Sartre develops his theory of emotion-as-denial by citing case studies of female neurasthenics under the treatment of psychiatrist Pierre Janet. These girls broke down in tears when granted audiences with the doctor. Charged with rationally explaining their unhappiness, they found that they could not. And so they cried. Janet explains these outbursts of emotion as a setback. Sartre seeks a more behavioral analysis. The girl who cries instead of talks is not merely defaulting to what Sartre calls 'inferior' behavior...the girl is, after all, a girl. She is attempting to manipulate her doctor.
(then Kraus quotes Sartre writing just that, and then):
I think emotion is like hyperspace, a second set of neural networks becoming active in the body. I think "the girl" was right. Sartre thinks that those who experience an intolerable situation through their bodies are manipulative cowards. It's inconceivable to him that female pain can be impersonal. And so, like all the female anorexics and the mystics, "the girl" can only be a brat. She is starving for attention.
Not coincidentally, given both of their interest in women mystics, the work this most reminds me of is Anne Carson's "Glass Essay" (no, not in form, obviously). Anne Carson resurrecting the life of Emily Bronte, linking it to her own personal history, the grief of recovering from a tortured love affair.
And I wonder when we talk about fearing the feminine in contemporary writing, what role does emotion play in this? Are we afraid with works that are about affect, about rage, and fear, and grief, and love, and pain? Are works privileged instead that are cold and rational feats of form? I'm certainly wrestling with this in the work I'm thinking about/meditating on/writing, Mad Wife, which more than anything I want to be an emotional text, a visceral, violent text. And in the text I quote from Eliot's comment about Hamlet, about the "objective correlative," that he didn't understand why Hamlet was so emotional (umm, I don't know? his fucking father was murdered? His mother married his uncle? It was cold in Denmark. That should be enough. IT'S COLD IN DENMARK.) And I think how much he was threatened by "excess of emotion," as one Eliot biographer put it. That poem about Vivienne he wrote, "Hysteria":
A fear of the feminine in writing - of the hysterical, the emotional, the violent. Much as we fear women's rage and tears. And yet this is the writing I feel most drawn to, the writing I hope to write myself, writing that makes me feel such tremendous, terrible empathy, as Chris Kraus writes of Simone Weil, as Chris Kraus feels for Simone Weil, as I now feel for Chris Kraus.
- As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved
- in her laughter and being part of it, until her
- teeth were only accidental stars with a talent
- for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps,
- inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally
- in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by
- the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter
- with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading
- a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty
- green iron table, saying: "If the lady and
- gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden,
- if the lady and gentleman wish to take their
- tea in the garden ..." I decided that if the
- shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of
- the fragments of the afternoon might be collected,
- and I concentrated my attention with careful
- subtlety to this end.
And our criticism, it can be emotional too, can't it, can't we just obliterate this whole New Criticism deal? Why is reader response so unimportant? Why is the author so unimportant? I don't want the author to be dead, I want the author to be living, I want to identify, I want to feel tremendous empathy. And I want to write about what a book makes me feel, how it makes the top of my head explode, a la Emily Dickinson, or it makes me want to stab myself repeatedly, sometimes in a really good way, or it makes me feel an ache somewhere underneath my ribs.