The Mimetic Catharsis: Simulation of Feels

Andreas J. Pratama

The Aristotelian concept of Catharsis is well known in the field of psychology and art. Both defined and explored catharsis from a different perspective and also yields different understanding. The art world, for example, saw catharsis as one of the very first noted capability of art to influence feelings: this obviously revolves around the capability of theatre and its theatricalities to influence audiences’ impulse to be tensely fearful or to burst into tears. While on the field of psychology Catharsis is about the ability of an individual to expel and clear self of pent-up emotion: an angry person would probably be stomping around as they walk, or be hitting walls to channel out all the caged emotions to balance out and regulate self.

Aristotle in his book ‘De Poetica’ explored Catharsis through the example of theatre of tragedy one that brings the audience to the whirlpool of captivating emotional rollercoaster. Originally, Aristotle believed the only notable sense of feeling worth considering having the ability to cleanse are fear and sadness. Tragedy takes the audience through a harrowing journey of one or several people that has to go through several upsetting / tearful incidences and usually ends with another concluding scenes / statement that involves death or sense of everlasting grief and torture.

The audience are left to ponder the byproduct or result of the distressful journey to seek a sense of cleansing; this is called the purging. The ‘purging’ sensation, according to Aristotle can lead to several things: 1. To clean the person of pent up emotional values be it sadness or fear or 2. To be born anew through the cleansing to become a better person.


It is without a doubt that this aesthetic experience, be it pleasurable or not, drives the audience towards a sense of simulation. One that prepares us for the upcoming ‘what-ifs’ the possibility or turn of events that life in store for us. A sweat-induced nightmare, upon waking, oftentimes lead us to question the validity of its occurrence. It has a bleeding effect in which for a few seconds post waking the emotion remains with us, amidst the confusion in distinguishing reality and dream, we continue to believe temporarily that the nightmare did happen.

The part of the simulation is that it mimics – therefore the term mimetic (to imitate) – of the various events that could happen in reality. To name a few some of our worst nightmares can, in fact, happen to us. The death of our loved ones, the misfortunes, and many other undesirables. Therefore, the Catharsis is actually a mimetic experience as well. As opposed to many thinking that it is detached from rational cognition.