Mantrās 4.48

Translation of 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane
Translated by Shahman Moishan and Sharif Shiraj
Expected date of opening: December 2020

At the core of 4.48 Psychosis is melancholia effusing out of passive witnessing. As Sigmund Freud has explained, melancholia remains distinct from mourning, although both are reactions to loss. As a reaction of definable loss, mourning can be overcome; not so with melancholia, because it persists indefinitely. Because melancholia arises from an identification of the ego with an abandoned object, the individual fails to define the loss. It is this notion of melancholia that Kane successfully unpeels, relentlessly weaving numerous shades of this condition, allowing it to seep out of impotent acts of witnessing overwhelming losses and consequent disorder in a dystopic world. She continues unpeeling to evoke the effect that subjectivities are blurred and closures are unattained. The language of 4.48 Psychosis is clinically precise and emotively terse as it sketches physical details, and at the same time, it is open enough to allow the reader’s/spectator’s own experience to inevitably sweep in. Consequently, it is not a character of a distant fictive world that the spectators witness, but rather, they engage as co-creators of the world empathetically. Furthermore, the playwright embeds numerous silences navigating though periods of sanity and calmness—for about two hours after 4.48 am in the morning—as crucial portals where the spectators breathe with the performers, importing in the fictive world their personal memories of pain and loss. Consequently, it is perhaps not so much about catharsis that the play effects at the end, but a continuation of the lingering effect of melancholia.

The central concern regarding melancholia effusing out of passive witnessing that Kane has embedded at the core of 4.48 Psychosis latches on to torture unto death, rape, sexual assault, and murder that have become commonplace social events, triggering chaotic uncertainty and disorder in everyday life. Consider, for example, the cases of Abrar Fahad, a student of Bangladesh Engineering University, who was tortured unto death by the university’s student-leaders for expressing political views critical off the government, and Nusrat Jahan Rafi, a madrassa student who was sexually assaulted by the madrassa principal, and was later burnt to death because she reported the case of her assault to the police. Faced with the indefinable loss arising out of such dystopic social events, an individual may seek solace in (i) religion, (ii) love, friendships and relationships, or even (iii) mental health institutions. However, each of these gateways for healing that one may clutch onto are incapacitated to restore wellbeing because the ego is identified so very irrevocably with the loss that the loss itself becomes undefinable and all-encompassing. One may recall the case of the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Kevin Carter, who had published haunting photographs such as “Execution by Necklacing” in South Africa, and “The Vulture and the Little Girl” during the Sudanese famine. Carter later committed suicide at the age of thirty-three because melancholia that arose out of what he perceived as his role as a photographer who was a passive witness. Nevertheless, 4.48 Psychosis is not about meaninglessness and hopelessness of life. Because any attempt at suicide is, in the last instance, a cry for help, the play reverberates with angst that seeks passionately the meaning of life and hope, but fails to distinguish any. The question of meaning of life is raised at the personal level. However, the answer must be sought at the social level. How may we all join hands in preventing the rise of melancholia from dystopic social events that trigger chaotic uncertainty and disorder in everyday life?