Yesterday I promised that today's post would not be a rant, but that it would contain substance. I had considered writing something about the physical and economic requirements of giants, and too I had considered writing on the subject of feudalism and labor. Instead, I'm going to tackle a subject that is not quite making it into the book I'm writing, but addresses a struggle I am having with the exact language I'm using to make a point. And because I want the reader to understand the various elements of the point, I'd like to begin with catharsis.
Wikipedia correctly defines it as a 'purification' or a 'clensing' ... it is a state of being that is obtained through embracing an emotional state that one might fear, or feel repulsed by, that threatens the wall of comfort and security with which we embrace ourselves. It is an unpleasant process. It can occur because we have forced it upon ourselves, such as those who cut themselves in order to feel something (chemical bodily responses as well as a sense of life and vitality) or plunging into an environment no sane person would enter in order to obtain knowledge or clarity. George Orwell lived as a bum on the streets of London in order to understand what it meant to be poor and homeless. His account can be found in "Down & Out in Paris and London," in which he revealed in the 1940s many of the experiences which newstories and documentaries have now made common knowledge - that it is a fight for food, for shelter, for respect and so on. Orwell did not need to live that life, but in living it he discovered things about himself he did not know.
Dramatists explore the reaches of tragedy in order to force their audience to examine elements of life and experience that they would not normally encounter ... or which they are encountering every day without comprehending. In Albee's Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, he depict the twin horrors of a young, optomistic couple and an old, pessimistic couple, to examine the pain of ordinary life in marriage. It is an thoroughly unpleasant, disconcerting play. It is particularly acute for older persons, then, as they become less like the younger couple and more like the older. There are reflections that one would rather not look at directly. The play can last for three hours, and if the performance is good, the process of watching it and ultimately leaving the theatre is entirely cathartic.
It is a strange thing, but the process of wounding ourselves, emotionally or physically, is an important element of our understanding ourselves. Not merely our limitations, but in many ways the lack of them. Catharsis is strange in that while it is emotionally troubling, draining, even to some degree destructive, the other side of catharsis is awakening, empowering and phenomenally potent. A truly cathartic experience, such as losing a loved one, ending a marriage, losing all one possesses to fire or another element, can result in the most marvelous comprehensions about one's personality, one's ability and the importance of things.
There's no question of why dramatists - and other artists to a lesser degree - turn to tragedy in order to produce results. Why, one may ask, does Bambi's mother have to die? Because there is reality and meaning even in the most meaningless things. In such events, even in a child's film, we begin to adjust our thinking to understand that there is not always understanding. And that the wisdom is in the adjustment, not in the answer.
When an artist sits to create, that artist is not bound by rules that the creation must bring pleasure and happiness and good times. The artist is only bound by the rule that it must bring value. If it is valuable, it may yet be horrific in its structure. It may not seek to produce a smile, it may produce terror, or pain, or even depression and despair. If the work does so truthfully, then it may be embraced, whatever the discontent it offers in addition to its distraction.
This has always been known with regards to the Art of Presentation. Else why is this image so well known?
It is this truth in art that supports articulately the argument that D&D cannot only be pleasure. It must also be pain. It must be cathartic. It must include in its boundaries the possibilities for a party to experience the awful, indescriminate sufferings of life and battle and loss and tragedy just as any other art form embraces them. The DM cannot be forced to choose the game only by the mask upon the left. The mask on the right has too much behind it, far too much to offer, to demand that it be ignored.
If the gentle reader will look back upon the fictional works, the films and music and art that shaped their existence, that gave their lives meaning, that have shown the way to wisdom and knowledge, the reader will be forced to recognize that, in their isolated form, they were ALL BAD. Those moments, if any of us were forced to live in them without reprieve, would be awful hells. We have been reprieved. We have glanced at them, shaped our lives around them, altered our perspective and become wise ... because of them.
Comedy, the left hand mask, is a distraction. It is pleasant. It removes us from ourselves and gives us a rest from trials. It enables us to gain our perspective, to rest before addressing once again the mask on the right. But we inevitably return to the mask on the right because it gives us something the mask on the left can never give us. Purpose. Meaning. A reason to wake up in the morning, and be proud of ourselves, and to strain ourselves for others. All that is good in us comes from behind the mask on the right.
D&D must wear it as well.