Catharsis In the Age of the Metaverse

The rise of Virtual, Augmented, and Extended Reality (AR/XR) with their applications urge us to investigate whether “catharsis” is still conceivable, in hybrid or entirely artificial environments; and how a reconfigured concept of “catharsis” can be envisioned as part of the co-evolution of human, natural, and artificial life forms.

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Catharsis In the Age of the Metaverse

28th April 2023 6:00 PM 7:30 PM BST

The transformative power of art has been acknowledged and debated since the fourth century BC, when Aristotle theorised the concept of “katharsis” in his Poetics to describe our emotional change through the aesthetic experience of tragic theatre. In his view, the process involved a first phase of mimesis, namely the identification with the characters through the empathic experience of pity and fear, which subsequently led to a ritual purification of toxic, harmful elements for both the mind and the body. Throughout the centuries, other theorists have demonstrated that the same process can be experienced through various forms of art, including literature, cinema, and the visual and performing arts.

The rise of Virtual, Augmented, and Extended Reality (AR/XR) with their applications, ranging from the performative to the therapeutic and political realms, and, especially the vision of a fully immersive experience in the metaverse, a platform where the virtual dimensions of fiction and performance meet our real life experiences, urge us to investigate whether “catharsis” is still conceivable, in hybrid or entirely artificial environments; and how a reconfigured concept of “catharsis” can be envisioned as part of the co-evolution of human, natural, and artificial life forms. What forms will cathartic experiences take in the new fictional dimension of the metaverse? More specifically: how can new forms of storytelling and performance in VR, AR, or XR help us address the most pressing societal challenges of our time?

Speaker Biographies

Shane Casey is a creative technologist and creative director with 20 years’ experience in advertising and digital communications. His work fuses innovation and interactivity to help businesses use digital media and emerging technologies to inspire, intrigue and engage. He leads the Creative team in the Human Sciences Studio of The Dock, Accenture’s global flagship innovation centre. Before joining the Studio, Shane worked as Creative Director and Creative Technologist at Boys+Girls, Publicis Dublin and Mason Zimbler. Shane holds a Masters in Design for Digital Media and has won multiple awards from D&AD, Kinsale Sharks, Effies, ICAD and more. He was recently awarded a Silver Cannes Lion for creative effectiveness, adding to the previous Gold and Bronze Lions, for ‘The Connected Island’ campaign for Three Ireland.

Martina Mendola has a Masters in Comparative Literature from The University of Turin (Italy), a Postgraduate Certificate in Innovation and a PhD in Contemporary Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Since 2019 she is a Researcher in the Human Sciences Studio at The Dock, where she explores societal challenges at the intersection between business and technology. Because of her blended research experience in both industry and academia she has been invited to champion the role of Arts and Humanities in forums such as The Future Jobs Ireland 2019 and the campaign Creating our Futures 2021. Among her research interests are coming-of-age stories, youth studies, identity and liquidity.

Federica Pedriali is Professor of Literary Metatheory and Modern Italian Studies at the University of Edinburgh and Research Affiliate at the Edinburgh Futures Institute. Her work intersects Biopolitics, Cognitive Narratology, Continental Philosophy, Decolonial Studies, Migration and Diaspora Studies, the Environmental Humanities, Performance Studies, and Political Theory. She is currently working on biopower, dissonant heritages, and the future of change, having worked, among other things, on the spatialities of war, totalitarian Europe, and the digital humanities also through several ongoing public engagement projects. She is the author or editor of 24 volumes. Her recent books include: (ed), Roberto Esposito’s Italian Thought (Edinburgh University Press – in press); (co-ed), Mobilizing Cultural Identities in the First World War (Palgrave, 2020); (ed), Gadda: interpreti a confronto (Cesati, 2020). She was recently elected to the Italian Ambassador’s Scientific Council, London, and is a member of the UKRI Talent Panel College.

Massimo Riva is Professor of Italian Studies and Modern Media at Brown University. He is the author of several books on melancholy and other literary maladies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, post-humanism and the hyper-novel, the future of literature in the digital age. He is the editor of Italian Tales, an anthology of contemporary Italian fiction, and the co-editor of the Cambridge U.P. edition of Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on Human Dignity. Since the late 1990s, his pioneering work in the digital humanities has led to the creation of several projects, including the Decameron Web, recipient of two major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Virtual Humanities Lab, recipient of a two-year NEH grant, and the Garibaldi Panorama and the Risorgimento Archive, recipient of a Digital Innovation award from the American Council of Learned Societies. For his engagement with research-based teaching, he was nominated Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence (2015-2018). His most recent project, a digital monograph entitled Shadow Plays. Virtual Realities in an Analog World was published in June 2022 by Stanford University Press.


Emanuela Patti is Lecturer in Italian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She holds an MA in Comparative Literature from UCL and a Ph.D. in Italian Studies from the University of Birmingham. After her doctoral studies, she was Senior Research Fellow in the collaborative AHRC-funded research project ‘Interdisciplinary Italy 1900-2020: interart/intermedia’. Her research lies at the intersection of literary, media, and cultural studies, and has received prestigious grants from the AHRC and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She has published widely on experimental literature and how stories travel across arts and digital media, including the monograph ‘Opera aperta. Italian electronic literature from the 1960s to the present’ (Peter Lang, 2022), two special issues ‘Experimental narratives: from the novel to digital storytelling’ (Comparative Critical Studies, 2016) and ‘Reading practices in experimental narratives: a comparative perspective across cultures’ (Romance Studies, 2016), and the co-edited volume ‘Transmedia. Storia, memoria e narrazioni attraverso i media’ (Mimesis, 2014).

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