Programme Doctoral Seminar Experiences of Violence, Literature and the Mediation of Emotions

Doctoral Seminar Experiences of Violence, Literature and the Mediation of Emotions
January 15 and 16, 2013, 9am to 1pm & 2pm to 5.30pm
Professor Mary A. Favret (Indiana University)

This seminar is about the representation of emotions in early modern and romantic literature. The main aim of the seminar is not to discuss different emotions as such, but the way in which literature mediates them and creates a distance or closer relationship of the reading public towards an immediate perception of experiences of violence. How do individuals for instance understand the experience of public violence when it remains beyond the direct sensory experiences of touch, smell, or hearing, out of sight and has to be textually mediated? Distance can be understood here as a geographical distance but also as a temporal distance. Literature can be studied then as an instrument either to come closer to unknown experiences, to transform these experiences (and their emotions) and relate them to more familiar events, or to put them at an even greater distance.

Mary Favret uses the term ‘war literacy’ in order to get a better understanding of ways in which authors create coherence in personal stories about war experiences and expect readers to have certain reading abilities. By ordering and organizing fragments of personal letters about war acts, newspapers for instance create a flow of mediated emotions aimed at a coherent understanding of war acts taking place far from home. Whereas the authors of personal letters are unable to present their experience as a part of an entire world of war, and whereas the reader is bound to his own ‘home’ perspective, the ‘editor’ has enough distance to immediate experiences in order to successfully mediate war emotions. The Foucauldian ‘authorial function’ is transformed here into an ‘editorial function’, a mind that orders and transmits events, experiences and emotions. In newspapers as well as in literary works, this process of ordering and re-ordering is based on the assumption that readers have the capacity both to distinguish certain facts, names and identities related to war acts, and to use a hierarchy of war emotions and affects.

In the first place, the seminar will teach participants how to distinguish different kinds and levels of literary mediation of emotions. Secondly the seminar will introduce a critical approach of ‘distance’ and ‘difference’ in relation to the reader’s ‘home’ and the experiences and emotions in a world ‘outside’, as described in literary works. Thirdly, a methodology in which the term ‘war literacy’ plays a central role will be introduced by reading and analysing together some primary texts that give a better insight in literary mediation of violence experiences.

About Mary A. Favret
Mary A. Favret is currently a professor at the Department of English at Indiana University (Bloomington, USA). She also is director of the Center for Eighteenth Century Studies at that university. She has published extensively on the topic of wartime literature. Her most recent publication is: War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime (Princeton University Press, 2009).

Prof. Favret explores questions of mediation, developments in science, and studies of affect and temporality. These questions persist in her more recent research on the history of the difficulty of reading – what might be thought of as the pains of reading. On the most general level her research seems to find itself returning to situations where feeling meets unfeeling (as in wartime).

Session I (15 January) Introduction by Prof. Favret about experiences of violence in literature and the mediation of emotions in relation to her more recent research. Prof. Favret will also give background information about how her book War at a Distance was coming along and what kind of new research questions relating to the topic of the seminar would be important for her in future.

Session II (15 January) Close reading session of War at a Distance in combination with a selection of the primary literary texts and works of art the book is about. Short 15 minutes presentations by students and discussion on the different concepts and methodologies applied in Prof. Favret’s book.

Session III (16 January) Presentations by PhD students related to the subject of the seminar. Feedback by Prof. Favret. Both in session III and IV, students will get the opportunity to present results of their research projects in relation to the topic of the seminar. The presentations will also be commented by students that prepared feedback on one of the presented papers . In the general discussion, PhD students can train their abilities to respond on difficult questions in public.

Session IV (16 January) Presentations by PhD students related to the subject of the seminar. Feedback by Prof. Favret.

Seminars will be based on readings drawn from theoretical writings and appropriate primary texts. Each session will also incorporate discussion of the research of the participating students as their work relates to the broad issues of representation, mediation, and distance.