Tuesday, January 6th, 2004, 8:00 PM

THE CATHARSIS OF PITY AND FEAR:
EMOTION IN ART AND PSYCHOANALYSIS


presenter: Charles Shepherdson, Ph.D.
discussant: Benjamin Kilborne, Ph.D.

The role of emotion in the sphere of esthetic experience has a long and complex history, starting from Plato’s worry about the way in which art arouses the passions in relation to merely imaginary or unreal objects. This talk will explore Aristotle’s remarks on the “catharsis of pity and fear” in the experience of tragedy, starting with the debates about the concept of “catharsis”, and moving to the specific choice of “pity and fear”, as the two privileged emotions. Since the ancients used the term “catharsis” in the context of medicine and religion, as well as in discussions of art, we will ask how the esthetic relation to emotion differs from that of medical and religious (and indeed rational or philosophical) discourse. And since contemporary discussion of pity and fear draw heavily on the legal sphere, in order to demonstrate a relation between emotion and moral judgement, we will ask about the limitations of this view, and thus about the border that separates esthetic and moral experience. Catharsis has a central place in the history of psychoanalysis, where emotion likewise plays an important role, as a form of knowledge or memory that is distinct from rational knowledge. The broader question is therefore whether esthetic theory might contribute to the psychoanalytic account of emotion.