Catharsis, from Aristotle to Lacan via Freud. A Theatrical Approach to the Ethical Stakes of Psychoanalysis

A Theatrical Approach to the Ethical Stakes of Psychoanalysis
By Jean-Michel Vivès

The notion of catharsis, in relation to tragedy, was introduced by Aristotle in his work Poetics. The innovative and enigmatic phrase that Aristotle dedicated to this process was highly commented upon and gave rise over the centuries to heavy controversy. In 1895, Freud and Breuer were to reconsider this notion in Studies on Hysteria, in which they present the so-called cathartic therapeutic method. It is not however, this aspect of the psychoanalytical theory that the author of this article aims to clarify: based upon a detailed study of the references to the tragic catharsis in the work of Freud and Lacan, the author hereby proposes to reflect upon the psychoanalytic cure and to examine the issues implicit therein. In this perspective the author reveals catharsis not so much as a discharge liberating mechanism bound to abreaction, but rather is able to pinpoint, not only in Freud’s article on Psychopathic characters on the stage (1905) but also in Lacan’s commentary on the Antigone of Sophocles (1960), the actual analytical process itself in which the Subject is “unveiled” and thus confronted to the enigma of his own desire.

  • catharsis
  • psychoanalytic cure
  • unveiling
  • desire
  • tragedy
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