Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rumination, depression and other emotions

The first day of the ASSA/CMEMS/IAS/ARC CHE (etc. etc.) interdisciplinary workshop on the emotions was suitably intense. We met in the beautiful wood-lined original old building of the UWA, which was at one time used as a cricket pavilion (I mean: just look at it). We are a bunch of about 20 psychologists, historians, literary critics and classicists. The workshop is called "Understanding Emotions" but it's really turning out to be about how psychology and the history of emotions can talk to each other.

As you'd expect, we all speak a rather different language — and I think this discussion should ideally have the disciplines of psychiatry and psychoanalysis here — but the format is great. It's mostly 15 minute papers with two ten minute responses and then the rest of the hour for discussion. 

Some amazing papers, but some stand-out moments, too.

A music psychologist described working with dementia patients. Singing provides an amazing restorative because music triggers various memory tracks in the brain — but the most moving thing was to think of the carers seeing their loved ones ... as they used to be. (OK, I shed a little tear here.

A psychologist's response to a paper on academic emotions described the difference between two kinds of thinking: one is the adaptive, perhaps process-driven one that helps surgeons and air-traffic controllers do their job; another is the ruminative, more open-ended kind of thinking that suits disciplines like literary studies. But it is the ruminative thinker who is apparently more likely to become depressed. (He also said there was clinical evidence to suggest that men lie "prolifically" about their emotions...)

The final session of the day was to be a 90-minute round table. We spent quite a while compiling a list of possible topics. A psychologist muttered good-naturedly, "why don't we just starting talking about one of these?" — to which I replied, "but we're ruminating..."

My paper — on various accounts of the Great Fire of London — is on today, just about as the AFL grand final is on. A dear friend is promising to stream the match in the background as I speak.

Since the poor old Bombers finished the season third from the bottom, I don't have much invested, really, in the outcome. But since Essendon is traditional rival with Collingwood, and since it is simply so much fun to have a team you hate —  Go Saints!!

4 comments:

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

I hope you'll post on the reaction to your fire paper. Since I'm in a city right now that is scarred by catastrophe (bombs and fire, certainly, but also a conflagration in which the Nazis started their book burning campaign) I've been thinking about your paper a bit, and about trauma in general. How long does it take for destructive events to lose their emotional rawness? I'm learning: not as long as I would have thought. Though some people will carry the hurt much longer than others, building monuments seems to be the way to contain the emotion and consign it to pastness.

Those are my ruminations for the morning. I'd tell you how I FEEL about being in Berlin, but you've already stated that men lie prolifically about their emotions so I know you would not believe me.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

What a great conference it seems to be, I love this kind of multidisciplinary stuff. And I was writing about music and memory only last night, for the Adelaide book -- I don't suppose there'd be any chance of getting access to that paper ...?

Clare said...

Hi Stephanie,

After the grand final on Saturday I heard a good many "I don't know how to feel" from supporters....Not sure what you can do with that, but it seems to have been a genuinely strange shared emotional moment, at least according to my friends who were there.

CLare

Elsewhere007 said...

Now that I'm on holidays and have time to read other people's blogs, I've just read down to this post. I'm quite fascinated by the whole history of emotions thing, partly because I've been working recently in policy jobs where some interaction with 'carebear' professionals has been involved.

Something that intrigues me is the way it seems very much in vogue to talk about people's need to 'manage their emotions' or even for their 'emotional regulation'. (There's actually an episode of 6FU where Brenda barks at Nate that he 'needs to manage his emotions'.) I think it's linked to the Daniel Goffman (sic?) emotional intelligence psychobabel paradigm and maybe the wave of CBT psychology that's very popular these days because of the empirical evidence attached and the emphasis on the individual controlling their emotions through cognitive processes -- y'now, something 'anyone' can do (but believe me, the concept of introducing these middle class 'think on the bright side' psychologies is very interesting when trying to translate to people living disadvantaged contexts).

One of the things I find interesting here is the disjunct between the use of neo-liberal management-speak discourse and talking about emotions, which seems such a C19th preoccupation or at latest, a 1970s one.

My guess (maybe a rather old hat Foucauldian one) is that the rise of these neo-liberal discourses is a reflection of state-centred, public health strategies concerned with managing large populations in increasingly cramped urban spaces. People have to get along with each other, and the State still has some degree of responsibility for maintaining reasonable conditions for them to live in.

Has there been any discussion of or research into the neo-liberal discourses around emotional 'management' and 'regulation' in the interdisciplinary studies world? Not that I thinkthese psychological strategies are necessary sinister or harmful in themselves, but I do find the sense of semantic dissonance interesting.

Hope I'm making sense here. The balloon post was beautiful, btw.