The term catharsis has deep literary roots, and goes back to Plato and Aristotle.¹ In everyday contemporary usage an experience is called “cathartic” if it helps us release a good deal of pent up emotions. Usually some kind of enhanced intellectual understanding follows.
Catharsis is also used in the arts with much the same meaning, where some dramatic performance – be it theatrical, visual, poetic or musical – compels us to release feelings, this usually followed by some insight into ourselves or into life in general and the human experience.
Today, the term crops up time and again in the arts and music.
¹ See this good discussion, “Plato and Aristotle on Tragedy” about the complexities of catharsis: http://classics.uc.edu/~johnson/tragedy/plato&aristotle.html
- Catharsis and Stream of Consciousness (vampjezzc.wordpress.com)
- Giving Flaws to Your Characters: Writing as Catharsis (writingreadingandlife.wordpress.com)
- The Catharsis (razorcandy.net)
- Aristo ! (timelessbits.wordpress.com)
- A Stressful Catharsis (imthatkay.wordpress.com)
- Need for Catharsis (dragonintuitive.com)