Daniela M. Schönle
Jul 4, 2016
Journal name not available for this finding
Around 1900, catharsis became “one of the most frequently discussed topics amongst scholars and an equally popular conversation topic at the Viennese salons” (Ellenberger 1970: 2.655). The so-called ‘Viennese discourse on catharsis’ emerged as a reaction to Jacob Bernays’s commentary on Aristotle’s Poetics in which he interpreted the effects of tragedy as a medical procedure. Another important premise for the diffusion and popularization of the topic in the Danube metropolis was the activism of Theodor Gomperz, who not only spread the position of Jacob Bernays amongst philologists, but also succeeded in stirring the enthusiasm of people working outside the Classics departments. In 1893, for instance, the Viennese physicians Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer presented a therapy that was supposed to cure hysteria. Influenced by Gomperz, and following Bernays’s assumptions, Freud and Breuer named their treatment “cathartic method”. Searching for novel means of expression and insight, and being particularly interested in the description of affective phenomena, the artists of the ‘Wiener Moderne’ also adopted catharsis as a theme and discussed Bernays’s interpretation and Breuer’s and Freud’s explanation of it in their writings. This article elucidates the foundations of the ‘Viennese discourse on catharsis’ and shows how contemporary playwrights reacted to the debate, using the works of Arthur Schnitzler and Hermann Bahr as examples.