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  • Emotionality:A Brief Introduction
  • Katrin Pahl (bio)

The field of emotion studies is growing without an agreement on terminology. This issue of MLN proposes "emotionality" as the appropriate term of art for several reasons.

While "emotion" designates a particular feeling that somebody has, "emotionality" refers to a quality or a potential. This difference has several implications.

Emotionality, like rationality, can be a characteristic of non-human processes or entities. We have no great problems speaking of an emotional encounter, an emotional decision, an emotional space, an emotional film, and the like—even if we still feel compelled to project a human subject as the source or recipient of these emotional experiences. Several contributions to this issue will interrogate this compulsion.

Emotionality is the (often latent) ability to be emotional, whereas emotions are specific manifestations of emotionality. Scholars of emotion characteristically produce lists of emotions and focus on a few items on that list. While we can certainly learn from these descriptions and analyses of individual emotions, such studies often obscure the fact that emotions easily transform from one into the other. Without a change in the fundamental situation, fear might give rise to anger, which might turn into a sadness that gives way to pleasure. This shows, in my view, that individual emotions are different interpretations and evaluations of a given emotional text. The interpretations change easily because with emotionality we are moving in the realm of difference; something is emotional when it registers and dynamically responds [End Page 547] to its incongruence with itself. To focus on emotionality, instead of emotions, will help us to analyze these texts as such without getting too distracted by their assessments.

"Emotionality" might be the least reifying word available. When we create a taxonomy of emotions, their object status is established before the analysis has even begun. To avoid the violence of reification, it might be a good idea to adopt an attitude of critical ethnography and "speak nearby" rather than about the emotional idiom.1 Broadcast on the right wave lengths, "emotionality" sounds like a proper name—a female name, to be sure. While one would not wish it for any girl out there that Emotionality joined the ranks of female names such as Verity, Felicity, or Trinity, there is reason to appreciate the agency and subject status that the proper name confers upon the experience. Emotionality is self-experience, and by that I mean, Emotionality's experience of itself. No human or bourgeois subject is necessary for this experience to take place; in fact, Rei Terada has convincingly argued that such subject gets in the way of the experience.2 Of course, this personification of emotionality runs the risk of perpetuating the traditional alignment of emotionality with femininity. It might buttress the division of labor that puts the burden of emotionality on real women and precludes real men from sharing its pleasures. The best strategy, in my view, to meet this danger is to suspend such gender categories as much as possible without denying the reality of women and men—which is to say that I prefer the company of female characters such as Emotionality.

"Emotionality" has the advantage of unprestigious, even negative undertones. For quite obvious political reasons, many of us are wary of investments in strong or even vehement passions.3 Even though, at its root, the term "passion" vacillates fruitfully between passivity and activity, common parlance has introduced a split between the two by either inflating the passionate subject to omnipotence or making him a slave to passion. While the rhetorical tradition offers the dynamic of self-affectation, which some contributors to this issue put to good use, the term "affect" feels somewhat suspicious in its neutrality. It is almost too easy to speak of affect—as if, by using this term, one had [End Page 548] cleansed all the embarrassment and messiness from the experience. To use "affect" in the sense defined by Deleuze and Guattari, that is, as non-conscious and non-linguistic experience of intensity, appears not to be useful if one wants to explore the overlap of rationality and emotionality, as well as insist on the textual and self-reflexive—that is, self-augmenting...


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pp. 547-554
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