[xmca] emotions at work

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at umich.edu>
Date: Fri Jul 27 2007 - 14:18:16 PDT

Sorry to have come late to the party on emotions, but I am just back
from too much travel.

I read Wolf-Michael's MCA article before I left, anticipating at
least writing him about it, if not xmca. I think it is very important
that he, and others, are taking up the challenge of re-integrating
emotion/feeling/affect and related notions/phenomena into our
accounts of socioculturally meaningful (and feeling-ful?) activity.

It happens that I have also been led by my own work toward seeing the
intimate interdependence, if not primary unity, of what got split up
into 'cognitive' and 'affective' in psychology (and had been so split
long before for what seem to me mainly ideological reasons). In
searching for the frontiers of multimedia communication, I turned to
computer and video games. Analyzing them, it was quickly very clear
that semiotic affordances were radically changed by the emotional
responses (short-term), or moods and emotional dispositions
(longer-term) of the player/user. These dialectics get amplified by
the nature of computer games, where the signs presented to the player
are different depending on the player's input, and that input in turn
depends as much on the feeling dimension of response to the
previously displayed signs as on any semantic, semiotic, or cognitive
aspects. Clearly games, as such, also tend to provoke strong
feelings, and to do through the presentation of signs, as well as to
force players to mediate their feeling-responses through sign choices
in making their next moves in the gameworld.

My work on games led in two new directions: towards transmedia
franchises and complexes, where it's not just the game, but also the
books, websites, movies, toys, and above all online player
communities and their collaterial media productions (stories, videos,
art, etc.). Meaning is made in and through such transmedia ecologies.
And so are feelings. So it was clear that it's not just games
exploiting the affective dimension of player response: all
communication, activity, and meaning-making has an integral
feeling-dimension to it, and, most importantly I now believe, we do
not get the best analyses of even the semantic-semiotic (call it
'cognitive' if you like) aspects of these phenomena if we leave out
the feeling dimensions. Indeed we may go wildly wrong by doing so.

As I've suggested, there is a politics to the exclusion of feelings
and emotions from 'scientific' analyses. I won't comment more on that
here, but I'm declaring for a re-integrationist politics, which has
more than just academic implications, I believe.

So emotions are at work everywhere, and we need more focus on them.
But what are they? is there just one phenomenon here, or many?
Damasio opts for a, to me rather biologistic, body-vs-consciousness
approach, with 'emotion' used for the bodily and 'feelings' for the,
perhaps symbolically mediated, conscious effects or results. Much too
simplistic, I think, and still pretty heavily freighted by the old
ideologies. But we certainly need a picture in which we've got bodily
feelings/sensations as a component, and something to name the
semioticized or more-symbolically mediated ways in which we feel or
interpret those sensations. Except that they are not quite so
separate, and the bodily, sensed but not articulable, dimensions are
not necessarily primary, originary, or causative, and certainly not
in a reductionist sense.

I agree that phylogeny is not destiny here. We know that what happens
in evolution, and no less in cultural than biological terms, and in
development, is that (1) the earlier patterns remain, (2) they get
entrained by later ones, (3) they get modified by the entrainments,
(4) they can still function more autonomously. Rage, lust, panic ...
and perhaps hunger and some less obviously 'emotional' feelings ...
can still operate quite free of 'higher functions'. But they can also
be moderated and entrained, whether as anger, desire, fear, appetite
or in other ways.

There is a certain bias in the semantics of "feeling", at least in
English, that makes it seem less active, and the term "emotion" may
not be recognized as naming a Process. We "do feelings", even if we
often feel as if they just 'happen' to us. Sometimes perhaps they do,
in the sense of traditional Western middle-class alienation from our
own bodies. If we are going to re-integrate under the sign of action
and activity, we need to foreground the sense in which the affective
is a pervasive aspect of all doing, and that in doing we are always
also doing-feeling as well as making-meaning.

I'll put some further notes specific to Wolf-Michael's article in a
separate message.

best to all,


Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Email. JayLemke@UMich.edu
Website. <http://www.umich.edu/~jaylemke%A0>www.umich.edu/~jaylemke
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Received on Fri Jul 27 14:21 PDT 2007

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