The Disappearance of Emotion? Violence, Affect, and the Post-Traumatic Subject

Free Public Lecture

The Disappearance of Emotion? Violence, Affect, and the Post-Traumatic Subject

Theatre A
Elisabeth Murdoch Building

Booking not required

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Faculty of Arts

An assessment of the latest twists in affect theory today. Among the questions to be posed are: If the 20th-century was the Freudian century, the century of libido, will the 21st century - as has been suggested - be the century of the “post-traumatic” subject, whose affective indifference and profound emotional disengagement from the world mark him or her as a victim of brain damage?

Will political, economic, and natural violence now take the form of a meaningless traumatic shock to the “emotional brain,” depriving victims of all meaning and all affect”? What are the stakes and the implications of such claims?" Professor Leys will invite questions on her arguments and also, if desired, on the significance of the recent turn to affect and emotions for historical and humanities research.

Ruth Leys is Professor of Humanities, with a joint appointment in the Department of History, at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Throughout her career she has been interested in different aspects of the history of the life sciences, especially the neurosciences, psychoanalysis, and psychiatry, and the following is a mere sampling from her publication history. She has critically examined the history of the modern concept of psychic trauma from its origins in the work of Freud to recent discussions by Shoshana Felman, Cathy Caruth, and others (Trauma: A Genealogy).

She has explored the post-World War II vicissitudes of the concept of “survivor guilt” and its recent displacement by notions of shame, focusing on the recent contributions to shame theory by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Giorgio Agamben, and others (From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After, forthcoming winter 2007). She is presently working on a book on the post-war history of experimental and theoretical approaches to the study of the emotions, with a special emphasis on the philosophical issues at stake in the competing cognitivist and neo-Darwinian paradigms of the emotions.

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