There is a familiar puzzle in philosophy of art: How do fictions provoke real feelings in us?
This raises other questions: Are those real feelings? Do we feel real fear, or some fear-like thing when we watch a scary movie? How do actors or written words get us to feel those things, whatever they are?
Over at the podcast The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Peter Adamson (LMU Munich, King’s College London) talks about the rasa tradition that starts with Bharata’s Nāṭya-Śāstra (Treatise on Drama) and its distinctive approach to answering these questions. The text dates back to 200 BCE – 200 CE, so it’s roughly as old as Aristotle’s Poetics.
What is rasa? An aesthetic response elicited by the drama. It’s not the emotion itself, but it derives from the emotion.
There are eight kinds of rasa, corresponding to eight basic emotional dispositions:
- the erotic
- the comic
- the pathetic
- the furious
- the heroic
- the terrible
- the odious
- the marvelous
- (and perhaps a ninth: tranquility)
There is lots of interesting stuff here. Rasa theory not only tries to present an adequate answer to the puzzle above, but has implications for lots of different issues across philosophy of art – including theories of acting and theater, the audience and taste, and the aim of art. It also has implications for fictionalism, theories of emotion, mind and representation, and language and metaphor.
Rasa can even help us understand ourselves and our place in the world:
“This enjoyment of rasa is like this bliss that comes from realizing one’s identity with the highest Brahman, for it consists of repose in the bliss which is the true nature of one’s own self.” – Abhinavagupta
It’s only 20 minutes long — go have a listen!