Saturday, 5 November 2011

Putting the ARS in cathARSis

06:08:00 Posted by Ashley Lister 4 comments

By Ashley Lister

I have to get this out of my system: I don’t believe in catharsis. The idea of emotionally purging the crud from my internal reservoirs sounds too much like a laboured and extended metaphor. I DO purge crud from my internal reservoir but, honestly, it’s not emotional crud. It’s just regular crud. And it’s not an internal reservoir. It’s a bowel. And it’s not catharsis. It’s just me taking a…

You get the picture.

I don’t think I’m really in touch with my emotions. If I do have an emotional reservoir, it’s probably constipated. I can illustrate my problem by explaining what happened with a recent book review I wrote.

Earlier this week I posted a link to a scathing book review I’d written:

Did I do this to be mean? Not really. I was trying to write an honest review of a book that I considered unreadable. If I’m going to justify my actions in any way it’s to say that I’m a skinflint and I wholeheartedly condone an ethos of financial prudence. If a book costs £10.00 (and this is the average hourly payment to a worker in the UK), then I want to make sure the book is worth an hour’s sweat from someone’s brow before I recommend purchasing a copy. The Tory austerity measures are not proving to be the giggle-fest of belt-tightening laughs and japes that was promised last year. Money is tight. Times are hard. In this economic climate I don’t want to encourage anyone to invest in something that is not worth the money even if the investment is as paltry as a tenner.

In saying this I’m admitting that I measure the value of literature from a perspective of financial worth. I think this is a fair scale for measuring the value of literature. It breaks through all the artificial barriers of structuralism, feminism, queer theory and post-colonialism and is only slightly relative to Marxist theories because it harkens back to the capital in capitalism.

And what does this have to do with catharsis? Note the anagram:



Or maybe that’s stretching a little too much.

Some people say that mean reviews are borne from a mean spirited nature. Some people think, “Wow! The reviewer woke up in a pretty shitty mood when he started that review.” Others suggest it’s nothing more than a cathartic process: a reviewer getting something out of their system.

But the truth – or the truth as I see it – is that there is nothing cathartic about writing a scathing book review. I read the book. The book was shit. I wrote a review calling the book shit. Did I feel better after I wrote the bad book review? No. I know how much work goes into writing a book. It takes the same amount of effort for a bad writer to produce a bad book as it does for a good writer to produce a good book. To have that enormous effort rewarded with a reviewer’s snarkiness must be pretty galling. So I did not feel better after I wrote my snippy review. Any suggestions of catharsis are only trying to excuse the antisocial aspect of my behaviour.

All of which is my way of saying that I don’t believe in catharsis. I’m aware that it works for some but it’s not something that I’ve noticed in my own writing.

And, now I’ve said all that, I can’t tell you how good it feels to have gotten that out of my system.



Lindsay said...

Great post Ash. And for what it's worth it's better to have honest reviews, although it always staggers me how these things have been published in the first place. Keep up the honesty, you're providing a public service ;)

Ashley R Lister said...


Thanks. I try to be honest, and when I find a book that is really good I want to sing about it from the rooftops.

And I got no measure of mean spirited pleasure from writing that review ;-)


Lindsay said...

Out of curiosity, what the mother of god is that image of?

Ashley R Lister said...

Catheter tubes/pipes - I picked up the image from an online medical catalogue. I thought it was somehow apposite.

The other image I had just looked like a boil-in-the-bag curry.