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Showing posts from July 29, 2007

emotion among the moderns: note to self

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 ag

From Bain to Fechner: parade of the nineteenth century dustbunny psychologists

Having done some more research on the fascinating topic of origin of the concept of the negative and positive feelings in psychology, LI has decided that our previous post on Wundt was way too hasty, too abbreviated, too brutal in the way we are handling the evidence, too bracketed from the question that we really want to answer here, which is not so much a question of who invented these terms as the question, why did they catch on? What happened, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, that people began to talk about their feelings in this way? How was this talk diffused? How did it so quickly gain a footing outside the field of psychology; a field, at that time, dominated by philosophers and lacking the institutional embedding in corporations and universities that it now has? LI has gotten ambitious: we want to turn this topic into a whole, publishable essay. And we’d appreciated attacks, hinged or unhinged, on these things. Commenters, on your marks! To give a sense of th

libertarians, rally round! our freedoms are being threatened

LI was reading the Elle article in the NYT for professional reasons – you never know when you can use information about a magazine’s masthead changes – when we were pulled up short – or perhaps the word is socked in the jaw – by the following graf: “ The September issue includes a new column by Nina Garcia , the fashion director whose manicured claws appear on “Project Runway,” and some intriguing articles, notably Megan Deem’s critical report on, a Web site that connects women with men who would like to sponsor their breast implants.” And people say that American men are uncharitable! This put a whole new light on the current battle, by the administration, to stifle the expansion of health care benefits to kids before it threatens to make them healthy. I think a congressman from LI’s great state put it best: “Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, said the bill embodied the Democrats’ “vision for the future: socialized medicine and Washington-run

extinction beyond the zero - in the realm of the frozen erection

Three such chief directions may be distinguished; we will call them the direction of pleasurable and unpleasurable feelings, that of arousing and subduing (exciting and depressing) feelings, and finally that of feelings of strain and relaxation. Any concrete feeling may belong to all of these directions or only two or even only one of them. The last mentioned possibility is all that makes it possible to distinguish the different directions. The combination of different affective directions which ordinarily takes place, and ... influences which are due to the overlapping of feelings arising from various causes, all go to explain why we are perhaps never in a state entirely free from feeling, although the general nature of the feelings demands an indifference-zone. – Wundt, Outlines of Psychology. In truth, the problem treated by them [the ‘psycho-physicists] is a special aspect of the problem, not its totality; they are inquiring whether, in the ‘transformation’ of pleasure into pain, a

From murdoch to valences

Though perhaps I shouldn’t write it, I’m rather happy about Murdoch’s purchase of the WSJ. In recent years, the ideological hardline, which used to be confined to the editorial page, spread to the cultural page – basically meaning that the children of Heritage Foundation wanks, the Ledeen Jr. generation, were writing the reviews. And LI was not. If Fox is any indication, Murdoch knows when to narrowcast – the news and editorials strictly for the dittohead crowd – and when to broadcast – the Simpsons, The American Batchelor (now with more tits and ass!) and other assorted goodies. So hooray! Time to query those guys. I wonder if my bud Eric has survived the past four years purge… … Okay, in the latest slo mo episode of Happiness Triumphant, the Aristotle years, Alan has replied to me and me to Alan on his site. As I was looking up stuff in psychology textbooks, it hit me that the canonical use of ‘valence’ terms – the use of positive to denote some emotions, and negative to denote ot


They all die. LI has described in an earlier post how watching a series on PBS that showed Ingmar Bergman’s films up until 1965 had an alchemical effect on us, charged us with a sense of how exotic, exciting and essential it is to struggle with life and death, a truth that was buried as deeply as possible beneath the grass and the fill and the junk and the clay atop which our little Atlanta suburb was built. But bury a truth as deep as you want to, it will creep up and get into your living room, your milk, your cubicle, your computer, your war, your taxes, your children and the one thing that can never ever happen in the world, your death. In 1989, Bergman staged Mishima’s play, Madame de Sade. In one of the scenes, some lines by one of Gunnar Ekelof’s poems, Etudes, was framed on the wall. Here is the 3rd section. Each person is a world, peopled by blind creatures in dim revolt against the I, the king, who rules them. In each soul thousands of souls are imprisoned, in each world t

book list

My friend Lorin, who edits over at FSG, pressed an ms into my hot hands a couple of years ago. It was Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land. Unfortunately, the number of ms. that are pressed into my hot little hands, plus the galleys that come in every week, are such that I have fallen into the bad habit of rarely publicizing anything. Also, I don’t really want LimitedInc to be too closely connected to my fading career in cultural journalism, since that would be too… well, boring for LI readers. Recently, Winn found Lipsyte’s novel hilarious and wrote a post on it that made me think. Especially this sentence: "I know it's just more of that neurotic confessional crap which is all that is left of the American novel, but it's done from a funnier angle than Augusten Burroughs brutalizing the memory of everyone he ever knew for cash.” Actually, I don’t think that is all that is left of the American novel. From my seat, the nineties were a really good decade for the American novel, whil

a little miss and the greatest orator: happiness again

In the Rhetoric, Aristotle takes a stab at illustrating happiness, and then defines it using the method one uses to describe organisms – he sorts through its various constituent parts. This being long before functional accounts of organisms, there isn’t any attempt to show the necessary connection of these parts or how their coordination brings about happiness. On the other hand, though in some ways a rather wild analysis, much of what Aristotle says has been adopted by economists to talk about well being. Happiness, regarded from the outside, then, and reduced to its most typical circumstances, looks something like to Aristotle: “ It may be said that every individual man and all men in common aim at a certain end which determines what they choose and what they avoid. This end, to sum it up briefly, is happiness and its constituents. Let us, then, by way of illustration only, ascertain what is in general the nature of happiness, and what are the elements of its constituent parts. For