“Mile-Long Mixtapes”: Ep. #6
by Kellie M. Beck
Aristotle’s Poetics defines the term “tragic catharsis” as a type of purgation. The idea behind tragic catharsis is that when we see something deeply tragic, we experience a purification process of a sort. Described as a “tragic pleasure”, we experience a certain satisfaction in witnessing difficult emotions in the media we consume.
Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album is full of opportunities for catharsis– even the title, Punisher, alludes to it to a certain extent. But it’s the album’s second single, Kyoto, about Bridger’s estranged father, as well as the ending track (really quite a finale), I Know The End, are the ones that ring the truest when it comes to my own personal catharsis.
When I was in high school, I had a boyfriend, who, to make a long story short, was emotionally dependent on me, two years younger than him initially, at fifteen. While our actual relationship was short-lived, he haunted my life for three and half years afterward– he would show up out of the blue at my theatre productions, or send me a text late at night, asking how I’d been. It’d be fair to say I should’ve blocked him, ignored him, been firmer in telling him to leave me alone. But he knew all too well what to say to get my attention.
Listening to Bridgers’ Kyoto for the first time, I burst into tears– not the gross, sobbing kind, but rather that kind of emotional response you’re not sure where it comes from. Bridgers’ lyrics are blunt– they cut to the chase.
I don’t forgive you
But please don’t hold me to it
Born under Scorpio skies
I wanted to see the world
Through your eyes until it happened
Then I changed my mind
Even though Bridgers is referencing her father, one of her major skills is writing her personal stories to be universal. The most interesting thing about Punisher, to me, is its use of both themes of masochism, as well as tragic catharsis, that makes me wonder if Bridgers herself finds tragic catharsis in her own pain. A better question might be, can we process our traumas and hurt through art so that we ourselves might find catharsis in them? But perhaps that is why creating art is so seductive– to play a character outside yourself, to write a story from another’s point of view, to write your story down through lyrics– isn’t that what most artists pursue?
The boyfriend moved to Frankenmuth, of all places. He asked me to visit for a day– god knows why, but I said yes. We had a fine day. In fact, it almost felt normal. After that day, we never saw or spoke to each other again.
Catharsis is a kind of relief.