What are you feeling, right now?

It’s usually difficult to say, because we’re simmering emotional cocktails capable of experiencing a range of feelings at the drop of a hat. We have to say or do something to get some idea of how we feel.

‘Emotives’, a concept developed by William M. Reddy, helps explain what’s going on. While working on the recent posts about President Hollande, Valerie Trierweiler and Julie Gayet, I reread his ‘Sentimentalism and Its Erasure: The Role of Emotions in the Era of the French Revolution’, Journal of Modern History; 72; (109-152).

Let me simplify his theory of emotives:

  1. Not all statements are descriptive or referential. There is another class of statements: performatives.
  2. ‘Performatives’ are statements people use to perform or accomplish something. These statements are neither true or false. Statements about a speaker’s emotions are performatives.
  3. Performatives are not descriptive because emotional claims cannot be independently verified. We never know for sure how the person really feels.
  4. To speak about how one feels is to make an implicit offer to negotiate; to establish a relationship, alter or end it.
  5. Performative emotional statements have a feedback effect on the speaker. One can say ‘I love you’ and only then realize that you don’t. Or one can say in a state of anger, ‘I could kill you’ and realize that you probably could.
  6. So it’s not just a matter of having an emotion and then giving voice to it. Giving voice to it changes it.

Often we don’t know what we really feel until we hear ourselves emote and witness the react in others. Like this:

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