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Mental Health and the Memoir Research Seminar: The problem of biography: 4.48 Psychosis and the ‘suicidal mind’

Wednesday 18 May 2022, 5.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr Leah Sidi (UCL)

What is the relationship between the experience of an author and the work they create? This question is essential to considering any writing about mental suffering, and especially in the work of Sarah Kane. Following the reviewing of Kane’s final play as a ‘75 Minute Suicide Note’, the idea that Kane’s representations of mental suffering are in some way related to her life experiences have been divisive. Audiences and reviewers tend to understand her final works as autobiography, whilst the academic world has moved in the opposite direction by framing Kane’s late works as non-representational, postdramatic experimentation. Building on Leo Bersani's position in The Culture of Redemption, Sidi suggests that there is a careful middle ground to be tread here, which understands Kane’s works as deeply and deliberately informed by her knowledge and experience of the mental health system. The boundary between art and life is deliberately blurred in Crave and 4.48 Psychosis, as external referents to Kane’s experiences are transformed into powerful dramaturgical markers.  Kane’s representations of mental suffering clearly transcend the boundaries and diagnostic categories suggested by the mental health system. In these works, theatre itself becomes a tool for sharing experiences of mental suffering without their being reduced to specific pathologies or biographical narratives.

Dr Leah Sidi is a Lecturer in Health Humanities at UCL. Her research focus is on contemporary theatre and mental health, with a special focus on feminist theatre and psychoanalysis. She is currently recipient of an ISSF Wellcome Trust Award, researching feminist conceptions of community care.  Leah has published in Performance Research and is a regular contributor to the Institute for Medical Humanities’ The Polyphony. She is currently working on a monograph on Sarah Kane’s Dramaturgy of Psychic Life.


Location: Online