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Monday, 4 May 2009

the emotional revolution of eridu

Apologies for the lack of posting - the day jobs have been taking up a lot of time of late. This also means there's less conclusions and more questions in this post. Ok, no conclusions...

In the last post I wondered about the change in human emotions indirectly rooted in the development of the rectangular house, and about what (if anything) the history of emotions may be able to explore from early human development.

Some more thoughts on that theme, also stemming from Peter Watson's excellent 'Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud'.

The first city is generally believed to be Eridu in southern Iraq, founded around 5400BCE. It was believed to have had a population of around 27,500-55,000 and was around 41 hectares. It shold be noted that cities did not generally get much bigger for many thousands of years. Rome for example was only twice as large as another Sumerian city, Uruk, five thousand years later. In other words this fundamental change from rural to urban remained fairly static for thousands of years and so many common dynamics of human interaction would remain constant as empires, kingdoms and city states rose and fell.

What happened here? The cities of Sumeria gave us inventions that are amongst the most truly profound of all humanity and are worth considering here for a moment. They gave us writing, the wheel, the first schools, the first clocks, the first libraries and legal codes, the first arch that is so crucial to all architecture and shapes the buildings that shape our lives. The list goes on and is astonishing in its profoundity.

If one considers the thoughts of Prof David Edgerton of Imperial College, London, and his work 'The Shock of the Old: Technology in Global History Since 1900', then one realises the scale of such achievements that are still so crucial to our everyday lives today. (I wrote about this briefly here.)

These are the inventions which not just affect our lives but actually permeate our consciousness.

What has this to do with emotions and their history? Those most eminent emotionologists, Carol and Peter Stearns wrote about the impact of the novel on the emotions of western men and women two hundred and fifty years ago (i wrote about this a wee while ago). What then was the impact of writing itself? We know that mankind was already wrestling with so many emotional dilemmas through its myths and histories, but also through such wonderful insights as the ancient Egyptian text 'The dispute between a man and his soul.'

The impact of writing upon our emotional history has to be staggering, with impacts ranging beyond the effects of the words and idea written to the very mirror of our selves that writing is. Who can doubt the impact of a mirror on our mood when we see ourselves in it, and relate this to our sights of others. So it surely must be with writing. Add to that the technological revolutions spawned by the written word that changed our lives and their emotional impact.

If writing is the most profound of these wondrous inventions on our emotional history, the wheel's impact may seem odd, and yet perhaps deserves a place. A wheel that allows massive material changes from food production to building and warfare (through it's use in the chariot) changed the nature and speed of human life creating a whole different dynamic to our lives, from the range of influences of increased trade and its corollary opening up of ideas to the pressures and liberation and living in greater numbers.

And this last point I think is another crucial one that needs attention. How does living in such numbers and so close together affect our emotional selves? Does every city has common emotional dynamics to contend with? Do they share solutions, or in what ways does our diversity mean myriad solutions to common problems?

As our demographic shifts in the West and we move towards more individualised lives with greater personal space and the world as a whole becomes more urban what, if anything, can those first cities teach us about how we can cope with their concomitant emotional pressures?


Linda S. Socha said...

What a wonderful well written and thoughtful post. I will be reading this one MORE than once certainly

scot in exile said...

thank you as ever Linda, I'm deeply grateful you take the time to post support as it can get pretty lonely out here in this far flung and obscure outpost of cyberspace!