May 2012


I’m getting my ass kicked. The book about emotions I am reading is kicking my ass. And I also have a class about teaching literature that is kicking my ass. Sure, I could be doing better, but I’m having a hard time concentrating. Anyway, the book I am reading now needs to be broken down, so here goes:

Rei Terada- Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the “Death of the Subject”

Introduction:

Beginning with Jameson’s Postmodernism, Terada illustrates how Jameson, and most people in postmodern society, fails to see emotion; as Jameson states, postmodernism begins the “waning of affect.” In postmodernism, the subject loses its center: there is no subject to have a strong emotion. Terada quotes Manfred frank, who states, “A dead subject emits no more cries of pain.”
(pages 1-2).

However, Terada’s thesis contradicts these views of lost emotions with the death of the subject in postmodernism, stating “it is time to consider the possibility that poststructuralism is directly concerned with emotion. In order for this to be so, emotions would have to be nonsubjective. I will argue that these statements do describe the case. Poststructuralist thought about emotions is hidden in plain sight” (3), and goes on to argue that if there were subjects, emotions would not exist (4).

Terada outlines her terms. Emotion means a psychological, minimally interpretive experience whose physiological aspect is affect—affect: verb (used with object)
1. to act on; produce an effect or change in: Cold weather affected the crops.
2. to impress the mind or move the feelings of: The music affected him deeply.
3. (of pain, disease, etc.) to attack or lay hold of. (Dictionary.com, “affect”)

Feeling (a capacious term) connotes both psychological sensation (affect) and psychological states (emotions).

Passion reflects the difficulty of labeling emotions as passive or active.

Terada focuses on emotion, “constructed in a psychological and unremarkable way” (5). She does not argue against a classic way of seeing emotions, nor does she argue for a fully-present subjectivity, rather the classical way of handling emotion deconstructs the idea of subjectivity. Her “expressive hypothesis” states that emotion requiring a subject creates the illusion of subjectivity “rather than show evidence of it” (11).

That is all I can make of this now… I continue reading…

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George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House fashions itself in the Russain tradition according to its author, but the humor aptly employs classic British understatement for its humor, and the play’s subtle sarcasm reminds me of an Oscar Wilde work.

Hesione Hushabye invites Ellie Dunn, her fiancé, and her father over for dinner to the house that Hesione’s father, Captain Shotover, built, resembling a ship. Before the dinner begins, Hesione’s sister, who had been away for years, arrives, supposedly unrecognized by her father, who might be crazy but highly intuitive. Throughout the play, the house affects all the characters in peculiar ways, revealing that all the characters are the opposite of the image they project.

The play takes place on the eve of WWI, and according to Shaw, reflects the debased society of British society that lead to war. The characters are all superficial in their way, liars, scoundrels, easily manipulated.

I believe the play informs the Lacanian symbolic space and the other. The characters mask, who they present to the world, breaks down, and the breakdown represents the breakdown of society as a whole, which leads to WWI. Zizek explains here.

We need to keep the illusion of the symbolic space, even if we all know the truth behind the illusion, in order to maintain a civil society. The play breaks down this space; the characters deny the pleasantries of knowing someone is a bad person but not pretending s/he actually is.

This book kicked my ass, yet I found it easier to read than most “theory” books. Nietzsche breaks up the book into three essays all concerned with where we get morals, why we have morals, and our perspectives on morals: the first essay examines “good” and “evil” and “bad,” and the morality of Masters and Slaves. Master morality developed through the strong, healthy, and free and had the power to call the weak, unhealthy and sick, which in turn led to the weak calling the masters evil. This section subtly examines the power of language and how the powerful control language. The powerful had the power to call themselves strong and use positive words and the weak did not, until they had enough power in numbers to call the strong evil compared to themselves, who were good.

The second essay deals with the origin of guilt and punishment, which were not based on moral transgression but on monetary exchange. If someone owed me money, I was allowed to get my payment by punishing that person. That person had no guilt, and I had no remorse about it; the punishment happened and we went our separate ways. However, when slave morality began to take hold, morality was added and guilt became what we know it as now, rather than simply meaning one was in debt. Slave morality developed these concepts– in order to justify the meaninglessness of life, slave morality invents God and has us all believe we are sinners in order to justify our suffering. With the rise of the state, Justice begins to punish the one in debt, removing the debtor. The exchange is no longer an impersonal: you owe me so I will get my payment by punishing you, now the state comes in and coldly decides how the “sinner” or “criminal” should repay. We also need to keep in mind that these concepts rise when we cease nomadic wondering and form communities. Now the transgressor sins against an individual and an entire community.

The third essay, “What is the meaning of ascetic ideals?” confronts asceticism, the idea that we should happily face punishment for enlightenment and forgiveness, and as Nietzsche views, the expression of a weak, sick will. Sick wills are unable to cope with the suffering that happens in life– a suffering that occurs because man goes against his base, animal nature in order to fit into society so that where once the struggle was with the outside world, now man struggles with himself–so they create meaning for suffering: religion, work, redemption. I’m too lazy to get into this now, so here is what sparknotes says, “Unable to cope with its struggle against itself, the sick will sees its animal instincts, its earthly nature, as vile, sinful, and horrible. Unable to free itself from these instincts, it attempts to subdue and tame itself as much as possible. Nietzsche concludes that ‘man would rather will nothingness than not will.'”


Richard Rodriguez deftly captures the experience of growing up between cultures. Reading about his childhood, I felt a great affinity with many of the struggles he went through, while also realizing the stark differences, which reflects what this book manages well: tension.

Rodriguez establishes a tension between his private and public life and the manner in which his education blurred that line, separating him from his family and his past. He realizes that his ability to write an autobiography in this essay format for the “gringos,” he reveals his rupture from his past: “In singing the praise of my lower-class past, I remind myself of my separation from that past, bring memory to silence” (6). Rodriguez explores his education in order to discern his alienation from his family, a result of mixing private and public selves, represented in language.

As a child growing up, he spoke a private language with his family, Spanish; opposed to his public language, the language, English, he learned in school. This tension runs throughout the book, even when he explores the tension in the old, Latin Catholic mass–a private experience between the individual and God– and the new liturgy in English with the hand shaking and the congregation pronouncing the prayers with the priest– a communal experience.

Ultimately, though, the desire for authority, represented in the old mass, and his views on affirmative action, while thought provoking, slow down the narrative essays and present a Rodriguez cut off from his past (something he readily admits), ultra conservative, and at times, pedantically pretentious.

Rather than feel too privileged and over-educated to relate to the less privileged, Rodriguez might find that empathy and imagination, two essentials for any writer, might take him a long way. While I respect his acknowledgment of never being able to relate to poor migrant workers, he might empathize more and find ways to relate and help the less fortunate. At the same time, I can also respect how he doesn’t offer any concrete solutions to complicated problems.

Nightwood presents the narrative of people’s heartbreaking. The main character, Robin Vote, leaves broken hearts behind her the way the heartbroken leaves tissues and empty Ben and Jerry’s behind. The story begins with Baron Felix Volkbein’s history–all fake, which he attempts to uphold,because family name and European traditions define his (false) identity, and he believes that marrying Robin and siring an heir will keep his legacy alive. Robin gives birth to Guido and realizes that she desires something different from life, so she spends her nights away in debauchery and distracting herself with various affairs. Finally, she moves to America and shacks up with Nora Flood, who fails to hold Robin’s attention, who feels driven by the conflicts of “love and anonymity,” spending her time debauching and in elicit affairs away from home while Nora waits for her. During one such night Robin meets Jenny Petherbridge, a widow four times over, who “gains happiness by stealing the joy of others.” Jenny turns her attention to stealing Robin away from Nora, and succeeds. In her despair, Nora (like Felix before her) turns to the counsel of Dr. Matthew O’Connor to recover from the loss of Robin.

The doctor reminds me of a darker version of something Oscar Wilde might imagine. Matthew’s speciality is stories; he expertly weaves stories that help the people who seek his consul until the end of the novel after Nora unloads on him and he turns to alcohol to forget. His monologues present an interesting mediation on love and heartbreak and memory and death and desire– his locution amazes.

The novel ends with Nora back in America, camping in a forest with her dog, near Robin, who wanders the forest and ends up at an abandoned church. Nora’s dog gets away and Nora goes after it; the dog ends up leading Nora to the church where she finds Robin kneeling before an alter. In a mad fit, Robin sprints towards the door knocking Nora unconscious. Robin plays with the dog until she falls asleep.

Many critics discuss this novel as a mediation on heartbreak and love, but the love here is selfish and violent. Robin’s love manipulates her lovers, Nora’s heartbreak results from ego, Felix gives his love as part of a lie– the characters are misguided, selfish people who engage in love that fixes their object of love in an image and results in heartbreak when the object of love breaks the image. Robin is a spoiled brat, an Nora is a spineless nitwit. The doctor, the biggest lier of all, manages to know himself better than anyone else in the novel.