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Friday, 20 February 2009

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?


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