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Friday, 20 February 2009

Torridon sentinels

Another gem from Steve Carter, this time of the Torridon Hills. Is it just me or is there a Mt Rushmore thing going on here...?

the history emotion in the history of emotions

The history of emotions is a field that spans several disciplines, not least the psychology, anthropology and history. However only a fool would begrudge a poet and writer space to offer insight.

And so it is here. Re-reading Alistair Moffat's "the Sea Kingdoms', a rich evocation of Celtic Britain and Ireland where the history flows from the sea and not from the land, gives an interesting understanding of a history that deserves a wider telling.

Thoughts loomed on my mind like icebergs in a fog. What is it about the oceans, and their emotional pull, the quasi mystic sense of emotion generated by the wine dark sea... how has it influenced us throughout history?

These thoughts took me to the poet in question and the title of this piece. Alan Gould is a London born Australian who has written keenly of the sea. In this case he wrote a thought provoking essay called 'Bolero and the sea' which raises the idea of a history emotion. Gould was writing about a character from the story, Sarah, who felt compelled to search out more about an old seafaring ancestor so captivated was she by the past, the sea, and the connection to her present.

For Gould this sense of history as an emotion was given a deeper tinge with his character's love of the sea being the love of an immense object that is indifferent in return. Perhaps this too could be said of the history emotion. Indeed he suggests this feeling also has a pathological tendency with the desire to search and find answers leaving Sarah blind to feelings in the present.

Could this sense of history be a distinct emotion? Is it not perhaps an alluring mixture of yearning and curiousity? Certainly in the absence of being able to prove irrefutably and objectively (which is often a misnomer when it comes to emotions) that it is a distinct sensation, I would fall back on the notion that cultures can often have emotional states that other cultures do not. This certainly means it is not impossible to have such a thing.

I am drawn to the notion, not least as I think it opens up new forms of expression and understanding of our complex selves in ways allow the poetic into our existence in a way that we all can understand.

As Gould writes:
"I locate the pathos and necessity of Sarah’s character in her recognition that, as humans, we will continue to recover lost lives, lost time, because to do so makes our own living more complete.
That is the force of ‘the History Emotion’ and the sea and history come together in this, for both make us aware of being in one place beside an immensity that is around us and, in the end, entire."

This to me sounds distinct to yearning and curiousity, though I am open to argument (indeed would relish any thoughts on it from others).

One final thought - what other emotions might we miss by leaving them nameless? Is our current palette of emotions an almost Orwellian limiter of feeling when we are in fact capable of seeing the emotional equivalent of colours beyond the rainbow?


Friday, 13 February 2009

The novel is a mirror to my heart.

“Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursel's as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion”

Robert Burns, 'To a Louse'

To you precious few who care to read, and care, i apologise for taking so long to write.

Watching a BBC4 documentary the other day has set me thinking. The piece was called 'How reading made us modern' and laid claim to the idea that the liberalisation of printing through the ending of the Licensing Act in 1695 created the foundation for mass literacy and a mass social transformation both public and private. Within a few years Britain went from having but a handful of books available and only at Royal discretion, to a cacophony of script, from book to journal to journalism and newspaper.

From the literary torrent came a rising tide of literacy and a new form of literature that spoke to a people keen to listen. The novel gained prominence as a style, and helped create a whole new wider group of readers, particularly in women.

Presenter John Mullan noted the link between the novel and the rise of the female 'bluestocking' salon (with examples like Elizabeth Montague), and its role in finding a voice for women - through the empowerment of literacy and the opportunity to meet and discuss the themes contained within the stories.

It also made me wonder about the role of the novel in our emotional development.

Peter and Carol Stearns amongst others have already highlighted how angry and unrestrained emotions were in the UK and Britain around this time. They also showed how during the 18th and 19th century these feelings began to become more controlled and 'civilised'.

Of course I couldn't claim the novel was the sole key to this, not least as the Stearns have shown plenty of other factors.

However, as Mullan pointed out the novel told people about themselves by writing about others. It held a mirror up to society and allowed it to see itself as others saw it. And in seeing themselves might not it have given them an empathy previously lacking, bestowed some greater compassion that recognised the impact of those brute emotions and realised the need for more control in various public and private spheres?

If the novel is accepted as transforming our private intellectual life, it cannot fail to have done something similar to our emotional life.

Is the novel still that same transformer, a redeemer to reflect our current iniquities? if the novel withers, or grows stale, what then shall take its place?

Surely not blogs?