A while back I was reading this one blogger--none of the followers in the lower left hand corner--who described blogging as a "cathartic" experience. Catharsis is not exactly a household word, but it does come up in interviews I've read with various writers and artists and musicians over the years. Now blogging is supposed to be cathartic, too. That made me wonder, how come I don't ever feel this catharsis? When I finish writing, and re-writing, I feel a certain relief that it's over and done with, but I also feel that way when I'm finished cleaning the toilet. No, no, that's not a good comparison. I like writing, or, at least, having written, and then putting it over the Internet. There's some real satisfaction there, much more than I'd have if I sent a photo of my toilet bowl over the World Wide Web. Besides, I just googled "toilet bowl" and there's plenty of photos already on-line. Nobody needs mine.
I decided to get to the root of this whole catharsis business. Find out why so many other writers, artists, musicians, and bloggers are having these cathartic experiences, and how I could, too. If I could learn what the trick is, that in itself would be cathartic. So I set out to do some research, and that brought me to Aristotle.
Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher who studied under Plato, who in turn studied under Socrates. Aristotle, for his part, had Alexander the Great as a student. What made Alexander so great is that he conquered a bunch of countries and city-states, thus spreading Greek culture far and wide. This widespread Greek culture eventually evolved into what we now know as Western Civilization. One of the most recent byproducts of that civilization is the Internet, so one could say that Aristotle is responsible for the very blog you're reading. That should afford him some respect. If not, well, the Huffington Post can also be traced back to him.
What's all this have to do with catharsis? Originally a medical term describing the purging of impurities from the body (in which case I did experience a number of cathartic experiences many New Year's Eves ago), Aristotle adapted the word to art. In his work Poetics, he described catharsis as the purging of such strong emotions as pity, fear, sorrow, anger, laughter, and disgust that are aroused in the audience upon watching a play and all subsequent art forms invented since then, such as blogs.
Now, did you read that carefully? I said audience. That means YOU. I'm not the one that's supposed to have the cathartic experience. That's your responsibility. Aristotle says so.
So the next time I write about Barack Obama, or something some right-wing nut is saying, or give my opinion on some TV show or movie, or describe the antics of Marty Volare at the Looking-Glass Cafe, and it arouses in you feelings of pity, sorrow, anger, laughter, and disgust, feel free to catharsize.
Meanwhile, I'll just sit back with all my emotions comfortably bottled up inside of me.