Forms of Catharsis

It is the Greek Philosopher Aristotle who coined the term Catharsis. For him it meant a purging of emotions, cleansing of the soul while one watches a play, especially a tragic one. Here I would like to redefine catharsis as an ‘aesthetic affect’ when one encounters or participates in various forms of aesthetic activity. Every encounter with an aesthetic form results in a Catharsis.
What is it to be in Catharsis when one is composing or listening to music? While listening to Bach’s symphony one encounters a musical-catharsis. The sheer musicality of tone, melody, rhythm strikes a fusion and makes our ears tuned to a magic realism. What about Catharsis while listening to rock music? Rock music induces cacophonic catharsis. As the Philosopher Nietzsche has said: ‘art begins with the fusion of Dionysian and Apollonian elements. What about Catharsis for the musician composing music? A musician will be in a State of productive and integrative Catharsis. A musician would have to be creative to induce melody, beat and rhythm into a musical culture.
What is the type of Catharsis when one encounters a painting or sculpture? I would like to state that we come into being of a pictorial catharsis. Let me utilize some examples to illustrate this phenomenon. Let’s analyze the post modern sculpture of Rodin’s Thinker. The first cathartic mode was fascination. The secondary effect was I was asking the question why Rodin sculpt the thinker in such a stiff motion. Is thinker a rebel who wants to defy God and challenge the intellect? The thinker is a metonymy for Death of God as espoused by Nietzsche. When we look at a painting or sculpture we enter into the process of many cathartic modes of deriving meaning. Next I would like to appropriate Marcel Duchamp’s ‘inverted urinal’. Marcel Duchamp celebrated anti-art and it was a form of protest belonging to the art form Dada. While viewing Marcel Duchamp’s inverted urinal one undergoes the Catharsis of disgust. Catharsis can also be a negative mode of thinking, a negation. What is the type of catharsis when one views Munch’s Scream? The scream portrays an individual in angst. The inner angst of an individual becomes individuated when one encounters the scream.
What is the type of catharsis when one enters into the stream of writing? I would like to call it a writerly catharsis. Writing is born out of the pleasure or angst of the ID. In writing catharsis can be confessional, celebratory, critical, analytical, and descriptive. Writing is born from the body of passion and the mind in obsession. Writing invokes the Dionysian modes of rhythm and beat and the Apollonian modes of melody and harmony. There’s a jazz of poetry and the music of art in the writer’s pen.
What is the type of catharsis one encounters in the process of reading? The process of reading produces a phenomenological catharsis. For example while reading Camus ‘The Myth of the Sisyphus’, I encountered the catharsis of anguish. I could identify with the heroic individual Sisyphus who is forced by the Gods to roll a boulder uphill to find to his tragic fate that it rolls down again. There is no meaning or ultimate goal in life’s trajectory. One encounters life as a form of philosophical suicide. Camus advocates that despite life being a Sisyphus, one must overcome suicide and try to authenticate life’s existence. What is the type of catharsis one encounters Plato’s allegory of the cave? In a cave there people and they are separated by a wall and on the other side they can see light. Plato wanted to convey the idea that there is an ideal world beyond this illusory world of existence. Looking at Plato’s allegory in a postmodern context one can say the purpose of life is to transcend death and that could only be possible by creating aesthetic objects. Art can overcome the meaning of death. Again let’s analyze Sartre’s consciousness of being for itself. Being for itself has the state of the ego which projects consciousness towards an object. Sartre calls the object transcendental. Being attains realization of meaning as the art of becoming. This I would like to call as transcendental catharsis.

Analysis of the Space of Literature by Maurice Blanchot


Maurice Blanchot though being a heavy weight of Literature is largely ignored by the mainstream public due to the dense obscurity of his work. Blanchot’s literature remains largely ornamental like a piece of Baroque opera with strands of philosophy running through it. I would like to discuss the thoughts that I came through while reading his magnum opus: The Space of Literature.

Maurice Blanchot begins his work be characterizing Writing as Solitude. What is solitude in everyday life? It means an inner calm of tranquility. It is questionable to ask whether a writer writes out of solitude or excitement. He quotes Rilke: ‘I haven’t produced a single work: my solitude has engulfed me’. Why can’t the writer be agitated when he is writing his work? I am sure that Nietzsche wrote: Thus spoke Zarathustra while undergoing bouts of insanity. A Freudian ID gets provoked into the necessity of writing. Even mystics when they meditate are never in solitude. There are in a state of deep contemplation. One can also write out of the passion to write but one can never be in solitude when one is in a state of writing. When one is in the process of writing, one gravitates to the center of meaning. So I would like to reformulate Blanchot’s solitude as excitement, agitation, passion and contemplation. The mind can never be in solitude.

Again Blanchot goes on to say that a writer never knows whether his work is finished or not. In one sense it is true and in another sense it is not. Any work of Literature is only partial does not display art to sense of completion. But then again in a literary work, there’s a beginning and an ending. Let’s take an example of Ulysses by James Joyce. The novel running into eight hundred pages and depicts twelve hours of person’s life mainly Bloom, Stephen and Molly. There is a beginning and an ending to the work. Blanchot is partially right when he says that no work of art is complete. A work of art has got only degrees of perfection. Similarly Blanchot also mentions that a reader enters into solitude while encountering a work. Readers of pulp fiction are causal readers. The work of a serious reader is marked by the phenomenology of reading. The mind of a serious reader works as an inter-textual machine. Reading interferes with what has been read in the past. The ontology of existentialism, the autobiographical possession of the reader comes into play while reading. There is perfect reading but there are only imperfect interpretations.

It’s through an absence that word being of writer comes into existence. I would like to refute this statement by saying that writing is affirmation of presence, a saturation of it. Being is pronounced into the becoming of meaning. In writing there’s indulgence of the meaning of being. Writing is excess of being. Presence of being is an affirmation for a writer.

Again he goes on to say that a writer never reads his or her work. That can be true to some extent. Would a writer really enjoying editing his or work?  A writer does not function as a reader. The writer merely proof reads his or her work.

For a writer, a word is something that cannot be mastered. How could that be the case? A writer is a lingual-maniac. He finds new usages for pre-existing ones. He or she also creates new words: for example neologisms. A writer invents tropes of language. How can this be possible without mastery? Writing is not sterile but active and dynamic.

To write is to break the bond between the word and the self. I would like to say that writing is a catharsis. The bond between writing, the word, and the self is one of unison. Writing is akin to having sexual intercourse. The self and the word are bonded to a writer.

The writer belongs to a language that no one speaks. Yes, writing is inventive and seeks new paradigms of a discovery of meaning. Tropes belong to the language of nascence and newness. Writing is a process of self discovery.

When we admire the tone of the work, we are not referring to style or virtues of the language but to a silence. Blanchot is not sure about what this silence is. We are in fascination and catharsis when we unveil the imagery used by a writer. There is intellectual and emotional gratification. We do not encounter the work in silence.

What is the journal? It is not romantic, not essentially confessional. It is the writer when he or she is not writing. I feel that Blanchot is being vague there. Again he goes on to say that a journal is written out of fear and anguish. The writing of the journal is no longer historical. Romanticism has acquired new shades of meaning in blog writing. Taste, art and culture are all romanticized by bloggers undergoing a new experience. As Wordsworth has said ‘poetry is the spontaneous overflow of feeling’. To be romantic is to be in state of mind that’s in passion. Writing a journal can also be confessional. To be confessional is to be passionate and expressive. My writing on adultery is confessional. It is wrong to say that a journal is not historical. For example let’s take Ann Frank. Ann Frank is a passionate outburst of the oppressions that she encountered during a Nazi regime. Thus a journal can be confessional, romantic and historical.

To write is to surrender to time’s absence. I would like to disagree with the statement. Time in writing flows as streams of consciousness.   Time is reflective and contemplative when the writer engages in writing. Writing cannot be marked by the absence of time.

Fascination is solitude’s gaze. To write is to let fascination rule the language. The gaze of the writer could be a sexual, one; it could also be subjective, philosophical, materialistic and transcendental. The gaze is intentional and is borne out the repressed in the ID.

Again he quotes Mallarme: ‘When I write into verse, I encounter nothingness, an absence of God and my own death. It is questionable to ask Blanchot, how negation can enter the realm of writing. Negation is nihilism, a negative affirmation when something positive does not happen. Writing is self proclaiming and affirmative. Yes after Nietzsche’s proclamation that ‘God is dead’, writing has become anthropocentric. How can a writer enter the realm of death? Is the writer killing his self when he enters into the train of writing? According to Camus, while writing we enter into a philosophical suicide. Yes there’s death of the actual self and birth of the creative self.

Again Blanchot goes to distinguish between the crude word and the ornamental word. When we say that the flower is in the garden we are using crude language or the language of communication. If I use: I am flowering her lips, I am ornamentally decorating the language. Writing is ornamental, decorative and hyperbolic. Again he goes on to say: poetry is the universe of words where relations and configurations are attained through sound, figure and rhythmic language. Poetry is akin to the musicality of words, and it flows with the Dionysian rhythm and makes presence with the Orpheus of figures.

Kafka began his writing out of true despair. We should know that Kafka had a stormy relationship with his father. He was also an exiled Jew. Kafka despised authority figures. Writing for Kafka grew out of protest against authoritarianism. This is especially true when we analysis his work—the Metamorphosis.  The work is allegorical and shows the negation of individuality by authority figures. The individual in Metamorphosis is reduced into fragments. Writing for Kafka was spiritual and psychological salvation. Kafka made the affirmation that nothing else besides literature satisfies me. The more Kafka writes: the less sure is he of himself.

Art is primarily the consciousness of unhappiness not its consolation. How can art be the consciousness of unhappiness alone? One can experience art through the consciousness of joy and affirmation. Let’s diagnose Picasso’s painting of the Guernica. Was Picasso filled with angst of the bombing of Basque? Or was he affirming creativity while painting the Guernica. When I meditate on Dali’s painting: The persistence of Memory, I am filled with cathartic interpretation. I appreciate its meaning to portray time as streams of consciousness. I also marvel at the melting clock placed on the frozen embryo and interpret it as Dali’s own oedipal trauma.


Introspection of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory


I have been fascinated with this painting for a long time. At first my consciousness accepted it as a work of art and nothing more. Then slowly my consciousness started interfering with it like pebbles struck by the moving stream. I thought of Freud and the association made by the surrealists with him. The surreal painters used to juxtapose dream and reality to create in my own words a (Hallucinogence), a hallucinogenic reflection on the art’s work. Probing the painter deeper, what is Dali trying to manifest from the unconscious? Is it his own oedipal conflict which is vividly portrayed in the frozen embryo? The melting clocks portray time as Streams of Consciousness. Time is not a linear entity but is marked be the phenomenology of drifting towards a past, present and future. The genealogy of time is not chronological. Is time also showing a depiction of state where there is no care or worry, an embryonic time?

On Art and Nietzsche

The philosopher Nietzsche has said that art occurs when the Apollonian and the Dionysian elements merge. Nietzsche has used music that is the Apollonian melody and the Dionysian rhythm and beat to represent all categories of Art. Adding on to Nietzsche, I would like to say that the merger of the Apollonian and the Dionysian is not a perfect one. All art is not the perfect but has got only degrees of perfection.