S. McClary (ed.), Structures of Feeling in Seventeenth-Century Cultural Expression (Aleksondra Hultquist)
Francia-Recensio 2015/2 Frühe Neuzeit –
Revolution – Empire (1500–1815)
McClary (ed.), Structures of Feeling in Seventeenth-Century
Cultural Expression, Toronto (University of Toronto Press) 2013,
XIII–382 p., 25 ill. (UCLA Center Clark Library Series), ISBN
978-1-4426-4062-7, CAD 80,00.
rezensiert von/compte rendu rédigé par
When Raymond Williams introduced the concept of »structures of feeling« in »Marxism and Literature« in 1977 he was concerned with, among other things, ways to discuss »a particular quality of social experience, historically distinct from other particular qualities […] characteristic elements of impulse, restraint and tone«(Williams, quoted in McClary, p. 4). In this spirit, »Structures of Feeling in Seventeenth-Century Cultural Expression«takes up the task of understanding various cultural moments in Western Europe and its colonial projects from 1600–1700. McClary’s collection is a multi-disciplinary anthology that explores discrete cultural instances – whether it is the politics of financing opera in 1680s Naples, or the ecstatic ravings of colonial New England prophets – and how such phenomenon shaped and was shaped by seventeenth century societies. The authors are interested in the ways in which »society«and »feeling«are mutually construed. McClary begins with the question, »How do we go about studying such ephemeral qualities [of human behaviour] as subjectivities when the people who embodied them lived 400 years ago?« (p. 3). The collection focuses on how transient moments of the historical past can be studied as complete entities that manifest through »simulations of affective extremes, violations of traditional and stylistic principles, or transgressions against officially sanctioned behaviours«, in strains as seemingly disjunctive as music, torture, and religion (p. 4).
The book is structured in five parts each which deals in specific aspects of seventeenth-century culture that formed organized, but vastly different areas of experience: The Science of Affect, Colonial Extensions, the Politics of Opera, Baroque Bodies, and, Towards a History of Time and Subjectivity. The organization of the book makes it clear how mathematics, human emotional physiology, and the concept of time – seemingly disparate moments in seventeenth century history – can be understood under one rubric.
All essays are strong, though a few deserve specific attention. Sara E. Melzer’s »›Voluntary Subjection‹«in Part 2: Colonial Extensions, articulates the concept of »soft«colonization, a distinctly French way of imposing cultural domination in the New World. Melzer explains how the »French mode of colonization presented itself as a kind of ›love story‹«(p. 95) In short, France saw itself as seducing its North American subjects through culture, creating an »affective transformation,«as opposed to conquering them through violence. Melzer plumbs two different types of texts to prove how France’s theory of colonization was also a theory of culture. First, French texts »which celebrated its language and culture«, and second, »anecdotes that the relateurstold about their encounters with the New World Indians«(p. 96, 97). According to Melzer, France saw itself as a seductive, superior culture, one that would (and should) entice its colonies through its advanced language, art, politics, and religion. This fascinating argument provides an important counterpoint to the idea of colonization as the effect of brutal cultural domination and militaristic force.
Sarah Covington’s essay on »›Law’s Bloody Inflictions‹«,in Part 4: Baroque Bodies, takes up yet another structure of feeling, the ways in which bodies (especially disciplined bodies) were marked in the judicial sense (brands, scars) and how the emotions evoked by these wounds had adverse effects to those intended by the authorities. Covington argues how wounds could enact opposition as well as punishment, that they were »badges not only of resistance but even of victory against the state and its injustices«(p. 274). Wounds as a result of judicial torture had the power to both create subjective capabilities and subversive agency. These are not the only essays of note, but they represent the widely branching interests of the collection, the tight scholarly work, and the inventive ways of thinking about feeling in the seventeenth century specifically and Early Modern period more generally.
The collection demonstrates that disparate disciplines, subjects, and ideas can indeed be understood within the theoretical approach of affect, a movement, while not new, is gathering fresh energy from several research centers worldwide. While strong as a whole, the book has drawbacks. The first is the slippage between the vocabularies of feeling, affect, emotions, and passions. These terms are, have been, and will be contested, and, as expected, each author uses such terms in various ways. Such elasticity is anticipated in a collection, especially in one with such wide a range of localities, subjects, and disciplines. However, each author might have spent a little more time explaining his or her uses. The concepts of affect, emotion, feeling, and passions are not the same thing, but are asked at times to do a good deal of work (sometimes simply the work of varying diction) without clear parameters for definitions or usage.
This concern begs the larger questions of the »structures of feeling«rubric that McClary uses to yoke the essays together. Some of the essays, such as Covington’s, deeply engage in the vocabulary that McClary uses to establish the collection and demonstrate clearly the affective elements of consciousness and relationships that Williams’s concept is meant to articulate. Others seem to gesture visibly to the model, such Gary Tomlinson’s »Fear of Singing,« on music in colonial New Spain and Wendy Heller’s »Daphne’s Dilemma« on the repetition of classical tales of desire in early operas. In these essays fear and desire are expanded to entire systems of assumptions and emotional norms: Tomlinson articulates how hearing pre-Columbian music at a distance created a structure of anxiety among Catholic converters in the Spanish New World and Heller demonstrates how seventeenth-century concepts of desire actually create the operatic form. Some essays make the reader work to understand how structures of feeling better articulate the concept at stake; while Kathryn Hoffman’s essay, »Excursions to see ›Monsters‹«,compellingly deals with »the passions and the brute materiality of the body«McClary promises in her introduction (p. 6), how the work engages with Williams’s structure of feeling is less articulate. This is not a criticism of the essay itself, which intelligently delineates how tourism and the monstrous are mutually construed through the » textual itinerary of lost bodies « (p. 299); I use it as an example of one of the editorial challenges of a multi-authored collection as diverse as this one. Is the organizing concept of the collection almost too broadly conceived; might Barbara Rosenwein’s construct of »emotional communities«, as one example, have done the same kind of thematizing work?
These concerns aside the essays in this collection demonstrate smart approaches to thinking about fleeting feeling in the widely diverse cultures of seventeenth-century Europe. In demonstrating ways to theoretically engage in ephemeral historical pasts, the ideas will have profound influence for all scholars of the Early Modern Period from 1500–1800, and will be useful to scholars of art, music, culture, history, and literary studies.
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