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Decoding Sarah Kane
Dimensions of Metaphoricity in Cleansed

by Timo Pfaff

3 Conclusion: Deconstructing the ‘Proper Senses’

What is to be drawn from all this? First of all, the physical violence in Kane’s plays that has caused such a public outcry has primarily to be interpreted in terms of the conceptual metaphor “the mind is the body:” the body becomes the epitome of a tortured soul. This has convincingly been argued by Opel. As Kane emphasizes, Cleansed is essentially about love: “[U]m die Gewalt ist es darin nie gegangen, es ging immer darum, wie sehr diese Menschen lieben” (Tabert 20). This love between two people is realized metaphorically first and foremost through the conceptual metaphor “love is a unity” corresponding to Aristophanes’ myth and his conception of love as the pursuit of wholeness in its most literal sense.

What makes Kane an outstanding author is her directorial and authorial performance originating from the insight that any set norms whatsoever—whether societal, linguistic, or theatrical—are imbued by an essential subjective moment in their origin. Her way of realizing this insight is to play with different dimensions of metaphoricity. This leads to the “rejection, or at least manipulation, of the conventions of realism that is perhaps the key distinguishing feature of the dramatic strategy employed in Sarah Kane’s work” (Saunders 9). This ties in with Sierz’ remarks on in-yer-face theatre: “Writers who provoke audiences or try to confront them are usually trying to push the boundaries of what is acceptable—often because they want to question current ideas of what is normal, what it means to be human, what is natural or what is real” (5). Lakoff and Johnson point out a further aspect of this way of working that leads to Kane’s unique aesthetics of theatre. They argue that a metaphorical approach reconciles subjectivism and objectivism because it “unites reason and imagination” (193) and can therefore be conceived of as “imaginative rationality” (193).

However, the readers/audience are deliberately left to their own when it comes to consider possible messages of the play. This is due to Kane’s intention to design her plays in an ambiguous way. In an interview with Tabert she states that a text becomes less important “wenn man ihn zu konkret macht und auf eine Ebene begrenzt” (Tabert 15). This notion again highlights the dependence of understanding on a conceptual system.

In spite of the overall ambiguity of the play I will dare to declare a message of Cleansed: On the level of human relationships it declares that love is possible even under the most extreme circumstances. Here, we finally have arrived back at the Barthesian image of Dachau. The last scene seems to state—to put it in terms of the conceptual metaphor “love is war”—that love conquers all. The only remaining question seems to be: At what prize? Thus, there is an extremely romantic view on love under the surface of atrocities. On the linguistic level, the play can be read as a deconstruction of the myths of absolute truth and proper senses. This is in accordance to the postmodern body of thought set off by Nietzsche.

The last thing one might wonder about is whether a depiction of atrocities as graphic as in Cleansed is really necessary for conveying the intended messages. But this seems to be a justified procedure in a society that is characterized by emotional blunting. Hence, Kane makes society experience feelings, however devastatingly these are for the audience:

Grace/Graham Felt it.
Here. Inside. Here.

And when I don’t feel it, it’s pointless.
Think about getting up it’s pointless.
Think about eating it’s pointless.
Think about dressing it’s pointless.
Think about speaking it’s pointless.
Think about dying only it’s totally
fucking pointless. (46)


reproduced on the site with the kind permission of the author
©Timo Pfaff 2005

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