Sunday 3 August 2008


I'm trying to write a "deep" entry here. I was just thinking about what I am into as works of fiction and I have to admit that many of them are quite violent. Even I discovered Anthony Burgess trough his most violent work, which is A Clockwork Orange of course. I guess there was something about Alex's wild and amoral nature that appealed to the teenager I was. I don't think it's the greatest novel ever written anymore, and Burgess himself made much superior works, but I am still attracted by nasty pieces of fiction. Recently, I blogged about Fantômas, one cannot get more violent and cruel than that, unless you like to read Sade. There are others too. As a person, I don't take pleasure in violence, actually I am a bit of a wimp. But I take great pleasure in fictionalised accounts of violence. When I was studying at university, I once burst out laughing watching a shoot out between a robber and a redneck with a gun in the movie Boogie Nights, which ended up by having three guys killed in a donuts shop, including both armed men. There was blood everywhere and it was deliciously ironic. So anyway, I laughed because it was emant to make the viewer laugh and it worked. My American housemate got quite angry. She told me in a dusgusted tone "You are so sick!" I said no, that it was cathartic for me. Maybe I should have said I was pro gun control.

Anyway, I will not pretend that I know much about catharsis. I have never actually totally grasped the concept, which is not even consensual. According to this site, catharsis is "the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, esp. through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music." This is what I learned in my literature classes, this is what I taught to my students when I was teaching them Racine. But one of my teachers disagreed with the definition and said that catharsis was devoid of any moral connotation and simply meant taking pleasure in fctitious display of things that would not be pleasant in real life. As art for me is by definition not moral (one does not enjoy a work of art because it is moral but because it is aesthetic), I prefer this definition better, even though it comes from a Greek word meaning cleansing (and do read the rest of this article, as it shows how unclear meaning of the term is). Whatever catharsis exactly is, in its essence, it's manifestation can be perceived every time one watches something horrible in fiction and takes pleasure in it. Of course, to take pleasure in it, one has to distantiate fiction from reality, which is a sign of health.

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