Pleasure, Tragedy and Aristotelian Psychology

Classical Quarterly 35 (02):349- (1985)
Abstract
Aristotle's Rhetoric defines fear as a kind of pain or disturbance and pity as a kind of pain . In his Poetics, however, pity and fear are associated with pleasure: ‘ The poet must provide the pleasure that comes from pity and fear by means of imitation’ . The question of the relationship between pleasure and pain in Aristotle's aesthetics has been studied primarily in connection with catharsis. Catharsis, however, raises more problems than it solves. Aristotle says nothing at all about the tragic catharsis in the Poetics except to state that tragedy accomplishes it. Though he gives a more complete account of catharsis in the Politics, the context of this passage is so different from that of the Poetics that its relevance is questionable. A more promising, but largely neglected, approach to Aristotle's theory of tragic pleasure and pain is through a study of his psychological works. Here, Aristotle describes a number of emotional and cognitive responses to kinds of objects that include works of art. These descriptions support an interpretation of the Poetics according to which a tragedy is pleasurable in one respect and painful in another, and pity and fear, though painful and not in themselves productive of pleasure, are nevertheless essential to the production of the oikeia hēdonē, ‘proper pleasure’, of tragedy. This interpretation has the advantage of not depending on a particular view of catharsis. It also makes much better sense than alternative views, once its seemingly paradoxical aspects are explained with the help of the psychological works
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