A ‘Paradox of Expression’: Merleau-Ponty and the Intertwining Nature of Brecht’s ‘not...but’ Procedure


  • Cohen Ambrose Community College of Baltimore County




phenomenology, practice-as-research, actor training, Brecht, Verfremdungseffekt


This article seeks to investigate the practical applications of a performance process that Bertolt Brecht called the procedure of “fixing the ‘not…but’,” which produces a Verfremdungseffekt. The article also interrogates the philosophy that such a process inherently performs. In one of his last writings, Maurice Merleau-Ponty argues that to look at oneself through the eyes of another necessarily blends the divide between one body and another and, by applying one’s senses to another’s, one engages in a “paradox of expression.” I explore the process of working with actors to produce distancing effects in their acting by chronicling the results of a 2012 practice-as-research project titled The Galileo Experiment. I use Merleau-Ponty’s “paradox of expression” as a way of considering Brecht’s call for the co-presence of the actor and their character in a stage performance. I borrow Nick Crossley’s approach to phenomenological intersubjectivity and consider other theoretical implications of performing the ‘not...but’ procedure. I argue that in order for the actor to successfully perform Brecht’s ‘not...but’ procedure, the actor must play into their character while occasionally playing out of the character in an alternative attitude, using what I call the ‘reflective block’.

Author Biography

Cohen Ambrose, Community College of Baltimore County

Cohen Ambrose is an actor, director, teacher, dramaturg, and scholar, who has lived and worked in Montana, Washington, New York City, Prague, Czech Republic, and Baltimore. He is currently Assistant Professor of Theatre at the Community College of Baltimore County.


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How to Cite

Ambrose, C. (2017). A ‘Paradox of Expression’: Merleau-Ponty and the Intertwining Nature of Brecht’s ‘not.but’ Procedure. Performance Philosophy, 3(1), 199–215. https://doi.org/10.21476/PP.2017.31109