Yanna Popova

Yanna B. Popova (D. Phil. in Language and Literature, University of Oxford, 2002; MA in Philosophy, University of Sheffield, UK; MA in Linguistics, University of Sofia, Bulgaria) has taught at the Universities of Oxford and Birmingham in the UK.

She was a founding member of the Department of Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University, USA, where she worked between 2006 and 2014, studying the cognitive underpinnings of creativity. Her education has been in linguistics, literary studies, and philosophy and her main areas of research are in the fields of cognitive poetics, cognitive linguistics, metaphor theory, narratology, and the applications of enactive cognitive science to understanding narrative, theatre performance, and aesthetic reception.

Dr Popova has published numerous articles in Cognitive Semiotics, Frontiers in Psychology, Language and Literature, Style, and The Wallace Stevens Journal. She has also contributed to edited volumes on image schemas in cognitive linguistics, on post-cognitivist psychology, on cognitive poetics, cognitive narratology, and creativity, among others. Her book Stories, Meaning, and Experience: Narrativity and Enaction (Routledge, 2015) has been recently re-issued in paperback format (Routledge, 2018).

Research Project: The Knowing Body: Jerzy Grotowski’s Theatre in Light of Enactive Embodiment in Phenomenology and Contemporary Cognitive Science

As widely acknowledged by numerous theatre practitioners, no one since Stanislavsky has studied the essence of acting, its meaning, and the very nature and science of its mental-physical-emotional processes as deeply and completely as Grotowski. His actors did not subscribe to any preexisting actor-training methods, yet achieved, in the opinion of many, almost impossible and unsurpassed levels of mastery. Grotowski himself offered no positive techniques, no systems to use, only a negative training to remove personal blocks that the actor might have in expressing authentic experience. So, what is it that Grotowski knew or sensed about human psychology, about the mind and body relationship, about memory and emotional engagement, which facilitated the unprecedented degree of intensity and authenticity observed in his productions? This research project will answer these questions in a unique and innovative way by situating an investigation of Grotowski’s work into a mutually transformative dialogue with the latest trends in the embodied sciences of the mind, as well as with some older foundational phenomenological work by Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty.

The research project will concentrate on three main theoretical and practical notions that are prominent in Grotowski’s work but, equally, and from a very different angle, have given rise to considerable discussion in philosophy and the cognitive sciences. These are: 1) the nature and significance of body memory, 2) the notion of ‘representation’ and its relation to the ‘non-representational actor’, as Grotowski saw her, 3) and the issue of ‘truth’ and authenticity in the actor/spectator relationship and how it correlates with current debates about intersubjectivity and primary sociality in human thought and behaviour.

Using a combined methodology of phenomenology and cognitive science will bring a scientific perspective on understanding Grotowski’s system for actor training. Equally, studying the texts and practices of Grotowski, in particular, provides a unique way to draw connections with many areas of current psychological research on human cognition. When brought to fruition, this project will have fulfilled its envisaged interdisciplinary aim:  explicate Grotowski’s exceptional achievement and thereby confirm and extend what we currently know about ourselves.

Dates of stay: 01 October 2019 - 31 July 2020