In Defense of Tragedy

20140312_183432Thousands of years ago one of history’s greatest minds created a term called Catharsis and art has never been the same. Aristotle praised the Greek tragedy of Oedipus Rex in Poetics, exalting its tragic qualities. He argued that tragedy allows human beings to explore our darker nature through the safe illusion of artistic expression. By doing this, we purge ourselves of the emotional poisons within us, learn more about ourselves, and become wiser, better creatures.

In 2016, people rarely think of art as a cathartic experience. Something that once mended our spirit and took us on a journey through the turmoil of existence has slowly been demoted to entertainment, a quick fix, an artistic SSRI. This opens a massive conversation about the relationship between economy and culture, the failures of capitalism to fulfill the most basic of human needs. We now live in a world where even transcendence is commoditized, which of course will never work. Transcendence by definition is something that extends beyond the normal experience, while contemporary culture aims to normalize all experiences and set all services, goods, and, sensations into a fixed market with one another.

Listening to Daughter’s albums is often a descent into feelings of loss, alienation, betrayal, and heartbreak. In a culture of positivity, this can be difficult to understand. Unlike Coca Cola, the iPhone, or the Avengers, Daughter is not interested in making you feel good. It intentionally hurts you, demands introspection, and imposes painful wisdom.

Daughter As Worship

If You Leave is a masterful execution of this oldest of art forms. In songs like “Smother,” the subject struggles with her romantic shortcomings, and even toils with basic existential questions. In earlier songs, such as “Love” she contemplates an obsessive battle with jealousy and romantic betrayal. Daughter’s appeal, like Oedipus’s, goes beyond the accused masochism. Here the shaman, or artist, guides us through a battle against our internal foes. If the battle is successful, we leave tired, enlightened, and clean.

Greek Tragedy evolved directly out of temple worship, and the best tragedy still carries that legacy. The percussion in Daughter’s music shares the ritualistic beat of a sacrificial offering, of prayer. The band’s live performance is ritualistic as well, with the fog and lights moving slowly to mimic the burning of sacred flesh. The pain conjured by the artist becomes the offering, the secular pathway toward transcendence.

Art in a Time of Convenience

In Not to Disappear Daughter has evolved from merely a practitioner of the art of tragedy and into a social commenter on its role in society. Songs such as “Number” challenge the very of cult of good feelings that the band contests, with an expressed feeling of numbness and a constant demand to be made better. The tragic irony is that the very addiction to good feelings is what creates this numb sensation. The continued attempts to resolve the shortcomings of hedonism through hedonism (often in the form of love addiction) become a microcosm for a society unable to see the virtue of negative emotions. The true answer is not love; it is tragedy. As this album demonstrates: the only way out is through.

In conclusion, to argue that Daughter is too sad to be worthwhile is only to confirm the importance of their message.

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