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Emotional Communities in the Early Period

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Organizer: Jonathan Correa

Co-Organizer: Elizabeth Liendo

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Emotion is a perennial feature of the human experience, and its representation has been explored in literature and art across millennia. Nonetheless, emotions do not exist only within the individual experience. For all our fascination with emotions, fiction often depicts the significant consequences of allowing emotions to go unchecked. Thus, systems of emotional regulation have coexisted with individual experiences and have played a fundamental role in building and maintaining social communities. Literature and art often serve as objects that can either reinforce or criticize such systems.

For example, at the end of the Alliterative Morte Arthure, Arthur falls down and weeps at the sight of Gawain’s dead body, with “grones full grislich with gretande teres.” In reaction to this burst of unregulated and uncontrollable grief, his knights exclaim, “It is no worship, iwis, to wring thine hands; / To weep als a woman it is no wit holden! / Be knightly of countenaunce, als a king sholde…” (3977-79). Arthur’s genuine emotional response, as evidenced by his vassal’s horror, breaks away from his community’s licit avenues for emotional expression—avenues that are deeply inflected by gender, class, and place of origin. As Barbara Rosenwein suggests, literature such as this attests to the existence of “emotional communities” and unveil the systems that govern emotional expression in the private and public sphere.

This panel invites contributions that explore the management and negotiation of emotions in the premodern era. How do medieval and early modern writers navigate the expression of grief, joy, anger, or love within what William Reddy called “emotives”? In what ways do these communities express regulations, structures, and institutions that control how and when such feelings can emerge? What are the boundaries between individual and collective emotional needs, and where do they intersect?

We invite submissions that explore these issues before the nineteenth century. We are especially interested in papers that engage in cross-cultural comparison or with less-canonical writers or regions. Some topics of study might include, but are not limited to:

Manuals of conduct and medieval manners

Individual expression vis-à-vis communal expression

Emotion and sensation

Gendered emotions

Grief and mourning

Emotional performances and modeling

Public vs. private interactions

Depictions of the emotional state of the racial or religious Other

Humiliation, shame, guilt, and penitence

 

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