What is catharsis

Lexicon of film terms


of .: catharsis or katharmós = Purification, atonement; Originally used in the medical sense

The psychological and functional central concept of Aristotle's theory of tragedy is catharsis. It resolves the fatal conflicts of tragedy by “cleaning” the viewer from the affects of “wailing and shuddering” (Greek: éleos and phóbos) that grab the viewer in the course of the game. Whining and shuddering are primarily understood as emotional states of excitement that are expressed in violent physical processes. In this view, the effect of tragedy is related on the one hand to the psychotherapeutic process - in that it gives the opportunity to liberate pent-up affects through the liberating affect discharge and the associated psychological-physical feeling of pleasure (Greek: hedone) enables; All in all, the viewer is mentally stabilized to a socially acceptable mediocrity. On the other hand, catharsis is to be understood as a moral and ethical purification. Lessing, for example, has in this latter sense phobos and eleos translated as 'fear' and 'compassion' and the catharsis principle as refinement of these affects resp. interpreted as the transformation of passions into virtuous skills and the reception of the tragedy thus the moral and spiritual education (Greek: paideia) assigned.
The catharsis thesis plays an important role today in the debate about the effects of violent films in particular and is considered to be one of the most important assumptions about effects: By viewing acts of violence on the screen, the instinct for aggression is defused, there is a symbolic derivation of real aggressiveness, the soul becomes " cleaned ”, so that depictions of violence can have positive social effects.

Literature: Abdulla, Adnan K .: Catharsis in literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1985. Flashar, Hellmut: The Medical Foundations of the Doctrine of the Effect of Poetry in Greek Poetics. In: Hermes 84, 1956, pp. 12-48. - Friday, Burkhard: catharsis. In: TV discourse 9, 1999, pp. 18-27. - Luserke-Jaqui, Matthias (ed.): The Aristotelian Catharsis. Documents of their interpretation in the 19th and 20th centuries. Hildesheim [...]: Olms 1991.

Article last changed on 07/31/2011

Author: JH