Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

From Potency to Impotency: Sarah Kane's Play Blasted as a National Narrative

Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

From Potency to Impotency: Sarah Kane's Play Blasted as a National Narrative

Article excerpt

"Melancholic reactions are prompted by the loss of a                                fantasy of omnipotence."                                           Paul Gilroy (99) 

The rash of chauvinism that has infected civil discourse and spawned racist toxicity around issues such as immigration and employment is endemic in the recent rise of the political Right on both sides of the Atlantic. Racist anxiety interfaced with xenophobia was a factor in "Brexit" (the British vote to leave the European Union) and encouraged a favorable response to UKIP (the UK Independence Party--a Eurosceptic, right-wing political party). Racism accounted for the recent popularity of Marine le Pen and the French National Front and, on this side of the Atlantic, partly explains the vote for the nativist politics espoused by Donald Trump. At the crux of this socio-political phenomenon is people's sense of betrayal and victimization--betrayal by a government that fails to protect them from an expanding global economy, and victimization at the hands of uncontrollable events that appear to threaten national potency. These are the sentiments that inform Sarah Kane's characterization of middle aged, hack-journalist Ian Jones in her play Blasted, an iconic example of the brutality of the 1990's "in-yer-face" genre of British theater. Ian exhibits a compensatory macho bravura and virulent racist bigotry in his efforts to ward off the fearful specter of his nation in decline and the threat of a ubiquitous and alienating multicultural society. In retribution, his violence toward others is reflected back on him in the form of an unnamed "Soldier," who metaphorically represents his alter ego (a doppelganger, if you will)--one that brings about his total destruction. This essay will discuss the ways in which Kane explores Ian's fear and loathing of an omnipresent "other"--the immigrant who has arrived from a far off land to threaten his home--and how that fear and loathing resonates with the socio-politics of today--in Britain and, indeed, in many parts of the Western world. In addition, it will explore the ways in which the violence reflected back on Ian serves as a warning of the consequences of such unchecked feelings to the societies that exhibit them.

Although Ian's character is infected with a pernicious racism, the thrust of the first half of the play revolves around his determination to impose himself sexually on his young off-and-on girlfriend, Cate--an imposition that intensifies in sordidity and humiliation over time and inevitably ends in rape. The second half of the play sees a surrealistically invaded England and comprises the prolonged and excruciatingly graphic torture that an enemy soldier inflicts on Ian. With the strong connection made between violence and the male gender, the play, as Aleks Sierz contends, is generally viewed as an exploration of the pathology of masculinity and its accompanying misogyny (104). Be that as it may be, my analysis of the play focuses on Ian's racism and how Kane explores this aspect of Ian's pathology to convey the message that the corrosive effect of racism is both destructive and self-destructive. I suggest that this message is even more relevant today than when Kane introduced Ian to the stage twenty years ago.

My argument positions Ian's story within the framework of Paul Gilroy's conversation on race and nation in his Postcolonial Melancholia. Gilroy uses the word "melancholia" in the Freudian sense as a pathological substitute for restorative mourning. In Britain's case, he proposes that its melancholia is a result of an "inability to face, let alone healthily mourn, the profound change in circumstances" that followed the demise of the British Empire (90). Co-incidental with the loss is the inevitable decline in international prestige and power. The British, he argues, seem unable to recover from a wounded national pride to create a healthier, more forward-looking identity. In addition, connected to the country's unwillingness to relinquish the glory of its imperial history is an unwillingness to acknowledge and work through the bloodier and darker side of its empire building. …

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