Cartesian theatre

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Office anthropology™

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Le Théâtre du René Descartes – known as the “Cartesian theatre” – was a theatre in the Pigalle district of Paris famous for its gruesome théâtre verité at which actors playing the office workers were humiliated and tortured for the entertainment of those playing executives in the C-suite. The horror was very naturalistic and believable to the audience, many of whom were themselves office workers and executives.

From its opening in 1897 until its closing in 1962, the Théâtre specialised in puppet horror shows where a little fat man — the “homunculus” (l’homoncule) — sat in a control panel metres above a stage, surrounded by a ring of actors with burlap sacks on their heads which he would endeavour to control by shouting at them and prodding them with a length of bamboo cane, urging them to control further concentric rings of actors (often as many as seven rings deep) called “les experts en la matière”. The unfortunate experts, also blindfolded, were tethered to each other with a rough hemp rope and expected to fight off hungry wild animals that would try to eat them. If any of them overcame one of the predators, the homunculus would get a prize. Where the predator breached the ring, all les experts in that ring would be dunked in a vat of custard.

The Cartesian theatre eventually became synonymous as a general term for graphic, amoral horror entertainment, a genre popular from with management consultants and middle managers in much of the Western world.

Consciousness explained

Also (unrelatedly) a concept in Daniel Dennett’s brave but ultimately unconvincing attempt to persuade himself that he isn’t really there in Consciousness Explained. The Cartesian theatre is the imaginary area somewhere in the head where consciousness lives, as if a little homunuculus looking out at the world as if sat in a comfy sofa in some three-dimensional, smellivision-equiped I-Max cinema. An implausible view of the world, Dennett convincingly says, before introducing an even more implausible one to explain it.

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