Literary Emotion Methodologies Study Day

I’ve just come back from the East Coast after attending the CHE’s Literary Emotion Study Day at the University of Melbourne.


The session began with a talk by Peter Holbrook (UQ) on ‘Process Philosophy, Literature and the Emotions’. Peter drew attention to the work of Henri Bergson, citing from Bergson’s ‘Perception of Change’ (1911), and Creative Evolution (1907). These works were rather alien to me as the only branch of Bergsonian theory familiar to me is his theory of humor, which I’ve utilised in a forthcoming essay on the slasher film. In relation to the study of the emotions, Bergson states that ‘movement is reality itself’ : likewise, in appraising depictions of emotions in literary texts, one should always consider the fact that emotions are always in flux.


Rebecca McNamara talked about the subject of emotional communities and genre. How do emotional features of a genre shift across time? Can the concept of genre be regarded as an emotional community? Thinking about this with regards to the development of eighteenth century Gothic literature, can we think of the Graveyard Poets as occupying the space of an imagined ’emotional community’? Food for thought.


Stephanie Trigg then addressed the concept of the emotive in William Reddy’s work. She drew on some interesting examples to show how figurative language is often a characteristic feature of literary texts. If anything, Stephanie’s examples highlights the importance of ‘getting back to the text’ – looking at texts closely and focusing on close readings while paying attention to content and theme. Her examples resonated with Meridee Bailey’s approach the the following paper – Meridee drew attention to the benefits of utilising linguistic techniques as a means of close textual analysis. Note to self – check out Michael Halliday’s work on systemic functional linguistics!


We then heard from Aleksondra Huiltquist about the ‘amatory mode’ in eighteenth century works, in her paper ‘The Passions and Literary Love in the Eighteenth Century’. Kudos to Alex for being a wonderful organiser too! Finally, Grace Moore’s paper looked at campfires and emotions. Hers had a particular Australian emphasis on campfires in nineteenth century.


This symposium once again highlighted the challenges of coming up with a concrete working methodology for the study of emotions. The word ‘affect’ was thrown around quite a bit. Periodisation continues to be a challenge – everyone works in different time periods! But most importantly, we were mostly in agreement that in analysing the depiction of emotions in literary works, we can never assume that emotions are static. Note to self – changes are also important!


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'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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