BLASTED -  Being Confronted by the World

September 13, 2015


There is a short drama written by a woman called Sarah Kane and called ‘Blasted’, which presents a view of the world as being a great dystopia. ‘Blasted’ seems to me to present a projection  of a troubled mind; as from a magnifying lens onto a screen; that of its author.

Having said this however Sarah Kane is not dramtising a wholly fantasised nightmare world in ‘Blasted’; she is it seems to me presenting an extrapolation to extremes of the actual life situation of the world. She herself, I would imagine, felt and experienced deeply a sense of the world being a battleground and society being at bottom a field of anger, hatred, contention, bitterness and violence.

The drama is perhaps the product of a bifurcation of sensibility, since it portrays war, violence, atrocity, and a bitter angry hatred which arises in any us out of frustrated urgent desires for revenge; and sets over against all this turmoil a single vulnerable, weak, vegetarian and kindly person who for much of the play’s action appears unable to accept or to acknowledge the infernal ‘status quo’ raging in the world around her.

Sarah Kane's other dramatis personae are calloused, hardened, and it seems that their covering themselves and their psychical wounds over with a thick bloody crust is a result of their own vulnerabilities having been violated, raped even.  So much so that a scratch to a tender part arouses in these characters a stonewall cynicism carrying abrupt scorn and dismissal. Like Gertrude, they ‘protest too much’.

Once upon a time they seem to have been human; but time and bad experience has dehumanised them; and they can no longer share their tenderness and vulnerabilities as like humankind but are seeking always to seal up and store away in a supremely hurt place within their consciousness remains of them having once and way back led a pleasant joyous life

Ian, at the start of the action, is the guy bringing Cate, an innocent young woman, with him into a plush hotel room. Ian is physically ill, terminally so; which situation reflects the dreadful sickness in his soul; but is not the cause of it. He is a worldly-disillusioned man and is brash, harsh, violent, trite and unfeeling; showing very small chinks of self-doubt and perhaps a real concern for Cate peeping through once in a blue moon.

The Soldier who appears in the second scene is a version of Ian; but as a physically fit and belligerent psychopathologically disturbed survivor – survivor at great cost.  He is a more demonstrative version of Ian; less dismissive, but more brooding on his wrongs; much more violent because his life as a soldier has been fighting, weapons and bloodshed horrors.

It does help to look at these two characters, Ian and the Soldier, as being out of the same mould or stable, as persons who have made the adjustment to the torture chamber that is the world around them; as far as they see it.

Cate has about her a childlike naiveté which projects her as being a little thick in the head; a projected facet which Ian likes to torment her about again and again; but against such a view she always rebuffs and denies his taunting. Ian frequently baits her about her alleged thick-headedness.

But is this thick-headedness not in fact her innocence showing? Cate is valiant in her way because she holds out against joining the red in tooth and claw jungle of society by refusing to accept it in the way that the Soldier and Ian see things, who present their lives as misery to her and to themselves. Ian cannot understand emotionally Cate’s desire and need to see goodness in things; he has lost touch inside completely with any sense of autheticity for his own previous antecedent evocative experiences of innocence.

The drama’s perceptual tension is thus set up between the two men on one side and Cate on the other; the bifurcation is complete and extreme; to the extent that it represents on the stage a personal view of Sarah Kane as a woman bordering on the schizophrenic.   But this is the crucial and important thing about the drama; that it does capture and convey that awareness which William Empson described as:

‘We don’t want a madhouse and the whole thing here’

Cate and Ian make a ramshackle couple of sorts, and perhaps Sarah Kane their creator has made them so; as being ‘yoked together by violence’ deliberately so, so to portray on stage the completeness of that verisimilitude subsisting in their world views, when they and these are paired together. Because is not this tension and pressure represented onstage, and embodied in Ian’s view versus Cate’s, and Cate’s versus Ian’s, when taken together, an expression of and the presentation of the pathology in schizophrenia?  And this schizophrenia is not a madness; it is indeed much more of a true take on life’s panorama than most people see, acquire, desire or believe in.

T S Eliot observed that

‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’

And recall, Sarah Kane is showing us Empson’s ‘madhouse and the whole thing here’.

Because indeed in so much of the world at any given time atrocities are being suffered and committed, blood is being shed and violence is raging rampant out of control; and pain death and all Hell’s hounds and demons are let loose to do untold damage to the lives, livings, and the psyches of masses people and even to generations who are yet to come.

For most of us our ‘social life’ is bounded by a tight ring fencing. Few of us spend much time daily brooding on the lots of peoples being bombed, maimed and executed in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and sub-Saharan Africa to name a few places.  Not only are the total levels of destruction taking place in these places too big for our comprehensions, like light years or string theories, we naturally are heat-seeking pleasure creatures to whom such brooding is much averse; and is gone far to be avoided.

This aversion and avoidance together with our social ring fencing is our sanity protector; our safe house our comfort blanket.  But some (unfortunates) do see into the darkness and internalise the depth of horror and sheer agony they see there as present in the daily life of too, too many throughout our world. For these ‘some’ who see into the dark there is a head-on car crash collision course for their sanity when they measure up what they well see as the horror in things, against the apparent ‘heads in the sand’ hostelries in which most of are content to dwell and so survive.

The tension and pressure created in such minds themselves create a psychic chaos which in turn leads too often to psychic disintegration; resultant in the onset of psychoses.  This is the trajectory Sara Kane is shooting at in her drama ‘Blasted’.

The drama at many points presents like it is an inward conversation taking place inside a mind, a duologue which is conflictive by its irreconcilables, its mental clash driving against hopes, emotions, beliefs, rage, anger, understanding, all one against the other, and then rebounding the conflicted psyche even further apart into a fission.

The ‘war’ going on outside the plush hotel room of Ian’s and Cate’s in ‘Blasted’ thus can be interpreted as erupting spontaneously, out-breaking suddenly at the end of Scene 1 in the drama, at the time of the explosion in the street which brings the Scene to a close.  Tension and pressure is exerted and incrementally increased on Cate by Ian during Scene 1, in a closed hotel room, over the course of the dialogue. This is the charge of powder which is able to igniteb into the general war said to be going on outside in Scene 2 and thereafter. The explosion then is a milestone on the way towards a psychic breakdown, and a rebound, an equal and opposite reaction to the mind’s impossibly unreconcilable conflicts.

Thus the Soldier now enters at the start of Scene 2 and he ups the ante for violence and heartlessness straightaway; but this time Ian is the victim, and not Cate. (Ian is now at war with himself so to speak,  and carrying through with the drift of internal psychology in the drama.) His private angst and rage has burst its bounds and is now abroad in the streets; the Soldier bursting into Ian’s hotel room is thus bringing home the furies to Ian’s life and mind himself. The hotel room has been the closed social ring fence for him and Cate up until this point, whereupon the ills of Pandora come abroad now and invade it.

The drama ‘Blasted’ represents in the final instance a Pyrrhic defeat for the character Cate.  In the final scene she offers herself in the dystopic world outside the hotel room for soldiers to rape so that she is able to 'earn' and to bring food back inside for herself and for Ian.  The food she brings is sausages and other meats which she and Ian eat of. Until now Cate had been a principled vegetarian, ‘feeling sick’ at the thought of eating ‘animals’[1].  It appears then that she has ‘joined the enemy’ entailing a surrendering up of her naïve innocence (in the rape?).

But yet she does bring food in and does feed Ian (eventually) – and so she has embraced violence and horror and rape and accepted its gamut of surrealist turmoil -,that is the late-expressed long-repressed anger and pain boiling over as the war going on outside. She has done so in order that she survives but also so as to do, to be able to do, some good maybe - to translate some small local good out of the world’s patent biomass of evil?

Like at the opening of Act 2 in Samuel Beckett’s drama ‘Waiting for Godot’ when up until now the barren apparently dead sapling tree on stage is now stage directed to be ‘carrying fresh leaves’; similarly at the close of Scene 1 in Sarah Kane’s ‘Blasted’ there is a final closing stage direction asking for the ‘sound of a spring rain’.

It appears that for Sarah Kane the resolution of her personal drama’s tensions and conflicts, psychic or otherwise, is in some dialectical way: ‘If you can’t beat them; join in with them: BUT do not do as they do'.  And so despite the contrapuntal dialogue with its arguments pro and con; God, no God, death, no death, as it unravels between Ian and Cate during the course of the drama, there is room yet I think for a Christian interpretation for meaning in this disturbing yet cri de Coeur drama ‘Blasted’. That even in a fallen dysfunctional world good is possible still to be retrieved out of its evil.

[1] In The Book of genesis God offers Adam and Eve ‘all the herbs of the field’ as food; but after Noah’s Flood, whereby God himself had suffered a Pyrrhic defeat, God offers to Noah’s household ‘the beasts of the field’ for food as well.  Thus there is a Biblical precedent for Cate's sea-change.