Catharsis

July 12, 2009

I was watching the movie ‘The Reader’ today. Ironically, today is the last day of my summer internship in Germany. Just when I have begun feeling that I had seen enough of Europe after three visits, I came across this excellent movie which seems to raise some question marks now. Last summer, when I left from Karlsruhe, I had a feeling that I had not yet fully explored the German culture. I wanted to come back again. I wanted to understand them better. When I came back in winter, my assiduous research project and the harsh freezing temperatures did not help me in my mission. This summer, not only have I seen a lot of Germany, but also a lot of the rest of Europe(Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Franceto be precise). I had just started feeling that I have seen enough of Europe now and may be it is time to head Westwards (again the recession raises a lot of doubts and forces me to re-think). But, then this movie makes me feel there is no end to knowledge and learning and understanding.  The movie also refers to Catharsis. At the end of the movie, a concentration camp survivor, who is grown up now advises Michael (who had an affair with Hanna Schmitz, a guard at Auschwitz who was being convicted for her crime) to go to the theater or to take the help of literature for Catharsis. The courtship of Hanna Schmitz has been depicted very subtly and deftly by the director. The movie handles a very difficult subject of Nazi warcrime prosecution very well.  I started googling about the word catharsis and I found out some facts, interesting enough to blog on.

A catharsis is an emotional release which  helps in releasing unconscious conflicts. For example, experiencing stress over a work-related situation may cause feelings of frustration and tension. Rather than vent these feelings inappropriately, the individual may instead release these feelings in another way, such as through physical activity or another stress relieving activity.

The word catharsis comes from the Greek word ‘katharsis’, which literally translated means “a cleansing or purging.” The first recorded mention of catharsis occurred more than one thousand years ago, in the work Poetics by Aristotle. Aristotle taught that viewing tragic plays gave people emotional release (katharsis) from negative feelings such as pity, fear, and anger. By watching the characters in the play experience tragic events, the negative feelings of the viewer were presumably purged and cleansed. This emotional cleansing was believed to be beneficial to both the individual and society.

The ancient notion of catharsis was revived by Sigmund Freud and his associates. For example, A. A. Brill, the psychiatrist who introduced the psychoanalytic techniques of Freud to the United States, prescribed that his patients watch a prize fight once a month to purge their angry, aggressive feelings into harmless channels.

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