Apocalypse as a catalyst for catharsis

This blog post began, as so many do, with questions of origin. But first, let’s back up. Currently, I am enrolled on Spanish 102 with Dr. Matthews and according to our syllabus, our end goal is to achieve the ACTFL’s Novice High level of proficiency in speaking, writing, listening, and reading. Because of my involvement with Spanish 102, I’ve been actively trying to “think” in Spanish outside of class — whether it’s reading Spanish directions or warning labels instead of the English ones, speaking it with the few friends also enrolled in 102, or looking for Spanish cognates wherever possible.  That’s why the word “catarsis” stuck with me when I read it in Monica Uszerowicz article; first I was genuinely excited that I recognized it as the Spanish word for “catharsis.” In case you’re forgetting, Catarsis is the name of the art exhibit that featured Jo Cosme’s cards. I then remembered something Dr. Matthews has brought to my attention many times, that sometimes even though a word might have the same denotative meaning in Spanish and English, their connotative meaning might be starkly different. I wondered a. if the connotative meaning for catarsis and catharsis aligned and b. what the significance of that name is regarding the art expo. So I did some googling. I found on etymologyonline.com that the word first comes from the Greek word katharsis, meaning “purging, cleansing”– this could be in a bodily or emotional sense. I related to that; usually when I use the word I’m probably talking about the feeling I get after a good shower-cry or a difficult but productive conversation with one of my parents. On spanishdict.com I found the translation and some examples of it in a sentence — the first example seems to be more on par with the English connotation of the word: “The abuse girl found catharsis through drawing.” However, the following examples seem to carrier a weightier connotation regarding large scale adversity. While I usually see the word as a way to describe the feeling of a run at the end of a stressful day, it seems the Spanish connotation is more often used to encapsulate a point of change in the wake of disaster with examples like “It appears, as the speaker said previously, that every tragedy has a cathartic effect” and “Could the last victim of the ongoing conflict in the Basque country become the final catharsis for its solution?” After investigating the Museo de las Américas website and finding the web page for Catarsis, this notion was confirmed stating that the intention of the project is to be an outlet for people effected by Hurricane Maria to “somehow release feelings caused by this historic event.” In a place like Puerto Rico, where pressure is constantly rising, simmering, rising again, and erupting, I think the cathartic release felt by making or relating to this artwork in the face of apocalyptic-like conditions is the answer to Beth’s question “So what?” As stated by both Roach and Cosme, there is a “collective” sense of memory and survival when one enters the realm of creating or understanding art for the sake of relief, security, or even truth. Like Dryden, Cosme designs a piece of artwork that is “an evocation of memory with designs on an apocalyptic future” (Roach 45). However, as noted by Uszerowicz, the tarot cards don’t necessarily depict the future but current problems that have culminated out of past events and political patterns. Cosme’s artwork is a space for her and her viewers to further uncover the distinctly human and messy truths that the devastation of Hurricane Maria revealed, like the simple importance of ice or the superficial “help” offered by the United States government. That’s why I think the word “apocalypse” is so important here, as it comes from the Greek word apokalyptein meaning “to uncover, disclose, reveal.” Tragedy ensues, truth is revealed, and people find solace in that truth, despite how horrible, by purging catastrophe inspired artwork that can bring communities together in solidarity. I can’t help but draw parallels between Cosme and Dryden, Virgil, Spike Lee, or even Grace Nichols, all artists who are trying to make sense of “historic [tendencies]” that can aid in forecasting predictions of the future (Roach 46). I want to end with a definition found below the description for Catarsis: “Elimination of memories that disturb the consciousness or nervous balance.” This struck me as very Roachian — as survivors of Hurricane Maria continue to make sense of the disaster through art, they are forgetting the hurt, pain, and loss inflicted by the hurricane and its aftermath. By dispelling this pain, they can make room to remember what makes them a united community of Puerto Rican revolutionaries, determined through their art to “transmit ideas, provoke reflections, transform, and (re) create reality” (¡La bandera está de negro, Puerto Rico en pie de lucha!).

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