Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Emotion and Expression (Sartre)

"Emotion is not separable from the actions that express it, and in daily relations with the 'love object', actions often precede emotion and engender it". Jean Paul Sartre, Family Idiot, iii, p. 23.

Sartre is talking about the infant Flaubert in particular but also human relations generally. Gustave mimes - or performs - emotion in order to provoke it in the parent:
 A child who is bored suddenly takes it into his head to throw himself into his parents arms; it is not the overflowing feeling of tenderness that provokes him to it, but the future joy he will experience with their kisses.
But 'overflowing tenderness' performed, perhaps copied from a sibling or parent, can later become 'overflowing tenderness' experienced. The performance was the shape, the outline, into which the actual emotion can grow.

I remember as an infant I would very often mimic the facial expressions of my parents. Not for fun or spite. If I saw anger or concern I did not full understand these emotions, but hoped, by getting into their skin, by re-producing their external form, to feel a version of them. And I think it worked - and still does. The facial or gestural outline of an emotion will carry that emotion in its wake.

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