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Sarah Kane 4.48 Psychosis Sarah Kan
more: acontrolleddetonation


A Controlled Detonation:
The Protean Voice of 4:48 Psychosis (first seven fragments)
by Mustafa Sakarya


“I’ve not killed myself before so don’t look for precedents.” [1]


Sarah Kane 4.48 Psychosis

Much has been written about the troubles of Sarah Kane, starting with the controversy following her first play, Blasted and then continuing long after her sudden suicide at age twenty-eight. For many she has become the classic tortured artist - perhaps to a fault. In his introduction to Sarah Kane: Complete Plays, her friend and colleague David Greig encourages us to focus on the literary qualities of Kane’s work rather than on the “mythology of the author” which he terms “a pointlessly forensic act” [2]. This may be difficult with regard to Kane’s final play, 4:48 Psychosis, an abstract work that presents the mindscape of an individual contemplating suicide and was written just prior to Kane’s own. But to what extent the two events are coincidental or a true example of life imitating art is largely a matter of conjecture.

One thing is for certain, life under the conditions of 4:48 Psychosis would be an almost non-stop chorus of pain. The play was written during a period of deep depression in Kane’s life, an achievement Greig calls “positively heroic…an act of generosity” but he cautions against looking for clues to someone’s personal history based on the drifting and artificial evidence of a play. The very word play implies something in motion or imagined, like games and pretending. Other authors such as Ken Urban, have pointed out the difficulty, if not impossibility, of separating Kane’s personal life from the themes explored in 4:48 and that in this final play the author and the work are structurally intertwined. Reflecting on comments made by Kane’s literary agent, Mel Kenyon, Urban writes, “Because it is the play that, Kane joked, ‘killed’ her to write, at this particular historical moment, it is hard to read the play outside of biography. Mel Kenyon recently said in an interview, ‘I pretend that [4:48 Psychosis] isn’t a suicide note but it is. It is both a suicide note and something greater than that.’” (Urban 6) [3]. Yet if labeling Kane’s final play an elaborate suicide note reduces its subtlety and leads the reader, as Greig warns, “in search of diagnoses, listening out for unheard of cries for help” and serves to distract from the “explosive theatricality, the lyricism, the emotional power, and the bleak humor contained within the plays themselves” then a critical approach to understanding this complex work must be done with sensitivity to the personal issues at stake [4].

This paper will focus primarily on the play’s literary qualities and strategies as they are written down in order to demonstrate how Kane invented her own unique narrative consciousness, a dynamic protean voice that pushes theatrical boundaries to their limit in order to represent the brutality of severe depression, medication, psychosis, death and love. It also seeks to address a crucial problem posed by the sophistication of the text; if Kane exercises great control over a play whose main character is falling apart, who does this control fully belong to and how do they benefit from it? If we decide that the highly literate, poetically sophisticated and organizing voice of the play belongs to Kane and to an artificial character embedded within the play it creates a contradiction. The central “character” of 4:48 is a writer in the midst of mental and spiritual fragmentation and in many ways, the disjunctive, non-linear structure of the play is a reflection of her fragmentation, yet she retains enough wits and self-control to create a unified masterpiece – a great symbol of hope. Clearly, there are moments in 4:48 that one could characterize as a cry for help, and this cry could emanate from the author or the character but the text itself, as a piece of literary engineering, does not cry for help. In opposition to fragmentation, the play exhibits “a consolidated consciousness” (Kane 205) that works according to its own rules despite its protagonist’s having to endure various social tortures and her dying spirit. A tool of empowerment, 4:48 Psychosis performs a redemptive function for both protagonist and author by triggering a detonation of emotional baggage and blasting a space of free expression out of the darkness that ultimately consumes all of us.

Copyright © 2007 Mustafa Sakarya

reproduced on the site with the kind permission of the author


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