Affect vs. Emotion

When reading Trigg’s discussion of affect verses the other words like emotions or passions, I think a light bulb finally went off for me.  Throughout the semester, I have thought that I understood the difference between affect and emotion, however, Trigg’s essay revealed to me that I had not fully understood.  Affect has to do with the preconscious responses rather than the socially constructed responses.  When a heart races, tears burst out uncontrollably, or sweating begins, these are bodily responses rather than conscious decisions.  One of the most helpful aspects of today’s discussion was the reference to the experiment in which Japanese people initially reacted with disgust (an affective response), followed by changing to a straight face (a culturally determined response).  In terms of the medieval literature we are reading, the distinction between the words affect, passions, sentiments, emotions, and feelings is important for critical conversation.  In order for critics to build on each other’s works, the definitions must be clear.  Now that I have a better grasp on what affect means, I think I can more successfully understand the critical conversation.

Public Emotion

While I liked reading parts of Trigg’s essay because I felt that having read some works of the authors she mentions I was more a part of her argument, some of it was still quite dense and necessitated a second reading. What struck me was Trigg’s incorporation of social medias in a modern understanding of emotions “to this personally directed inquiry about my emotional state, it seemed the social networking site was tapping into current scholarly interest in emotions, feelings, and sensibilities” (Trigg 3). Perhaps incorporation is not the right word to describe Trigg’s mention of social media, yet it does apply to a show of emotions. It seems that emotions are considered more of an inner state in contemporary society, but that feelings are an outwardly accepted expression of emotions. The term “affect” is not often used in our day to day vernacular but “feelings” is. We have all heard people say “I feel like…” in reference to what they are thinking, not necessarily what they are feeling. In this manner, the term feeling has morphed to represent our thoughts on various subjects. Viewing feelings as thoughts in this way explains why it is a much more socially accepted construct than those of emotions.

Collective Emotion

In her introduction, Trigg’s emphasizes “collective” rather than individual or personalized emotion.  This reminded me of Rosenwein’s “emotional communities,” but felt broader, or more encompassing, I guess.  Trigg argues that “emotions and passions can be governed or manipulated” either “individually or collectively” and that there were/are “social, cultural, and political frameworks” in which people “experienced, performed, and narrated their emotions.”  We must rely on the representation of these emotions especially, of course, in texts.  She also ditches the “affect theory” in favor of History of emotion, which emphasizes social construction-ism.

I thought her arguments made sense, especially in light of the exemplum we have been reading.  These texts, though about individuals, would have been read in a sermon (or to a family in the case of CA61), so very much in a collective setting.  What I find so interesting, and what we have been exploring all semester, is how these texts evoked feelings in the reader or listener, that may be different from those experienced (or represented) by the characters within the text.  In the “Jealous Wife” and “Incestuous Daughter,” for example, listeners may have felt repulsed by the characters actions at first because murder, suicide, and incest are behaviors that are culturally not approved of.  By the end, however, the poems may have been comforting to readers because God’s mercy saves even the worst sinners at the last moment.  The readings from Tuesday, however, might have be unsettling to readers who perhaps, like “sinner” and the “squire,” had not yet sought God’s mercy.  The purpose of the four is the same though and through their emotional evocation they confirm a religious belief.

A Review of Sorts

I guess due to my inattentiveness, (which is due to my lack of shut eye recently) when I read the title of Trigg’s article it didn’t occur to me that this was exactly what it says it is: an introduction. Due to this, when I was reading, the thought kept occurring to me that this all sounded pretty familiar, with a few new concepts introduced. After a while it hit me that this is the first chapter to the journal several of our other scholarly articles have come from this semester. I’m going to continue to view that mishap as the product of delirium, not incompetence.

While the content of this article was not entirely new, there were some things I drew from it and enjoyed. First off, I liked how Trigg connected our fascination with emotion and feeling with Facebook. I’ve heard many joke about the concept that if something doesn’t receive any likes on social media, did it really happen or does it really matter? Though this concept obviously doesn’t hold any weight, it does say something about our emotions and how and why we portray them to others. This is what I feel a lot of the articles we have read this semester are trying to figure out: how emotion is portrayed through Medieval literature and whether we can trust this medium for insight on how people actually felt during this time. Trigg points out that because “we cannot accurately map, chart, or measure somatic or cognitive affect” in historically-oriented studies, we “must rely on textual and material traces and representations of feelings and passions” (7).

This leads to another thing I enjoyed about the article: the distinction between affect and emotion. Trigg explains that the term “emotion” is more commonly used in these historically-oriented studies because “affect” more deals with the “unconscious, pre-discursive bodily response in quite precise terms” and is more “aligned with phenomenological and social inquiry,” whereas emotions “suggests a complex and productively layered senses of inquiry into historical change, historical emotions, and the history of the term and concept of the ’emotions’ themselves” (5, 6, 8). I’m finished quoting, I swear.

The main thing I liked about Trigg’s article is that it focused on how studying the history of emotion can help us understand historical social constructions and the changes they went through and why, which is something I plan on talking about for my final paper in relation to Margery Kempe and the effect the envy she felt and caused others to feel had on her social community.

I thought the social and religious contexts surrounding this week’s works were rather interesting. While I was reading the exempla, it was difficult for me to relate to them. The content, while absorbing at parts, was rather foreign to me. Upon reflection however, I found that a version of exempla are still commonly used today. I’ve personally heard them in their original context of sermons. Pastors often teach morality through a story framed by shared life experiences such as childhood or personal relationships. Throughout the tale, the congregation laughs at the amusing and sobers at the somber because they can relate to similar experiences in their own lives. This emotional connection makes the moral lesson much more poignant and effective. I can understand why these exempla were rather popular in their time.

Free will?

One aspect of our discussion today that interested me, was how the “fendys” were the cause, or instigators, of the sin in “The Incestuous Daughter” and “The Jealous Wife.”  In the former, we (and the Bishop) see them dragging the woman with a chain around her neck, obviously leading her in the path of sin.  In the later, the husband automatically attributes his wife’s behavior (of murdering their children and herself) to the fiends.  Even in “The Knight who Forgave his Father’s Slayer” and “Sir Cleges,” there is much moral ambiguity.  As we discussed in class, there is no distinct explanation of why the first Knight killed the father, only that the son Knight should avenge his father’s death because it’s “right” to do so.  In “Sir Cleges,” the Knight’s generosity leads to his own poverty, and after complaining (and some violence) God graces him with more riches than he had before.  Their religion in the end saves them, but  I wonder what their behavior has to do with it.

The last two texts particularly made me wonder what role free will served in Medieval Catholicism.  It seems that the fiends lead the characters into great folly that is only saved through their (or their loved one’s) religious repentance.  Admittedly, I know very little about Catholicism, but I wondered, what role did “free will” have in the middle ages–in these texts the characters’ bad actions are attributed to the Devil(s) while their good actions of prayer and contrition are their own and worthy of God’s mercy.  I guess, as Exemplum works, this emphasized the importance of God’s will and mercy over that of humans.

The Power of God’s Mercy

In both The Incestuous Daughter and The Jealous Wife, a lesson of God’s power and mercy is conveyed to its readers. In both texts, a sinful person if forgiven and accepted into heaven because God (and Mary) deem them worthy to go to heaven.  Even though both the daughter and the wife are murderous and sinful, because of either their own prayer for forgiveness or a loved one’s devotion they are accepted by God into heaven.  The over arching theme in both poems is that of God’s mercy.  In The Jealous Wife, Mary’s battle with the fiends is evidence of God’s power by speaking out and explaining to them that they do not choose who they take to hell, God does.  Similarly, The Incestuous Daughter depicts the sinful daughter as wearing chains of the devil around her neck and being accompanied by four fiends, until the bishop speaks of God’s mercy in front of them and the chains fall away.  Once the words of the bishop are heard, the daughter feels them in her heart, sheds tears, and the fiends and chains flee.  Both descriptions of the fiends fleeing demonstrate the power of God.  In both texts, God holds a higher power than the devil and chooses who goes to hell.

The lesson of God’s mercy in these exempla is especially relatable because like most exempla, the characters are not given names.  To appear as a type of “everyman” or universal person, the characters are referred to as “daughter” or “wife” rather than a specific name.  This technique of universality suggests that everyone is a sinner but everyone is also able to receive God’s mercy.  This would help readers understand that like the daughter, one should sincerely ask for forgiveness even if the Catholic sacrament is unable to be performed and like the wife, even without asking for forgiveness God has the power to choose if you go to heaven or hell.  Both pieces encourage the act of asking for forgiveness especially when it comes to emotion.  The sincerity of the request for forgiveness is just as important as the act of praying for forgiveness.  It is only when the word reaches the daughter’s heart and she sheds a tear and feels the mercy of God that the fiends flee.  Emotional importance is also demonstrated through the devoted husband in The Jealous Wife.

A Very Merciful God

I really enjoyed the two poems The Jealous Wife and The Incestuous Daughter. Despite the different circumstances in the two, the message remains relatively similar: God’s mercy is boundless and consistent. If you want forgiveness, he will give it to you, and it does not always have to be through the traditional and formal ways that the Church typically enforces. The physical representations of the Devil and Sin were especially interesting, because it showed how in the Middle Ages, people didn’t seem to be faulted for doing wrong based on their free  will – rather, the Devil was the one controlling you, making you ‘mad’. Forgiveness seems much easier (and more convenient) to get this way, versus blaming someone for being inherently evil, without any outside forces intervening. I am not sure how uncommon these messages were for the time, but they seem rather unorthodox to me. These poems certainly hold an appeal for the layperson, though, and are attractive in their plot – if these women committed such horrible acts and still are granted mercy, then the average sinner’s life is likely to also reach salvation if he or she truly wishes!

For the Love of Family

I’m curious about the back-story of the incestuous daughter: how she got to be incestuous and evil and how long the affair took place. Although the text is more of an example than an actual drama, I would like to know the context behind the daughter’s behavior. Did the father start his daughter with this behavior or did the fiends make the daughter approach her father?

Today we’d view the familial relationship of the daughter and her parents and look at things from a psychological view rather than a religious view. Instead of viewing the daughter’s sins, a psychological view would assess her childhood to pin point the origin of her flaw and unruly behavior. Based on the context she did not value family, which is illustrated in the murder of her parents and children, psychologically a situation from the past would be the source of the daughter’s behavior or attitude towards family. Comparatively, it can be argued that the fiends control over her is just that powerful to turn the daughter against her loved ones and children.

A curious moment is the poem is the daughter’s contrition. What was the cause of the heartbreak? Did finally see her misdeed from a human perspective or was it the bishops hesitance to properly address her confession unbearable? Although the poem offers a lesson its incompleteness leaves me guessing.

Analyzing Emotion

While I like and agree with Rosenwein’s theory that throughout history, and even now, people operate in emotional communities, for my own research of medieval texts, I would prefer methods closer to those used in McNamer’s “Feelings.” As Rosenwein describes it, tons of diverse, yet connected, sources must be gathered and then analyzed for “gestures” of emotion before speculating on the emotional community that may have existed.  Even though the heavy reliance on speculation is also present in McNamer’s method, I like that she uses historical context and then reads deeply into the text, using all those English major skills we’ve been honing.  Her readings of the two works, though not entirely clear to me, we’re interesting and unique.  I have read Sir Gawain before but probably just skimmed right over the stanza she analyzes so extensively.  Her focus on the performity of the texts (and of emotion) also struck me as something that definitely should be taken into account when working with medieval literature.