From Hydraulic to Not

What I enjoyed most about Rosenwein’s article was her explanation of the evolution of how emotions were viewed by psychologists. She begins explaining the “hydraulic” model of emotions, where emotions are seen as “great liquids within each person , heaving and frothing, eager to be let out” (834). This model helps explain when someone “sees red” or blacks out when they get especially angry, why sometimes we can’t suppress our tears, even in public, or our laughter. In the 60’s and 70’s, this model was replaced by two non-hydraulic models. One was a cognitive view model that explained that “emotions are part of a process of perception and appraisal, not forces striving for release” (836). Another is a model of social constructionism, saying that “emotions and their display are constructed by the society in which they operate (837). What I noticed about all of these models, like the two before me have mentioned, is that they all touched on the first article we read about emotions in our world. It was hard for me to choose which one I though the most logical, so I decided to sort of take pieces of all of them. However, Rosenwein comments that the hydraulic model is no longer “tenable” (836).

I liked this article because it held firm my belief that emotions, especially the most basic (anger, love, hate, etc.) are universal, but also are conformed based on the society and culture in which they are present. I also liked the tidbit (Ethan mentioned this) in which she explains that not only are certain emotions or at least how they are expressed are unique to a culture, but to “emotional communities” within that culture as well. We all belong to many different groups of people and our expressions and behaviors rely on our setting.

Emotional History

Similarly to Josh, this text reminded me of the first text we read for this class in its attempt to provide context for emotion throughout history. I was especially interested by the information discussing the evolution of emotion due to the invention of bureaucracy. It was previously unbeknownst to me that there were scholarly interpretations of the Medieval Period depicting mankind as a more naturally violent and childish race. Though this notion was eventually debunked, it still made for a very curious read.

Equally curious was the revelation that it was through this childlike and violent behavior that politics were enacted. Contextually, that seems strange to a 21st century American reader, though I imagine our political system would appear just as alien and strange if citizens from that time could witness it.


Getting Emotional

Rosenwein, in looking at the role emotions play and what they tell us about cultures and societies, explored emotional expression versus emotional suppression. Ultimately, her concept of emotional communities was one I generally agreed with. I know I am more likely to show certain emotions (anger, fear) in a more comfortable or private setting than I would in the public eye. That is not to say that it doesn’t happen, but different settings do warrant different emotional displays.

What I found more interesting than Rosenwein’s theory of emotional communities was Gerd Althoff’s view on emotions. “For Althoff,” writes Rosenwein, “emotions have social functions and follow social rules.” This is interesting to me because Althoff considers emotional displays and expression as a form of communication. And I think he’s right. Consider how a conversation can be dictated by someone’s general mood; if you can tell someone is angry, sad, or delighted, it certainly affects the way you interact with them. People’s emotions, which can be observed through tone and body language and ‘the look on your face’, can tell you quite a bit. But don’t look too miserable at your girl friend’s birthday party, or too happy at your Uncle’s funeral. Although we can communicate through emotional expression, sometimes it just isn’t appropriate.

Emotions in the gap between past and present

Rosenwein’s piece “Worrying about Emotions in History” reminded me of Evans’ from the first week of class in its attempt to come to terms with the emotional life of the people of the past. Given the significant divide in time and culture between the present day and Rosenwein’s area of study (the Middle Ages), one can ask the reasonable question if the emotional life of a man or woman in the 13th century is readily accessible to a reader today or whether that divide is too difficult to bridge.

One aspect of the text that I found interesting was the author’s condemnation of philosophers who, in the vein of Max Weber, use the Middle Ages as a convenient foil for the present. For another class I have been having to read Weber for the last few weeks and his notion that Western societies have achieved a level of unsurpassed rationality that allows them to manipulate probabilities and attain access to the objective and true, as opposed to people from other cultures (or earlier eras) who lived in superstition. Besides the obvious Euro-centrism of that idea, what this paper reinforces for me is that that notion is very biased toward the present. In an era where we are constantly expanding the boundaries of what it is that we understand (or can be understood), it is too easy to dismiss people from earlier times as backward or fundamentally different from how we are now.

There were both secular and religious lyrics in the set of lyrics we were to read for today. I have a religious background, so the religious ones were easy for me to decipher – I felt that I could anticipate what the author might say next. It seems that religious meditation has not changed too much over the ages.

I particularly enjoyed the repetition and oddness of Maiden in the mor lay. It was a short, secular lyric that made me feel like I was singing a song. Maybe this is the feeling that was intended? I see a difference in the feeling between the secular and the religious lyrics. Religious lyrics also tell a story, but nothing new to the medieval crowd. Telling a familiar tale and bringing about the feeling of sadness or reverence seems to be the point of the religious lyrics.

Heredity in Nobility

Gentilesse by Chaucer is an interesting poem discussing what it really means to be a noble man.  “vertu to love and vice for to flee” is the key point Chaucer is pushing meaning that virtue to love and refraining from vices are the most important elements for a man.  Whats even more interesting is that he also says that a person can obtain all the wealth in the world and be the most virtuous man but this is all dependent on whether or not his heirs are also virtuous.  This is an interesting way to depict how to determine nobility based on both the merit of the man and his linage.

Out with the Old…English

After reading through some of the lyrics I came across common themes. The first few lyrics were mostly about nature, song, women, and religion. The nature lyrics often drew metaphors to women through relation to bird songs and floral beauty. This is important in understanding how nature is always related to women, hence, mother nature, though I am not sure where this came about exactly. Others drew the connection between women and religion, more specifically the Virgin Mary. I believe there was some Catholic influence within some of the lyrics because Catholics pray to God through the Virgin Mary and the lyric “Now skrinketh rose and lily-flour” illustrates this. A lot of the early lyrics also reference spring, and in a religious context this represents rebirth and new beginnings, symbolic of resurrection.

Another thing I noticed, as I got closer to the fifteenth century the content was easier to read and comprehend. This reflects how the language was altered over time little by little. I find it interesting because while I was reading I didn’t know if had gotten better at reading OE or if the language was just more familiar/modern, then I realized the change in century as I continued reading and recognized the language shift.

I found the lyrics to be fun to read, though they are still a little difficult to fully understand for me. What was most interesting for me was reading them chronologically and watching the language slowly evolve between the early 13th century lyrics like Sumer is icumen in to the 16th century lyric A god and yet a man. Each lyric became a little easier to read as it developed into the English we speak today. The inflections are very prominent in the earlier lyrics, though we can see how they start to fall away. Around the 13th century many inflections like -e/n, -e/th, and -es were commonly used. These are continually used until the -en starts to become just an -e and finally is dropped altogether around the 16th century. With the loss of these abundant inflections, the lyrics were easier to read and understand. Though the early lyrics were fun to figure out since reading them almost felt like solving a puzzle, trying to find the word hidden under all the inflections of Middle English.

The poet doth protest too much, methinks

Of all creatures women be best is a fun read for those of you who enjoy the bouquet of your misogyny to be a bit more … subtle and condescending. The key for the poem seems to be the Latin phrase “Cuins contrarium verum est,” glossed as “The opposite of this is true,” which follows the title of the poem. While the text goes out of its way to address specific charges against women, namely that ladies are prone to gossip and enjoy spending their man’s earnings irresponsibly, it does so in a tongue-in-cheek way that instead reinforces the power of those stereotypes.

Obviously you have to grade things like bigotry on a curve. Given the fact that societal attitudes have shifted so drastically since the era these poems cover, it would be unfair to expect the author of the poem to adhere to our particular contemporary worldview. With that being said, one aspect that intrigued me about the poem was actually the introduction to the section on lyrics, which observes that many of these poets were likely members of the clergy. The possibility that “Of all creatures…” was written by a man of the cloth is interesting to consider given that celibacy was of course the norm for the clergy (at least in the lower rungs of the Church), and so the misogyny of the text is of a piece with Church orthodoxy. Just as the poet’s continued harping on how women are not [insert litany of awful things here] draws attention to the fact that the poet is instead insinuating exactly that, I wonder whether the lady-bashing of the text overcompensates for the difficulty of a priest or monk choosing the celibate life? It is a lot easier to avoid the temptation of settling down if all women are terrible she-beasts, after all. Did anyone else have any other reactions to the poem?