Summer 1959 • Vol. XXI No. 3 NonfictionJuly 1, 1959 |

On Catharsis, or Resolution

This essay is part of a Poetics. I assume that such a project should be developed with Aristotle's Poetics in mind. Not that the extant parts of that old text should be taken either as authority or as "the enemy." But I consider it an ideal point of departure, or benchmark, a handy spot from which to locate any survey of the field. Ironically, among the greatest attractions of Aristotle's text is the part that is missing, the section that presumably explained the final clause in the definition of tragedy: "through pity and fear, bringing about the catharsis of such emotions." Yet all that survives are the paragraphs on musical catharsis, in the Politics, with the assurance that the subject is to be treated at greater length in the Poetics. Those paragraphs in the Politics at least give reason to infer that the treatment in the Poetics was not essentially different, and that the kind of "purge" produced by tragedy may have been specifically considered from the "civic" poi

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