What happens when the cerebral--that is, theories of literature and of affect--encounters the corporeal, the human body? In this study by Jane Thrailkill, what emerges from the convergence is an important vision of late-nineteenth-century American realist literature and the role of emotion and physiology in literary criticism.
Affecting Fictions offers a new understanding of American literary realism that draws on neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Thrailkill positions herself against the emotionless interpretations of the New Critics. Taking as her point of departure realist works of medicine, psychology, and literature, she argues that nineteenth-century readers and critics would have taken it for granted that texts engaged both mind and body. Feeling, she writes, is part of interpretation.
Examining literary works by Henry James, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thrailkill explores the connections among the aesthetic, emotion, consciousness, and the body in readings that illuminate lesser-known works such as "Elsie Venner" and that resuscitate classics such as "The Yellow Wallpaper."
Focusing on pity, fear, nervousness, pleasure, and wonder, Thrailkill makes an important contribution to the growing body of critical work on affect and aesthetics, presenting a case for the indispensability of emotions to the study of fiction.
Before the eighteenth-century rise of the ideology of intimacy, sexuality was defined not by social affiliations but by bodies. In Before Intimacy, Daniel Juan Gil examines sixteenth-century English literary concepts of sexuality that frame erotic ties as neither bound by social customs nor transgressive of them, but rather as “loopholes” in people’s experiences and associations.
Engaging the poems of Wyatt, Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, Spenser’s Amoretti and The Faerie Queene, and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and the Sonnets, Gil demonstrates how sexuality was conceived as a relationship system inhabited by men and women interchangeably—set apart from the “norm” and not institutionalized in a private or domestic realm. Going beyond the sodomy-as-transgression analytic, he asserts the existence of socially inconsequential sexual bonds while recognizing the pleasurable effects of violating the supposed traditional modes of bonding and ideals of universal humanity and social hierarchy.
Celebrating the ability of corporeal emotions to interpret connections between people who share nothing in terms of societal structure, Before Intimacy shows how these works of early modern literature provide a discourse of sexuality that strives to understand status differences in erotic contexts and thereby question key assumptions of modernity.
Daniel Juan Gil is assistant professor of English at TCU.
In The Biopolitics of Feeling Kyla Schuller unearths the forgotten, multiethnic sciences of impressibility—the capacity to be transformed by one's environment and experiences—to uncover how biopower developed in the United States. Schuller challenges prevalent interpretations of biopower and literary cultures to reveal how biopower emerged within the discourses and practices of sentimentalism. Through analyses of evolutionary theories, gynecological sciences, abolitionist poetry and other literary texts, feminist tracts, child welfare reforms, and black uplift movements, Schuller excavates a vast apparatus that regulated the capacity of sensory and emotional feeling in an attempt to shape the evolution of the national population. Her historical and theoretical work exposes the overlooked role of sex difference in population management and the optimization of life, illuminating how models of binary sex function as one of the key mechanisms of racializing power. Schuller thereby overturns long-accepted frameworks of the nature of race and sex difference, offers key corrective insights to modern debates surrounding the equation of racism with determinism and the liberatory potential of ideas about the plasticity of the body, and reframes contemporary notions of sentiment, affect, sexuality, evolution, and heredity.
How did the public expression of feeling become central to political culture in England and the United States? In this ambitious revisionist account of a much expanded "Age of Sensibility," Julie Ellison traces the evolution of the politics of emotion on both sides of the Atlantic from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth century.
Early popular dramas of this time, Ellison shows, linked male stoicism with sentimentality through portrayals of stoic figures whose civic sacrifices bring other men to tears. Later works develop a different model of sensibility, drawing their objects of sympathy from other races and classes—Native Americans, African slaves, servants. Only by examining these texts in light of the complex masculine tradition of stoic sentimentality, Ellison argues, can one interpret women's roles in the culture of sensibility.
In her conclusion, Ellison offers "a short history of liberal guilt," exploring the enduring link between male stoicism and male sensibility in political and cultural life from the late seventeenth century to today.
In Disaffected Xine Yao explores the racial and sexual politics of unfeeling—affects that are not recognized as feeling—as a means of survival and refusal in nineteenth-century America. She positions unfeeling beyond sentimentalism's paradigm of universal feeling. Yao traces how works by Herman Melville, Martin R. Delany, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Sui Sin Far engaged major sociopolitical issues in ways that resisted the weaponization of white sentimentalism against the lives of people of color. Exploring variously pathologized, racialized, queer, and gendered affective modes like unsympathetic Blackness, queer female frigidity, and Oriental inscrutability, these authors departed from the values that undergird the politics of recognition and the liberal project of inclusion. By theorizing feeling otherwise as an antisocial affect, form of dissent, and mode of care, Yao suggests that unfeeling can serve as a contemporary political strategy for people of color to survive in the face of continuing racism and white fragility.
Duke University Press Scholars of Color First Book Award recipient
Deploying literary analysis, theories of emotion from the sciences and humanities, and an archival account of Tudor history, Emotion in the Tudor Court examines how literature both reflects and constructs the emotional dynamics of life in the Renaissance court. In it, Bradley J. Irish argues that emotionality is a foundational framework through which historical subjects embody and engage their world, and thus can serve as a fundamental lens of social and textual analysis.
Spanning the sixteenth century, Emotion in the Tudor Court explores Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Henrician satire; Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and elegy; Sir Philip Sidney and Elizabethan pageantry; and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and factional literature. It demonstrates how the dynamics of disgust,envy, rejection, and dread, as they are understood in the modern affective sciences, can be seen to guide literary production in the early modern court.
By combining Renaissance concepts of emotion with modern research in the social and natural sciences, Emotion in the Tudor Court takes a transdisciplinary approach to yield fascinating and robust ways to illuminate both literary studies and cultural history.
Focusing on representational approaches to emotion during the years of American literary realism’s dominance and in the works of such authors as Edith Wharton, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, W. D. Howells, Charles Chesnutt, and others, Emotional Reinventions: Realist-Era Representations Beyond Sympathy contends that emotional representations were central to the self-conscious construction of high realism (in the mid-1880s) and to the interrogation of its boundaries. Based on realist-era authors’ rejection of “sentimentalism” and its reduction of emotional diversity (a tendency to stress what Karen Sanchez-Eppler has described as sentimental fiction’s investment in “overcoming difference”), Melanie Dawson argues that realist-era investments in emotional detail were designed to confront differences of class, gender, race, and circumstance directly. She explores the ways in which representational practices that approximate scientific methods often led away from scientific theories and rejected rigid attempts at creating emotional taxonomies. She argues that ultimately realist-era authors demonstrated a new investment in individuated emotional histories and experiences that sought to honor all affective experiences on their own terms.
How creativity makes its way through feeling—and what we can know and feel through the artistic work of Black women
Feeling is not feelin. As the poet, artist, and scholar Bettina Judd argues, feelin, in African American Vernacular English, is how Black women artists approach and produce knowledge as sensation: internal and complex, entangled with pleasure, pain, anger, and joy, and manifesting artistic production itself as the meaning of the work. Through interviews, close readings, and archival research, Judd draws on the fields of affect studies and Black studies to analyze the creative processes and contributions of Black women—from poet Lucille Clifton and musician Avery*Sunshine to visual artists Betye Saar, Joyce J. Scott, and Deana Lawson.
Feelin: Creative Practice, Pleasure, and Black Feminist Thought makes a bold and vital intervention in critical theory’s trend toward disembodying feeling as knowledge. Instead, Judd revitalizes current debates in Black studies about the concept of the human and about Black life by considering how discourses on emotion as they are explored by Black women artists offer alternatives to the concept of the human. Judd expands the notions of Black women’s pleasure politics in Black feminist studies that include the erotic, the sexual, the painful, the joyful, the shameful, and the sensations and emotions that yet have no name. In its richly multidisciplinary approach, Feelin calls for the development of research methods that acknowledge creative and emotionally rigorous work as productive by incorporating visual art, narrative, and poetry.
Grief and the Hero examines Achilles’ experience of the futility of grief in the context of the Iliad’s study of anger. No action can undo his friend Patroklos’ death, but the experience of death drives him to behave as though he can achieve something restorative. Rather than assuming that grief gives rise to anger, as most scholars have done, Grief and the Hero pays close attention to the poem’s representation of the origin of these emotions. In the Iliad, only Achilles’ grief for Patroklos is joined with the word pothê, “longing”; no other grief in the poem is described with this term. The Iliad depicts Achilles’ grief as the rupture of shared life—an insight that generates a new way of reading the epic. Achilles’ anguish drives him to extremes, oscillating between self-isolation and seeking communal expressions of grief; between weeping abundantly and relentlessly pursuing battle; between varied threats of mutilation, deeds of vengeance, and other vows. Yet his yearning for life shared with Patroklos is the common denominator. Here lies the profound insight of the Iliad. All of Achilles’ grief-driven deeds arise from his longing for life with Patroklos, and thus all of these deeds are, in a deep sense, futile. He yearns for something unattainable—undoing the reality of death. Grief and the Hero will appeal not only to scholars and students of Homer but to all humanists. Loss, longing, and even revenge touch many human lives, and the insights of the Iliad have broad resonance.
Though modern readers no longer believe in the four humors of Galenic naturalism—blood, choler, melancholy, and phlegm—early modern thought found in these bodily fluids key to explaining human emotions and behavior. In Humoring the Body, Gail Kern Paster proposes a new way to read the emotions of the early modern stage so that contemporary readers may recover some of the historical particularity in early modern expressions of emotional self-experience.
Using notions drawn from humoral medical theory to untangle passages from important moral treatises, medical texts, natural histories, and major plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Paster identifies a historical phenomenology in the language of affect by reconciling the significance of the four humors as the language of embodied emotion. She urges modern readers to resist the influence of post-Cartesian abstraction and the disembodiment of human psychology lest they miss the body-mind connection that still existed for Shakespeare and his contemporaries and constrained them to think differently about how their emotions were embodied in a premodern world.
Bringing a provocative perspective to the poetry wars that have divided practitioners and critics for decades, Gillian White argues that the sharp disagreements surrounding contemporary poetics have been shaped by “lyric shame”—an unspoken but pervasive embarrassment over what poetry is, should be, and fails to be.
Favored particularly by modern American poets, lyric poetry has long been considered an expression of the writer’s innermost thoughts and feelings. But by the 1970s the “lyric I” had become persona non grata in literary circles. Poets and critics accused one another of “identifying” with lyric, which increasingly bore the stigma of egotism and political backwardness. In close readings of Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Sexton, Bernadette Mayer, James Tate, and others, White examines the social and critical dynamics by which certain poems become identified as “lyric,” arguing that the term refers less to a specific literary genre than to an abstract way of projecting subjectivity onto poems. Arguments about whether lyric poetry is deserving of praise or censure circle around what White calls “the missing lyric object”: an idealized poem that is nowhere and yet everywhere, and which is the product of reading practices that both the advocates and detractors of lyric impose on poems. Drawing on current trends in both affect and lyric theory, Lyric Shame unsettles the assumptions that inform much contemporary poetry criticism and explains why the emotional, confessional expressivity attributed to American lyric has become so controversial.
Pentasyllabic poetry has been a focus of critical study since the appearance of the earliest works of Chinese literary criticism in the Six Dynasties period. Throughout the subsequent dynasties, traditional Chinese critics continued to examine pentasyllabic poetry as a leading poetic type and to compile various comprehensive anthologies of it.
The Matrix of Lyric Transformation enriches this tradition, using modern analytical methods to explore issues of self-expression and to trace the early formal, thematic, and generic developments of this poetic form. Beginning with a discussion of the Yüeh-fu and ku-shih genres of the Han period, Cai Zong-qi introdues the analytical framework of modes from Western literary criticism to show how the pentasyllabic poetry changed over time. He argues that changing practices of poetic composition effected a shift from a dramatic mode typical of folk compositions to a narrative mode and finally to lyric and symbolic modes developed in literati circles.
In Mood and Trope, John Brenkman introduces two provocative propositions to affect theory: that human emotion is intimately connected to persuasion and figurative language; and that literature, especially poetry, lends precision to studying affect because it resides there not in speaking about feelings, but in the way of speaking itself.
Engaging a quartet of modern philosophers—Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Deleuze—Brenkman explores how they all approach the question of affect primarily through literature and art. He draws on the differences and dialogues among them, arguing that the vocation of criticism is incapable of systematicity and instead must be attuned to the singularity and plurality of literary and artistic creations. In addition, he confronts these four philosophers and their essential concepts with a wide array of authors and artists, including Pinter and Poe, Baudelaire, Jorie Graham and Li-Young Lee, Shakespeare, Tino Sehgal, and Francis Bacon. Filled with surprising insights, Mood and Trope provides a rich archive for rethinking the nature of affect and its aesthetic and rhetorical stakes.
The interplay between the external world (ching) and the poet’s inner world (ch’ing) lies at the heart of Chinese poetry, and understanding the interaction of the two is crucial to understanding this work from within its own tradition. Closely coordinating her discussions of poetry and criticism so that practice and theory become mutually enriching and illuminating, Sun offers sensitive and original readings of poems and a wealth of insights into Chinese poetics.
American novels written in the wake of the Revolution overflow with self-conscious theatricality and impassioned excess. In The Plight of Feeling, Julia A. Stern shows that these sentimental, melodramatic, and gothic works can be read as an emotional history of the early republic, reflecting the hate, anger, fear, and grief that tormented the Federalist era.
Stern argues that these novels gave voice to a collective mourning over the violence of the Revolution and the foreclosure of liberty for the nation's noncitizens—women, the poor, Native and African Americans. Properly placed in the context of late eighteenth-century thought, the republican novel emerges as essentially political, offering its audience gothic and feminized counternarratives to read against the dominant male-authored accounts of national legitimation.
Drawing upon insights from cultural history and gender studies as well as psychoanalytic, narrative, and genre theory, Stern convincingly exposes the foundation of the republic as an unquiet crypt housing those invisible Americans who contributed to its construction.
In this moving and thoughtful book, Kathleen Woodward explores the politics and poetics of the emotions, focusing on American culture since the 1960s. She argues that we are constrained in terms of gender, race, and age by our culture’s scripts for “emotional” behavior and that the accelerating impoverishment of interiority is a symptom of our increasingly media-saturated culture. She also shows how we can be empowered by stories that express our experience, revealing the value of our emotions as a crucial form of intelligence.
Referring discreetly to her own experience, Woodward examines the interpenetration of social structures and subjectivity, considering how psychological emotions are social phenomena, with feminist anger, racial shame, old-age depression, and sympathy for non-human cyborgs (including robots) as key cases in point. She discusses how emerging institutional and discursive structures engender “new” affects that in turn can help us understand our changing world if we are attentive to them—the “statistical panic” produced by the risk society, with its numerical portents of disease and mortality; the rage prompted by impenetrable and bloated bureaucracies; the brutal shame experienced by those caught in the crossfire of the media; and the conservative compassion that is not an emotion at all, only an empty political slogan.
The orbit of Statistical Panic is wide, drawing in feminist theory, critical phenomenology, and recent theories of the emotions. But at its heart are stories. As an antidote to the vacuous dramas of media culture, with its mock emotions and scattershot sensations, Woodward turns to the autobiographical narrative. Stories of illness—by Joan Didion, Yvonne Rainer, Paul Monette, and Alice Wexler, among others—receive special attention, with the inexhaustible emotion of grief framing the book as a whole.
The Tears of Achilles
Hélène Monsacré Harvard University Press, 2017 Library of Congress PA4037.M6613 2017 | Dewey Decimal 883.01
Achilles—warrior and hero—by the protocols of Western culture, should never cry. And yet Homeric epic is full of his tears and those of his companions at Troy. This path-blazing study by Hélène Monsacré shows how later ideals of stoically inexpressive manhood run contrary to the poetic vision presented in the Iliad and Odyssey. The epic protagonists, as larger-than-life figures who transcend gender categories, are precisely the men most likely to weep.
Monsacré pursues the paradox of the tearful fighter through a series of lucid and detailed close readings, and examines all aspects of the interactions between men and women in the Homeric poems. Her illuminating analysis, first published in French in 1984, remains bold, fresh, and compelling for anyone touched—like Achilles—by a world of grief.
In Telling Complexions Mary Ann O’Farrell explores the frequent use of "the blush" in Victorian novels as a sign of characters’ inner emotions and desires. Through lively and textured readings of works by such writers as Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, and Henry James, O’Farrell illuminates literature’s relation to the body and the body’s place in culture. In the process, she plots a trajectory for the nineteenth-century novel’s shift from the practices of manners to the mode of self-consciousness. Although the blush was used to tell the truth of character and body, O’Farrell shows how it is actually undermined as a stable indicator of character in novels such as Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, North and South, and David Copperfield. She reveals how these writers then moved on in search of other bodily indicators of mortification and desire, among them the swoon, the scar, and the blunder. Providing unique and creative insights into the constructedness of the body and its semiotic play in literature and in culture, Telling Complexions includes parallel examples of the blush in contemporary culture and describes ways that textualized bodies are sometimes imagined to resist the constraints imposed by such construction.
Sianne Ngai Harvard University Press, 2004 Library of Congress PS169.E48N45 2004 | Dewey Decimal 810.9353
Envy, irritation, paranoia--in contrast to powerful and dynamic negative emotions like anger, these non-cathartic states of feeling are associated with situations in which action is blocked or suspended. In her examination of the cultural forms to which these affects give rise, Sianne Ngai suggests that these minor and more politically ambiguous feelings become all the more suited for diagnosing the character of late modernity.
Along with her inquiry into the aesthetics of unprestigious negative affects such as irritation, envy, and disgust, Ngai examines a racialized affect called "animatedness," and a paradoxical synthesis of shock and boredom called "stuplimity." She explores the politically equivocal work of these affective concepts in the cultural contexts where they seem most at stake, from academic feminist debates to the Harlem Renaissance, from late-twentieth-century American poetry to Hollywood film and network television. Through readings of Herman Melville, Nella Larsen, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Hitchcock, Gertrude Stein, Ralph Ellison, John Yau, and Bruce Andrews, among others, Ngai shows how art turns to ugly feelings as a site for interrogating its own suspended agency in the affirmative culture of a market society, where art is tolerated as essentially unthreatening.
Ngai mobilizes the aesthetics of ugly feelings to investigate not only ideological and representational dilemmas in literature--with a particular focus on those inflected by gender and race--but also blind spots in contemporary literary and cultural criticism. Her work maps a major intersection of literary studies, media and cultural studies, feminist studies, and aesthetic theory.
What is a hostile environment? How exactly can feelings be mixed? What on earth might it mean when someone writes that he was “happily situated” as a slave? The answers, of course, depend upon whom you ask.
Science and the humanities typically offer two different paradigms for thinking about emotion—the first rooted in brain and biology, the second in a social world. With rhetoric as a field guide, Uncomfortable Situations establishes common ground between these two paradigms, focusing on a theory of situated emotion. Daniel M. Gross anchors the argument in Charles Darwin, whose work on emotion has been misunderstood across the disciplines as it has been shoehorned into the perceived science-humanities divide. Then Gross turns to sentimental literature as the single best domain for studying emotional situations. There’s lost composure (Sterne), bearing up (Equiano), environmental hostility (Radcliffe), and feeling mixed (Austen). Rounding out the book, an epilogue written with ecological neuroscientist Stephanie Preston provides a different kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration. Uncomfortable Situations is a conciliatory work across science and the humanities—a groundbreaking model for future studies.
Throughout the 19th century, American poetry was a profoundly populist literary form. It circulated in New England magazines and Southern newspapers; it was read aloud in taverns, homes, and schools across the country. Antebellum reviewers envisioned poetry as the touchstone democratic genre, and their Civil War–era counterparts celebrated its motivating power, singing poems on battlefields. Following the war, however, as criticism grew more professionalized and American literature emerged as an academic subject, reviewers increasingly elevated difficult, dispassionate writing and elite readers over their supposedly common counterparts, thereby separating “authentic” poetry for intellectuals from “popular” poetry for everyone else.\
Conceptually and methodologically unique among studies of 19th-century American poetry, Who Killed American Poetry? not only charts changing attitudes toward American poetry, but also applies these ideas to the work of representative individual poets. Closely analyzing hundreds of reviews and critical essays, Karen L. Kilcup tracks the century’s developing aesthetic standards and highlights the different criteria reviewers used to assess poetry based on poets’ class, gender, ethnicity, and location. She shows that, as early as the 1820s, critics began to marginalize some kinds of emotional American poetry, a shift many scholars have attributed primarily to the late-century emergence of affectively restrained modernist ideals. Mapping this literary critical history enables us to more readily apprehend poetry’s status in American culture—both in the past and present—and encourages us to scrutinize the standards of academic criticism that underwrite contemporary aesthetics and continue to constrain poetry’s appeal.
Who American Killed Poetry? enlarges our understanding of American culture over the past two hundred years and will interest scholars in literary studies, historical poetics, American studies, gender studies, canon criticism, genre studies, the history of criticism, and affect studies. It will also appeal to poetry readers and those who enjoy reading about American cultural history.
Women’s persuasion and performance in the Age of Enlightenment
Over a century before first-wave feminism, British women’s Enlightenment rhetoric prefigured nineteenth-century feminist arguments for gender equality, women’s civil rights, professional opportunities, and standardized education. Author Elizabeth Tasker Davis rereads accepted histories of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British rhetoric, claiming a greater variety and power of women’s rhetoric. This recovery of British women’s performative and written roles as speakers, spectators, authors, and readers in diverse venues counters the traditional masculine model of European Enlightenment rhetoric. Davis broadens women’s Enlightenment rhetorics to include highly public venues such as theaters, clubs, salons, and debating societies, as well as the mediated sites of the periodical essay, the treatise on rhetorical theory, and women’s written proposals, plans, defenses and arguments for education. Through these sites, women’s rhetorical postures diverged from patriarchal prescriptions rather to deliver protofeminist persuasive performances of wit, virtue, and emotion.
Davis examines context, the effects of memory and gendering, and the cultural sites and media of women’s rhetoric to reveal a fuller ecology of British Enlightenment rhetoric. Each chapter covers a cultural site of women’s rhetorical practice—the court, the stage, the salon, and the printed page. Applying feminist rhetorical theory, Davis documents how women grasped their rhetorical ability in this historical moment and staged a large-scale transformation of British women from subalterns to a vocal counterpublic in British society.