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Showing posts from May 25, 2008

Ekman addendum

“I did not know the Fore language, but with the help of a few boys who had learned Pidgin from a missionary school, I could go from English to Pidgin to Fore and back again.” – Paul Ekman There was some ... strenuousity ... about LI’s big post yesterday. I re-wrote the damn thing several times to make it clearer My point is not that there are no emotional universals. I expect that there might be – although the universals might well be of form, the way emotions are assembled, rather than content. But one can be neutral about the universality of the emotions and still find the method by which these universals were ‘discovered’ in the 1960s a very curious, and yet very familiar, concoction. We have seen experts discovering ‘homosexuality’ in the face before. We have seen experts pondering the meaning of drawn or photographed faces before, too. In fact, there was a physiognomic literature in Babylon. What is curious is that, in spite of using Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson as his (imagi

More Ekman: from facial expression to emotion

Paul Ekman’s account of his decision to go to New Guinea is related in his book, Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication. Ekman and Wally Friesen were working, at that time - in the late sixties - on the initial conceptualizing of a research project that could pick out universal emotions. To do this, Ekman decided he needed evidence of the passional life of some culture remote from Western society. He knew Carleton Gajdusek, “a neurologist who had been working for more than a decade in such isolated places in the highlands of Papua New Guinea...” And he knew Gajdusek had taken film of the Fore group. Gajdusek was working on kuru – a disease that literally creates holes in the brain. Gajdusek's work was crucial to the discovery of the prion, and he won a Nobel Prize for it after the same kind of disease - Mad Cow disease - turned up in the West. “The films [the one hundred thousand feet of motion picture film shot by Gjdusek among New Guinea’s S

Isabel Marant, fall 2008

Thousands of people have been emailing LI, asking one and only one question: who are you looking at in fall fashion this year? We have, of course, been remiss in not linking to more fashion blogging, but to answer the questions that keep pouring in: keep you eye on Isabel Marant. If Santogold is Summer, 2008, Isabel Marant is fall, 2008 . Now, people like to say that Isabel is not fashion forward, but is – watch for the patronizing tone! – wearable. Marant is anything but hieratic, having an intuitive feel for the accepting line, for the energy produced by the moving body. No, she isn’t loading the fashion system on the shoulders of her girls, or vying to produce some intergalactic silhouette a la Martin Margiela. There is a reason that this year, her show was in a big tent at the foot of the Eiffel Tower with a long long walk – acceptance is all about movement, as you can see here. So, I hope that satisfies LI’s many, many many questioners.

Marx, Gramsci and Honour Penury

A curious thing happened to Jane Ellard in 1738. Ellard was walking in Grosvenor Square when – well, this is her account: ... two Women came up to me from the other Side of the Way, and told me I had a mighty pretty Gown on; - pray, says one of them, what did it cost a Yard? I informed them what I gave for it; Oh! 'tis a sweet pretty Thing they said, - pray which Way are you walking? I told them I was going to look after a Place; they said I should have the Refusal of two or three very good Places, and if I would tell them where I liv'd, they certainly would come and give me Directions about them. I told them that I should be very much obliged to them, and that I lodged at Mr. Pullen's, in George-Alley , by the Ditch Side. The next Day as the Bells rung Eleven, they came up Stairs; I am very positive to the Prisoner; the other Woman that was with her pass'd for the Prisoner's Mistress. I asked them about the Place they were to help me to, but they told me they wer

The 'language' of emotion

Paul Ekman, in an interview here, traces the path that led him to his famous tabulation of emotions articulated in a universal “language” of facial expressions. It was a path composed of two parts. One was Cold War circumstance: like many a human sciences researcher in the fifties and the sixties, Ekman was able to pretty easily squeeze money out of the Defense Department for his project, which was to go to “an isolated area of New Guinea” and film ‘stone age’ people. The point of the filming – and this is the intellectual path – was to settle a dispute between the Boasians – Margaret Meade and Gregory Bateson – and the Darwinians – which were represented by Silvan Tomkins. Tomkins claimed that emotional expression on the face was innate, so that smiling, for instance, meant the same thing across humankind. Tomkins theory was a bit more complicated than is allowed by the term “expression”, since, in a gesture to the James-Lange hypothesis, he believed that the face fedback emotion – sm

amnesia day

On Memory Day, Americans of every creed and color try hard to forget the wars that have brought us to this moment. This year, amnesia is tough – but our politicians are tougher, and are doing a fuckin’ ace job of forgetting our men and women in uniform, and even more, the hundreds of thousands who have died in the past seven years in Afghanistan and Iraq. We appreciate this heap of victims who make our amnesia the strongest in the world. Other countries may have a hard time forgetting their casualties, but we Americans have been working at this day in and day out. This page, showing pictures of The Great Fly’s cabinet -is all about people who are on the frontlines, making no sacrifices and remembering no names or details. All will live comfortably, without an IED-ogenic brain injury or a noticeable lack of limbs, while having helped, in their own small way, to make so many American lives complete living hells. And let us not forget Congress as we enjoy the greatest Amnesia in the worl

the demomaniac of agen

Joan DeJean, in her fascinating book, The Re-invention of Obscenity, points to a strange omission in the charges leveled against Théophile de Viau’s trial in his trial in 1623. Théophile’s arrest was, in part, part of a battle that he had nothing to do with. As the result of the proliferation of publications in the early 17th century, the government of Louis XIII to propose an office of censorship, which immediately aroused the indignation of the doctors of theology at the Sorbonne, who, traditionally, had the censor’s powers. Théophile was thus charged for an obscene poem, but the charges were translated into theological language – thus, the awe-inspiring line in which the poet contemplates fucking his lover Phylis in the ass was construed as a form of blasphemy. DeJean makes an interesting case for the threefold importance of the trial: “Théophile’s trial makes three things clear. First, the modern obscene would not have taken shape as it did, and perhaps not at all, without the deci