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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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This Friday and Saturday, the University of Sussex hosted the Thinking Feeling conference on affect, feeling and emotion, attempting to theorise the myriad ways in which this is mapped out.

To give a brief rundown of the papers that were of particular interest to my (inexperienced in this area) ear, Professor Eva Illouz gave a fascinating preliminary paper on whether we can deem emotions as a specific category of commodity under late capitalism, alongside semiotic commodities. Illouz provided a typology of moods, intimacy (and relational emotons) and emotional self-realisation (mental health), which are packaged and sold. For instance, tourism and mood music under "moods"; the idea of the "pure gift" under "intimacy"; and the pathologisation of shyness under "self-realisation".

The points that arose from this were also of interest. My query was whether this is less of a radical idea than was proposed. For instance, "for everything else, there's Mastercard" knows that it is packaging happiness, still delineated as a pure sphere, under the prerequisite of capitalist expenditure. Keston Sutherland also asked whether Marx had not foreseen this, as he defines the commodity as also being of an "idea", not just a physical object. Finally Alex Düttmam asked whether Illouz's theory really was "critical" or merely an observational typology, picking up upon her interchangeable use of "industry" and "capitalism" and the different connotations that Adorno gives to each. Illouz responded by situating herself in an "agnostic" French tradition, in which she tried to place Foucault. Much debate ensued and I have to say, from my own work on Foucault, that I thought this untenable; Foucault swings between commitment and agnosticism. Take, for instance, his late work on Englightenment. At an earlier point, he says that "reason cannot be put on trial", but later seems committed to a praxis of limit-attitude that will expose the limits of the epistemological field.

Jumping ahead, and I particularly enjoyed papers from Elahe Haschemi Yekani on British execeptionalism and the attempt to re-write British history as being always-already multicultural; Ruth Charnock on Anaïs Nin's performance of presence (I'm not intimate with Nin's work -- pun intended) and Jennifer Cooke on Beckett's How It Is and other experimental writing on boredom. This was an interesting, if perhaps problematic in areas, paper. Noting that Beckett's radical undercutting of certainties in this text leaves only the narrator, Cooke proposed a modernist reader, for whom the text is interesting, and an outsider, for whom it becomes boring. This is a drastic reduction of Cooke's paper, but it is interesting to re-think Beckett's narrators. In Worstward Ho!, for instance, the narrator will only continue "until nohow on"; when the purpose of the text no longer exists, so too will the narrator. Furthermore, in Ohio Impromptu, Reader again erases his own subjectivity through the assertion that "little is left to tell". When all is told, the "point" of the narrator also vanishes. Finally, I wonder if the extrapolation of Cooke's paper leads back to Brian McHale's formulations on the epistemological dominant of Modernist literature...

Featured image by Charlie Phillips under a CC-BY license.