Notes on and quotes from 4:48 Psychosis (2000) Sarah Kane
“Some will call this self-indulgence / (They are lucky not to know its truth) / Some will know the simple fact of pain / This is becoming my normality”
When people say the psychic firestorm of Kane’s last play – entirely free of stage directions and thus endlessly re-interpreted since – symptomises a natural end, they show a want of imagination. Nothing was inevitable; if anything, art is the enemy, rather than the accomplice, of fate.
Such free plays, blank cheques from writers to directors, had been produced before – but even (for example) Handke’s Offending the Audience came with rules and sets. Kane waived such frames, and the form’s predominantly conceptual angle was here wrenched from public address to inward reflection (Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life had still mostly engaged from behind the third person). No directions, only text, and the text only fragments.
Although occasionally rising to the rhetorical highs of performance poetry, more often words pool in the (seeming) first-draft intimacy of diary depths. But beneath the stylistic scattershot and centrifugal emotional flux, there is a story. Of illness, and treatment. Of doctors who ask stupid questions, who understand less with each answer, doctors who prescribe drug after drug, each its own special effect. (“Please. Don’t switch off my mind by attempting to straighten me out.”) One seems to care, but cannot ultimately stretch beyond professional conduct: “You don’t need a friend you need a doctor” (After a pause: “You are so wrong”). Insomnia. And a moment of clarity – at 4:48.
“Nothing can extinguish my anger / And nothing can restore my faith / This is not a world in which I want to live”
The title of this post is a quote from the playtext. It’s that reflexive, that tangled in tenses. Kane committed suicide in 1999. Even its first performance was posthumous. I could spin out sentences on what might have been, had she lived, but enough, I think, to acknowledge that her works have gone on to be mainstays of modern European theatre. Their questions live on.
“They will love me for what destroys me”