Catharsis

Catharsis (from Greek κάθαρσις, katharsis, meaning "purification" or "cleansing" or "clarification") refers to the purification and purgation of emotions—particularly pity and fear—through art[1] or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.[2][3] It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics, comparing the effects of tragedy on the mind of a spectator to the effect of catharsis on the body.[4][5]

Dramatic uses

Catharsis is a term in dramatic art that describes the effect of tragedy (or comedy and quite possibly other artistic forms)[6] principally on the audience (although some have speculated on characters in the drama as well). Nowhere does Aristotle explain the meaning of "catharsis" as he is using that term in the definition of tragedy in the Poetics (1449b21-28). G. F. Else argues that traditional, widely held interpretations of catharsis as "purification" or "purgation" have no basis in the text of the Poetics, but are derived from the use of catharsis in other Aristotelian and non-Aristotelian contexts.[7] For this reason, a number of diverse interpretations of the meaning of this term have arisen. The term is often discussed along with Aristotle's concept of anagnorisis.

D. W. Lucas, in an authoritative edition of the Poetics, comprehensively covers the various nuances inherent in the meaning of the term in an Appendix devoted to "Pity, Fear, and Katharsis".[8] Lucas recognizes the possibility of catharsis bearing some aspect of the meaning of "purification, purgation, and 'intellectual clarification'" although his discussion of these terms is not always, or perhaps often, in the precise form with which other influential scholars have treated them. Lucas himself does not accept any one of these interpretations as his own but adopts a rather different one based on "the Greek doctrine of Humours" which has not received wide subsequent acceptance. Purgation and purification, used in previous centuries, as the common interpretations of catharsis are still in wide use today.[9] More recently, in the twentieth century, the interpretation of catharsis as "intellectual clarification" has arisen as a rival to the older views in describing the effect of catharsis on members of the audience.

Purgation and purification

In his works prior to the Poetics, Aristotle had used the term catharsis purely in its literal medical sense (usually referring to the evacuation of the katamenia—the menstrual fluid or other reproductive material).[10] The Poetics, however, employs catharsis as a medical metaphor.

F. L. Lucas opposes, therefore, the use of words like purification and cleansing to translate catharsis; he proposes that it should rather be rendered as purgation. "It is the human soul that is purged of its excessive passions."[11] Gerald F. Else made the following argument against the "purgation" theory:

It presupposes that we come to the tragic drama (unconsciously, if you will) as patients to be cured, relieved, restored to psychic health. But there is not a word to support this in the "Poetics", not a hint that the end of drama is to cure or alleviate pathological states. On the contrary it is evident in every line of the work that Aristotle is presupposing "normal" auditors, normal states of mind and feeling, normal emotional and aesthetic experience.[12]

Lessing (1729–1781) sidesteps the medical attribution. He interprets catharsis as a purification (German: Reinigung),[13] an experience that brings pity and fear into their proper balance: "In real life", he explained, "men are sometimes too much addicted to pity or fear, sometimes too little; tragedy brings them back to a virtuous and happy mean."[14] Tragedy is then a corrective; through watching tragedy, the audience learns how to feel these emotions at proper levels.

Intellectual clarification

In the twentieth century a paradigm shift took place in the interpretation of catharsis with a number of scholars contributing to the argument in support of the intellectual clarification concept.[15] The clarification theory of catharsis would be fully consistent, as other interpretations are not, with Aristotle's argument in chapter 4 of the Poetics (1448b4-17) that the essential pleasure of mimesis is the intellectual pleasure of "learning and inference".

It is generally understood that Aristotle's theory of mimesis and catharsis are responses to Plato's negative view of artistic mimesis on an audience. Plato argued that the most common forms of artistic mimesis were designed to evoke from an audience powerful emotions such as pity, fear, and ridicule which override the rational control that defines the highest level of our humanity and lead us to wallow unacceptably in the overindulgence of emotion and passion. Aristotle's concept of catharsis, in all of the major senses attributed to it, contradicts Plato's view by providing a mechanism that generates the rational control of irrational emotions. All of the commonly held interpretations of catharsis, purgation, purification, and clarification are considered by most scholars to represent a homeopathic process in which pity and fear accomplish the catharsis of emotions like themselves. For an alternate view of catharsis as an allopathic process in which pity and fear produce a catharsis of emotions unlike pity and fear, see E. Belfiore, Tragic Pleasures: Aristotle on Plot and Emotion. Princeton, 1992, 260 ff.

Literary analysis of catharsis

The following analysis by E. R. Dodds, directed at the character of Oedipus in the paradigmatic Aristotelian tragedy, Oedipus Rex, incorporates all three of the aforementioned interpretations of catharsis: purgation, purification, intellectual clarification:

...what fascinates us is the spectacle of a man freely choosing, from the highest motives a series of actions which lead to his own ruin. Oedipus might have left the plague to take its course; but pity for the sufferings of his people compelled him to consult Delphi. When Apollo's word came back, he might still have left the murder of Laius uninvestigated; but piety and justice required him to act. He need not have forced the truth from the reluctant Theban herdsman; but because he cannot rest content with a lie, he must tear away the last veil from the illusion in which he has lived so long. Teiresias, Jocasta, the herdsman, each in turn tries to stop him, but in vain; he must read the last riddle, the riddle of his own life. The immediate cause of Oedipus' ruin is not "fate or "the gods"—no oracle said that he must discover the truth—and still less does it lie in his own weakness; what causes his ruin is his own strength and courage, his loyalty to Thebes, and his loyalty to the truth.[16]

Attempts to subvert catharsis

There have been, for political or aesthetic reasons, deliberate attempts made to subvert the effect of catharsis in theatre. For example, Bertolt Brecht viewed catharsis as a pap (pabulum) for the bourgeois theatre audience, and designed dramas which left significant emotions unresolved, intending to force social action upon the audience. Brecht then identified the concept of catharsis with the notion of identification of the spectator, meaning a complete adhesion of the viewer to the dramatic actions and characters. Brecht reasoned that the absence of a cathartic resolution would require the audience to take political action in the real world, in order to fill the emotional gap they had experienced vicariously. This technique can be seen as early as his agit-prop play The Measures Taken, and is mostly the source of his invention of an epic theatre, based on a distancing effect (Verfremdungseffekt) between the viewer and the representation or portrayal of characters.[17][citation needed]

Other Languages
العربية: تطهير (أرسطو)
български: Катарзис
català: Catarsi
Чӑвашла: Катарсис
čeština: Katarze
eesti: Katarsis
Ελληνικά: Κάθαρση
español: Catarsis
Esperanto: Katarso
euskara: Katarsi
فارسی: کاتارسیس
français: Catharsis
galego: Catarse
한국어: 카타르시스
հայերեն: Կատարսիս
hrvatski: Katarza
Bahasa Indonesia: Katarsis
íslenska: Kaþarsis
italiano: Catarsi
עברית: קתרזיס
қазақша: Катарсис
Кыргызча: Катарсис
latviešu: Katarse
lietuvių: Katarsis
Limburgs: Katharsis
magyar: Katarzis
日本語: カタルシス
norsk: Katarsis
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਕਥਾਰਸਿਸ
português: Catarse
română: Catharsis
русский: Катарсис
slovenčina: Katarzia
српски / srpski: Катарза
suomi: Katarsis
svenska: Katarsis
тоҷикӣ: Катарсис
Türkçe: Katarsis
українська: Катарсис
中文: 淨化作用