The Aristotelian notion of catharsis, interpreted as affective “equilibrium” (however we conceptualize it), has long conditioned perceptions of the aesthetic experience of tragedy. This talk, however, will explore the possibility that the pleasure that draws audiences and readers to tragedy today, as it did in antiquity, may reside in anti-catharsis. I will argue that in Medea and Heracles—both focused on starting over, the attempt to reconnect with an imagined archê—this anti-catharsis manifests itself as a vertiginous sensation activated by the death-driven looping motion of tragic form. The burning desire to build an archive, what Derrida calls archive fever, is energized by the fantasy of reconstituting an origin. Through an experiment in “ardent reading” (in Eve Sedgwick’s phrase), I will show how the archive feelings permeating two of Euripides’ most famous and controversial plays express an emancipatory negativity, which provides an explanation for our never-ending emotional investment in the tragic experience.
Oct 18 @ 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm