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Article Title

"In Better Places": Space, Identity, and Alienation in Sarah Kane's Blasted

Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

My wound is my geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.1 -Pat Conroy

Part of the task of new playwrights has always been to re-envision theatrical representation to reflect cultural shifts. The political and technological upheaval of the last quarter century has dissolved the old map, the margins to a certain extent moving to the center, and engendered the hope of a new freedom governing social relations, a culture less hierarchical. Yet, for so many characters in contemporary English plays, such a landscape is not so empowering.2 Sarah Kane’s Blasted (1995) employs graphic depictions of sex and violence as well as radical peripatetic spatial shifts that act as emblems of this alienation, challenging the conventions of realistic theater by extending to the audience her characters’ estrangement from their environment. This essay’s title alludes to the first spoken line of Kane’s explosive play in which world-weary, tabloid journalist Ian enters a “very expensive hotel room in Leeds” and wryly declares, “I’ve shat in better places than this.”3 His comment not only betrays his defensive insecurities but lays the groundwork for the play’s lavatorial sensibilities and the author’s obsession (to be explored in her later work as well) with what Michel Foucault calls heterotopic spacing.4 With Blasted, Kane seeks to dismantle the old psycho-geographical dramaturgy and construct on stage a new model of place and identity from the devastation.

Notes

1Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides (New York: Bantam, 1987), 1.

2For instance, the murder of the white patriarch at the end of Act One of Caryl Churchill’s influential play Cloud 9 (1979) does not lead the surviving characters to a state of relief and freedom but increased disorientation, self-recrimination, and bitter nostalgia. More recently, Patrick Marber’s Closer (1997) stages an entire scene in cyberspace, a site seemingly infused with the liberating potential of democratic negotiation of identities and erotic practices. Yet, besides trading in the usual misogyny and patriarchal contradiction, their interaction in a chatroom confers no lasting satisfaction or coherence. Rather, it becomes another emblem of alienation, no help in suturing the fractured subject, anathema to an anti-oppressive politic. While it promises identity and desire as fluid, mobile, and irreducible to binary categories, this new world disorder cannot evade the logic of Otherness that governs how space is organized and how the self is understood.

3Sarah Kane, Sarah Kane: Complete Plays (London: Methuen, 2001), 3.

4In his essay “Of Other Spaces,” trans. Jay Miskowiec, Diacritics, 16, no. 1 (Spring 1986): 22–27, Michel Foucault chooses the theater as his primary example to illustrate the heterotopia’s spatial juxtaposition of irreconcilable places.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.

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