I'm warnin ya/
Style waits for no bitch – Kimberly Jones
Last night I was coming out of Whole Foods, stocked with beer and fish, and ran into a reader and friend of this site, and his wife. We all shot the shop shit for a while as a nice Austin day dwindled into nighttime tv all over the hillsides and through every home and street of the burbs. And this reader warned me against featuring posts with the redoubtable Wundt, since you could stick a warning on such posts – terminal boredom ahead.
But I defended myself and did my rap about the abuse of happiness essay that is growing in my head. And I figure I should get that rap down, cause, as Lil Kim says, I don’t want a flaw in my flow.
The rap goes something like this. Before the early modern period, the aspirational structure for most people had to do not with acquiring goods or changing positions, but with growing older. That structure for the feudal world developed complex roles, or what I’d call myths, appropriate to that aging process. Accordingly, the social sense of the passions was tied to the possibilities presented by this age specific, gender specific, position specific world. But in the early modern period, that aspirational structure began to come apart as the feudal system began to come apart. That you could aspire to rise or to change your position created an aspirational drift, so to speak. It was no longer the case that one or one’s family would remain in a natural position – and after the terrible famines that struck in the middle of the eighteenth century, it even became the case that people on the bottom (save for the Irish) in the developed countries would probably not starve. As the old structures became unstuck, one sees two synchronic effects: on the one hand, the old notions about the passions give way to a new way of thinking about feelings. The importance I’m giving to volupte in the seventeenth century is that it operated as an entering wedge to de-structure the ways in which the passions were socially experienced – which means socially controlled, socially interpreted, socially ordered. At the same time, the roles or mythical figures of aging were shaken up. One of the oddly unstudied effects of the creation of a manufacturing and marketing system – a production system that underlies our economies today, and underlay all developed economies, communist or capitalist, in the twentieth century – is that the older forms of age segmentation, that is, the making sense of youth, of the middle of life, of old age, according to an agreed set of tropes, roles and stories began to dissolve. This dissolution speeded up after 1870 – that is, with the beginning of the consumer culture phase of capitalism.
So, what I am doing is trying to describe dimensions of a multi-dimensional event – in particular, the symbiosis between two things: the making of happiness into a keystone emotion, a norm, and the making of youth into a keystone age segment, into a secular virtue along almost the entire length of the lifespan. Very odd things.
Looking at how the vocabulary of negative and positive emotions emerged from psychology to pursue an astonishing career in folk psychology is simply one entrance to this Castle.