Catharsis, Latin from the Greek Katharsis 'purification', is a sudden emotional breakdown or climax that constitutes overwhelming feelings of great pity, sorrow, laughter, or any extreme change in emotion that results in the renewal, restoration and revitalization for living.
The fact that there existed those who could suffer a worse fate than them was to them a relief, and at the end of the play, they felt ekstasis (literally, astonishment), from which the modern word exstasis and ecstasy are derived.
While seemingly related to schadenfreude, it is not, however, in the sense that the audience is not intentionally led to feel happy in light of others' misfortunes; in an invariant sense, their spirits are refreshed through having greater appreciation for life.
In literary aesthetics catharsis is developed by the conjuction of stereotyped characters and unique or surprising actions.
Throughout a play we do not expect the nature of a character to change significantly, rather pre-existing elements are revealed in a relatively straight-forward way as the character is confronted with unique actions in time.
In contemporary aesthetics catharsis may also refer to any emptying of emotion experienced by an audience in relation to drama.
This exstasis can be perceived in comedy, melodrama and most other dramatic forms. Deliberate attempts, on political or aesthetic bases, to subvert the structure of catharsis in theatre have occurred.
For example, Bertold Brecht viewed catharsis as a pap for the bourgeois theatre audience, and designed dramas which left significant emotions unresolved, as a way to force social action upon the audience.
This technique can be seen as early as his agit-prop play The measures taken.
Catharsis in psychotherapy
The term catharsis has been adopted by modern psychotherapy to describe the act of expressing deep emotions often associated with events in the individual's past which have never before been adequately expressed.
Other medical uses
The term catharsis has been used for centuries as a medical term meaning a "purging." Most commonly in a medical context, it euphemistically refers to a purging of the bowels. A drug, herb, or other agent administered as a strong laxative is termed a cathartic.
Another meaning under the heading of 'purging' can concern body and soul : in religion, it concerns efforts made to come to terms with guilt and sin, as by penance such as by chastisement (in modern use of that word, the meaning of punishment has taken over from the original sense of purification), such as practiced by flagellants; a testimony to the age of this use is the very name of the Cathars (a medieval sect).
In early cults, the distinction between sacred and unclean is far from complete or well defined (see Taboo); consequently we find two types of cathartic sacrifice: one to cleanse of impurity and make fit for common use, another to rid of sanctity and in like manner render suitable for human use or intercourse.
- The most conspicuous example of the first class is the scapegoat. Two goats were provided by the ancient Hebrews on the Day of Atonement; the high priest sent one into the desert, after confessing on it the sins of Israel; it was not permitted to run free but was probably cast over a precipice; the other was sacrificed as a sin-offering. In like manner in the purification of lepers two birds were used; the throat of one was cut, the living bird dipped in the blood mingled with water and the leper sprinkled; then the bird was set free to carry away the leprosy. In both these rites we seem to have a duplication of ritual, and the parallelism of sacrifice and liberation is clear.
- As an example of the second class may be taken the sacrifice of the bull to Rudra. MM. Hubert and Mauss interpret this to mean that the sanctity of the remainder of the herd was concentrated on a single animal; the god, incarnate in the herd, was eliminated by the sacrifice, and the cattle saved from the dangers to which their association with the god exposed them. In the Feast of Firstfruits we have another example of the same sort; comparable with this concentration of holiness is the respect or veneration shown to a single animal as representative of its species (see ANIMAL WORSHIP). In both these cases the object of the rite is the elimination of impurity or of a source of danger. But the Nazarite was equally bound to lay aside his holiness before mixing with common folk and returning to ordinary life; this he did by a sacrifice, which, with the offering of his hair upon the altar, freed him from his vow and reduced him to the same level of sanctity as ordinary men.
Libération sous forme d’émotions d’une représentation refoulée dans l’inconscient et responsable de troubles psychiques.
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