Saturday, December 27, 2008

Relationship between Tragedy and Art

Life, literally means existence of an individual. So, in order to live, we need to subsist ourselves in all fronts - by which I mean, all the dimensions of life. Man, unlike other animals, is empowered with a very strong intellect and for this reason, subsistence takes a new meaning in case of human beings.

Lexicon defines ‘emotion’ as an instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge and ‘Sentiment’ as general feeling or an attitude.
This is why we say that animals also show emotions but it is only man who is sentimental. Distinction is very narrow but the impact is seminal.

For the sake of convenience, I am broadly classifying the sentiments of man as positive and negative. Note the usage of 'sentiment'. I am assuming a positive sentiment to be an emotion which gives us a positive attitude towards life and thus replenishing our energy bank, and vice versa.

Similarly, I assume even emotion can be broadly classified as grief and joy.
Here, it is to be understood that most of the emotions can be categorized under either of these two. For example, bereavement, agony, pain, suffering, ennui, et al can be categorized under grief. On the other hand achievement, pleasure, fun, gaiety, accomplishment, satisfaction, gratification, love, et al can be categorized under joy.
I do concede that there are a few exceptions like stoicism, sympathy, etc., which may not fall into either. But, for time being, it can be ignored as complex sentiments than mere emotions.

However, an emotion which falls under sorrow may act as a positive sentiment. This is one of the most distinguishing and a fabulous characteristic feature of man. Let us consider an analogy to appreciate this feature. If a dog is hit by a stone, it gets angry and it's further action is driven by this emotion called anger. And thus, it is almost always possible to predict the response by a dog when it is hit. Now, take the case of man - if he is hit by a stone, I agree that anger does get triggered. But, his response to such an action is not just governed by the emotion. Here, his sentiment and his attitude towards the situation plays a decisive role in forming his response. Wouldn't you agree that Gandhi's response to the stone action would be very much different from that of Hitler?

Having shown the difference between sentiment and emotion and the role of sentiment in man's life, we can now proceed to examine as to why is it that grief brings out better literary works than joy. (I am assuming this point is not disputed. If so, I request them to refer Shakespeare, Tagore, Milton, Shelly, et al)

Joy is more often than not, a high intensity spike followed by a quick restoration to previous steady state. Also, joy calls for a collective participation to enhance the feeling of pleasure. In fact, feeling of superiority gives a lot more joy than fulfillment of any kind of carnal desires. So the desire of collective participation in times of joy is self explanatory. But I feel Jessamyn West words are true in the deepest sense of it to say the least, when she says "Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking. "
This is in contrary to the fallout of happiness and joy wherein solitude is seldom sought during times of happiness.

On the other hand, Schopenhauer points out that "Almost all our sorrows spring out of our relations with other people. " , which seems right when viewed pragmatically. And interestingly Jessamyn West seems to be perfectly fit in the idea of Schopenhauer. We can find plenty of examples which emphasizes the words of Schopenhauer. One example which has universal relevance is sorrow due to bereavement. Is the intensity of agony and mental pain caused due to the death of our relative the same when the death happens of some unknown and unrelated person ? Isn't it something which almost the entire world has experienced atleast once in their lives ?
Whenever I have observed a man suffering from grief, I do not know if he would have realised the words of Schopenhauer or not, but I always see that he craves for solitude.

When I say solitude, it is not the same as loneliness. Though both seem to sound synonymous, there is a subtle change which is very much imperative as far as its impact is concerned. Albeit the basic emotion and the psychological feeling is same, the approach towards it is radically different. Solitude is a positive sentiment and feeling of loneliness is a negative sentiment.
So, solitude should be understood with this background.

Creativity is a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts.
This holds well not only for art, but also for all activities involving creativity. Let us take a very famous example of Einstein to drive this point. When he explained Brownian motion, which was first observed by Robert Brown, the existence of atom was not yet conclusively proved. Still, it was the intuition or the courage to speculate, which is the trait of a creative person, that allowed Einstein to go ahead with the explanation, which Brown himself could not do, probably for the same reason. Einstein is an epitome of creativity in the realm of science.

When a man is in grief, he feels like coming out of his ensconced state of mind. This may act like a preparation ground for his mind to experiment and try out new things. Importance of this mental condition is reflected in Erich Fromm's phrase "Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties". It is not that grief is a must-and-should mental condition required prior to any embarkment of creative activity. But I am trying to say that grief sometimes helps in preparing the mind for uncertainties.

Art, though does not have any concrete definition, can be defined in a broad sense as, a process or product of deliberately or creatively arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.
It must be noted that human being is the only species to indulge in art, yet another distinction between man and rest of the species.
Since we have tried to understand the meanings of art and creativity above, I feel we can now relate them well and appreciate their mutual dependence required to produce an aesthetic outcome.

It is very much obvious that expression of one's feelings creatively requires lot of contemplation and concentration. And this is possible only in solitary milieu, which nature often bestows by flinging in incidents which causes grief and thus make us experience reclusion, wherein we can choose to express ourselves in a way which gives a sense of relief to us.

But, why is it that everyone doesn't come out with a good piece of art (everyone in the sense of those inclined towards art), given that not a soul can escape from agony?
The answer lies in the sentiment of that person. His attitude towards life. He can choose to be lonely or in solitude. Many of them prefer sulking because it feeds self pity – a safe roof under which they can take shelter from reality. Very few of them choose a different way (those with positive attitude) to respond to the brutality of nature.

I sometimes feel convinced at this explanation, though chances of delusory self deception cannot be ruled out. Whatsoever be it, this doesn't stop me from wondering as to "Why does man, in spite of such efficacy of agony, craves for joy which is so short living both in duration and in memory?"
And every time, the following words uttered in the movie Matrix "Fate, it seems, Is not without its sense of Irony" ring in my ears so loudly that I choose to procrastinate than pursue it.