Friday, 6 May 2011
C IS FOR CATHARSIS
Catharsis, n. purification of the emotions, as by the drama according to Aristotle: the purging of the effects of pent-up emotion and repressed thoughts, by bringing them to the surface of consciousness.
Catharsis describes the result of measures taken to cleanse away blood-guilt—"blood is purified through blood" (Burkert 1992:56), a process in the development of Hellenic culture in which the oracle of Delphi took a prominent role.
Modern parlance has words we might prefer, both of them starting with C: closure and cleansing.
Since the death of Osama bin Laden media reports have expressed awe, shock and horror, overwhelming surprise at the suddenness of the news in spite of the ten year gap between 9/11 and his death; we have seen jubilation and celebration; more recently there has been hand-wringing and breast-beating at the manner of the killing; the Archbishop of Canterbury has professed himself as 'uncomfortable' with the shooting. Questions are being asked about the exact course of events, the legality of events, the infringement of Pakistan's sovereignty; the wisdom of burial at sea, the advisability of withholding pictures of the dead body are being discussed. The first conspiracy theories are emerging, disbelief and doubt are surfacing; the compound where bin Laden apparently lived for the past five years without knowledge of the Pakistani authorities has become a place of gruesome pilgrimage, a tourist attraction.
Fears of repercussion are growing, we are told we must be vigilant and aware of the dangers to security.
Newton states in his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy:
Every action has its equal and opposite reaction.
J.R.R. Tolkien said in The Lord Of The Rings, Book Four:
Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.
No doubt there will be many more questions and very few answers, there may be tensions between nations, harsh words and sabre rattling; there will always be those for whom nothing that is said or done will be right, but of one thing I am absolutely certain:
Osama bin Laden is dead and for the people of New York, the families and friends of his victims, and the vast, overwhelming majority of the people of the United States there has been catharsis.