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Lemlij, M. Lansky, M.R. (2000). Cultural Expression of Affect. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(5):1001-1003.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(5):1001-1003

Cultural Expression of Affect

Moisés Lemlij and Melvin R. Lansky

The first panellist, Judy Gammelgaard, presented a paper, ‘Catharsis or catastrophe’, which concerned a comparison of the cultural context of Greek tragedy with that of the cultural context of late twentieth century. Ritual and religion have lost their function as regulators of social life to modern people. Gammelgaard elaborated the function of tragedy as organised ritual purging. Modern festivals no longer serve such a function of harmonising and stabilising social life. The present-day dearth of such abreactive rituals leaves us with an uninterrupted steadiness of societal tensions and discontents about which we may wonder: are we headed towards catharsis or catastrophe? Freud's pessimism about the discontents of civilisation derived from his view of civilisation as requiring a build-up of aggression as satisfactions are increasingly given up for security. Segal has recently noted the regression to schizoid defences occasioned by the threat of massive destruction and threatening our capacity for empathy and compassion. Faced with the inevitability of fragility and decay and with the potential for massive destructive technology, our culture has no ritual outlet to enable mankind to reconcile itself to destructive forces. How are we to supply what ritual tragedy supplied for the Greeks?

A consideration of the nature of such a catharsis followed. Aristotle identified pity and terror as the distinctively tragic affects. Examination of these affects can help us further our enquiry.

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