Feeling with Someone Else’s Body: Self-deception and the Paradox of Immersive Performance

Liam Jarvis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the intersections between immersive performance practices and recent neuroscientific studies in embodiment. The overarching argument is that to reconcile the paradox of the immersed audience’s physical presence in a circumstance beyond their immediate ‘here and now’, a necessary transformation of the spectator must occur. Concomitantly, I will demonstrate that an ontological desire that undergirds immersive experience is the desire to feel more fully with the body of another – it is this desire that I will argue has precipitated the integration of neuroscientific body transfer illusions in performance. It is my contention that in the context of the selected hybridised case studies, illusion-inducing approaches are deployed to access a proximate sensory reconstruction of the ineffable first-person experiences of neurological subjects. This thesis has been divided into two parts. In Part One, the trajectory through the first four chapters is focused on accumulating for the reader the necessary theoretical groundwork. Chapter 1 revisits the enduring philosophical debates in the field of art criticism that have sought to deny the spectator’s presence in the reception of art, with immersive theatre belonging to a counter-tradition that art critic Michael Fried called the ‘theatrical’ work. Chapter 2 provides a literature survey and an examination of how the terms ‘immersive’ and ‘immersion’ have come to be defined in media and theatre scholarship, highlighting that immersion in the ‘theatrical’ work is undergirded by the problematic ontological promise that spectating bodies might ‘enter’ dramatic or simulated situations. In Chapter 3, I will draw on neuroscientific research in embodiment illusions to highlight a potential reconciliation to the paradox of the spectator’s presence inside the elsewhere phenomena of other bodies. In Part Two, I will examine how body transfer illusions have been appropriated qualitatively to immerse audiences inside a first-person experience of different neurological subjects in the applied performances of Sublime & Ridiculous (In My Shoes) and BeAnotherLab (The Machine to be Another) in Chapter 4, and in an immersive installation by my company Analogue (Transports) in Chapter 5. Finally, I will draw together the different threads of my argument in Chapter 6, using Analogue’s Re-enactments to test the limits of immersion ‘inside’ the elsewhere phenomena of a fictionalised trauma sufferer’s experience of dissociation, before progressing to a summary of my conclusions.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Nield, Sophie, Supervisor
  • Williams, Antony, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date15 Oct 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Immersive theatre
  • Immersive Theatre
  • Immersion
  • virtual reality
  • embodiment
  • Fried
  • Analogue
  • Transports
  • performance
  • Intermediality
  • theatricality
  • interactive performance
  • interactive
  • body transfer illusions
  • body-swapping
  • body-hopping
  • body ownership

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