Emotion: Historically and Frustratingly Complex

This was a lengthy but interesting work, and I feel further invested in the study of emotion and how it pertains to our class after reading it. There was a lot of information in this article, but the main thing that I took away from it is how difficult it is and has been through history to define emotion, as well as the questions that surround it. Plamper rarely directly answers the questions he titled his chapters with, instead reviewing different ways people have approached such questions beginning with Artistotle into modern day. This emphasizes how complex and nearly impossible to concretely conceptualize emotion is: “everyone knows what [it] is, until asked to give a definition” (11). I like the idea that rather than seeking hard truths to the questions surrounding emotion, it is more productive to instead look at the different ways people have tried to answer them as time has passed.

There were two points in these chapters that I found most interesting. One, I enjoyed reading about Artistotle’s definition of “pathos”, and the idea that emotions have positive and negative traits simultaneously – for example, anger producing pain as well as the imagined possibility of ‘sweet’ revenge. This made me think about how this could be applied to the emotion of love or desire. Love produces the obvious pleasure of mental and physical satisfaction and joy, but could also be negative because of the possibility of it being taken away, or the person of your affection hurting you.

Secondly, I was also fascinated by Plamper’s talk about how many of the modern day metaphors for emotion may date back to how the Greeks defined it, as they imply an external force (i.e. overcome with rage, love-struck). I think this idea has also been addressed in another article we have read for class, and this just further helped to show how concepts of emotion have a lineage that has found ways to stay with us despite ever-changing definitions and constructs.

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