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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Fall 2017 Vol. 58.3

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Articles

Introductory Essay: Emotion, Affect, and the Eighteenth Century

Aleksondra Hultquist

The discourse of feeling was powerful and specific in the eighteenth century and emotion offers a powerful approach to questions of the form, interpretation, and reception of modes of writing. The Age of Enlightenment appears to give precedence to rationality and the scientific method, insisting that feeling could and should be tamed by reason. But new work in the History of Emotion and Affect Studies has challenged and complicated old binary models of the opposition of thought and feeling, revealing the eighteenth century to be a period in which rationality and emotion were paradoxically conceptualized as increasingly separate modes of experience that inescapably overlapped and converged. The conversation Hultquist has curated attempts to elucidate major discoveries made when applying History of Emotion and Affect Theory to scholarship of the long eighteenth century. It rearticulates what we thought we knew about the eighteenth century. Far from rehashing tried and true readings, these applications reshape how scholars read, understand, and think about eighteenth-century literature, history, politics, and philosophy. These essays demonstrate the dynamic emotional life flourishing during the "Age of Reason."

Nothing More Than Feelings?: Affect Theory Reads the Age of Sensibility

Stephen Ahern

Scholars have turned recently to affect as a way to better understand human agency. This essay identifies key similarities in the preoccupations of affect theorists and writers of the age of sensibility, while considering both the usefulness of affect theory for the literary critic, and the political consequences of adopting the underlying assumptions of affect studies as a guide for critical practice.

Recent theory offers a promising tool for interpreting the scenes of affective excess that punctuate literary and visual works in the eighteenth century, works governed by a representational mode that assumes heightened affect is significant in itself. Affect theorists focus on the emotional energies in interpersonal encounters, moving past interest in mere sociability to celebrate the power of raw affectual states to be transformative in themselves. The implication is that some emancipatory potential resides in the stimulation of the sensory-perceptual apparatus. Yet this potential cannot be articulated clearly, neither by affect theorists nor by writers of sensibility—for it's an article of faith in both camps that these limit intensities generate a profound knowing that is ineffable.

The paper asks, finally, whether the underlying assumptions of current theory—as with the ideals of the age of sensibility that came before—are perhaps at best hopeful, and at worst naïve, perhaps no less conservative than progressive, and in the end prone to ridicule.

Affect and the Problem of Theater

Jean I. Marsden

This article explores the relationship between theater and emotion, considering the problematic paradigm of theater as the most emotional of literary forms. It cannot exist without the actor who performs and the playgoer who responds and in this sense is a collaborative venture between the performer and the audience. These issues are embedded in the eighteenth century's concept of sympathetic response –a spectator's involuntary emotional reaction to what he or she sees upon the stage. Using James Boswell's comments about the weakened emotional impact of a play performed in a half empty auditorium as a starting point, the article discusses the power of communal emotion within the theater audience. It considers the distinction between drama (the thing) and theater (the experience), and explores questions that arise from this distinction, such as: Is it possible to contemplate or assess theater (as opposed to drama) without exploring its emotional effect? How do we judge theater? What makes a good play? Does it lie in the words on the page or in the tears of the audience? These questions are essential to a reconsideration of the theater–and the drama–of the second half of the eighteenth century.

Natural Affection, the Patriarchal Family and the "Strict Settlement" Debate: A Response from the History of Emotions


M. Wade Mahon

Elocutionists saw themselves as teaching the "art of reading," the central goal of which was for readers to accurately interpret and express the emotional content of a text through reading aloud. Thomas Sheridan and James Burgh, in particular, provide good examples of how elocutionary principles were applied to interpret specific literary passages through oral interpretation. Elocutionary discourse was deeply invested in the culture of sensibility, as Paul Goring has shown, and illustrates the changing cultural understandings of emotion in this period. In particular, elocutionary theory represents a clear move away from Aristotelian or rhetorical views of how emotion functions in communication toward a more modern "natural" or psychological theory of emotion. The discourse of elocution, in its concentration on textual interpretation, suggests that shifting concepts of emotion are connected in significant ways to the growing dominance of print literacy and the modern educational practices that emerged in response.

Making the Green One Red: Elocution, Emotion, and the Impact of Print Literacy

Kathleen Kennedy

Elocutionists saw themselves as teaching the "art of reading," the central goal of which was for readers to accurately interpret and express the emotional content of a text through reading aloud. Thomas Sheridan and James Burgh, in particular, provide good examples of how elocutionary principles were applied to interpret specific literary passages through oral interpretation. Elocutionary discourse was deeply invested in the culture of sensibility, as Paul Goring has shown, and illustrates the changing cultural understandings of emotion in this period. In particular, elocutionary theory represents a clear move away from Aristotelian or rhetorical views of how emotion functions in communication toward a more modern "natural" or psychological theory of emotion. The discourse of elocution, in its concentration on textual interpretation, suggests that shifting concepts of emotion are connected in significant ways to the growing dominance of print literacy and the modern educational practices that emerged in response.

Sympathy, Verse Movement, and the Lucretian Shipwreck

Michael Edson 

In contrast to previous studies of eighteenth-century emotion focusing on prose narratives, this essay considers the affects of poetry and poetic rhythm. Using the eighteenth-century reception of the proem to Book 2 of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura as a case study, this essay stresses the limits of analyses that discuss represented emotions but largely ignore, as is typical in studies of novels and other prose writings, the "feel" of the verbal medium. Eighteenth-century readers in England were troubled by the Book 2 proem, known today as the "shipwreck with spectator" passage, because the feelings it depicted and inspired were in conflict: the feeling of the poem matched neither the pity, grief, or indifference that readers thought the spectator represented nor the myriad emotions assigned to the spectator in English translations and imitations. Such affective ambiguity challenged the Enlightenment doctrine of sympathy, which depended on obvious emotions as well as a mimetic theory of rhythm that led readers to ignore all responses to a poem that did not reduce to the emotions represented. As this episode of reception implies, modern studies privileging representation over the feelings inherent to the linguistic rhythms foregrounded by poetry continue a kind of sympathetic reading, in which the affects unleashed by the movements of language go overlooked except when they correspond to the emotions depicted.

Emotional and Scribal Communities in the Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift

Robert Phiddian and Jean McBain 

 

We explore the affective typography of Jonathan Swift's faux-posthumous poem Verses on the Death of Dr Swift, in the first Dublin edition, printed by George Faulkner in 1739. Swift directly influenced the physical as well as the lexical content of the Faulkner edition, thus encouraging reader engagement on a number of levels. This edition literalises the satirical practice of inviting readers to identify disguised objects of criticism, by leaving actual blanks and space for readers' insertions into the text.

Congruencies between Harold Love's description of 'scribal communities' and Barbara Rosenwein's 'emotional communities' allow for a deeper reading of texts in both their material dimensions and their affective power with their original audiences. In the case of Swift's Verses it is through reading manuscript insertions in the printed text that consequences for the history of emotions emerge. This extends a new approach to the satirical canon of the eighteenth century, proposing that such texts provided vessels for the expression and containment of volatile emotions such as anger and disgust. Rather than mapping modern psychological accounts onto older texts, this approach allows us to see, however vestigially, evidence of the passions in action in the reception of Swift's complexly autobiographical poem.

 

Heart of Agitation: Mary Wollstonecraft, Emotion, and Legal Subjectivity

Kathryn Temple

This essay explores the issue of agitation in Mary Wollstonecraft's work and its relationship to political and legal subjectivity in the context of recent work on the history and theory of emotion. Wollstonecraft's expressions of agitation have consumed much attention in the critical literature over the past four decades, with some scholars arguing that her emotional life undermined her arguments for rationality. However, in recent years, critics have begun to reinterpret her emotional expressiveness as a literary and rhetorical device. This essay builds on that work while suggesting that agitation in Wollstonecraft serves not only literary, but also political and legal purposes. Agitation signifies distress on a personal and a social level as it attempts to communicate that distress to others. In Wollstonecraft's late work, Maria, for instance, agitation characterizes her central character who brings a charged emotional nexus to the courtroom through the presentation of a "paper" expressing her emotions. An analysis of this scene connects Wollstonecraft's efforts to construct an agitated, vulnerable legal subjectivity to recent work from Martha Fineman on vulnerability as a defining characteristic of a humane understanding of legal subjectivity.