RE: [xmca] Perezhivanie and Catharsis?

From: Peter Smagorinsky <smago who-is-at>
Date: Tue Dec 04 2007 - 11:42:47 PST

I just talked with my Russian-native colleague Viktoria Driagina, and she
helped with a few things:
Pronunciation: per'-uh-jhi-von'-i-uh
As she understands the term, it refers to the process of working
through/reliving through a (usually negative) experience. And so catharsis
isn't quite right because it refers more to the resolution than to the
process. One problem with this interpretation is that I may be relying too
heavily on the US notion of catharsis; Viktoria indeed wondered what Russian
term might have been translated into catharsis.
It is possible, she noted, to use perezhivanie in relation to a more
positive noun (e.g., happiness), and so it's not exclusively tied to bad
experiences though often is concerned with them.
Viktoria deals with these issues in her own work. I'm attach an article she
coauthored on Russian emotional vocabulary in American learners' narratives.
A couple of excerpts:
for instance, has no exact translation of
the Russian verb pereivat (perezhivat') that
refers to the process of worrying, taking things
hard and experiencing them keenly, or, literally,
suffering things through.
Together with the corresponding noun
rasstrostvo (rasstroistvo), these choices accounted
for 32% of the emotion word corpus.
Rasstraivat'sia is not the only frequently used
verb-the other two popular choices are pereivat
 (perezhivat' ) 'to suffer, to worry, to experience
something keenly' (18 tokens, 8% of the
emotion word corpus) and plakat 'to cry' (10
tokens, 4.6%). As noted earlier, perezhivat' is a
language-specific word that does not have an exact
translation equivalent in English. As a verb, it
can be used in all three tenses (past, present, and
future) but only in an imperfective aspect; its perfective
counterpart, pereit (perezhit' ), means
'to survive, to live through'.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Cathrene Connery
Sent: Tuesday, December 04, 2007 1:00 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Perezhivanie and Catharsis?

Hi Peter and friends,
I think you are onto something here. If we look at the ontology of
Vygotsky's work, we see that he uses the term catharsis in his doctoral
dissertation The Psychology of Art. Perhaps his later writings on
perezhivanie were an attempt to come full circle with the totality of
experience he was seeking to describe as root or motif of his original

In this early work, Vygotsky's definition of catharsis moves beyond
processing the experience of trauma and angst to a larger perspective in
which emotions are economized and mental energy is conserved through a
"discharge that introduces order and harmony into the psychic household
of our feelings" (p. 248). Catharsis is achieved through the movement
of opposing emotions that develop in two different directions, resulting
in a dialectic that both validates and transforms the emotions
involved. I see parallels here between the internal / external
dialectic he sought to capture in his description of perezhivanie.

Perhaps the next step in this mystery is to obtain the etymology of the
Russian term catharsis and compare the two?


Peter Smagorinsky wrote:
> The one discrepancy between most of my reading and what Dot's contributed
> Dot's grounding of the term in some sort of trauma. She included, for
> instance, something from
> This is actually a very unusual site. is a software
> and their home page includes a link to
> I couldn't find an
> for why this section appears, but it's an anonymously authored set of
> "tales" including the zen fire tale at Dot's link, which includes
> to perezhivanie as quoted in Dot's post. Here, overcoming pain or trauma
> a central aspect of perezhivanie; yet this dimension does not appear in
> other writing I've come across. Any thoughts on this, especially if you
> fluent in Russian and can help unpack the term and its component parts?
> Thanks,Peter

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Received on Tue Dec 4 11:47 PST 2007

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