Upheaval: Affect, Emotion and Practice in Times of Crisis
169, April 2022
Guest Editors: Stephanie Downes, Andrew Goodman, Noel Maloney and Juliane Römhild
Stephanie Downes, Andrew Goodman, Noel Maloney and Juliane Römhild
This special issue has its origins in a symposium on the topic of upheaval in November 2020 hosted by the Affect, Emotion & Society research cluster in the School of Humanities & Social Sciences at La Trobe University. Over the course of two days, presenters offered perspectives from cultural studies and the creative arts on states of upheaval. The diversity of presentations is reflected in this special issue, which offers a trans-disciplinary perspective on a range of manifestations of and responses to ‘upheaval’ – including social, cultural, political, technological, personal and emotional upheavals and their intersections – in recent history. Given the vibrancy of presentations and the liveliness of conversation at the symposium, we believe the term ‘upheaval’ might still be used to speak to our times in meaningful and significant ways. The essays in this thematic issue reflect on late 20th- and 21st-century figurations of ‘upheaval’ to measure the affective and emotional dimensions of some of the most complex challenges of our times. In exploring the discursive potency of the term ‘upheaval’ itself they attend collectively to an ‘optics’ of upheaval – that is, to the ways in which upheaval’s forms are rendered visible or invisible in a variety of contexts.
Over the last 25 years, major research in media and cultural studies has investigated the play of affect in our cultures. ‘Affect’, as a term derived from its neurophysiological and psychological origins, defines the particular movement of feeling from sensation to its attribution as an identifiable emotion. This article explores the way that ‘affect’ to emotion is being curated online by users particularly of social media as they learn to structure how they are perceived in online culture by others. It also investigates how the specific correlating of affect to emotion is one of the essential algorithmically generated activities of social media and online corporations. To discern this flow of affect and emotion, the article works to identify how this online cultural pandemic has intersected with the COVID-19 pandemic and produced a new level and intensity of affect and emotion curation as greater parts of our connected cultures are being managed and moderated by ourselves as well as governments, corporations and institutions. The neologism ‘covidiquette’ is used to describe this new form of online curation of cultures, and a further pandemic expansion of this movement of affect into attribution – transnationally, governmentally and commercially. Key pathways for investigating this correlation – and curation – of affect are analysed in this paper during 2020 and 2021 and the ever-presence of COVID-19 and its unique capacity to produce a proliferation of sharing, connection and – critically – surveillance.
Upheaval and reinvention in celebrity interviews: Emotional reflexivity and the therapeutic self in late modernity
Anne-Maree Sawyer and Sara James
The disruptions of life in late modernity render self-identity fragile. Consequently, individuals must reflexively manage their emotions and periodically reinvent themselves to maintain a coherent narrative of the self. The rise of psychology as a discursive regime across the 20th century, and its intersections with a plethora of wellness industries, has furnished a new language of selfhood and greater public attention to emotions and personal narratives of suffering. Celebrities, who engage in public identity work to ensure their continued relatability, increasingly provide models for navigating emotional trials. In this article we explore representations of selfhood and identity work in celebrity interviews. We focus on media veterans Nigella Lawson and Ruby Wax, both of whom are skilled in re-storying the self after personal crises. We argue that interpretive capital as a peculiarly late modern resource confers emotional advantages and life chances on individuals as they navigate upheavals, uncertainties, and intimate dilemmas.
Pandemic fiction as therapeutic play: The New York Times Magazine’s The Decameron Project (2020) [Open Access]
Stephanie Downes and Juliane Römhild
This article explores the therapeutic potential of narrative fiction during a global health crisis. We focus on The Decameron Project (2020), a collection of short fiction by writers from around the world, commissioned by the New York Times Magazine. The Decameron Project references the narrative framework established by Giovanni Boccaccio in the mid-14th century, when the Black Death devastated Europe. Drawing on aspects of psychoanalytic theory and principles of bibliotherapy employed since the Middle Ages, we argue that The Decameron Project offers strategies to simultaneously confront and contain the anxious mind. Storytelling, according to both Boccaccio and to the editors of The Decameron Project, is not merely a source of distraction but a means of survival.
Monumental upheavals: Unsettled fates of the Captain Cook statue and other colonial monuments in Australia
Bronwyn Carlson and Terri Farrelly
Monuments and statues are forms of commemoration. They typically pay tribute to people or events and aim to serve as a permanent marker, a link between present and past generations, committing them to memory and assigning them with importance and meaning. While commemorations can be beneficial in terms of recognising a legacy of the past and helping foster relationships between opposing groups, they can also be divisive and painful, failing to acknowledge other dimensions of historical fact and further hardening the boundaries between groups in conflict. Essentially, what we choose to commemorate reflects what we as a society actually value. This paper focuses on the unsettled fates of the Captain Cook statue that stands with prominence in Hyde Park, Warrane, and other colonial monuments in Australia. It also discusses the emotionality surrounding such commemorations. We question whether Cook’s actual achievements constitute the notoriety that has been bestowed upon him. A range of commentators have put forward ideas around what to do about the Cook statue which we discuss while also considering what the future might look like if the truth of colonial history is known and open conversations can be had.
This article argues that political performance reveals the significance of the emotions, emotional feelings, affect and mood in relation to the censorship of democratic expression. Belarus Free Theatre performers spoke about fear as they gave personal accounts of imprisonment and undertook extreme physical action on aerial ropes, creating performances that evoked both emotionally felt responses and bodily affect. The aesthetic mood effect in these performances shifted from amusing audiences with the absurdity of political censorship to alarming them with the terror of political persecution. Antonio Damasio points out that although aspects of the emotions merge in everyday life, ideas or impressions need to be separated out from the physiology of emotional feeling in their study. While the turn to affect emphasizes convergence and, importantly, recognizes human sensitivity to nonhuman energies, an impersonal energetic field can be distinguished from the personal and the psychological. This analysis of theatrical performance reveals the ways in which it presents social ideas of the emotions and aesthetic moods, as well as elicits the affect of bodily sensation and invites the emotionally felt responses of audience members. Theatrical performance offers a space for expressing emotions in political protest.
The text of this interview is based on a conversation between Bagryana Popov and Juliane Römhild on 1 September 2021. In this interview, Bagryana discusses two works which unite her research into political trauma and site-specific performance in the context of political repression under the communist regime in Bulgaria. For her choreography He is not here and the performance event Traces (2011) Bagryana returned to Sofia, the city of her birth, to explore her own family history and her grandfather’s incarceration as a political prisoner. He is not here is a meditation on the body at the receiving end of political power developed in collaboration with dancer Simon Ellis. Traces takes the audience first to the courthouse in Sofia, where Bagryana’s grandfather was trialled, and then to her family’s flat where Bagryana’s daughter reads from the diaries of her grandmother. Both works were a part of Bagryana’s PhD project at Melbourne University.