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This seminar seeks to bring together scholars in the fields and subfields that have been touched by a growing interest in the emotional or affective experience, whether understood as embodied or incorporeal, emotional or impersonal, quantifiable or escaping measurement. This inter/multidisciplinary seminar on affect will incorporate a wide range of approaches and topics across disciplines and periods. We aim to provide a forum for a discussion of affect in the arts, sciences, history, psychology, philosophy, ecology, queer/feminist studies and social theory, among others, as well as a means to historicize how affect and emotion have served in religious, social, and political contexts in different periods and locales, from Antiquity to contemporary life. We feel that fostering interdisciplinary exchange on the question of affect is vital for understanding the many valences of affect studies’ vocabulary and concerns.

Professor Patricia Dailey

Professor Thomas Dodman

Professor Lauren Mancia

Alec Joyner

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

09/30/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
The Maternal as a Site of Invisible Emotions in 1930s Britain
Shaul Bar-Haim, University of Essex (England, UK)


Many historians of emotions today are reluctant to assume the existence of people's interiority, psychic reality, or indeed unconscious feelings. Working under the influence of new materialistic frameworks in the study of emotions, those who take this approach tend to focus only on images of expressive emotions, texts in which emotions are being discussed more explicitly, or other primary sources where emotions can be easily identified and fit into a descriptive historical narrative. The first aim of this paper is to show how psychoanalysis can still be useful today for locating what I call 'sites of invisible emotions.' The second aim is to encourage a discussion of other non-materialistic theoretical directions – some of which, including psychoanalysis, might be considered as 'anachronistic' – for investigating psychic reality in history.

I will demonstrate some of these theoretical suggestions by drawing on one case study: the discourse of the 'maternal' in 1930s Britain. During that time, the fascist crisis in Europe, and the popularity of new 'materialist' strands in psychoanalysis, turned motherhood into a psychosocial domain of anxieties, phantasies and desires – or, as I will argue, a site of 'invisible emotions.'

The exploration of this case study will enable me to highlight the importance of continuing to look at what Denise Riley called 'feeling of private inwardness' in expanding and deepening history of emotions scholarship.

11/07/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Persuasion, Wonder, & the End of Life
Wendy Anne Lee, New York University


Largely through a reading of Persuasion (1818), Jane Austen’s last completed novel, I advance a theory of late-stage cognition as it relates to the perception of objects and to the ontology of narrative. In particular, I want to consider how at the end of life, one is simultaneously acutely aware of objects (their value or valuelessness) and de-invested in their reality. Touchstones for this meditation will be Spinoza’s idea of devotion, Leibniz’s concept of apperception, and some detours through Winnicott and visual art.

02/07/2020 Maison Française (Buell Hall), Columbia University
12:00 PM
Hannah Freed-Thall, New York University


This talk investigates historian Alain Corbin’s claim that the invention of the beach in modernity constitutes a “major event in the history of sensibility.” Emerging as a privileged site of leisure in the era of carbon capitalism, the seashore is a space of contradiction, presenting both an extension of the dominant order and a fissure in its logic. Although the beach is often imagined as a dreamscape—a paradisiacal zone of exception, a space of sensory intensity and democratic possibility—many authors and artists explore the nightmare side of this fantasy: the beach as a site of military disembarkation, wreckage and debris, oil stains and rising seas. Focusing on modernist beach-set novels and contemporary durational performance works, I argue that the pleasure beach epitomizes Anthropocene “nature” and also offers an apt emblem of the promises (and disappointments) of the aesthetic itself in late capitalism.

04/27/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
meeting cancelled