Performing violence in Sarah Kane’s Blasted (1995) and Polly Stenham’s The Face (2007)—on the precarity of sociality
This paper aims at exploring the issues of representing and performing violence in two contemporary British plays in the light of Judith Butler’s recent work on war, vulnerability and an ethics of non-violence. In both plays, which were respectively written by very young female playwrights, if the demise of social structures is exposed, so are the normative structures of power and violence that sustain these social structures. Drawing on Butler’s reading of Foucault and Levinas – especially on the latter’s concept of “the face” – we will see to what extent and in what ways these plays bring us to interrogate the relations of power and powerlessness, and to raise questions as to how we perpetrate violence and how we justify it. We will see how these playwrights play on the audiences’ nerves and reactions, in order to lead us to reevaluate our concept of Otherness in relation to the vulnerability and precariousness of both body and mind which are exposed in both plays. Following Butler, we can see this precarity as revealing our sociality, and as the basis for the fragile but necessary dimensions of our interdependency, as opposed to the myths of omnipotence constructed around the characters of both Ian in Blasted and of Martha in That Face. The significance of staging such issues in the social frame of the theater is for that matter quite telling and will be further explored. What is more, in the wake of Bergson’s view of laughter as a “momentary anesthesia of the heart” we will also reflect on the place of laughter in these dark comedies, highlighting both the power of survival contained in laughter and the emotional disengagement that it entails. Thus, what will be at stake in this presentation will be the relationship between the experiential value of these plays and their philosophical and intellectual content.
Pascale Sardin is Professor in English studies at Bordeaux-Montaigne University. Her research focuses mainly on Beckettian studies, feminism and translation. She has published two books on Samuel Beckett (Samuel Beckett auto-traducteur où l’art de l’empêchement, Arras: Artois PU, 2002, and Samuel Beckett et la passion maternelle ou l’hystérie à l’œuvre, Bordeaux : PU de Bordeaux, 2009), has coedited three collection of essays devoted to the issue of mothering and motherhood for Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux (2008 and 2013), and edited Palimpsestes 22 and 26 for Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle.