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Narrative 12.2 (2004) 221-225
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Robyn, congratulations on your fine book, Having a Good Cry: Effeminate Feelings and Pop-Culture Forms. As I read the text, many thoughts and feelings moved through me and my body. That I would separate those parts of my being into "me" and "my body" has much to do with what you address implicitly in your study. The separation of mind and body has a long tradition in Western thought—we exist I think still in the shadow of Descartes's cogito ergo sum. When you ask at the outset of your work, "What is the somatic experience of taking in a narrative text? How does reading feel?," and then rightly assert, "The question has been asked so seldom, hardly any literary-critical language exists for answering it" (ix), I'd suggest this omission has everything to do with our continued Cartesian belief in the splitting of mind from body, privileging of mind over body, and, by extension, focusing on reading as an activity of mind and not body.1 Your implicit refusal of that splitting occurs in your consideration of the performance of our beings through the feeling behaviors of our bodies. While I understand your specific investment to lie in exploring and recuperating effeminate feelings, your work more generally re-imagines feelings as a space where mind joins with body in the performance of being. You write: "[E]ffeminacy is performative; feelings too can be understood as performative: to say that is to understand the body not as a location where gender and affect are expressed, but rather as a medium through which they come into being" (10). I realize that you don't in that passage or elsewhere take up philosophy's mind/body debate—these words I've interposed about the mind/body split are mine, and reflect how I read, my [End Page 221] training in philosophy, the book I'm writing now on consciousness and the nineteenth-century English novel. But what I'm suggesting is that your consideration of the body's performance of effeminate and antieffeminate feelings and what that performance reveals to us about the gendered subject (that entity I continue to call "self" or "being") helps me in my considerations of how emotion makes evident the embodied nature of mind.
Here are some particular things that happened to me while reading your book. The early accounts of the six readers reading and your ongoing instances of self-portraiture which reveal your physical/emotional responses to moments of reading touched me, literally, because they are about feeling, and offered me the relief of the "you, too?" of community: you cry when you read Celie's last letter in The Color Purple; I cry when I read the last letter of Persuasion (what is it about last letters and the narratives that hold them?). Feeling moved to tears was the origin of my need to write about Persuasion. And I realize that's part of what your project is about—to render visible or tactile that, no matter how private the experience of reading, we are a community of readers who each feels feelings in particular ways in our bodies as we read and in collective ways in response to the structures, formulas, and messages of the works themselves. How are we to "defend" ourselves against "Courage, Mom"? And maybe too, why would we want to? And this is your idea of the "good cry"—that the "effeminate cry" evoked by these genres is not the cathartic purge that empties us of emotions but rather leads us to experience the feelings it evokes, i.e, that "the good cry" brings us to "rehearse" or "reinforce" and, therefore, know a fuller range of feelings. I'm wondering, is there a "bad cry"? And, why do we cry with tears? Why are human beings endowed physically to be moved to tears, when most other animals only cry vocally when they are in distress? Darwin mentions the Indian elephant as the other animal known to sometimes weep, and offers an interesting account of the...