Lucy Burnett recently had the opportunity to interview Vivienne Westbrook, a Visiting Research Fellow in the ARC CHE at The University of Western Australia. Vivienne has published on subjects as diverse as English Reformation Bible translation through to adaptations of Sir Walter Raleigh across the range of expressive media. Her current project explores cultural representations of the shark in Art. She has already presented her early research at SymbioticA and will be presenting her new research findings in Perth on May 27th “Shark in Art: creature vs. culture” in an Institute of Advanced Studies lecture at UWA. She will be lecturing in Sydney on June 13th.
How did you come to work on sharks?
I wasn’t looking for an endangered species or an endangered subject. I have a lot of students in England who always seem to be hosting dinners to save whales. I asked them, ‘why not save the sharks?’ We’ve all seen the pictures of shark finning; we’ve all seen the documentaries about shark netting. Then the Marine Biology department at my own university put out a call for interdisciplinary courses. I thought right, ‘Fish on Film.’ I didn’t end up teaching it, as I was already teaching eight courses that year, but it made me think that maybe I should do something, more seriously, with this subject. Knowing that Marine Biologists were interested in working with the Arts department inspired me. I knew that sharks would enable me to do something that was enormously interdisciplinary, as well as internationally collaborative. It just started to take shape very slowly as I began to realize that it had the potential to suck in every discipline, every imagination across the planet.
Then I realized that I hadn’t even met a shark! I remember as a kid being taken to the docks at Looe in Cornwall to see the Blue sharks being brought in, but that was about the extent of my engagement. I realized that was probably the extent of it for most people; most of us will probably never meet a living shark, probably never even study sharks—so why is that that we think that we know so much about sharks? We all have an opinion about sharks, but we actually know so little about them.
I’ve done quite a lot of work on cultural afterlives, on the subsequent appropriation, representation and misappropriation of various texts, figures and issues, mostly from the Renaissance period, which is where I started my academic career.
I thought it would be very interesting to look at the ways in which culture has represented sharks across all of the media according to particular political or religious, entertainment and commercial agendas, and then to look at the way in which these cultural representations of sharks has impacted on the real sharks in the oceans. An opportunity was presented to me through a fellowship offered by the National Science Council of Taiwan. I think Taiwan was looking for interdisciplinary, collaborative projects that were also international, and the shark was just sitting there, waiting for me. I realized this was the prime opportunity for doing some real research on sharks; then it was a case of finding the right site.
Aside from trawling databases for sharks in different art forms, I wanted to talk to scientists who were doing real, close investigatory work with sharks. I knew that there were three major sites for shark attack in the world, where sharks were going to be really key to discussions between fishermen, between governments, government agencies, scientists, conservationists, and the public. I was looking at Australia, the South East coast of the USA, and South Africa. I’d already been to South Africa and Florida, but Australia I’d only visited very briefly 12 years ago for an ANZAMEMS conference at UWA. The more I looked at Australia, the more I realized that this was the site. There are two oceans, lots of different species of sharks, lots of potential for different types of shark research, and different approaches.
You have a Renaissance grounding, but where do you begin in studying a species over 400 million years old?
It’s a huge project. The more research I do the bigger it gets. But I’m starting with the Mayan civilization, the old stories, the Ur-myths of sharks in their relationship to nature. Obviously, civilizations that are close to water are going to have relationships with creatures in the water. In Egyptian culture there are Nile crocodiles in art, in ancient Mayan, and to some extent in Australian aboriginal culture, there are sharks in art. Within these stories sharks help to generate a sense of respect for the ocean. These aren’t civilizations that are seeking to destroy sharks; these are civilizations that are representing sharks as gods, as an important part of how they see themselves within an environmental culture. I think that element has been ripped away from us in modern culture, because of our need to create sensations for ourselves— Jaws is within a tradition of the thrilling toothsome monster, from Godzilla, through to Hannibal Lecter.
So my work begins with the ancient Mayans, and the shark gods, but cuts right through to modern representations. The first time the word ‘shark’ gets into the English language is in a 1569 ballad about the shark Hawkins displayed in Plymouth. Representations can be found in poetry, in drama, and from the nineteenth century in novels right through to the twentieth century, and from the twentieth century these representations continue into film, advertising and internet sites.
One of the interesting features I’m seeing in the media at the moment is human emotional responses to You-Tube shark attack videos. I don’t think anyone else has done any research on this yet, but modern technology has made this kind of interaction a way of life. The responses to You-Tube videos are by people who are outside of the immediate environment of the attack to which they are responding. In some cases the violence of those responses is so much greater than that being shown on the video, typically of somebody surfing, getting on a board and getting dragged off, or somebody coming out of the water with a limb bleeding. On the whole, the responses captured on video are those of concern, rather than fear, hatred or even panic. The emergency is dealt with, usually, quite calmly. The visceral responses come from the bloggers, and these can be filled with angry expletives, often targeted at the lack of an emotional response within the video to the bleeding body. In some cases the shark attack video provokes angry responses that have nothing to do with the shark or the attack at all – they become hooks for other sources of aggression – a kind of emotional by-catch.
That’s very interesting for me, to look at that very violent emotional response to an event in which everyone is actually being rather calm. But there are other kinds of emotional response, including humorous responses in which bloggers poke fun at some aspect of sharks – such as their failure to spot the colour of the flag and straying into a no-go zone. This is also fascinating from an emotional studies perspective because in this kind of instance we have someone laughing at somebody who’s just been chewed into. This is a new area of representation and emotional response to shark attack for me. I hadn’t even thought about when I first created the project.
While I’ve enjoyed researching Renaissance texts, figures and issues through subsequent representations, I felt it would be quite wonderful, quite a privilege to do this kind of research with something that was actually living: to look at the way in which representation impacts on the living presence of a subject. This is the first time that my work has tried to impact on the environment in this way, and it is very exciting. Through my research, through the book, through international collaboration across disciplines, and through the film, I hope to reach the broadest audience possible, to really make that clear delineation between real sharks and cultural sharks, and to change the perception of the real shark. We can still enjoy sharks within our culture, but with the understanding that with representation comes responsibility.
I think there is the potential for us all to work together in a truly interdisciplinary way, in a way that has positive outcomes for sharks. What we don’t want to see is the extinction of sharks. Sharks are being culled at a rate at which they can’t possibly reproduce themselves. We really need to stop that and start thinking about sharks more seriously, recognizing the delineation between the real shark and the cultural shark so that we have a much more healthy attitude towards them. Instead of treating them as trophies we should be fostering an excitement born of responsible curiosity. We need to build respect for an animal that has been in the ocean for 400 million years and is so wonderfully diverse.
What is it about the shark that makes it such a rich vehicle or catalyst for human emotions?
Well, I think your answer is in the question, it is representation that is really responsible, rather than the real shark. At the simplest level, if you go to the zoo, you will see a bear, you will see tigers. You may even see a shark in the aquarium. But in the zoo gift shop there will be cute stuffed bears and tigers, without teeth and claws – to make them cuter. You will see the stuffed shark – but with its teeth. So teeth are hugely important to the way that we see sharks, because of the way that they have been represented. There are many ways of understanding the operations of teeth on our psyche. From a purely emotional developmental perspective, we all remember parents reminding us of sharp objects. We all remember learning as we touched something sharp for the first time and bled as a result. If an animal is represented primarily as a set of big sharp pointy objects, and very little else, that gets matched to the category of sharp objects stored as infants, triggering those rooted emotional responses. Most people aren’t actually ever going to be in a situation where a pair of shark jaws are going to snap on them, but we still live in fear because of the way they have been represented.
I’m aware of the problems that governments face in finding ways to accommodate people and sharks in a shared environment. The Australian Taronga Zoo shark attack files reveal an average of 1 fatality a year over the last 50 years. The government has recently funded a lot of research into shark behavior that will contribute to shark repellants and shark awareness programmes. That’s made the Oceans Institute here extremely busy. Of course the scientists, more than anyone else, realize that when you’re dealing with all these different sharks you aren’t going to get the same responses from different species. A combination of strategies will be required to make it even safer for people to share the oceans with sharks.
I think that most people enjoying a safari would not think of walking up to a pride of lions without expecting the lions to be curious or even threatened and respond accordingly, so it seems unreasonable to expect that you can do that to oceanic creatures and not get a reaction. But there are contexts in which you can exists happily with wildlife, with appropriate training and guidance it is possible to share the planet a bit more generously with other creatures. I think one way forward is to think about the ways in which safaris have managed human and animal interactions to achieve the best outcomes for both.
You talk about hoping for a shift in human emotions toward sharks from fear to respect. When or how can that happen?
If I tell people I’m looking at sharks in the context of emotion, then the obvious response is, ‘is there more than one?’ Is there anything but fear? The answer is ‘yes’. The more I look at cultural representation, the more I realize that there is almost as much representation of sharks in humor as in horror, so why do we only remember the horror of sharks? So that is the first thing I can work with. The second thing is that because so many of us think we know about sharks without thinking about how we know, or that we know about sharks only through cultural representation, that there is a huge amount of misinformation circulated that produces the wrong kind of excitement.
I think that by becoming alert to other forms of representation of sharks it is possible to educate people to respond to sharks with the right kind of excitement, and with positive curiosity. That is where science and art can really come together, to re-work representations of sharks, to frame them in ways that do not tap into our more visceral, primitive responses of disgust and retreat, but rather that tap into responses of admiration and respect, of recognizing something beautiful, and wanting to conserve it.
If we can understand how sharks behave in the water, we can learn how to behave appropriately towards them. Precautions are always necessary when humans are in any environment that is populated with wild animals. We need to be alert, but we do not need to fear. If sharks were dependent on human beings as a food source they would be extinct by now, and they’ve been around for over 400 million years. They’ve survived all the other extinctions. We need to rethink our whole relationship to the sharks, and that comes through a proper representation based on real science. That’s ultimately much more interesting.
Reminding people of the difference between the real shark and the represented shark will be the main focus of my project. I think we can enjoy sharks without eating them. These are slow-maturing creatures: some of them will not reach sexual maturity till their teens. So if we are ripping over a hundred million out of the ocean every year, we are going to destroy many of the species. Reimagining sharks in positive ways – as a valuable contribution to the eco system, of which we are all important elements, is key. Reconfiguring our global culture so we don’t think of shark fins as prestigious, so we don’t measure ourselves by how big the shark is that we’ve caught, all of that will be enormously challenging.
I also think a simple re-definition is in order. The Oxford English Dictionary, the primary reference point for the English language, still defines “shark”, noun 1 as Carcharodon, Carcharias. This is the Great White Shark, suggesting to everyone that the shark is ‘Jaws’. That is just one species out of nearly five hundred. I think that’s something we need to be aware of. It isn’t just the sharks that are potentially dangerous that are suffering. Most sharks are completely benign creatures, and no more threatening than the family pet.
‘Shark in Art’ is a wonderful way of bringing together global cultures and a wide range of disciplines to reconfigure our understanding of our relationship to the environment and encouraging responsibility for it, personally and collectively. I want to be a part of that.
Posted by Lucy Burnett
One of the joys of being a full time researcher is the space it frees up for reading… And yet still I find that it is necessary to make that space, to insist on it, as there’s never really as much time to read, or to read as much, as I want to. I’m about to head to the US for the 2013 Kalamazoo Congress on Medieval Studies (speaking of reading, you can find the doorstopper of a programme here) and I’m painfully aware that I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d have liked to since last year’s meeting. Especially that I’m still grappling with recent work in the history of emotions in general, let alone all the work being done in the interim by those in the field of medieval studies. Daily I find things I haven’t read and need to… and sometimes they come to me! My inbox is not infrequently filled with suggestions of things I might be interested in reading from thoughtful colleagues.
With the aim of reading more productively, at Melbourne we’ve put together an informal reading group of researchers, associates, postgraduates and investigators associated with CHE. We met for the second time in 2013 yesterday, on a brisk Autumn afternoon, in the Old Arts building to talk about two recent published pieces: a ‘conversation’ article published in the December 2012 issue of the American Historical Review, and an excellent article by Thomas Dixon in Emotion Review, “‘Emotion’: The History of a Keyword in Crisis”, which Sarah and I will be putting on the reading list for our postgraduate students later this year.
Another firm favourite proved to be Scheer’s piece, which I urge you to take a look at if you haven’t seen it already!
So, just to add to your lists-of-things-to-read, here’s the full program for 2013:
ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions
University of Melbourne Reading Group
March 26th, 3.30-5.30pm
Old Arts, Seminar Room 1 (210)
What is the History of Emotions?
Matt, Susan. ‘Current Emotion Research in History: Or, Doing History from the Inside Out,’ Emotion Review 3 (2011): 117-124.
Plamper, Jan. ‘The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns,’ History and Theory 49 (May 2010): 237-65.
Scheer, Monique. ‘Are Emotions a Kind of Practice (and is that what makes them have a history)?’ History and Theory 51 (2012): 193-220.
April 30th, 3.30-5.30pm
Old Arts, Seminar Room 1 (210)
Dixon, Thomas. ‘“Emotion”: The History of a Key Word in Crisis,’ Emotion Review 4.4 (2012): 338-344.
‘AHR Conversation: The Historical Study of Emotions,’ American Historical Review (December 2012): 1486-1531.
September 3rd, 3.30-5.30pm
Bourke, Joanna. ‘Fear and Anxiety: Writing about Emotion in Modern History,’ History Workshop Journal 55 (2003): 111-133.
—. ‘The Emotions in War: Fear and the British and American Military, 1914-1945,’ Historical Research 74.182 (2001): 314-330.
October 1st, 3.30-5.30pm
‘Forum: History of Emotions,’ German History 28.1 (2010): 67-80.
Frevert, Ute. Emotions in History: Lost and Found, The Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lectures (Budapest: Central European Press, 2011). Extracts.
What is every one else reading in the History of Emotions?
Posted by Stephanie Downes
A literary review by Sarah Dempster, The healing touch of frontline women, published here in The Australian this past weekend, caught the eye of CHE Postdoc Rebecca McNamara. In the review, Sarah explores Susanna de Vries’s recently published account of women who served as nurses and reporters on the frontline in WWI, a subject which seemed appropriate for historians of emotion to reflect upon this week as we commemorate Anzac Day on April 25th. Below, Sarah (who has recently completed her PhD at UWA, on ethically justified space in seventeenth-century poetry) writes to us of her experience in reading this book, while providing an introduction to the stories of frontline heroines told by de Vries.
Reading Susanna de Vries’s latest and final book, Australian Heroines of World War One: Gallipoli, Lemnos, and the Western Front, is a profoundly moving experience. Women who nursed at the front line, or reported on the war for people at home, are rarely part of the rhetoric of bravery which surrounds the Anzacs and World War One. De Vries challenges this absence as she traces the course of the First World War through the accounts of eight Australian women at the European front.
Divided by region (Antwerp, Gallipoli, Lemnos, and France) and arranged chronologically, de Vries conflates her own comprehensive research with frank and emotional diary entries written by her subjects. The author also gives an intimate and visual sense of their characters through the use of photographs, sometimes taken by the very women of de Vries’s work. For instance, nurses tended to wounded Australian soldiers on Lemnos Island in some of the worst conditions of the war; yet, it is touching to see a photograph of one of the tented wards freshly scrubbed, ordered, and lovingly decorated with flowers by nurses who beam with pride at their work. Such juxtapositions of the literary and visual frequently gave me cause to weep as I read. The hard work and resilience of these nurses in the face of their almost complete abandonment by British commanding officers is made even more poignant through the arrangement of information by de Vries.
The opening chapter of Australian Heroines details the plight of the first female war journalist, Louise Mack, who felt unable to leave the besieged city of Antwerp until she had witnessed all the stories of subjugation, flight, and invasion surrounding its fall. The rest of the book examines the hardships endured by Australian nurses at the front as they cared for soldiers with gruesome wounds, endured the perpetual threat of bombardment from the enemy, and wrote sympathetic letters to mothers of the dead. Many of their colleagues suffered complete nervous breakdowns amidst the extreme emotional and physical demands of war nursing. However, de Vries resists casting any of these women as ‘angels of mercy’. Instead, she pronounces these Australian women to be possessed of both human frailties and iron resolution.
Attention to detail and a thorough consideration of character provides these Australian women with a well-deserved place in Australian history. Though de Vries reveals that many of these women were divorced from Australia’s sense of cultural identity, dying in poverty, Australian Heroines of World War One redresses this omission. De Vries looks on the nature of death and life in war with clear eyes, and asserts the place of these women in our national consciousness. Her literary and visual bricolage imbues this evocative view of Australian history with the seriousness it deserves.
Posted by Sarah Dempster
I’ve just finished a small project on hearths and how their meanings shifted
for settlers moving from England to Australia in the nineteenth century.
This wasn’t what I thought I was doing when I began the work; it was
supposed to be a theoretical, philosophical piece for an ecological journal,
and I imagine that I’ll need to find a new home for it. Somehow the piece,
which is partially about establishing a sense of home in the bush, began to
mutate into something much more archival and perhaps a little global in
I suspect that part of the work I have been doing has been, as much as
anything, an attempt to make sense of how I shifted from being a Dickens
scholar to working on Australian bushfires. I take the Dickensian hearth as
a starting point and trace how settlers were forced to change their
attitudes to fire almost as soon as they boarded the ship that would carry
then to the Antipodes. While within an English setting, the hearth equates
to warmth and conviviality, unauthorized fires aboard ships jeopardized the
safety of everyone on board. The Reverend P. Dunne, who authored a handbook for migrants to Queensland in 1863, commented that ”no punishment could be too severe” for those found abusing flames aboard ship (19).
This shipboard caution was good training for life in the bush, since it
taught emigrants about fire’s potential to burn out of control and to
destroy homes, floating and otherwise. Notwithstanding the respect that
settlers had to learn for fire, the hearth remained an important gathering
place for families beginning new lives in Australia. Letter-writers speak
of the importance of obtaining firewood, and it is clear that a roaring fire
was regarded as a quintessential component of domesticity. A hearth fire
was a simple means of establishing a home away from home and a source of
continuity across the continents.
Examining a combination of migrants’ handbooks and Christmas stories (many
of which are Dickensian pastiches, albeit with a sunny setting), I’ve been
thinking about how settlers mourned the absent household fire at Christmas
time, often through writing about the oddness of Christmas in the heat.
I’ve also been considering why it might be that so many nineteenth-century
Christmas stories featured bushfires (Anthony Trollope’s Harry Heathcote of
Gangoil being one of the better-known). Narrative was certainly a means of
asserting mastery over the often un-tamable bushfire and as I read through
more and more Christmas fire stories, I’m increasingly convinced that the
genre is speaking back to the festive hearth tale in the northern
hemisphere. It is perhaps, because Dickens’s stories, and others like them,
represented an entirely manageable form of fire, while the Christmas story
genre offered a safe space in which to rehearse and overcome some of the
anxieties associated with fires south of the equator.
As Sue Martin and Kylie Mirmohamadi have argued in their recent book,
Colonial Dickens (2012), settlers used Dickens both to inform their
Christmas away from home, but also to understand the colonial landscape
(23). So, while understandings of fire had to be reconfigured in the
colonial environment, local fires also had to be interpreted and understood
in a way that allowed recent migrants to feel in control. As they
experienced catastrophic events like Black Thursday (1851) and the Great
Gippsland Fire (1898), Victorian bush settlers gradually came to accept the
devastating power of the annual threat posed by fire. As a result, the
temporariness and vulnerability of their new homes was driven home to them.
In a land where a chimney and hearth were often the sole survivors of an
intense blaze, the fireplace provided one of the only durable remnants of
home in the north that could withstand the ravages of the Australian summer.
Posted by Grace Moore
Jorge Mario Bergoglio has chosen the papal name ‘Francis’, which will suggest to most Catholics the founder of the Franciscan order, Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis’ gentle and unassuming style, his poverty – if catching the bus and cooking one’s own meals really qualifies as poverty in the Latin American context … – point to the medieval Italian saint who preached to the common people, and legendarily, to the birds. But Francis was also half the name of one of the Jesuits’ earliest saints, Francis-Xavier (1506-1552), the fervent and restless ‘Apostle to the Indes’, who took Catholic Christianity to India, Japan, and the East Indes in the early modern period, dying of a fever just fourteen kilometres from the shore of mainland China. Perhaps Pope Francis quietly gestures to this sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, too, who has come to represent the global reach of the Catholic Church, and embodies the evangelical zeal for ‘harvesting souls’ which fired so many members of his order in the early modern period.
So who were the Jesuits? The Society or Company of Jesus was a Catholic Reformation order founded in 1540 by Basque nobleman and former soldier, Ignatius of Loyola, and a bunch of his student friends (among them Francis-Xavier). They quickly earned a formidable and paradoxical reputation. The Pope’s crack troops were deployed from Messina to Macao, Paris to Paraguay, recruiting converts, fighting the spread of Protestantism, and educating the élites of Catholic Europe and her New World colonies. They conducted diplomatic business and scientific research, composed music and poetry, and shocked and awed audiences with theatre and pyrotechnics, art and architecture. Jesuits were prepared to die for their beliefs in faraway missions, but they were also accused of being slippery and self-serving. They championed native Indian rights, but enslaved Africans. In their ranks were to be found hard-nosed heretic hunters, as well as defenders of the rights of ‘witches’, and believers in ‘natural magic’. Renowned for their chameleon-like ability to adapt to local circumstances – dressing as mandarins in China or brahmins in India – the proud and powerful ‘black robes’ couldn’t help but stand out on Catholic home turf. Victims of their own success, the Jesuits were hounded out of France, Spain, Portugal, and the New World. The ‘Old’ Society of Jesus was shut down by the Pope in 1773.
The Society of Jesus was restored in 1814 and has regrown to become the single largest order of the Catholic Church. The ‘New’ Society has produced its fair share of arch-conservatives, but also Nazi-resisters, freedom-fighters, and liberation theologians. It retains its former reputation for education and intellectual sophistication: the profile of a twentieth-century polymath such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (philosopher, mathematician, palaeontologist, and evolutionary biologist) would not look out of place alongside those of Athanasius Kircher (speculative vulcanologist, biologist, orientalist …) or Roger Boscovich (poet, physicist, astronomer, diplomat …) in Carlos Sommervogel’s great bio-bibliographical dictionary of the Old Society (Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus).
But the heart has always been just as if not more important than the head in Jesuit theology. Much of the order’s thinking, historically, has gone into questions of how to rouse, channel and discipline the emotions. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises remains to this day the beating heart of the Society of Jesus, anticipating some of the techniques of modern psychotherapy in its guided visualisations; its call for attention to and daily written reckoning of our desires and defects; its rules for ‘discernment of spirits’ (in effect, how to listen to our emotions before making important life choices). In conjuring up in detail the agonies of the Passion, however, not to mention a sense-by-sense experience of the torments of Hell, Ignatius is a world away from modern secular philosophers of emotional well-being and intelligence, and from mental health regimes that seek to eliminate anxiety and depression from our lives. The exercitant of the Spiritual Exercises moves inevitably between states of ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’ with no more human control over this process than that of preparing him/herself in advance for the next turn of the wheel.
Posted by Professor Yasmin Haskell
Bronwyn Reddan, a postgraduate candidate in SHAPS (the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies) at the University of Melbourne, spoke about her research on seventeenth-century fairy tales at the Methods Collaboratory. Here, she summarises her project for Histories of Emotion.
I began to study fairy tales via a slightly meandering route. In 2011, while taking an extended break from my work as a dispute resolution lawyer, I wandered into a second hand bookstore in La Rochelle, a small city on the west coast of France. I had just started developing ideas for an honours thesis examining the material culture of fairy tales when, as fate would have it, the first book I picked up was a nineteenth-century edition of Charles Perrault’s Contes des Fées. Inspired by my serendipitous discovery, I delved deeper into the provenance of my little red book of tales and was delighted to meet a fascinating cast of characters involved in the publication of more than 100 fairy tales between 1690 and 1715.
Fast forward almost two years later and I am still enchanted by these marvellous tales and their wittily subversive authors. And a project which began life as a short thesis examining the construction of elite female identity in seventeenth-century France has now morphed into a PhD project analysing representations of romantic love early modern contes des fées. My research focuses on the historical value of these tales as sources illustrating early modern debates about the nature of women and the importance of emotion in shaping people’s experiences. The emotion I am focusing on is romantic love. I have chosen to focus on this type of love because it is both a prominent theme in the contes and an emotion with a particular historical meaning in seventeenth-century France. At this stage, my project centres on the tragic tales written by Marie-Catherine le Jumel de Barneville, Comtesse d’Aulnoy and Henriette-Julie de Castelnau, Comtesse de Murat in which falling in love is a disaster to be avoided at all costs. I am particularly interested in how these tales represent romantic love as a disappointing experience rather than the happy ever after ending we have come to expect from fairy tales. I am using this ambiguity in early modern attitudes to love to challenge the popular idea of romantic love as a largely positive experience and to develop a more complex picture of historical attitudes towards love.
I am very grateful to the CHE for providing me with the opportunity to discuss my work, and I found the feedback I received from my presentation at the methods collaboratory extremely useful.
Posted by Bronwyn Reddan
The first of a series of ‘responses’ to papers and sessions at the recent March Collaboratory. More to follow! Wishing everyone an excellent break over Easter.
A Response to William Reddy’s “The Self as a Domain of Effort: The Convergence of Neuroscience, Historical, and Ethnographic Evidence”
At our recent meeting in Melbourne, we were privileged to hear from William Reddy, professor of history and cultural anthropology at Duke University, and Volker Kirchberg, professor of sociology at Leuphana University, about their new work on the emotions in their respective fields. Professor Reddy delivered a public lecture on his work on romantic love across cultures and presented a paper on historical, ethnographic, and neuroscientific approaches to emotion. Professor Kirchberg spoke about his work for eMotion, a collaborative and cross-disciplinary project intended to assess the emotional experiences of museum visitors. For the sake of time, I’m going to restrict my comments here to a few remarks on Reddy’s paper, “The Self as a Domain of Effort.”
Since his landmark 2001 study “The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions,” Reddy has been engaged in an ambitious project of assessing and interrogating the status of emotion in human history, drawing upon the disciplines of history, anthropology, and neuroscience. The paper he presented at our conference argued that what unites manifestations of emotion across cultures and histories is that they all engender a set of cultural practices aimed at managing, suppressing, or harnessing pre-cultural physiological and neurological phenomena: they comprise a “domain of effort.”
The principle example offered in the paper was a comparison of two radically different manifestations of what we might loosely call “anger”: the concept of ira in Seneca’s Stoic philosophy, and the notion of liget in the Ilongot culture of the Philippines, as described in the anthropological work of Michelle Rosaldo. The two concepts could hardly be more opposed: ira, according to Seneca, is a kind of madness to be resisted at all costs, while liget was the essential energy that fuelled acts of bravery and accomplishment among the Ilongots. But the two concepts are nevertheless connected insofar as they are subject to effortful practice. Just as Seneca’s concept of ira emerges alongside certain habits of discipline and mortification, so does the idea of liget entail practices intended to cultivate and elicit liget in Ilongot men and women. Despite their differences, ira and liget share a certain malleability that attracts cultural attention and manipulation. An interesting paradox emerges from this analysis: what is universal about the emotions is that they are cultural. I think much of Reddy’s work may be characterized as an innovative attempt to lay a universalist foundation for cultural constructivism.
Reddy proceeded to argue that this understanding of emotion is supported by new findings in the field of neuroscience, findings that, contrary to earlier accounts of a fixed set of basic emotions, emphasize the plasticity of the brain, allowing for great diversity in the cultural manifestations of emotion. Recent research has focused on the centrality of interpretation and regulation in emotional experience. The emotions, according to this new work, are not simply a set of given phenomena residing in the brain: instead they are the product of a dynamic process extending from basic neurological phenomena to complex cultural processes of naming, assessment, judgment, and regulation. Reddy argued that this work supports historical and ethnographic accounts of the emotions as a “domain of effort,” and that we cannot afford to neglect it in our historical research.
In insisting on the necessity of engagement with neuroscience, Reddy is, I believe, implicitly advocating a viewpoint that was once called the “unity of science,” and more recently, “consilience”: the belief in the necessary convergence of disciplines across the sciences and the humanities. The term “consilience” was coined in a 1998 book of that title by the biologist Edward O. Wilson. In advance of a new book, Wilson has recently published some comments on the convergence of scientific and humanistic inquiry in the New York Times, which can be found here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/the-riddle-of-the-human-species/. Here are the relevant passages:
“The social intelligence of campsite-anchored prehumans evolved as a kind of non-stop game of chess. Today, at the terminus of this evolutionary process, our immense memory banks are smoothly activated across the past, present, and future. They allow us to evaluate the prospects and consequences variously of alliances, bonding, sexual contact, rivalries, domination, deception, loyalty and betrayal. We instinctively delight in the telling of countless stories about others as players upon the inner stage. The best of it is expressed in the creative arts, political theory, and other higher level activities we have come to call the humanities…
The major features of the biological origins of our species are coming into focus, and with this clarification the potential of a more fruitful contact between science and the humanities. The convergence between these two great branches of learning will matter hugely when enough people have thought it through. On the science side, genetics, the brain sciences, evolutionary biology, and paleontology will be seen in a different light. Students will be taught prehistory as well as conventional history, the whole presented as the living world’s greatest epic.”
—Edward O. Wilson, “The Riddle of the Human Species”
According to Wilson’s vision of consilience, the practices of the humanities will be arrogated to the realm of science: historians, anthropologists, political theorists, and the like will be left with the task of articulating the details of the grand tapestry of human nature provided for us by biology and neurology: “The task of understanding humanity,” writes Wilson, “is too important and too demanding to leave to the humanities.”
What this vision neglects is the fact that the sciences and the humanities are distinct methods with distinct goals and purposes: they exist within different horizons. Let us take the example of politics raised by Wilson. Even if we accept that politics are what Wilson implies—a set of behaviours to which we are naturally predisposed by our evolution as social animals—that does not mean that we have understood politics: we have only explained them. Even if one were equipped with complete knowledge of the evolutionary history and goals of human politics, he or she would not be qualified in the least to serve in an elected office, or even to participate in the democratic process as a citizen. These practices require different kinds of training, experience, and acculturation. It is a very different thing to observe a political system from the outside, as one might study an anthill or beehive, and to come to understand its internal mechanisms through action and experience. It is the human sciences, along with other informal and everyday experiences, that facilitate this latter kind of understanding.
Another example might be the different ways we use the term “know” in regards to facts and persons. We can “know” a fact through study and observation: from studying rivers, for instance, one may come to know with considerable certainty that running water takes the path of least resistance. But we cannot “know” a person in such a manner. We can imagine a member of the Stasi or the CIA tracking a person throughout her daily life, becoming intimately acquainted with her habits and practices, recording her actions in minute detail. Though our spy would thus be in possession of a great amount of data about the person under observation, we wouldn’t say that she “knows” her subject, having never met or conversed with her. She has a set of data regarding her subject that may enable her to wield power over her and make predictive judgments about her behaviour, but she does not “know” her in the way we commonly use the term. Knowledge of a person, as distinct from knowledge of a fact, requires mutuality and human interaction. Though the analogy is imperfect, the kind of knowledge we seek in the humanities is of a similar kind. We “know” a text by reading it, thinking about it, becoming acquainted with it, rather than by assembling data about it.
In distinguishing between explanation and understanding in my first example, I’m recalling the work of the turn of the century philosopher and historian Wilhelm Dilthey. It’s worth quoting the passage from his 1894 Descriptive and Analytic Psychology in which he first formulates this distinction:
“We do not show ourselves genuine disciples of great scientific thinkers simply by transferring their methods to our sphere; we must adjust our knowledge to the nature of our subject-matter and thus treat it as the scientists treated theirs. We conquer nature by submitting to it. The human studies differ from the sciences because the latter deal with facts which present themselves to consciousness as external and separate phenomena, while the former deal with the living connections of reality experienced in the mind. It follows that the sciences arrive at connections within nature through inferences by means of a combination of hypotheses while the human sciences are based on directly given mental connections. We explain nature but we understand mental life. Inner experience grasps the processes by which we accomplish something as well as the combination of individual functions of mental life as a whole. The experience of the whole context comes first; only later to we distinguish the individual parts. This means that the methods of studying mental life, history and society differ greatly from those used to acquire knowledge of nature.”
—Wilhelm Dilthey, Descriptive and Analytical Psychology, tr. H. P. Rickman, my emphasis
Dilthey’s psychological vocabulary may be somewhat archaic and idealist, but the clarification of the distinct methods of the sciences and the humanities remains, I think, instructive and important.
The version of consilience presupposed in Reddy’s work is a far more subtle one than Wilson’s. But in spite of the novelty and ingenuity that Reddy brings to the question of science and the humanities, I think problems of incommensurability persist. (Reddy addressed this objection in his paper, but his answer—that the move away from the reductive “Basic Emotions” paradigm in neuroscience allows for greater commonality with humanities—skirts the strong version of the challenge of incommensurability, if I’m not mistaken.) In seeking to make use of the innovations of neuroscience, we should remain aware of the different methods of the sciences and the humanities and the different disciplinary objects towards which they are oriented. I am grateful to Professor Reddy for introducing this topic to us, along with its attendant challenges.
Posted by Ross Knecht
This weekend the second CHE Methods Collaboratory takes place here in Melbourne. Yep, “collaboratory” was a new one for me, too, when I took up my postdoc with the centre. It has not yet appeared in either the Oxford or Macquarie dictionaries (I just double-checked to be certain), but I’m sure it’ll make the 2013 editions.
Presumably half way between a collaboration and a laboratory (interdisciplinarity alert!) the idea is to get researchers together; from all fields, and from all over. I’ve been to several Centre collaboratories in the past fourteen months, and even run one myself – the wonderful Faces of Emotion, with Stephanie Trigg – and I can assure you, it works. The collaboratory licenses organisers to think differently in their approach, especially in how papers or research are presented and discussed. This is turn can help lead to freer and more open discussions, and, ultimately, wider dissemination for our work when the collaboratory is over. Stephanie opened Faces by appealing for a ‘greedy and generous spirit of scholarship’ to prevail over the days that followed. These are words that have stuck with me since in thinking about how we share not just our own work with others, but the things that we come across in the course of course research. I’ve often been the recipient of an email letting me know of a new book that looked like it might be my kind of thing; “saw this quote and thought of you;” or even personal notes and transcripts from people’s archival research. Amazing. This has happened throughout my career, but I’ve found Centre members to be especially generous in sharing their work, their reading, and their ideas. I wonder if we (I) tell people often enough how much we appreciate these morsels, however small? If any of those who’ve sent such things to me are reading this now – thank you! Your generosity has and will continue to enrich my research.
Of course, that’s not to say I’m not greedy for more… And more is on the way. Tomorrow Sarah and I host “Feeling Things: Objects and Emotions in History” which we’ve called a ‘mini-symposium’ rather than a collaboratory. We probably should have gone with the ‘collaboratory’ afterall, since the topic turns out to be even more popular than we’d hoped, and we’ve somehow managed to double the numbers we originally planned for! Thereby also doubling the opportunities for intellectual give-and-take. (Chairs, however, are the ‘object’ of the day. I’ve been feeling things about chairs all morning.)
BUT tomorrow evening we kick off two further days of discussion about Methods in the history of emotions more generally. Researchers and associates from across Australia arrive in Melbourne to talk together about their progress so far, and about the various theoretical tools and methodologies available to historians of the emotions. What are they? How effective are they? A spirit of greed and generosity is essential here, too. It begins with ‘greed’ for me – my own! Tomorrow at 5.15 there is a public lecture by none other than Professor William Reddy, (spoiler alert!) who I plan to introduce in the panel discussion following Feeling Things tomorrow afternoon as “a generative force in the history of emotions.” (If you’ve not seen his 2001 book, The Navigation of Feeling, do!) His evening lecture is provocatively titled, ‘Do Emotions Have a History: The Example of Romantic Love’, and I can’t wait. Not least because discourses around ‘love’ are of interest to me in the context of my own research, but also because Reddy promises to deliver a global perspective on what is already an enormous subject (see his new book, the Making of Romantic Love, University of Chicago Press in 2o12, which moves well beyond figurations of love in the European imagination). Reddy has also drawn attention to the ways in which neuroscientific research may benefit humanities historians of the emotions – I can’t wait to hear more on this on Friday.
So, in the spirit of generosity, and for those who can’t or won’t be there, I thought I’d share the rest of the program for the Methods Collaboratory with you:
Friday 15 March
Introduction: What do we hope to achieve in this meeting? Philippa Maddern
Plenary paper: Professor William Reddy, Duke University; ‘The Self as a Domain of Effort: The Convergence of Neuroscience, Ethnographic, and Historical Evidence’ (Chair, David Lemmings)
Responses to plenary, leading the discussion, ‘How can we best use these theoretical insights in our history of emotions?’; Professor David Lemmings (Adelaide); Professor Marcello Costa (Flinders University, Adelaide); TBA
New research fellows, Associate Investigators, and Ph.Ds: 5-minute research project presentations
Program group discussion: What progress have we made in each program? What discoveries are emerging?
‘What good is a history of emotions?’ Presenting the work of CHE to a wider audience; public image and research impact.
Collaboratory dinner (Mezza, Lygon St)
Saturday 16 March
Plenary paper: Professor Volker Kirchberg, Leophana University, Luneburg; speaking on the affective turn in the social sciences and methodologies for studying aesthetic experiences in the field
Responses to plenary, leading the discussion, ‘How can we best use these theoretical insights in our history of emotions?’: Professor Jane Davidson, Dr. Penelope Woods, Dr. Sarah Randles
Small-group discussion; future collaborations
Organizing the theme day ‘Historicizing Emotions’ for the CISH conference, Jinan 2015. CHE and the History of Emotions group at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, have been asked to organize this theme day. How do we think sessions should best be organised? What themes and problems should we try to present?
Wrap-up and farewell!
Posted by Stephanie Downes
In which I describe a theatre company and production I find fascinating and then go on to consider the conversations around global Shakespeare that emerged in the event at UWA last week. Forgive me for quite a long post. - Pen.
6 March 2013
Last week we hosted an event at UWA that brought together Shakespeare scholars and practitioners in Western Australia to discuss globalization and the emotional score of cross-cultural performance for actors and audiences under the banner: Frontier Shakespeare. This discussion marked the arrival of Two Gents Productions from London/Harare.
Download the full poster of the event here.
The Two Gents are a London-based theatre company who I first saw perform in Manchester, UK, in 2009. This piece, done by two actors in a small regional theatre to a very small audience, completely blew me away. In the same year, academic writing on this company began appearing and their names were suddenly on the lips of Shakespearean scholars comparing notes at conferences around the country. The vitality of this production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona was unlike any other I had seen. Partly, there was a surprise factor. TGoV is one of the earliest of Shakespeare’s plays, and whilst it has some extraordinary lyrical passages – and the brilliant scene with the dog which is itself a particularly valuable passage on early modern conceptions of emotion – it is also rather clunky in terms of plot and what you might call ‘characterization’, for want of a less anachronistic term. The story riffs on the very important Renaissance theme of friendship. Two friends from Verona have their friendship tested by travel and amorous encounters. *Spoiler Alert* – Proteus, as his name might strongly suggest, turns out to be fickle and treacherous. He is sent away from Verona, and his love Giulia, by his father, to join his best friend Valentine in Milan. He falls in love with Silvia with a sudden “thunk”. (A wonderful theatrical challenge to stage this coup de foudre). Silvia, however, happens to be his best friend’s betrothed. Proteus betrays Valentine’s plan to elope with Silvia to her father, the Duke of Milan, and Valentine is promptly banished. When Silvia goes into the “woods” to find him Proteus follows, fails to woo her and then tries to rape her. Valentine happens to be watching from behind a tree (stage pillar supporting the canopy) and is furious. He is furious for, oh look, at least 11 lines, and then forgives his friend. As a sign of his forgiveness he ‘gives’ him Silvia. Proteus’ true love, Giulia, has of course been present all along, hidden behind the other tree (stage pillar supporting the canopy), disguised as his male servant Sebastian. (Does any of this sound familiar yet?) She returns Proteus’ ring and he is overcome with remorse. The two friends agree to marry the ‘right’ women. Disclaimer- I may have streamlined this somewhat. I’m sure you are wondering where the dog fits in, so I suggest you read it, or even better go and see the Two Gents production before the Australian tour ends. (See website for details).
The Royal Shakespeare Company did a production of this play in 2005, but it is staged very rarely. When it is, the attempt to ‘psychologize’ these characters, or to tell the story through lavish sets and a period concept, tends to over-egg what is a simple, fleet, funny, patchily lyrical, and in terms of gender politics, highly problematic play. The Two Gents approach, then, in which actors Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu take on all fifteen characters and the dog (they cut one servant), is a dynamic, fast-paced rendering of this story that both exposes its threadbare characterization and clunky plot and scene changes, whilst simultaneously underscoring it with an extraordinary and touching sense of humanity. This is found in the vitality of the friendship that is also the vitality of the working relationship between the two actors on-stage. But it is also found in the detailed care of the scene between Launce and his dog (played by Munyevu). And in the witty, arch, playful, wise and plangent presentation of the female characters Giulia, her maid Lucetta, and Silvia. The production concludes with a tableaux of the two women who have been signed up to marry these friends despite their rough treatment, holding each other in poignant silence.
What is more significant even than these staging choices is the context of the actor / audience relationship in this production. These performances are done with the house lights on. A performance style so unusual that in a blog review of a recent performance in Wollongong the author admitted she had thought this was some technical mistake. [Do read this review by the way, it’s a wonderful evocation of the mastery of the Gents’ production of Hamlet].
The effect of doing theatre with the lights on cannot be underestimated. The relationship of the audience to the performance is recalibrated instantly and entirely. How you respond, behave, feel, is suddenly part of the performance in a way that is cannot be in a darkened auditorium. There is a different ethical relationship created between actor and audience. (This difference has been described by another performance scholar, Nicholas Ridout (pp.78-79) as the difference between speaking in the agora and speaking in the stoa, in which you had the licence of public speech without its responsibilities, like the darkened theatre auditorium today).
The Two Gents acknowledge and draw on this different relationship. They address the audience directly from time to time, sometimes commenting on the story, or on how the production is going that evening. If they see blank looks they might effect a ‘rewind’ to make sure everyone has understood the unnecessarily dense plot points around letters exchanged and characters doubled and impersonated. Sometimes they will comment on each other’s acting or performance choices. Sometimes they will comment on a hapless audience member yawning. Everyone is on their toes. The mental and physical agility of clearly representing all of these characters in quick succession and effectively telling the story is extraordinary. But the audience agility in decoding, picking up on the signs of character- the glove, the scarf, the musical motif, is also demanding and exciting. What the audience must also explore and play with is the production’s cross-cultural heritage. The actors, as well as the characters, are Zimbabwean and the language switches between English and Shona (even more so now than it did when I first saw it in 2009). The music is almost always Zimbabwean. There has always been a lot of music in the production. This is low-tech, done un-amplified by the actors singing unaccompanied or playing the mbira (a Zimbabwean lamelophone). This Zimbabwean adaptation necessitates a journey that its audiences must go on mediating and assimilating the story and its presentation. All of this offers an early modern performance historian much food for thought. The condition of being in the audience in the early amphitheatres demanded a completely different kind of engagement and work. In place of the crass caricature of an Elizabethan audience that was drunk and rowdy, I think the experience of this production might provide a glimpse of the exhilarating, moving, demanding and sometimes combative nature of the audience experience.
I wanted to use this production as a springboard for a larger conversation about Shakespeare, internationalization, intercultural and cross-cultural performance, heritage and appropriation in the twenty-first century. The quality and nature of theatrical presentation now affects my imaginative scope as a historian for rethinking performance then. Probing and examining assumptions and conventions underpinning thinking about performance now helps me, at least, to better historicize performance practice in other periods.
We invited some of the key practitioners from Western Australia- Kyle Morrison, Artistic Director of Yirra Yaakin; Kate Cherry, Artistic Directo of Black Swan State Theatre Company; Paige Newmark, Artistic Director of Shakespeare WA who perform annually in King’s Park, Robert Marshall (Executive Producer of Live Recordings at Shakespeare’s Globe), Emeritus Professor Chris Wortham (UWA, currently Notre Dame University in Australia), Winthrop Professor Robert White (Chief Investigator at CHE, UWA) and Dr Steve Chinna (Associate Professor, UWA, playwright and director). The conversation we had is available to view here and a writeup of the presentations is available on the CHE website.
Whilst I hadn’t briefed the speakers to talk specifically about ‘emotion’, but to describe their work and engagement with Shakespeare, the event was framed by the work of the Centre. It was striking that each speaker, without exception, found they had something significant to say about the role of ‘emotion’ in the productions they put together or the scholarly work on Shakespeare they did. For some this emotion was about the emotional work and experience of the performer, for others this was about the emotional work of the audience, for others it was a consideration of how emotion might be produced by other cultures in other times, for others still it was a trace or residue of emotion that was inherent in the written text. The complexity of these positions – particularly since the process of putting a production on or reading a text is necessarily one of exchange – prompted further questions:
Is the emotional response of the audience greater when the actor actually experiences the emotions being presented? Or conversely, is the audience’s emotional engagement lessened if performers ‘indulge’ in feeling too much? [This refers back to conversations that also emerged at the Performance Collaboratory organised by Prof Jane Davidson in UWA in November 2012]. How does this emotional presentation and exchange work in performance? Are the emotional meanings that we pick up on in productions today from Africa, to the UK to Australia, the same as each other? Are they the same as they were when the plays were first written?
Whilst I am still pondering the first set of questions, these last two seem to me to be straightforwardly answered in the negative. However, the conversation turned frequently to a sense panelists had, or perhaps wanted to have, that these stories and the emotions that were read into them, were somehow ‘universal’. I’m not sure how this can work transculturally or transhistorically, but since one of the most popular ideas in the discussion was about Shakespeare as a set of stories that were widely accessible and permitted a sense of ‘common humanity’, this issue of how universal art and emotion are seems to be a rather urgent one.
However, these are not directly the issues I want to point to arising from this roundtable. These are conversations around crosscultural productions of Shakespeare that have arisen frequently and across the world at various points. What I wanted to raise here was the emphasis that Two Gents director, Arne Pohlmeier, placed on the idea of ‘ownership’, which was picked up on and refracted through subsequent contributions to the discussion. It has an impact on how we might understand those desires for and ideals of accessibility and shared experience. ‘Ownership’, then, was a theme that seemed to permeate this Roundtable.
For Pohlmeier, the key to successful Shakespearean production is ownership. “You have to own Shakespeare if you’re going to do it well” he said. “It has to feel like something important and resonant, fully-digested and fully alive in order for it to be worth doing”. Pohlmeier felt that in cross-cultural performance the “journey of taking ownership is much more visible”. When a white British cast does a production, he added, there is a tacit assumption that they already have ownership. Cross-cultural productions help to destabilise that idea and remind us that these plays, ideas and sentiments are alien to all of us, culturally and historically. These are significant points that will surface and resurface. I am also intrigued by the indication of how ‘ownership’ works physiologically, as a process of ‘internalization’. The metaphor of eating or digesting the play and its ideas is a potent one.
The significance of ‘ownership’ was one that Kyle Morrison, director of Yirra Yaakin was keen to pick up on. In translating the Sonnets into Noongar Morrison had gone through a process of experiencing the parallels in world view and metaphor which had enabled him to develop a sense of kinship with, and ownership of, these works. Reading the plays Morrison had found that they were infused with old legends and myths and drew on spiritual and metaphoric stories told to explain and make sense of situations. This correlated with the ways in which the Dreaming works in Noongar culture. Morrison found that the Noongar stories paralleled some of creation stories and elemental symbolism and metaphor. He said “I like to think of those myths as Western Dreamtime stories”. The parallels the company found in the sonnets provided a way of telling Noongar stories in a new way. Sonnet 45, which was one of the sonnets translated and performed by Yirra Yaakin, (re-produced below) describes the elements of ‘slight air’ and ‘purging fire’ and their roles as messengers of love. This had a particular resonance for Morrison and the company. Both Morrison and the actors Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu described their powerful emotional responses to experiencing these works in their own language. Morrison said that when he first tried out the translation of the sonnets, which was done by actor Kylie Farmer, he had been extremely moved. The sense of connection in translating and performing these sonnets in Noongar afforded an intense experience of ownership, and Morrison experienced a much greater sense of connection to these works than any other English text he has worked with.
The Artistic Director of Black Swan, Kate Cherry, had begun by describing her earliest memory as a three year old, watching Romeo and Juliet. She stressed that it was her perpetual engagement with performances of Shakespeare from a young age that had afforded her a sense of ownership, and a sense of an ‘Australian’ Shakespeare. I have lots of questions about how a sense of ownership might tie up with memory, repeated action and the public sphere, as well as with language and physiology – how the act of speaking the words affords ownership; how this might increase if you speak them in your ‘own’ language; how the physiological activity of using your body, breathing, proprioception, to ‘perform’ the work might give you yet another (a further?) sense of ownership; how it might make you feel as if you were internalizing the words and stories, and digesting them; how hearing the same words on lots of occasions over time might give you a sense of ownership; or how a single intense experience might afford a different sense of ownership.
So I’m newly interested in the idea of ‘ownership’ as something that could be understood as a ‘feeling’, ‘emotion’ or ‘passion’. I’m interested in its agential role, as discussed by directors Arne Pohlmeier and Kyle Morrison, but I’m also interested in its politics. If I were to look into a history of a ‘sense’ of ownership this might propose itself as linked to the emergence of Capitalism. This is a historical field with scholarly precedent for analyzing the structures and workings of such a feeling. But the ‘sense’ of ownership emerging in these conversations is not monetary, land-based or straightforwardly transactional, and I wonder what other histories might be uncovered around the desire for and sense of ownership.
‘Ownership’ is something that I had discussed in a very different sphere in writing my PhD. I had been told by various people at different times that taking ‘ownership’ of my work and my scholarly expertise in the research I was doing was a rite of passage. At a certain point, it was said to me, you become the expert in the area you are writing on. It becomes ‘your’ area of expertise. A sense of ‘ownership’ is a powerful feeling that can clearly be liberating and enabling, but it is also potentially divisive and isolating, furthermore it necessitates responsibility. Ownership has consequences for creativity, and a sense of intellectual freedom, but also for geopolitics. A sense of ownership is enmeshed in a set of power relations and an ethics of exchange. It is something that we navigate pragmatically (in terms of IP and censorship laws and plagiarism in academia) as well as emotionally perhaps, in terms of territory and expertise claims, on a daily basis.
The desire to provide or offer ‘accessibility’, articulated particularly by directors Paige Newmark and Kate Cherry, I suspect is implicated in this politics of ‘ownership’. The desire to share ‘Shakespeare’ with the people, to bring an experience of the plays to people who may not otherwise have access, suggests that the person doing the sharing occupies a position as a gatekeeper. Perhaps this is a tacit assumption of ownership, in the first place, where access is effectively something that is theirs to bestow. This is not to undermine a hope or desire to share ‘Shakespeare’, but to point up the hidden politics of ownership that operate around a figure or body of works that today hold a particular cultural (and colonial) caché. With ownership goes responsibility. I am really interested in hearing what other complex histories of ‘ownership’, ‘access’ and ‘responsibility’ are being encountered in people’s work.
In the meantime I reproduce here two of the cited texts:
The other two, slight air and purging fire,
Are both with thee, wherever I abide;
The first my thought, the other my desire,
These present-absent with swift motion slide.
For when these quicker elements are gone
In tender embassy of love to thee,
My life, being made of four, with two alone
Sinks down to death, oppress’d with melancholy;
Until life’s composition be recured
By those swift messengers return’d from thee,
Who even but now come back again, assured
Of thy fair health, recounting it to me:
This told, I joy; but then no longer glad,
I send them back again and straight grow sad.
[I hope to make the Noongar Sonnet 45 available at some point with the permission of Kyle Morrison, Kylie Farmer and Yirra Yaakin]
Two Gentlemen of Verona II.3
Launce: Nay, ’twill be this hour ere I have done weeping; all the kind of the Launces have this very fault. I have received my proportion, like the prodigious son, and am going with Sir Proteus to the Imperial’s court. I think Crab, my dog, be the sourest-natured dog that lives: my mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing her hands, and all our house in a great perplexity, yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear: he is a stone, a very pebble stone, and has no more pity in him than a dog: a Jew would have wept to have seen our parting; why, my grandam, having no eyes, look you, wept herself blind at my parting. Nay, I’ll show you the manner of it. This shoe is my father: no, this left shoe is my father: no, no, this left shoe is my mother: nay, that cannot be so neither: yes, it is so, it is so, it hath the worser sole. This shoe, with the hole in it, is my mother, and this my father; a vengeance on’t! there ’tis: now, sit, this staff is my sister, for, look you, she is as white as a lily and as small as a wand: this hat is Nan, our maid: I am the dog: no, the dog is himself, and I am the dog—Oh! the dog is me, and I am myself; ay, so, so. Now come I to my father; Father, your blessing: now should not the shoe speak a word for weeping: now should I kiss my father; well, he weeps on. Now come I to my mother: O, that she could speak now like a wood woman! Well, I kiss her; why, there ’tis; here’s my mother’s breath up and down. Now come I to my sister; mark the moan she makes. Now the dog all this while sheds not a tear nor speaks a word; but see how I lay the dust with my tears.
Posted by Penelope Woods
For those of us who work with material culture, items which have survived through the centuries (or even descriptions of objects which are no longer extant) can provide a valuable way of accessing the emotions of the past. Today we are familiar with the idea that objects can have ‘sentimental’ value; we can think of things like wedding rings, a grandmother’s china cup and saucer, the snowdome bought on a first overseas holiday. These items often have emotional resonance far beyond their monetary value because they evoke and symbolise relationships and memories. The loss of such objects can produce intense sorrow, clearly visible on news reports of house fires or floods. Being insured may make a financial difference in these instances but it doesn’t do much to ease the suffering of those who have lost irreplaceable belongings.
Objects may also carry negative emotions, and the emotional value of an object may change over time, or be different for different people. The same wedding ring which once symbolised love may come to evoke grief or bitterness if the marriage has ended; a religious symbol may provide comfort or a sense of identity to a believer or provoke anger in one who vehemently opposes that belief. Nor need the emotional value of an object be only personal. Some items have emotional value of national and international significance – the Eureka Flag or the Ashes, for example. Other objects, such as relics or talismans, may have an emotional value related to beliefs in supernatural powers, and are valued for their ability to perform miracles, heal the sick or provide spiritual or physical protection. Emotional value may also be subject to change as political or spatial contexts for items change, as, for example, a statue is moved from a sacred space to a museum; or as public attitudes change, so that the convict manacles which might once have invoked a sense of safety for non-convicts evoke horror or pity for a modern viewer.
Examining historical objects can allow insights into the emotional lives of the people who made, owned, used or gave them. Information about their emotional value may be preserved in documentary evidence, such as letters or inventories, or it may be apparent from the ways such items have been used, if they are worn on the body, perhaps, or buried with the dead. Evidence of emotional value may be preserved as part of rituals, such as religious or political processions, designed to produce mass emotions; or it might be embodied in the item itself, in the dirt ingrained into a specific part of a manuscript page, or the sumptuous reliquary made to encase a holy object.
The Melbourne node of the ARC Centre for the History of Emotions will host a one day symposium on Thursday 14 March 2013, convened by Dr Sarah Randles and Dr Stephanie Downes, to consider the material culture of the medieval and early modern periods and the way it interacts with the history of emotions. There will be papers by Sue Broomhall, Jacqueline Van Gent, Diana Barnes, Helen Hickey, Alicia Marchant, and Sarah Randles. We’re looking forward to a lively and stimulating day of discussion! Please see the flyer below and click through to RSVP online, or send an email to either of the convenors.
Posted by Sarah Randles