Classical CriticismPoetics by Aristotle

Aristotle’s Concept of Catharsis Explained

3 Mins read

In Poetics, Aristotle writes that the perform of tragedy is to arouse the feelings of “pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish the catharsis of such emotions.” Aristotle has used the term catharsis only once in Poetics, however the critics have interpreted it in several methods.

This confusion arises from the truth that Aristotle himself has not defined what precisely he meant by the word. For this purpose, help and guidance must be taken from his different works, particularly from his Politics and Ethics. Further, catharsis has three meanings. It means ‘purgation’, purification’, and ‘clarification’. Different critics have used the word in a single or the opposite sense. G. F. Else says:

“The traditional, widely held interpretations of catharsis as “purification” or “purgation” have no basis in the Poetics’s text, but are derived from the use of catharsis in other Aristotelian and non-Aristotelian contexts.”

For this purpose, a number of numerous interpretations of the meaning of this term have arisen. But all of the critics agree that tragedy arouses worry and pity, however there are variations as to the method, the way in which by which the arousing of those feelings provide pleasure.

Different Interpretations of the Word “Catharsis”

Purgation Theory

Catharsis can also be taken as a medical metaphor, ‘purgation’, denoting a healing impact on the soul much like the impact of medicine on the body. Twining and Barney, the well-known critics, are of the view that this process has the same qualities because the homeopathic treatment with the like curing the like, and thus, it’s mentioned that the rousing of pity and fear leads to the purgation of those feelings. This view is borne out by a passage within the Politics where Aristotle refers to religious frenzy being cured by certain tunes which excite religious frenzy. In tragedy:

“… pity and fear, artificially stirred expel the latent pity and fear which we bring with us from real life.”

Freud and different psychologists additionally support this interpretation, after they say that by serving to sufferers to recall their painful childhood experiences, they’ll cure neurosis. In the Neo-Classical period, they took Catharsis to be an allopathic treatment with the unlike curing the unlike.

Read About: Explain the Concept of Tragedy by Aristotle

If feelings like anger, hatred, cause the suffering or disrespect towards gods, it purged us of such undesirable feelings, because we understand their evil consequences.

Psychological Interpretation

F. L. Lucas rejects the concept catharsis is a medical metaphor and says that “the theatre is not a hospital.” Both Lucas and Herbert Reed regard it as a form of safety valve. It aroused pity and fear; we give free play to those feelings, which we can not do in actual life, and emotional relief follows this safe and free outlet of those feelings. In actual life, they’re suppressed, and in theatre the free indulgence in these feelings, aroused by the struggling of the hero, is safe and brings relief to our pent-up souls. I. A. Richards’ approach to the process can also be psychological.

Purification Theory

One meaning of Catharsis is ‘purification’. Some critics have interpreted the term within the light of this meaning. These critics reject the interpretation of Catharsis within the lights of medical terminology. Humphry House, for example, says that Aristotle’s idea of Catharsis was not as a medical term. He interprets the word to imply a type of “moral conditioning.” According to the purification concept, catharsis implies that they purify our feelings of excess and defect, are lowered to intermediate state, skilled and directed in the direction of the appropriate objects on the right time.

Intellectual Clarification Theory

Aristotle points out that the pleasure within the imitative arts is related with learning. Pleasure doesn’t come from joy alone; even the pictures of dead bodies can provide pleasure if effectively painted. A similar paradox lies there in tragedy. The tragic incidents are painful. They may present horrible conditions of man blinding himself, or a woman killing her husband, or a mother killing her child.

Learning comes from discovering the relation between the action and the universal elements hidden in it. The poet may take his materials from history or mythology, however he selects and orders it by way of probability and necessity, and represents what, “might be”. He rises from the actual to the overall and so is more common and more philosophical.

First, it’s a technique of the tragedy and to not the psychology of the audience.

Second, the speculation relies on what Aristotle says within the Poetics, and needs no help and support of what Aristotle has mentioned in Politics and Ethics.

Third, it relates Catharsis each to the theory of imitation and to the discussion of probability and necessity.

Fourthly, the theory is completely in accord with present aesthetic theories.

The clarification concept comes nearer to defining the important quality of the tragic experience than didactic and theological explanations.

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