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A Private Honesty: Torture and Interiority in the Theatre of Sarah Kane

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2022

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This article analyzes the role of pain and torture in the construction and destruction of subjectivity by way of a comparison of the depictions of torture in the theatre of Sarah Kane and Elaine’s Scarry’s highly influential The Body in Pain: On the Making and Unmaking of the World. The essay uses Kane in conjunction with the phenomenology of Emmanuel Levinas, as well as relevant work on the history and sociology of privacy and private speech. Its purpose is to develop an account of what is here called pain’s bi-directional character, or its capacity to represent both the presence and the absence of the victim’s subjectivity, possibly at the same time. Using Kane to expand upon Scarry’s account of the role of subjectivity in torture, we can see how the logic of torture structures numerous relationships in Kane’s work, including Blasted, Phaedra’s Love, Cleansed, and Crave. The essay establishes Kane as not only a major playwright, but also a subtle and perceptive theorist of suffering for whom the question of intersubjectivity is a major site of dramatic struggle. Jeremy Colangelo is the author of Diaphanous Bodies: Ability, Disability, and Modernist Irish Literature (University of Michigan Press, 2021) and the editor of Joyce Writing Disability (University Press of Florida, 2022). His work has appeared in such journals as Modern Fiction Studies, Journal of Modern Literature, Textual Practice, and Modern Drama. He currently teaches at King’s University College, University of Western Ontario.

Research Article
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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press