Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Psychosis 4:48

On Allison Croggon's recommendation, I read Sarah Kane's Psychosis 4:48 last night. I was reminded of a few sentences in Martha Nussbaum's amazing essay "The Narrative Imagination" in Cultivating Humanity:

"Narrative art has the power to make us see the lives of the different with more than a casual tourist's interest -- with involvement and sympathetic understanding, with anger at our society's refusal of visibility. We come to see how circumstances shape the lives of those who share with us some general goals and projects; and we see that circumstances shape not only people's possibilities for action, but also their aspirations and desires, hopes and fears....[The narrative imagination requires] the ability to imagine what it is like to be in that person's place (what we usually call empathy), and also the ability to stand back and ask whether the person's own judgment has taken the full measure of what has happened."

In the hands of a lesser, and less honest, playwright Psychosis 4:48 could have been a self-indulgent work. But Kane's tone poem of pain, rage, and bewilderment is so thoroughly felt, and also so carefully crafted, that I felt as if I were inside of the head of a severely depressed person.

It is, however, a tone poem more than a work of drama. The conflict is all internal, and the focus is more on the image than the narrative. "This is what it feels like," Kane seems to be saying, "to be constantly in pain." When I say it isn't a "work of drama," I do not mean that as a slight -- the gift of hearing powerful language honed to a slicing knife edge is most welcome in a theatre that is all too often sloppy and pedestrian in its language. But structurally, the piece owes as much to the collage as it does to the drama; as much to James Joyce as it does to Aristotle.

As someone who has had several members of my family struggle with depression (thankfully, not to the extent dramatized by Kane), it gave me a deeper insight inside an experience that many of us will never have ourselves. That is profound.

Thank you, Allison!


MattJ said...

Good post Scott. Sarah kane is a very interesting playwright. Her work often serves as a sparsely lyric blueprint, allowing a wide range of possibilities in production. PHAEDRA'S LOVE and CRAVE are also really interesting plays. The former more interesting to me than the latter. In this way she is very similar to Caryl Churchill, with Kane's work leaning more towards the grotesque and disturbing realities of a troubled mind. But both playwrights use language in innovative ways, and make it work dramatically. If you really want to be disturbed by a Kane play, read BLASTED, but make sure you don't have a weak stomach.

Violet Vixen said...

Thank you for this. But have you seen 4.48 Psychosis performed? While it reads like a poem and demands a great deal of directoral interpretation, it's also been one of the most powerful evenings of theater I've ever seen. I think it does owe more to Beckett and Joyce than Aristotle, but its power as theater is astounding.

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