children’s play: two boys play in the woods, and make believe that all stumps are bears. From this he derives a key insight: “The basic concept of a story and the basic concept of fiction attach most perspicuously to objects rather than actions” (Mimesis 87). I believe this insight may fruitfully be applied to questions in the philosophy of theatre, particularly to those raised by James Hamilton (The Art of Theater, 2008) and Anthony Jackson (Theatre, Education and the Making of Meanings, 2007). In this paper, I will build Walton’s insight into a model of the structure of an actor’s consciousness. The approach will be fundamentally phenomenological, treating make-believe as a kind of noesis in the terms of Husserl. I will show that the natural consciousness of objects in the world never disappears for the actor, nor does the consciousness swing between the two. The only coherent way of understanding the actor’s consciousness is through a simultaneous doubleness. I will argue that this doubleness is central to the spectator’s experience as well as that of the actor, and will reposition the problematic notion of “aesthetic distance” in this light. What this means is that I can connect the experience of the actor with the experience of the audience, and argue that both may fairly be called “aesthetic experience,” because the object of attention is an aesthetic object which is significantly the same in the two cases.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012


DeCoursey, M. (2012, March). Make-believe as a mode of consciousness in theatre: Redefining “aesthetic distance”. Paper presented at the How to make believe: The fictional truths of the representational arts, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.


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