A New Theory for an Old Age

This  article was definitely an extension of the Rosenwein article that my group presented for class, wherein Rosenwein gave a history of emotion building up to her ultimate idea about emotional communities. For me, this introduction was her putting the emotional community theory specifically into the context of the Middle Ages, and I appreciated being able to review her argument that emotions are shaped by our different cultures. I find it hard to believe that historians and scholars alike have so easily taken on the “unmediated, child-like” grand narrative, as I would assume (and hope) that people naturally would like to look at things more complexly. That being said, I can understand the convenience of simplifying a time period where sources are more limited and it takes much more effort (sometimes even unorthodox interpretation, as McNamer proved) to be able to discern the different emotions that abounded so long ago. Rosenwein’s argument is sound, and it is always refreshing to see outdated theories, like Huizinga’s and Elias’s, be revised.

Emotional Communities: Functional or Otherwise

In the introduction to Rosenwein’s novel Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages, she investigates the nature of the social and personal expectations for expressions of emotions in the Middle Ages. In this investigation, she discovers that previous conceptions about the how individuals expressed emotion in the Middle Ages have led to misunderstanding in the scholars that later studied it. In particular, she cites Johan Huizinga’s approach, which stated that the “Middle Ages was the childhood of man” (Rosenwein 5). Huizinga believed that emotions ran rampart in the Middle Ages, with little regard to restraint and temperance. However, Rosenwein soon finds this to be untrue, as Huizinga’s approach attempts to discern meaning in the expressed emotions of the citizens of the middle age through the context of contemporary society. Without understanding the vastly different and complex social systems that made up the Middle Ages, it is easy to misinterpret the behaviors of some social classes as unreasonably restrained, and others as unreasonably expressive. However, the reality of the these differences lies in a multitude of different “emotional communities,” defined by features like socio-economic status, religious involvement, and the nature of the subject that inspires the emotion. Though the breadth of information required to correctly discern the motives behind expressed emotion in the Middle Ages is expansive, it is necessary in order to correctly interpret the motives and reasons for the expression.

Feeling Sentimental

Rosenwein touches upon the distinction in a number of different cultures between emotions and sentiments and how they relate to emotional communities of the Middle Ages, and how the two concepts are not the same, “Many European languages have more than one word for the phenomena that Anglophones call “emotions,” and often these terms are not interchangeable,” (Rosenwein, 3). This made me wonder about the modern implications of the two terms “emotional” and “sentimental.” From my experience, emotional seems to imply readily changeable feelings such as mood swings while sentimental suggests a positive, reflective type of feeling. Based on this experiential analysis, the words sentiment and emotion are akin to that of the French, German, and Italian distinction between the two. While Rosenwein relates these terms to emotional communities of the Middle Ages, she emphasizes that these definitions are not final. In this respect, the distinction between the two is clear for emotional communities of the Middle Ages as well as modern emotional communities, though to different extents for each age.

Emotion in Context

The author suggest that emotions should be examined in the context of the emotional community.  Rosenwein says, “Thus an important part of my method is to gather a dossier of materials (almost always written sources) that belong together because they point to an identifiable group…”  (Rosenwein, 26)  I agree with her point coupled with the her next claim that gestures, exclamations, tears and so on are all symptoms of emotions.  The author is asserting that the person feeling emotion is acting within their own community of emotion and the historian or scholar must examine the symptom and produce an interpretation.  When this is applied to a text such as Julian of Norwich we can begin to uncover first her emotional community and second how these emotions function with or against her setting.  This method allows for scholars to analitacally based on the emotion of a person within their context greater than previous interpretations.

I loved the phrase “nakedly competitive spiritual life” – I felt that it exemplified Margery well.  As the author mentions, yes, competition is not one that is recognized as a saintly aspect of religious life, this is still something that keep Margery going. The author calls it part of her identity.   After defining envy, and competitiveness with regards to Kempe’s book, the narrator then points out how early in the book Margery was envious of her neighbors.  I do see envy in Margery, and even competition, but I would like to go a bit further and say that Margery had envy of Jesus himself. The author says envy is “ that of negotiating relative status as well as the expression of a desire to be the object of a particular kind of emotion.” I agreed with the way that the author stated HOW Margery seemed to navigate through her life: “Margery constantly negotiates her likeness with others — neighbors and saints — and her ultimate difference”

Margery’s Agency of Envy

While in my previous post about Margery I was inclined to be very critical, Rosenfeld added a new perspective to how I view her Book. Rosenfeld first introduces the novel concept that envy is not entirely negative. In fact, Margery’s envy and her competitive nature enabled her to achieve the singularity she seemed to strive for. I’m not sure if I misinterpreted this particular part of the essay, but Rosenfeld early on in her essay establishes the idea that Margery’s very use of envy allows her to break from the male centered community and create her own community. As Rosenfeld later states, this was threatening to the male authorities of the time and the fact that Margery is able to pose such a threat shows she has achieved distinction. Rosenfeld also takes note of the nature of envy, “Among members of the same nation, the closest acquaintances and not strangers are objects of envy,” (108). This point of envy only through proximity implies that envy is only present when we believe the goal of our envy to be attainable. Her envy and competitiveness with others, even saints, with respect to religion set her apart from the community and in doing so groups her with Christ. She achieves this by her excessive shows of emotion, implying that if others aren’t capable of the same emotion they are not as affected.

The manner in which Margery talks about Christ, which Rosenfeld touches upon, is also significant. She is very familiar with him and suggests that her favor of him has a reciprocal effect. In fact based on the language she uses her relationship with Christ seems almost romantic. Based on our knowledge that people during medieval times were focused on the physical manifestation of religion, this follows logically. However, perhaps I am interpreting this with a modernized point of view and the language she uses is not out of the ordinary.

Competitive Envy

In her article, Envy and Exemplarity in the Book of Margery Kempe, Rosenfeld focuses on Kempe’s competitive nature in the secular community and the religious community. According to Rosenfeld, Kempe’s competitiveness is outlined in her behavior as she aims to have better material possession than her neighbors and in the religious community as she challenges religious leaders and compare herself to religious women. To further illustrate Kempe’s competitive nature, Rosenfeld reveals how the text is presented in a way that uplifts Kempe’s role as a saint even as this role is meant to be destroyed by others, their slander and scorn ultimately proving her to be the righteous, singular individual she aims to be. Though this may not be the purpose of Kempe’s structure, Rosenfeld’s presentation of it certainly holds up.

Kempe: A Complex ‘Creature’

I thought Rosenfeld’s article was pretty complex and a little hard to understand, but the content that I managed to digest was rather interesting. The point that stuck with me the most was Rosenfeld’s idea that Kempe “attempts the perhaps impossible task of performing exemplary singularity” – that is to say, she “contruct[s] a notion of exemplarity that preserves the…integrity of both imitator and imitated” (111). As I thought about this in relation to the text, I could see what she means. Especially with her example of how in the very beginning, Kempe describes herself as both a wretched sinner and an example for others. Throughout her book she makes clear that she is at a certain level of devotion most are unable to reach, a model God created – hence why they often mock her. It is their way, according to Rosenfeld, of trying to bring her back to their level. It is interesting that she tries to stand out, yet also looks to be imitated by others – hence why she wrote, or had a scribe write, her book. I also liked the idea that both private and social constructions of exemplarity are essential to the construction of one’s own identity. This, to me, is pivotal to Kempe – she thrives on what others think of her, whether it be the gift of scorn or admiration, as well as her personal strength through her devotion to Christ.

Ultimately, I am not convinced to like Kempe. This article did, however, allow me to appreciate her book more complexly. I hope class discussion tomorrow will help me understand it more wholly.

A New Look at an Old Emotion

Rosenfeld’s article takes a look at how envy is depicted in the Book of Margery Kempe.  As Rosenfeld explains envy is usually thought of as a negative emotion, but in some ways in can be positive, motivating, and encouraging.  What I found most interesting in the article, was the idea that Margery’s singularity both was reason for her neighbor’s envy and slander and reason for others’ worship.  Furthermore, her singularity was encouraged by Christ and envy caused her to be competitive for Christ.  Some people looked up to Margery because of her unique relationship with God and way of worshipping and other looked down at her differences.  One of the most interesting examples that Rosenfeld brings up is the people’s reaction to Margery’s weeping.  Rosenfeld deems their negative reaction to the idea that Margery was using up too much of the emotions.  Rosenfeld explains that the people were irritated by Margery’s dramatic displays because she used such an “abundance” of emotions that she was “diminishing” the other peoples’ emotions (113).  This idea, Rosenfeld states, suggests that “emotions…are not in infinite supply” (113).  This is one of the many examples that Rosenfeld provides of the reactions of other to Margery and their envy.  Rosenfeld also explains how Margery’s envy of saints, like Saint Bridget, triggered her to emulate them.  The idea of the emotion envy being both negative and positive is hard to wrap my head around but Rosenfeld paints a pictures of how envy was productive in Margery’s life.