by uzwi

We make fiction for the same reason as we make buildings: security. Rigid notions of causality in fiction have developed as shelter from a fear of the unstructuredness of actual events. Few societies have been more afraid than ours of losing a status quo that was illusory in the first place.

In 1995, Sara Kane’s play Blasted was vilified for breaking without warning its own dramatic continuities: what seemed to be a naturalistic, contemporary two-hander about a rape in a Leeds hotel room was blown off track without explanation. Whatever Kane’s intentions for it as a formal stratagem (& whatever the subsequent mayhem), this unpredictable intrusion into a recognisable if unacceptable situation caused massive trauma in the audience’s defences against the arbitrariness of the real.

The recognisable comes, by definition, with a familiar set of ideological interpretative tools & constraints. We would prefer to watch a drama in which the “character” & “motives” of rapist & victim play out in the argument of narrative until a conclusion is achieved. We would prefer to see a bad thing rehearsed than engage a thing we can’t predict, a thing that breaks our context & forces its way into our “conversation” about “our” world.

Though it’s a powerful argument on behalf of Blasted to claim that there are plenty of places in the world where the continuities have already broken down, & such poorly-plotted intrusions are commonplace in real lives, it’s not one I would want to resort to; because its intent is to salve the audience’s hurt feelings by claiming that no breakage has occurred. It panders to the fear of the arbitrary by reframing events in a recognisable structure.

In human affairs, this argument goes, the random intrusion of war is the explicable face of inexplicability, the meaningful face of meaninglessness: it is an available trope the use of which reasserts credibility, healing up both the perceived wound in the structure of the play and the genuinely wounded expectations of the audience.

It’s an argument which is in itself a form of hiding, a pushing away of reality to a comforting distance. After all, meaningless & unpredictable intrusions into the orderly flow of life are not limited to war zones or failed states, as anyone living on either side of this hole will freely attest.