They are not writing for you, part 1.: “Sarah Kane in Context”

It is also significant that, in Blasted, she [Sarah Kane] extended its [the use of rape as weapon] use to cover the male Ian as well as the female Cate, a case of poetic justice in her contemporary reworking of Jacobean revenge tragedy.

Sarah Kane was inspired by the images of war in Bosnia, and the victimisation of Muslim women, as well as her conception of the ‘cultural’ use of rape as a weapon in war — so the domestic rape of a woman in Leeds is connected to the rape-as-weapon-of-war used against (silent, absent) Muslim women, and, ultimately, the white man from Leeds.

The original draft made explicitly reference to Bosnia: “Such specific references were later dropped, pushing the Muslim Other further into the subtext.  What remains in the play are Ian’s parochial patriotism and his racist hatred.”  For me this describes what it’s like to read Kane when you’re not white — she is inspired by the trauma of people, women, marginalized by race, ethnicity, and religion, and displaces this trauma onto white English people; whether this displacement is simply childish shock value as some critics decry it, or whether it is a comment on something larger and more nuanced is irrelevant to me.  What is relevant to me is the people who are made invisible and their trauma’s appropriated.  Rape becomes “poetic justice.”  I don’t like that.

Although the play was inspired by a specific event, the Bosnian war, Kane systematically took out the references and replaced them with more general ones: she wanted to universalise the play and generalise its politics.  In the process, what was gained is balanced by what is lost: the play becomes an example of cultural memory loss, in which an Other that is repressed or silenced in art (although always implicitly present) returns in the real world to break the silence of their forgetting.  At first Ian says about Bosnia, “This isn’t a story anyone wants to hear;” now Blasted itself might be an example of all the repressed stories we need to keep retelling.

From “‘Looks like there’s a war on’: Sarah Kane’s Blased, political theatre and the Muslim Other,” by Aleks Sierz

 

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