The Science of Affect in American Literature and Culture(Panel)
Allison Siehnel (SUNY University at Buffalo)
Nicole Zeftel (SUNY University at Buffalo)
Patricia Clough has recently identified what she calls an “affective turn” in fields across the humanities and social sciences, which reimagine the place of emotion and the body within the political, economic, and social. Affect is increasingly important to nineteenth-century American studies, as critics like Michael Millner and Christopher Castiglia work to understand how feelings such as sympathy and anxiety helped shape literature and popular culture, as well as our definitions of citizenship more broadly. In addition, this affective turn is present in the sciences: Raffi Khatchadourian’s recent investigative piece, "We Know How you Feel: Computers are Learning Emotion and the Business World Can’t Wait" in the New Yorker (19 Jan. 2015), examines how contemporary computer science research capitalizes on consumer feelings to create an “emotion economy.” This panel seeks to explore how these trends can be linked to the nineteenth-century’s interest in the readability and knowability of human emotion (through, for example, pseudo-sciences such as mesmerism, phrenology, and electrical psychology). Though these various investigations into affect work towards very different ends, the trend to pursue human emotion pervades American literary and scientific studies. In what ways are recent scientific explorations that endeavor to quantify human interiority similar to nineteenth-century science that posited the knowability of the self? What can such similarities tell us about the ability to “know” both our own and others’ emotions? This panel will draw attention to the potential intersections between affect theory and nineteenth-century science, literature, and psychology. We welcome papers that explore nineteenth-century science and psychology on its own terms, and especially in relation to the spread of Western culture and United States imperialism. As well, we invite papers that consider the place of science in affect studies through the present day.