Sunday, January 15, 2012

Love, touchdowns and good writing

A big, strong man dissolved in tears of joy...the climax of an aria...someone you love in a cap and gown...a new high score in Angry Birds - all of these things are just like the others. I speak of the moment of catharsis.

Warning: Pedantry follows.

Catharsis derives from the Greek word kathairein, meaning to purge, purify or clean. Aristotle used it first in a clinical sense, to describe effects of certain actions on the human body, and then later applied it metaphorically to drama and poetry. Being a $64 word, chances are more people have experienced it than have accessed the word to define the experience.

Warning: Tortured metaphor follows.
Catharsis is like a cheeseburger - it comes in many varieties, and you can have it your way. It's found in your direct, personal experience - when you are the one touching something universal - and vicariously, even in seeing that moment re-enacted in fiction -  and your heart leaps up.

We seek it out on stages, on playing fields, in temples, in therapy. A moment of transcendence when you believe - not just know, but believe - "I am not alone." "Love conquers." "Life is terribly beautiful/painful/silly and we all know it." "There is justice." "There is meaning." It's oxygen for the soul.

Have some, it's good.

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