I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Six Years Down

It is six years, almost to the day, since I went under the knife. I have just had my annual mammogram, ultrasound and review with my wonderful surgeon. I wrote about Suzanne a lot in the first months (here, here and here, especially) : she was a revelation to me, about how a brilliant technician could also be a calm, intelligent leader in the workplace. From my various encounters this morning, it's clear her staff adore her as much as I do.

What's the upshot, then, six years down the track?

  • No sign of recurrence
  • No swelling in arm (lymphoedema)
  • No desire for reconstructive surgery (Suzanne asks each year, but I'm not at all ashamed of my scar and the deep indentation along one side of one breast)
  • Some residual pain (from radiotherapy: it will be lifelong, but I'm now under instruction not to  use the really heavy weights at the gym)
  • Bone density normal
  • Menopause ...
  • No medications (nothing; currently not taking anything of any kind; no vitamins; nothing)
  • Weight under control (obesity is an indicator for breast cancer)
  • Reduced alcohol consumption (alcohol is a BIG indicator for breast cancer)
  • Some residual feeling that powers of concentration aren't what they were, but a gradual realisation that this might be picking up now I am no longer taking tamoxifen
  • Reminder of sense that I am glad I did not have to go through chemotherapy or mastectomy (both of which have very long recovery times and difficult after-effects)
So all in all, I reckon that's about as good as it gets. I am very conscious that compared to many women I have got off relatively lightly, and also received (and been able to pay for) consistently superlative and compassionate health care. 

Last night I was talking with a friend who'd had a much rarer, more difficult blood cancer. We agreed that everytime you go in for these tests you kind of hold your breath for the day before. I guess eventually it gets easier. For me the five year mark last year was really important as it meant the end of the daily tablets and the monthly injections. This one seems to mark the beginning of a new phase, as every year out I am absorbed back into the general population with only an average risk of breast cancer.

So good am I feeling about this, and so much am I enjoying blogging again, I am even going to change my profile text in the next day or so.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Teaching the History of Emotions

This year the Faculty of Arts introduced its controversial new coursework program. Until this year, the PhD in Arts at Melbourne was taught entirely by research thesis, externally assessed by examiners who had no contact with the student. Over the first year of their enrolment, our new students now must enrol in one of seven 2-hour fortnightly workshops, for which they write a 5000 word essay; and two intensive units, for which they write essays of 2500 words each. This program has not met with universal acclaim. It's taking students and staff a while to get used to coursework that seems like an extra imposition that is assessed, and yet doesn't really "count" in the final assessment for the PhD.

Nevertheless, on we go. I have co-taught both a workshop ("Researching Texts") which will finish this Friday after two semesters; and an elective, "The History of Emotions." The latter finished today. We taught it in four three-hour sessions ("we" being me and Stephanie and Sarah, the two post-doctoral fellows in the Centre for the History of Emotions). Penelope, our new Education and Outreach officer, also audited the subject: her experience with psychology and art was invaluable at several strategic points in discussion.

Both subjects have been, for me, a delight to teach. I've not done that much collaborative teaching, really (not having medieval colleagues makes it tricky, for one thing), and I really enjoyed sharing ideas and responsibility for organisation and for leading discussion.

The students for both subjects ranged extremely widely. Most of the students in Researching Texts were from literature (not just English) and creative writing and cultural studies and performance. The students in the History of Emotions were even more diverse. None from literature; quite a few from history; but also archaeology, philosophy, cinema studies, linguistics, etc. Another student audited. Someone working on C15 Italian texts; another on C17 witchcraft pamphlets; another on C17 Italian art; but mostly modern topics: Heidegger; the films of Sofia Coppola and rococco style; the social phenomena of languages as they die out; the politics and representation of Somalian piracy; a history of the animal rights movement in Australia, etc. So, about as diverse a bunch as you could find. Some were candid about choosing the intensive sheerly for timetable reasons. Some had very little understanding of what the field of the history of emotions involved. But through sheer intellectual curiosity, and academic courtesy, and the impending sense of having to write an essay within a month, by the time of our last session this morning, when we asked them all to bring along an object, a text, an image, an idea for their essay, all but one (who is preoccupied with other deadlines at the moment)  had been able to think their way quite quickly into this very diverse and complex field. They spoke eloquently and passionately. It was clear that wherever they had begun, many of them had found some really interesting places to go with this material. I'm really looking forward to reading their essays.

We didn't want to overburden them with reading, as you'll see from the course outline below. That's one of the limitations of an intensive subject. Anyone wanting to familiarise themself with the field could do worse than start with Susan Matt and with Jan Plamper's interview, rightly becoming a canonical standard in the field.

Of all the things we read, my favorite was the Monique Scheer essay. Scheer uses Bourdieu and practice theory to build a model of "emotional practice" (based on the habitus) that is attentive to somatic as well as cognitive practices, and to social context without being overly restrictive or programmatic. There's more work for me to do on this, but I think this has the potential, as Scheer says, to bypass the quarrel between emotion and affect. The essay was a little divisive, though. The Heideggerian, the archaeologist and the cinema studies student liked it as much as I did; others less familiar with Bourdieu found it harder work.

I'm currently thinking about two episodes in Chaucer and Malory where grown men (Absolon and Lancelot) are described as weeping like a child who has been beaten. The concept of emotional practice will, I think, help me think about the relation between these very different narrative contexts and the relative similarity of body language (both are kneeling, and both cannot speak after they weep) and the quasi-proverbial nature of the simile. So that's good.

Tomorrow I teach Book IV of Troilus and Criseyde; on Friday we have our "graduation" from Researching Texts, complete with a workshop from an actor who'll help them with presentation skills (relaxation, breathing, speaking). Next week, two lectures on John Forbes and Book V of the Troilus. That is the class that has been bringing astonishing baked goods for morning tea all semester. Wonder what they'll produce for our picnic lunch after class?

History of Emotions PhD Elective, 2012

An elective convened by Stephanie Downes, Sarah Randles and Stephanie Trigg, meeting in four 3-hour sessions between October 8 and 16.

Assessment: One 2500 word essay on a topic of your choice, due Monday 5th November.

Readings  will be posted on the LMS site from Wednesday, 3rd October. A longer bibliography will be made available at the first session.

Session One: Monday, October 8, 11.00 – 2.00.
Room 210 (Old Arts)

Bring your lunch, and we’ll supply tea/coffee.

Part One: Orientation to the History of Emotions: From Heart to Head

Questions for discussion:
·      What are our sources for the ‘history of emotions’?
·      What do emotions ‘do’?
·      How do we write the history of emotions?


Matt, Susan. ‘Current Emotion Research in History: Or, Doing History from the Inside Out,’ Emotion Review 3 (2011): 117-124.

Plamper, Jan. ‘The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns,’ History and Theory 49 (May 2010): 237-65.

Part Two: The History of Tears

Questions for discussion:
·      What is the relation between emotion and tears?
·      Do tears have a history?
·      Is this history gendered?


Thomas Dixon, ‘The Tears of Mr Justice Willes,’ Journal of Victorian Culture (2011): 1-23.

Lyn A. Blanchfield, ‘Prologomenon: Considerations of Weeping and Sincerity in the Middle Ages,’ Crying in the Middle Ages: Tears of History, ed. Elina Gertsman (New York: Routledge, 2012), xxi-xxx.

* * * * * * * *

Session Two: Tuesday, October 9, 1.15 – 4.15
Room 209 (Old Arts)

We’ll supply tea/coffee and cake.

Part One: Private Grief


Freud, ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (1917), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, Vol. 14, 237-258. http://www.barondecharlus.com/uploads/2/7/8/8/2788245/freud_-_mourning_and_melancholia.pdf

Shakespeare, Hamlet (any edition).

Melancholia, dir. Lars von Trier (2012). Check out this YouTube trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzD0U841LRM; and we’ll try and screen selected scenes.

Gail Kern Paster, ‘The pith and marrow of our attribute: dialogue of skin and skull in Hamlet and Holbein’s The Ambassadors,’ Textual Practice 23.2 (2009): 247-265.

Part Two: Public Shame


Sara Ahmed, ‘Shame Before Others,’ in The Cultural Politics of Emotion (New York: Routledge, 2004).

* * * * * * * *

Session Three: Monday, October 15, 11.00 – 2.00
 Potter Gallery
(luncheon arrangements to be determined)

Part One: Emotions and Images

Heather Gaunt of the Potter Gallery will lead discussions of selected works in the Potter collection

Part Two: Emotions and Objects

Guy Fletcher, ‘Sentimental Value,’ The Journal of Value Inquiry 43 (2009): 55-65.

Roberta Gilchrist, ‘Magic for the Dead? The Archaeology of Magic in Late Medieval Burials,’ Medieval Archaology 52 (2008): 119-159.

* * * * * * *

Session Four: Tuesday, October 16th, 9.00 – 12.00

Part One: Where to from here?

Bring a text, an object, an idea, a source, a problem, and be prepared to introduce it for a few minutes.

Part Two: Research directions

Theorising happiness, and other emotions…

Monique Scheer, ‘Are Emotions a Kind of Practice (and is that what makes them have a history)?’ History and Theory 51 (2012): 193-220.