Wednesday, January 13, 2016

I've got that Joy, Joy, Joy: Where? Feelings, Catharsis and a Monk

'Inside Out' takes us inside the head of an 11 year old girl, and the 5 emotions which direct her responses to the world. 'Joy' is in charge inside the girls head, but anger, fear, disgust and sadness all chip in.

One of the best things about the film is that 'Sadness' goes from being a marginal, misunderstood feeling to one that's indispensable, and there's a sense that maturity involves a more complicated mix of feelings than just being joyful all the time.

However there's also a missing ingredient: alongside the 5 emotions there's no role for reason, conscience, soul, or will. Character emerges from the interaction of the emotions. The emotions moderate each other, but the 'train of thought' only visits occasionally to take things into long-term memory, and 'abstract thought' is a hazardous and destructive zone hidden at the back of the mind.

On Sunday we used a clip from the movie in our cafe service, the following day I stumbled across this:

"there are seven principal affections that rise by turns form the one affective disposition of the soul: hope and fear, joy and grief, hatred, love and shame. All these can be ordered at one time, and disordered at another."

'Ordered' means directed towards the right thing - hating justice would be disordered, as would fear of something harmless. The writer? Richard of St. Victor a 12th century monk and theologian. Fear, joy, hatred (anger), shame (disgust) and grief (sadness). Together in Inside Out, the 5 characters all 'love our girl', so hope is the only one missing.

Richard writes of virtue being a state where our emotions are rightly ordered, and rightly moderated. I.e. directed towards the right thing, with the right intensity.

"one ought to keep cautious watch over all the virtues so that they are not only ordered but also moderated. For excessive fear often falls into despair; excessive grief into bitterness; immoderate hope into presumption; overabundant love into flattery; unnecessary joy into dissolution; intemperate anger into fury. And so in this way virtues are turned into vices if they are not moderated by discretion"

This makes a lot of sense, but can sound a bit uptight. I'm put in mind of the imam in Rev who occasionally declares 'too much humour'. Don't we need to let it all out at times? Digital Nun has this to say on the death of David Bowie:

A public figure many feel they knew personally, and who had attained some sort of iconic status, is publicly mourned in a way that may truly be called cathartic.
It is some time since I last read Aristotle’s Poetics, but I remember thinking how interesting it was that his notion of the purging of the emotions of pity and fear should be linked to the Greek word for purity, katharos. We are cleansed by the safe release of potentially destructive emotions. Isn’t that what we are seeing in the reaction to David Bowie’s death? Our own death and the feelings we have about it are somehow tied up with his. Add to that the power of the media to make us feel we have a personal connection with someone; its ability to scatter stardust over even the most ordinary activity or event; above all, the way in which it invites a sense of immediate engagement, all these contribute to the extraordinary scenes we have witnessed.
The counterpoint to this catharsis is that Bowie kept his illness a secret, something private, in one one commentator calls a revolutionary  avoidance of the private sphere in an age where more and more is done in public. Bowie himself predicted of the internet in 2000   "I think the potential of what the Internet is going to do to society both good and bad is unimaginable. I think we're on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying." In the few years I've been blogging, blogging itself has taken a back seat to the more immediate social media - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We've moved from sharing our thoughts to sharing our lives. The more immediate the media, the more immediate the catharsis. 
What would Richard of St. Victor make of all this? What is the place of catharsis, and moderation? If we are a generation that 'hears with our eyes and thinks with our feelings', how do we make sure we become more emotionally intelligent, not just more emotional? Or am I overthinking this?

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading this. Thanks for posting. Can I follow your blog on Twitter?