The process of learning a language is truly fascinating. Not necessarily learning a new one, but also the process of learning further a language, one has known for all cognizant life. An essential aspect of grooming one’s linguistic dexterity can be accomplished by assimilating newer words. Not merely comprehending and committing them to memory, but to use them appropriately. It is in this process of picking up new words, there resides the possibility of attaching rich experiences to them.
Can you think of the last new word that you committed to your vocabulary? Do you remember how you learned it, and if you remember being exulted at understanding what it really means? If you can think of one such word, reminisce about it; the anecdote attached to it might well be a good story to tell.
The most recent such word I have been grappling with is catharsis. Going by the usage of the word, when I did not really know what it meant, it sounded almost as a diagnosis of some peculiar behaviour in people. And I consciously acknowledge this word to Jon Stewart’s monologues. Jon is a comic genius driven by clear principles and is someone I immensely admire. Towards the end of his tenure as the host of The Daily Show, the frequency of Jon using catharsis was increasing, and to me then, it was occurring in some of the most nuanced of situations he had set up in his dialogue.
Since then, as I have understood, catharsis means purging of extreme emotions by means of people’s artistic expression. It is the artist’s urge to express when their emotions are driven full to the brim. Originally a medical jargon, Aristotle is attributed to using it as a metaphor, which in contemporary English means the aforementioned process.
It can be for instance, the anger that drove Charlie Chaplin to make The Great Dictator, the sympathy that brought out the ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther, the hurt that was converted into 1984 by George Orwell, the concern that was voiced in the life of Safdar Hashmi, the outrage that was embossed in the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, the social fury that lead to the Vachana movement in Karnataka, or even the empathy that drove Che Guevara towards the Cuban revolution. Many monumental pieces of art that have shaped humanity and steered the course of history are in fact the catharsis of their makers.
The word catharsis, to a great extent, captures the purest form of humanity: The eruption of human emotions as artistic expression. Isn’t it a wonderful word to know!