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!

Friday, October 11, 2013

First official step

I've just taken the first official step on this grant application, lodging an "Expression of Interest" with the research office here. The title (reassuringly provisional) is "The Textual Face: Word, Image, Emotion, and Representation."

The next step will be a rough outline of the project (maybe 6 pages?) for a Faculty workshop. This will be brutal (I've sat on these committees in the past), because there is plenty of time for folk in fields well outside my own to tell me about the huge gaping holes in the way I've conceptualised it; or to say they don't think it's the kind of project that will have any kind of chance.

In spite of my being sick with the virus-that-never-ends, and still teaching, and doing some nitty-gritty archival and textual work for another project, I've been thinking some more about the parameters of the project.  And today I gave a paper for a CHE study day on methodologies for Literary Studies and the emotions that took me another step further.

I was talking about William Reddy's concept of the "emotive". For him, it's a first-person present tense expression of feeling: e.g. "I feel angry", "I'm happy." It's neither constative nor performative, in Austin's sense. I'm interested in this form as it relates to the work that literary studies does. Literary texts are similarly explorative, about improvising expressions for feeling. They're only rarely taxonomic; they rehearse expressions about feelings. Reddy writes:

 Emotives are themselves instruments for directly changing, building, hiding, intensifying emotions, instruments that may be more or less successful.

This seems to me analogous, at least, to the way that literary texts often proceed.

My starting point for The Textual Face is the face that seems to speak. In many examples, that face "speaks" in the first-person present tense. This trope seems to gloss the (imagined) visual appearance of the face, by putting it into words. Here's my favourite working example again, which we discussed today:

Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, -- a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, That man is struck with you, -- and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.
  Jane Austen, Persuasion, 1816.
So I began my paper today by wondering about the analogies between this trope and Reddy's "emotives". First-person, present-tense, yes. Sort of about the emotions, though not directly, because as we agreed today, literary texts rarely are...

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was using Reddy really just as some scaffolding. There is so much more going on in this passage!  The radiance around the speaking face — "a glance of brightness" is itself quite nuanced and layered. The face is lit up for us as the readers; the glance is also a gift to Anne; it's the glance itself that seems to speak; the gloss on the glance takes longer than the glance itself (that's the mixed, layered temporality of the relationship between word and image; or word and wordy representation of image). Other questions arise, especially questions about focalisation. Who is observing and interpreting the speaking face here. To whom does the glance seem to say this? Does the glance "really" say this? Given there is no definitive answer to these questions, what is the status of this gloss? or rather, this self-glossing face, or glance? Claire remarked that Austen's texts are quite often unemotional: they push emotion away.

One of the things I'll need to articulate in my application is the relation between this project and my work for the Centre for the History of Emotions. So far, so good. I can see how I will be able to argue that it arises from the Centre, but moves more broadly to consider questions of interpretation, representation and expression. It will be in large part about the textual representation of visual expression, but there will also be room for studies of the visual representation of text. The fellowship allows up to four other positions in the research team. My next job is to think about what kind of team to put together.

And I expect I will also make mention of the findings of Emanuele Castano and David Corner Kidd of the New School, published in the journal Science, that reading literary fiction helps you develop skills of empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/i-know-how-youre-feeling-i-read-chekhov/?_r=0. If that's so, I bet the trope of the speaking face, that glosses visual expressions and translates them into first-person, present-tense expressions of feeling, play a big part.