...With Feeling: 11-12 April 2014

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Department of English, University of Malta

...With Feeling
Postgraduate Symposium 2014


'Once more ... with feeling!' goes that well-known phrase of critical encouragement. It suggests feeling is desirable, and it is a particular kind of feeling that is sought. 'Affettuoso!', as the Italian term has it, an instruction telling musicians that a piece of music is to be played tenderly, in a manner that brings out its affecting qualities, inviting us to 'be mov­ed­'. The word 'emotion', after all, comes from 'ex-movere', Latin for "moving out [of its place]" or "stirring up".

Even in this usual sense, however, the command to do something 'with feeling' seems to identify a complex affective nexus of art and emotion. In order to imbue something with feeling in a way that provokes the appropriate recognition and emotional response from whoever experiences it, there must be a shared grammar of emotion and mutually understood patterns of affective stimuli. Feeling bridges physiological sensations and psychological states covertly and overtly; it seems to be both private, personal and irredeemably subjective and yet can also be common, even communal. Feeling is popularly taken as being inherently honest and authentic, unsullied by the mediations of reason and the intellect, and yet the command to do something with feeling might call forth a degree of artifice that borders on dissimulation.

In our private lives and in our academic and artistic interests, whether we recognise it or not, we are connoisseurs of feeling. We read it between the lines in every context. We are accustomed to grading feeling as a way of judging artistic merit: too much and we deem an artwork or text sentimental, mawkish; too little and we deem it cold, sterile and unfeeling. The desired calibration of emotion varies, of course, from one culture to the next and from one age to the next. For example, the Romantic Wordsworth saw poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings", whereas the Modernist T.S. Eliot would claim that "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion" (while at the same time bemoaning what he saw as the modern "dissociation of sensibility"). We can perhaps agree, therefore, that feeling, far from simply being a private psychological state, or a refined index of aesthetic appreciation, in fact reflects much broader cultural, social and intellectual realities.

But why return--once again, with feeling--to the question of feeling? Where does feeling stand in 2014? What, one might ask, is to be done 'with feeling' today? Is feeling even desirable? Looking back we can see Eliot's suspicion of emotion, or indeed Georg Lukács's suspicion of "psychopathology" in modernism, shading into conflicted and complex postmodern interplay between affect and subjectivity. Whether the theoretical humanities have significantly recalibrated their position on emotion since postmodernism isn't yet clear, but what is apparent is the way feeling has been culturally foregrounded in recent years in a quite dramatic way in popular culture, in social media and in digital cultures that are not so much emergent any more as ubiquitous. How is the field of English Studies, broadly speaking, to respond to the idioms, the tones, the intensities, the languages of all that? One might wonder whether feeling in these contexts is authentic or whether it implies a fabrication of acceptable emotions that become standardised and superficial. It is hardly surprising that the idea of impersonal feeling has, in recent years, become a focus in contemporary debates about subjectivity, as Rei Terada makes clear in 'Feeling in Theory: Emotion After the "Death of the Subject"'. Nevertheless, feeling is resilient and--shading all aspects of our experience of language, art and culture as it does--a state of being without feeling and therefore indifferent remains, provocatively, almost unimaginable and yet, perhaps, oddly alluring.

The organisers invite, warmly and with feeling, 250-word abstracts on topics related to feeling, emotion and affectivity in language, literature, art, culture and English Studies

Possible subjects could include:
Literary histories of feeling
The language of feeling
Authoring and performing feeling
Feeling as cultural memory and event
Ideologies and politics of feeling
Gendered feeling
Feeling and pragmatics
Feeling and stylistics
Feeling, support, partisanship, prejudice
Theories and readings of affect
Feeling, tea and sympathy
Feeling and poetry / the novel
Thought and feeling
Feeling and the body
Feelings and dreams
Feeling, excess, or the lack of
Ugly feelings
Feeling and emotion in pop culture and the media
Feeling and technology
Feeling and emotion in digital games

Abstracts, accompanied by a brief biographical note, should be sent to emailed by 16 March 2014. Confirmation of accepted papers will be sent by 24 March. The organisers are planning to publish selected Symposium papers in the postgraduate journal 'Antae'.