Compare and Contrast the Ancient Greek Tragedy to Psychoanalysis and Traumas of the Modern World

Published: 2021-06-17 09:54:10
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Modern analysis concerning trauma can be found in psychoanalysis as much as in psychology, history and the arts. The question to be asked is: “Does trauma require a cathartic release, specifically one offered through performance?” Nonetheless, is it possible through Greek drame to heal wounds of the soul in modernity and can trauma be cleansed, by the means of catharsis, or healed by being a spectator at theatrical performance.
According to Freud the love and death-drive such as darwinians would regard it are inherited traits that are functional for an individual’s survival. However these drives ought to be harnessed in society, not to cause great disruption, for Freud believed an immaterial entity as the mind cannot be destroyed. Instead one should seek to channel them to something accepted by society. For Freud as opposed the Greeks he saw the concepts of these drives, Thanatos and Eros, as something on a broader scale. For him Thanatos did not only signify death but all forms of aggression and Eros was not only as erotic love, sex, but the life instinct, the drive to basic life and instinctual impulses besides sexual desire such as hunger and thirst. Freud sees this channelling or sublimation as it is also referred to, as something which might be noticeable in dreams in artwork, poetry and religion if the individual is suppressing these drives, for the desire cannot disappear. In actual fact, repressing drives can have severe consequences, for instance, if we look at Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, how their well disciplined communities radicalised and later crumbled as the example o the Holocaust clearly shows. This leads us to the freudian view of he superego, the manifestation of social expectations, the ego, ones self, and the id, the compartment of unnamed desires. The id that emerges to the surface of the superego is regarded as social persona, henceforth the id is where all childhood sufferings are imbedded and his pain emerges to the surface of the superego, which results in the fear of being cast out of society or rejected by an individual. Here is a simple example to demonstrate the effect and reason for being terrified of transgression:
A child’s fear of his mother’s anger for doing something unrighteous becomes embodied in him. At an young age the child does not know any other source to compare his mother’s anger to and is unable to imagine the consequences. Therefore, such a fear becomes branded into the the child’s soul and affect the child’s future life. However, according to Plato being cast out may be inevitable, for to reach absolute ideas and understanding of ones self, the individual has to escape all sources of comparison.
Another interesting example of not knowing the consequences of an act is how a child’s immense love towards his mother (for being fed with breast-milk, thus not dying) can face problems when the mother is drawn away by its father. The child becomes terrified of losing its mother and this way his only source of survival. What these examples are trying to allude to is how at a very young age a person’s psyche is shaped. These kinds of traumas and inner conflicts stay inside and are kept within the id, thus the individual carries the trauma until he finds a solution to solve it. A little child like Oedipus suffer from the same kind of complex if one can refer to it in such a way, for as Oedipus kills his father to then marry and have sexual intercourse with his mother, the child suffers from a similar problem, though not in such a direct manner. The child hates its father for sleeping with his mother wishing o in the place of the father, seeking protection. In this way Orestes and Shakespeare’s Hamlet resemble the baby and Oedipus, honouring their father (in other cases loved one, or therapist). In Hamlet, the Danish prince even organises a play to reenact his father’s murder, attempting to deal with the trauma through a play. Freud has a similar view, albeit he uses the mind instead, trying to purge and clean the mind in order to be in control of the situation.
In order to solve trauma it is essential to realise that not all analysis’ of psychology can be regarded as psychoanalysis. As Henri Zukier phrases this in such a way:
“In general, indeed, a developmental perspective necessarily underlies any theory of which aspires to encompass the entire life span and the evolution of behaviour through growth or therapy. More importantly, however, the developmental perspective appears to be at the core of the distinctive revolutionary vision of psychoanalysis, the matrix of its premises and promises.”
Freud did not believe in reincarnation for an individual is reinflict in the same trauma, put into a repetitive circle, where only finding the solution can end a cycle like this. For this reason the reenactment of the trauma can help to solve the problem. The art of imitation, also known as mimesis, plays a key role in Greek tragedies.
According to Jonathan Shay, from both a female and male perception of trauma and dealing with it, Homer and the Greek tragedies have offered important methods and examples to maintain “value as part of a treatment methodology”. (Shannon, pp.73)
In ancient Greek society gender roles were very much separated apart from each other, although both feminine and masculine tasks eventually resulted in death. The Andros, the men, was supposed to sacrifice themselves in the battlefield, whereas the women serving the Oikos, the household, were expected to die in childbirth. Greek tragedies, therefore, in many ways are a method of learning through pain, for instance, Oedipus ripping out his eyes after having sexual intercourse with his mother and being banished from his kingdom.
In conclusion, as Hegel puts it; provocative art is the greatest form of art, where tragedy is seen as the highest form of art, for the contradictions force the individual to think on an elevated level. When regarding this, one ought to comprehend his philosophy of sense of purpose, meaning that problems should be dealt on a cosmic level.
It is only by examining the history and meaning of trauma I am able to address the central questions of this thesis, specifically, whether or not Greek drama in performance may be an effective healing instrument in modernity.
Jonathan Shay argued that catharsis for patients suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would take place if they actively engaged with a given passage, i.e. Acting it out and learning it by heart instead of passively seeing other performing the same text. An important question to pose is whether it is cathartic for women going through PTSD to engage with the ancient Greek plays as spectators viewing the performance (Shannon, pp.78). Shay’s answer to this question is that this would be simply too passive and that the spectator should be present as an actor in the performance. He believes, they should be part of the Chorus, thus being man or woman they can become a part of the play. As the Brasilian drama theorist and theatre practitioner, Augusto Boal, rightly says that they transform into ‘spect-actors.’

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