Thursday, January 1, 2009

Tough Love: Downers That Get You Up

Published on Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 19:05 , Updated at Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 19:12
Source : Network18 business magazine

Elizabeth Flock, Forbes-Network18

Experts have never been able to figure out why people seek out art they know will be painful. They have never been able to really explain why that sad love song feels so good, or why we enjoy a really good horror flick.

Some attribute it to the ‘paradox of tragedy’, the philosophical discussion on why human beings derive pleasure from unpleasant emotions. David Hume addressed the paradox in his treatise ‘On Tragedy’. He argued that tragedy is pleasurable because the impulse of negative emotions is overpowered and converted into pleasure through the eloquence used to depict works of art.

The theories are multitude, but accepting Hume’s theory, let us say that the works of art below succeeded in their eloquence, such that these tragic works are in fact pleasurable. These works of art appear to be downers but really they make you feel good.

And as the world, your job, or your bank account teeters on the edge of collapse, you might just need them.


Anupam Sud

Perhaps the finest printmaker alive in India today, Sud focuses on the tragic tensions between men and women. Yet in her unabashed representation of the nude body, there is an undeniable loveliness. As art critic Gayatri Sinha says, the bodies in Sud’s prints are “the only certainty in this shiftless world”.

Sud is a feminist without the pretensions of being one: displaying the male-female relationship as it really is, complete with exploitation, anguish and desire. It’s refreshing, actually. Sud conquers a physically demanding medium and we can all be gratified by the unabashed lines that etch bodies much like our own.

Best piece of art: “Cupid Playing”

Anupam Sud is on display at the Palette Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Arts in New Delhi.


Works of art from the nearly anonymous British graffiti artist have shown up in zoos, museums, building walls, and theme parks from London to New York to the Israeli West Bank. While Banksy does not hold exhibitions in commercial galleries, you can be sure to find him popping up where you least expect it.

Banksy is sometimes controversial, usually satirical, and always sticking it to the man.

He gives you a bit of an uneasy feeling when he subverts the corporate machine by sneaking his work into galleries (In 2004, Banksy hung a picture in the Louvre, Paris, that he had painted of the Mona Lisa with a yellow smiley face on it).

Yet then you remember that having a print of his recent graffiti work “One Nation Under CCTV” from Westminster, London, still makes you feel countercultural and avant-garde and cool.

Best piece of art: Nine images Banksy painted on the Israeli West Bank barrier in 2005 (including a painting of children digging a hole through the wall).

Banksy is on display wherever you least expect him.


Why do the Blues—a style of music not only named for its use of blue notes, but also the phrase of dejection—feel so good? Below are some of the masters of melancholy, who for years have also provided the utmost listening pleasure.

B.B. King

No Blues list is complete without the ‘King of Blues’ himself, B.B. King. The American guitarist and singer-songwriter defined the genre with his penchant for improvisation, complex string blends and left hand vibrato.

The name of King’s guitar, Lucille, comes from near-tragedy-cum-pleasure. In the mid-50s, King was performing at a show in Arkansas when a fight broke out, spilling over a kerosene lamp and starting a fire. King realised his $30 guitar was inside and rushed back into save it, narrowly escaping with his life. When he found out the fight was started by a girl named Lucille, he named his guitar after her, and played the guitar for the greater part of his career.

King’s career was indeed long. In 1956 alone, B.B. and his band played 342 one-night stands. Total, King has played 15,000 performances. And he is still performing today.

Best album: “The Thrill is Gone”

Best song: “Everyday I have the blues”

Lyrics excerpt:

Everyday, everyday I have the blues

Oh nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
Yes nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
Speaking of bad luck and trouble
Well you know I had my share

John Mayall

John Mayall, the skinny English counterpart to the black American blues performers, grew up listening to his father’s jazz collection and was drawn to the Blues—even its melancholy sound gave him great satisfaction.

Mayall has been around for 50 years and collaborated with a plethora of famous instrumentalists, including Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, and Mick Fleetwood. On Mayall’s 1967 album “A Hard Road”, he is assisted by future Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green, who lends aching guitar solos and raw vocals. Mayall is at his best, using a glut of instruments to give you just that feeling.

Best album: “A Hard Road”.

Best songs: "Someday After a While (You'll Be Sorry)," "It’s Over”

Lyrics excerpt (“It’s Over”):

The way it came about it was a lonely night,
She’d been drinking, wasn’t treating me right
I went outside and I took her for a walk
Things fell through when we started to talk.

Janis Joplin

The girl personifies the Blues. Her struggles with heroin and depression were lifelong. In 1969, while she was with the Kozmic Blues band, she was allegedly shooting $200 worth of heroin per day. On the album released that year, “I Got Dem ’Ol Kozmic Blues Again, Mama”, you can hear her drugs induced more-throaty-than-usual vocals.

When she played with the band at Madison Square Garden that year, she was so drugged up people doubted she would make it. But make it she did and the CD went gold.

Best album: “I Got Dem ’Ol Kozmic Blues Again, Mama”

Best song: “Kozmic Blues”

Lyrics excerpt:

Time keeps movin' on
Friends they turn away
I keep movin' on
But I never found out why
I keep pushing so hard the dream
I keep tryin' to make it right
Through another lonely day, Whoaa


Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is perverse, it is scandalous, and it is sometimes disgusting. But that doesn’t stop it from being delightful.

The story of an affair between sexual pervert Humbert Humbert and a 12-year-old Dolores Haze has never stopped being controversial from the time it hit the presses. The storyline appals you, and yet you cannot help revelling in Nabokov’s expert parodic style and his celebration of the absurd. The hero’s actions toward young Lolita are repulsive and yet you can’t look away. Perhaps some delight comes in knowing that in comparison at least you are normal. Or that this is only a story. Either way, Lolita will abhor and amuse for decades to come.

Best line: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is a bitter novel. It traces the horror of war through one man, Yossarian’s, plight, as the carnage of his crew members and friends pile up, and as fear of his own death begins to consume him. Yet Heller’s dexterity of language makes this perhaps one of the most hilarious books ever written, using hyperbole to reveal the absurdity of war.

Heller’s eloquence was such that he coined a new phrase in the English language. A Catch-22, or artificial quandary where no real choice or solution exists, was played out many times throughout the book, most famously in the number of missions the soldiers must fly, ensuring they will never return home.

Readers will despair over Yossarian and the other men’s predicaments, yet delight in the outrageousness of situations. (For example, Yossarian’s late-night attempt to move the enemy line, demarcated by a string on a map, so as not to have to fly more missions).

Heller is at his best in Catch-22, exposing the bitterness of the war and the world, and then exaggerating it to make us laugh at it.

Best quote: There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle."
"That's some catch, that catch-22," he observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Directed by Milos Forman, from the book by Ken Kesey

The psychiatric hospital setting of the film, with most of the patients based on real-life mental patients Kesey had met when he worked in a hospital, gives great fodder for humour. But Forman’s realistic portrayal of insanity also gives you the chills.

The rebel McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson, may be one of the most memorable in film history. Like all rebels, he is fights oppression and gathers a host of followers—here, his fellow patients. His desperate attempts to subvert Nurse Ratched, the tyrant of the hospital, and the reactions of the fellow patients become increasingly catastrophic and bizarre as the film progresses. But while McMurphy’s demise at the end of the film is tragic, it is not without first inspiring us all.

Best scene: McMurphy’s hilarious attempts to convince Nurse Ratched to rearrange the schedule so that the patients can watch the opener of the 1963 World Series Baseball game on TV.

Taxi Driver

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Taxi Driver was not the first in the cinema of loneliness, but it is one of the grittiest. Disillusioned New York City taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is disturbing and yet the audience identifies with him. He is presented as a common man, a Vietnam vet plagued by insomnia, and we can all understand his disenchantment with the political machine and the city’s crime, as well as his inability to ably connect with other human beings.

As Bickle becomes increasingly more violent, you find yourself further in the coils of Scorsese’s story. At the end, it leaves you feeling bloodied, but you are glad for it.

Best scene: Travis Bickle practicing a threatening speech at home, saying into the mirror “You talkin’ to me?”

Elizabeth Flock is an associate reporter with the new business magazine to be launched by Network18 in association with Forbes, USA.

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