Emotions as Tools

I found Rosenwein’s piece about emotions and the depiction of the history of emotions very interesting.  Something that especially interested me was theorist, Huizinga’s ideas verses Gerd Althoff’s contradicting notions. Huizinga expresses a stereotypical view on the Middle Ages and suggests that the emotions of that time were “child-like.”  Huizinga interprets the violence, directness, and passionate emotions of everyday life in the Middle Ages as childish.  Febvre took this idea one step further and announced that all emotions are irrational, violent, and passionate, however, unlike the Middle Ages, other times were able to control and restrain this natural impulse.  Gerd Althoff dismantles Huizinga’s theories by looking at ritual and conventions of the Middle Ages.  Althoff asserted that these so-called childlike emotions were not childish at all, in fact they were just part of the social function of emotions at the time and they followed the rules and conventions of the society.  Although, some examples of the expression of violent and extravagant emotions of the Middle Ages may seem foreign and even childlike to modern researchers, those emotions fit the function of emotions at that time.  Emotions like violence were used to convey, comprehend, and shift power. Just as today, emotions are used as tools to navigate through society and life, therefore, we should expect that different “tools” may be needed during different eras, cultures, and situations.  Althoff’s argument against the childlikeness of the emotions of the Middle Ages overthrows a typical stereotype that is accepted by far too many people.

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