Big Books of American Literature: Alchemies of Mind
Day 4: Thursday, January 26, 2006

William James, "What Is an Emotion?" and
Sigmund Freud, Selections from "The Unconscious" and "Anxiety"

Images from Darwin's The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals

Coursekeeping/related matters of interest:

So: what is an emotion? How does it differ from an instinct? From a feeling?
How can these two guys help us in answering these questions?

Freud, "Anxiety": I shall not enter upon a discussion whether the words...mean the same or different things in common usage...a certain ambiguity and indefiniteness exists in the use of the word....

Lauren: one problem I had with these readings was the lack of differentiation between instinct and emotion.... I think we need to designate a line between the two.

Alice: he doesn't...define what exactly he takes as the emotion that we recognize after we react....James...seems to indulge in crossing emotion and instinct quite a lot.

Ken Fogel in the "Psychoanalysis and the Neuroscience" Forum: "emotion" and "feeling" mean two different things to the neurobiologist, while they are invariably used interchangeably by the therapist.... emotion is the biological substrate, while feeling is the subjective interpretation of the phenomenon in question...the inclusion of a cognitive component to emotion is "feeling".... We assume that emotions are universal, but feelings are idiosyncratic. Emotions are responses to the environment (inner or outer) and are as "real" as neurotransmitters and action potentials. Feelings... have an abstract component that we are hard-pressed to locate in the material world.

Let's see if we can come up with some useful definitions/ develop a shared vocabulary--
by beginning with what we know experientially.

(Cf. James: "the test of the truth of the hypothesis is quite difficult to obtain.")

(most striking aspect for me, re-reading James's essay this time through,
was how BODIED we, and our emotions, are)

"emotion dissociated from bodily feeling is inconceivable...
moods are made up of bodily changes we call their expression/consequence...
emotion is nothing but the feeling of the reflex, the bodily effects of its object"

A couple of experiments: with hammers, and juice, and "flicking," and foot-stomping, and head-shaking....

Some of our experiences outside class:

Relating all of this to the Turn of the Screw...?

Marie : the governess...feels lonely because...she is alone....Though she feels scared, she is not trembling- on the contrary, she acts with duty and courage.

Steph: what I found most interesting about James' essay was... "When we teach children to repress their emotions, it is not that they may feel more, quite the reverse. It is that they may think more..." Could that possibly be the reason why Miles and Flora have such few yet strange lines? It seems like they speak in extremes, saying either nothing of importance, or speaking a few emotionally-charged phrases. What is repressed in their unconscious, and who taught them to "think" their emotions instead of express them?

Margaret: While reading James and Freud, I found that I developed a new sense of Turn of the Screw... that the governess' anxieties about being alone and responsible for two children...or even the anxiety of being a little out of place socially...lead her to create the ghosts as a way to explain her feelings?.... I thought it was interesting when he talked about the "shiver which like a sudden wave flows over us" when listening/reading a heroic narrative. Perhaps the reason that I never really bonded with or felt inspired by the governess (or believe that she actually saw ghosts) was that I never felt that shiver.

And a little time on Freud's "The Unconscious"?

liken perception of unconscious mental processes to sensory perception of external world...
the existence in us of an unlimited number of states of consciousness, all unknown to us and to one another...
characteristics, peculiarities which seem alien, incredible, directly counter to attributes of consciousness:

Alison: I saw a paraphrase of Descartes in Freud's "The Unconcious" when he writes that conciousness only brings us into our own minds, very "I think, therefore I am."

Allie: James may have purposely written a "slow read". By this I mean that the incoherencies and never ending passages added to the loss of "real time" and reminded me of how time seemed to pass in childhood. When I was younger, I had a much different concept of time then I do now: an event of only a few hours felt like days and the years passed from holiday to holiday with just a few events in between....perhaps this loss of real time contributes to...a childhood mental state and childlike perception of time and events.

Cf. Tyler on "time":James argued a sequential succession of events based on an external event. The stimulated impulses affect the involuntary muscles before both an awareness of the stimulus and the physical effects is achieved by the consciousness. That takes time, and a time so small that the concept of emotions is not the sum of parts, but one whole. I believe that is why some members of the class cannot recognize these parts - because they can't see that they exist.

And the briefest time on Freud's "Anxiety":

real anxiety...appears...rational...a reaction to the perception of an external expression of the instinct of self-preservation....expectant readiness is...advantageous...the development of anxiety..inexpedient...

We'll return to this notion of emotion as "signal," a vital source of information about the environment, and our necessary response to it....

Arlie Hochshild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (1983):
emotion is a bodily orientation to an imagininary act (here I draw from Darwin) has a signal function: it warns us where we stand vis a vis outer or inner events (here I draw on Freud)...what does and does not stand out as a "signal" presupposes certain culturally taken-for-granted ways of seeing and holding expectations about the a clue. It filters out evidence about he self-relevance of what we see, recall, or fantasize....emotion, like seeing and hearing, is a way of knowing about the world...a way of testing reality...every emotion has a signal function....It signals the often unconscious perspective we apply when we go about seeing. Feeling signals that inner perspective...warning system, guidelines to the self-relevance of a sight...emotion is a potential avenue to "the reasonable view"....Emotion locates the position of the viewer. It uncovers an often unconscious perspective, a comparison....When we reflect on feeling we reflect on this sense of "from where I am"....Taking feelings into account as clues and then correcting for them may be our best short at objectivity.

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