Anna Harpin: ‘Love Me Tender: Kim Noble and the Politics of Tenderness’ (30-04-2020)

Thursday 30 April 2020
17:30 – 19:00
Room 123a, Gilmorehill Centre, University of Glasgow G12 8QQ

Following a performance of Kim Noble Will Die, the SOHO Theatre received a letter of complaint from a psychiatrist about the show: ‘My job is to spend all day helping people who are mentally unwell so I therefore did not appreciate having to pay for the privilege of spending more time in the company of a disturbed individual. This show wasn’t funny, it wasn’t art, and it was deeply disturbing and irresponsible.’ The complainant also phoned the police. This paper will offer a counter argument to the regular interpretations of Noble’s work as reckless and unmediated glimpses into the mind of a mad man. By exploring the dynamics of intimacy, exposure, and care that are at play in his theatre work, I will demonstrate that Noble’s work, in fact, offers an artful, political take on the tender business of being a person. Rejecting a pathologising and anti-intellectual gaze, this paper will explore the relationship between tenderness and cruelty as a means to excavate questions about what it means to be person, to have a life, and to live with difficult feelings. It is my suspicion that tenderness may be a particularly rich way to better understand how to care for ourselves and one another in blistered times. In short, I will suggest his art will not only teach us how to die but how to live.

Anna Harpin is Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Warwick. Her primary research area is the cultural history of madness and trauma. Recent publications include her monograph Madness, Art, and Society: Beyond Illness with Routledge, Performance, Madness, Psychiatry: Isolated Acts with Juliet Foster (Cambridge), Performance and Participation: Practices, Audiences, Politics with Helen Nicholson (RHUL), and a chapter on Broadmoor Hospital in the Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities. Alongside her academic work Anna is a theatre maker with her company, Idiot Child. The company recently toured their new work about fear and anxiety entitled, What if the plane falls out of the sky? in May- August 2017 and are currently making a new piece about loneliness called, Never Gonna Give You Up which will tour in 2021.


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