Emotions in literature – Irene Albers' stay as guest at the Zukunftskolleg

From September 2012 to January 2013, Senior Fellow Irene Albers spends another stay at the Zukunftskolleg. During her stay, she continues to work on a forthcoming book under the heading of “The passions of the body and the language of the novella. The interaction between emotional physiology and poetry in Romance novellas from Boccaccio to Madame de Lafayette”. Her book aims to address the meaning of certain involuntary physical reactions associated with emotions in the novellas of the Early Modern period: tears, blushes and turning pale, laughing, fainting, sighing, perspiring, fever, etc. In her readings she follows leading questions: Are these emotion-related corporeal symptoms attributed to physiological or cultural processes? Are they understood as products of simulation or hypocrisy (false tears and simulated swoons) or as authentic symptoms of hidden passions beyond the control of the subject? How do the novellas stage the often conflictual diversity of early modern discourse on the physical dimensions of emotion, discourse, which include medicine, theology, philosophy, art theory, rhetoric, and texts on appropriate behavior at court? Thus, she concentrates on a historical period of pre-modern conceptions of emotions as “physical passions”, a conception which does not, as Descartes, separate between the passions of the soul and the passions of the body, between psychology and medicine, cognitive and physiological aspects. While the latest cultural studies tend to focus almost exclusively on the conditioning power of cultural codings of emotions, she wants to show how it is precisely the exchange between symbolic and biological registers, between the body and the language of emotions, disputed in early modern novellas. At the same time the novellas constitute historical examples of what is still a subject of current research, for example the reflections (in frame narratives) on the emotional and bodily effects of storytelling and storylistening.

During her last stay at the Zukunftskolleg from March to June 2010, Irene Albers wrote two chapters of this book, one on the significance of the numerous blushes by the Princesse de Clèves in the famous novel of Madame de Lafayette (partly published in Ingrid Kasten, ed., “Machtvolle Gefühle”, Berlin 2010, pp. 263-296), and another on the theater of tears in the “Novelas a Marcia Leonarda” of Lope de Vega. After a series of quite different projects and publications, including an exhibition, a conference and a book on "animism"  (about the exhibition at the House of World Cultures: http://www.hkw.de/en/programm/2012/animismus/animismus_68723.php, the book: http://www.diaphanes.net/buch/detail/1430, and an afterword to the German edition of the “Collège de Sociologie 1937-1939”, Suhrkamp 2012: http://www.suhrkamp.de/buecher/das_college_de_sociologie-_29549.html) her present stay as a guest of the Zukunftskolleg during her regular sabbatical finally allows her to come back to the physiology of passions. She plans to write a larger chapter on the Spanish woman author, María de Zayas, who published two volumes, “Novelas ejemplares y amorosas” (1637) and “Desengaños amorosos” (1647). In her analysis of these intriguingly violent novellas, she will concentrate on an emotions-related topic: the meaning of the fever which hits the female protagonist of the frame narrative Lisis and the striking association between passions and illness, mirrored in contemporary theories of emotions, such as Oliva Sabuco, as well as in the tradition of theories of “lovesickness”.