Monday, December 28, 2009

Release Form

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.


  1. so what happens when you read someone else's blog? do you cathart? in public or in private?

  2. " I'll just sit back with all my emotions comfortably bottled up inside of me." ...the way they're supposed to be ;-) I think I'll go cathart now.

  3. @standing--Depends if I leave a comment or not.

    @standing and badger--This whole post, which was meant to be ironic, was inspired by something I read on a blog I don't want to name right now. I will say this, this particular blogger spilled their guts about something that happened in the past. Somebody in the comment section compared it--favorably!--to a train wreck. The blogger didn't seem to mind, as it was all "cathartic", but the more I thought about it, the more I felt the need to explain why I DON'T want to spill my guts.

    This blog is my view on the outside world. I relate bits and pieces of my past experiences, spill bits and pieces of my gut, when I think it might explain how I arrived at a certain view, but no more. Spill too much of my gut and I'm afraid I may end up a bit hollow inside. Anyway, I want to conserve just enough gut to write a couple of novels someday. It doesn't hurt to think of the future.

    This particular blog--and ONLY this particular blog, has been on my mind a lot this past month, so I guess you could say I spilled my brains writing about it. Hey, brains count for something!

  4. I usually feel trepidatious after writing a post, not relieved. As in, did I say what I really meant to say? Was it well written? Will anyone like it? Will anyone relate...on and on and on.

    I actually have been doing some thinking about the material I write about and have thought it is better, and more interesting, NOT to write about the internal me. That will spill in enough on any subject I examine. Well, we'll see how well I do.

  5. Dreamgirl, I'm almost never satisfied with the posts I write, including this one, which is why I have a kind of alternate post here in the comments section (see above).

    The real me is all over this blog. In fact, the real me is more on this blog than if you were to meet me in person. There you would have just the socially-inept me. So, yeah, I do draw on the internal me, but I try to univeralize it as much as possible. If anything I write ever soley comes across to most people as a train wreck, than I haven't univeralized so much as I've trivialized.

    Another alternate post. Sigh.

  6. Kirk, this is another really well-executed post of irony! Your writing is tight and efficient, but not stingy.

    By the way, when I think "catharsis", I think "catheterize", and I suppose that's pretty close, huh?

    About the telling of what has happened to oneself: some of us just HAVE to. My own bottling up is threatening to blow a gasket.

  7. @Limes--In my own way, I just have to, too (tootsie, goodby!--excuse that) While I'm happy you like the tightness of it, I'm a bit dissatisfied with this particular post, which is why I keep turning these replies into posts of their own. I've written plenty of posts about past experiences, and have shared my emotions (most recently about a most recent birthday) as well. In fact, if you read the little writing under "Shadow of a Doubt" you'll see that I have the words "emotional catharsis". I actually had forgotten they were there. I think I meant it as a joke. I guess what I'm trying to say is that catharsis isn't the ONLY reason I write. I would want to write or do something creative if even if there were no theraputic value whatsoever. Even if I had the perfect childhood (which is hardly the case) and happiness was the only emotion I was familiar with (again hardly the case) I would STILL want to write or do something creative. There's just something inside me that want to create. Whether I want it there or not. In fact, rather than being thereputic, it may someday DRIVE me to the psychiatrist's couch!

    By the way, I believe the word catheter does come from catharsis. Like I said, it's originally a medical term.

    I wasn't too tight with this response, huh?

  8. kirk-i'm rarely satisfied with my posts. i wake up at 2am thinking of edits i should do on things already posted. i cut myself some slack, tho. i have no writing aspirations per se, with the exception of poetry. and that is so laughable, i can't get upset about what i turn out!

  9. @standing--I liked your bird toy poem.