Scholars explore complexity of feeling

By Kevin Busch

Public feeling was the focus of a two-day symposium that convened scholars from nationwide last weekend. The conference, hosted by the Franke Institute for the Humanities, comprised lectures and films that discussed the past and present roles of feelings in society.

The conference sought to explore people’s feelings on local and international politics, the sentiments embodied by public interactions and relations, and the sense of attachment that forms the basis of personal relationships.

The conference’s eclectic programming invoked discourse rooted in a broad range of disciplines, ranging from philosophy and anthropology to art history and political theory.

In one thematic segment of the conference entitled “Forming, Shifting, Fracturing Solidarities”—which began with a relaxed communal breathing exercise—Debbie Gould, assistant professor of political science, spoke about feelings that contributed to and detracted from solidarity within ACT UP, a group formed in New York in 1987 seeking to end the AIDS crisis through direct and unified action.

ACT UP members, many of them AIDS victims themselves, were “imagining and attempting to build a new world together,” Gould said. The group’s solidarity, however, was hampered by ideological polarization and internal schisms along racial, gender, and class lines. Establishing solidarity in the face of significant differences requires that people recognize the need for compromise and change, Gould said.

Lily Cho, assistant professor of English at the University of Western Ontario, followed Gould’s presentation with her perspective on the complex feeling of loss.

“We tend to think of loss as something that has already happened,” Cho said. Because of this fact, people often sense loss before it materializes and unconsciously act to prepare for it. She also stressed the significance of the tendency to find support among people who have shared similar losses.