Saturday, June 2, 2018

On The Aesthetic Experience

Arthur Koestler, in The Act of Creation, shows that the aesthetic experience is the presence and interaction in the mind of two worlds, one real, one imaginary.  A stage-play, like a  magic carpet, transports the spectator from the trivial present to a special world of imagination and this enables him to transcend his immediate thoughts and anxieties.

Here’s an excerpt from Koestler’s The Act of Creation (Chapter 15: “The Power of Illusion”):
To revert to Aristotle, the cathartic function of the tragedy is 'through incidents arousing horror and pity to accomplish the purgation of such emotions’. In cruder terms, a good cry, like a good laugh, has a more lasting after-effect than the occasion seems to warrant. Taking the Aristotelian definition at face value, it would seem that the aesthetic experience could purge the mind only of those emotions which the stage-play has created; that it would merely take out of the nervous system what it has just put in, leaving the mind in the same state as before. But this is not so. The emotion is not created, but merely stimulated by the actors; it must be ‘worked up’ by the spectator. The work of art does not provide the current, like an electricity company, but merely the installations; the current has to be generated by the consumer. Although this is obvious once we remember it, we tend to fall into the mistake of taking a metaphor at face value and believing that the stage ‘provides' us with a thrill against cash payment for a seat in the stalls. What we buy, however, is not emotion, but a sequence of stimuli cunningly designed to trigger off our latent participatory emotions which otherwise would remain frustrated or look for coarser outlets, and to assure their ultimate consummation. Life constantly generates tensions which run through the mind like stray eddies and erratic currents. The aesthetic experience inhibits some, canalizes others, but above all, it draws on unconscious sources of emotion which otherwise are only active in the games of the underground. 
According to Koestler, “Tragedy, in a Greek sense, is the school of self-transcendence.”

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