President Hollande’s emotional safe haven

President Hollande insists that his relationship with Julie Gayet and Valérie Trierweiler is a private matter. News media in France respect this and call off their pursuit of the truth, like foxhounds before an impassible ditch.

From whence came this private, emotional sanctuary or redoubt? In brief, it was created during the French Revolution, which abolished the privileges of the aristocracy, the church, towns, provinces, guilds, and seigneuries.

The political revolution simultaneously centralized power in the form of the state and dissolved society into independent individuals. They are sides of the same process. Civil society is a society of private individuals. The state is a society of public citizens. 

President Hollande operates within this framework. Like all French citizens, he leads a two-fold life, he is both a public and a private person. And his emotional, private life?

Although we tend to think of the Revolution as part of the Enlightenment of Reason, certainly up to 1794, it was driven by a wave of sentimentalism or moral sensations. The rational and emotional fused in the political thinking of the revolutionaries, many of which were women.

The Revolution shattered this fusion of the rational and the emotional. Henceforth, reason and interest were for the public realm of the state, and honour and emotion were relegated to the feminine, private realm of the household.

This is why French news media allow President Hollande his safe haven. So far.

Featured image: Women’s March on Versailles, 5 October 1789.


Insurrection in Turkey

via Taksim Gezi Parkı Things Getting Worse Polices and People War – YouTube.

Individually, we’re sober and rational people, just like those psychologists say. But humans are social not solitary animals and occasionally something makes them come together and stirs them into action. That ‘something’ is emotion. It can cause us to do things in crowds—good and bad—unthinkable alone.

Now it’s happening in Turkey. Having stoked insurrection in Syria, the Turkish government finds itself on the receiving end at home. Yet more evidence in support of the law of karma and the law of unintended consequences.

What all protesting crowds need is a public space in which to come together. A small protest against plans to replace Taksim Gezi Park with a reconstruction of an old barracks, said to house a shopping mall, was the spark that ignited nation-wide protests.

A shopping mall in a reconstructed army barracks, to replace a public park …. What could possibly go wrong?

Just as crowds, including insurrections, can be sparked by emotion, they have to be emotionally sustained if they are to get what they want. They can also be diffused by stimulating counter emotions.

Let’s see how this unfolds.

Finally, a classic work on this theme is Gustave le Bon’s The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, 1896. For the keen, the entire book can be downloaded as a pdf from the McMaster University here.

The featured image is of a police barricade surrounding Gezi Park, June 1, 2013. [source]

Emotions, empathy and moral judgement in Delhi

india_delhi_rape_protests_dec_2012_6-1The emotional reaction in the streets of India to the gang rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi is a powerful moral force, a show of solidarity with her, her family and other victims of sexual violence.

Were it not for this pressure, the suspects may very well have escaped unpunished, as happens in so many other cases in India (and elsewhere, of course). The government knows it has to act quickly to bring these suspects to trial and introduce measures to protect women from sexual assault.

What is interesting about the emotional basis to the groundswell of moral support is that emotions are normally thought to hinder moral decision-making. Here they surely aid it.

Belief in antipathy between emotions and moral decisions is the backbone of the Western judicial system. Judges, as a matter of course, instruct juries to make decisions on an impartial assessment of the evidence, and ‘without sympathy, prejudice or fear’.

For example, the jury of the famous O.J. Simpson trial was instructed: ‘You must not be influenced by mere sentiment, conjecture, sympathy, passion, prejudice, public opinion, or public feeling.’

There was nothing mere, however, about the sentiment, sympathy, passion, public opinion and public feeling, among those who took to the streets in support of this young woman.

This suggests that the role of emotions in moral judgments is worth reconsidering.

To this end, I want to draw on David Pizarro’s article ‘Nothing more than feeling? The role of emotion in moral judgment’. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, Volume 30 Issue 4 Page 355 – December 2000.

Pizarrro outlines conventional wisdom on the relationship between emotions and morality. It is known within popular culture in the form of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, for whom emotions are illogical. Pizarro condenses the conventional view into this syllogism:

  1. emotions are always partial, arbitrary, and passive,
  2. moral judgments should be impartial, well-grounded, and freely made, therefore
  3. emotions are detrimental to moral judgments, and are to be avoided in moral decision-making (Pizarro, p. 258).

Pizarro then draws on recent knowledge about emotions to argue that the conventional view in untenable.

  1. Emotions are not always partial, arbitrary and passive.
  2. Emotions, moreover, reflect moral beliefs and principles; they are not raw responses to situations.
  3. Emotions can actually aid reasoning by focusing our attention and cognitive resources on the problem at hand.

The Delhi rape and murder is a good example of this alternative view. The emotional reactions of protestors alerted them to the presence of a moral issue and as long as they stand united, it will not go away.

Pizarro allows that, in some circumstances, emotions can undermine moral decision-making, but ‘in the light of our understanding of emotion and emotional processes’ (p. 358)‚ he questions the belief that they can never aid, and always harm moral judgment. Indeed, he argues that, knowing what we now do about emotions, they are desirable for the process of moral decision-making.

Central to Pizarro’s argument is our capacity to regulate our emotions. This ‘is what gives us the ability to defeat the partial, passive and arbitrary nature of emotions when necessary, in order to fulfill a moral goal’ (p. 370). This capacity ‘allows us to utilize their influence to serve our higher-order moral beliefs, as an energy source of moral judgments and actions’ (p. 371); Pizzaro’s point is that, in some circumstances, affective arousal and moral beliefs may complement each other.

Interestingly, a similar argument has been made in support of angry judges. [See ‘Are angry judges better than “robots“?’

Pizarro develops a theory of emotive moral judgment  by examining empathy, which he understands as the experience of feelings/emotions similar in kind to those expressed by or known to exist in another person. Empathy is a moral emotion because it causes concern for the welfare of others. Put simply, we feel for the other.

Feeling empathy is a moral signal or marker. It sensitizes us to the distress of the other. It cues the individual to the possibility that a morally relevant event is taking place.

A feeling of empathy is not at odds with moral beliefs, rather, it embodies them. Empathy rests upon previously formed moral beliefs and attitudes, i.e., the cognitive antecedents of empathetic arousal. Emotional reactions, or the lack of them, reveal moral priorities. [Perhaps this is what President Obama has in mind by ‘empathy deficit‘)

When a person feels empathy, the empathic arousal leads to motivation to make a moral judgment.

Pizzaro allows that empathy can sometimes lead us to violate a moral principle. However, a capacity to experience empathy plus an ability to regulate it effectively are necessary to be a moral person.

Interestingly, for such an important quality, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that ’empathy’ is a little over one hundred years old.

Here then is a framework to be tried and tested in analysis of the unfolding drama in Delhi.

To that end, does it work, does it help?


Trust Women Conference

How to stop rape: ‘Justice is a Woman with a Sword’


The savage gang rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi last Friday evening poses the question, How to prevent rape, not just in India, but anywhere?

It is her very anonymity that galvanizes women in solidarity because each knows that it could have been her. She is Everywoman.

Men rape women because they think they can get away with it. In many parts of the world—especially India—they can. If they believe they won’t get away with it, they won’t do it.

They need deterring, but how?

It’s time to revisit D.A. Clarke’s ‘Justice is a Woman with a Sword’. It first appeared in 1991 and became a minor classic. I reproduce it below.

‘D.A. Clarke’ is not the author’s real name. He or she is anonymous too.

By way of an introduction, let me say that a Woman with a Sword is how justice is often represented allegorically.

For example, atop of the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court in London, is a statue of a woman with a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other (see above). This is none other than Lady Justice (based on the Latin Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice).

The sword is double-edged. The intent is to symbolize that reason and justice are sides of the same thing, and that the sword can cut both ways for or against any citizen. And don’t we know that reason is the historical preserve of men.

Lady Justice is also blindfolded. This, we are told, symbolizes the impartiality of the law; it is blind to distinctions of status.

All this symbolism, of course, is open to other interpretations.

But the woman with a sword that Clarke has in mind in ‘Justice is a Woman with a Sword’ is literal not allegorical. Clarke wonders why women don’t respond to violence against them with violence and what would happen if they did.

If not a sword, a knife or a gun. Or any weapon, symbolic or actual.

If women in India want rape to stop they’re going to have to do it themselves. They’re going to have to become emotional revolutionaries.  ‘Justice is a Woman with a Sword’ is a means to that end.

Justice Is A Woman With A Sword

by D.A. Clarke

The “womanliness” invented by pornographers is a deep masochism, which renders women as powerless to defend self and others as the sweetness-and- light female patience and martyrdom of Christian romanticism. It’s but a short step from the ladylike and therefore ineffectual face-slaps of Nice Girls to the “hot and steamy surrender” in the dominant male’s brawny embrace. But a woman with a sword, that is a different matter.

“Justice is a woman with a sword”–as slogans go, it is strangely evocative. The sword, after all, is the weapon of chivalry and honour. Aristocratic criminals were privileged to meet their deaths by the sword rather than the disgraceful hempen rope; gentlemen settled their differences and answered insults at swords’ point. Women and peasants, of course, did not learn swordplay. The weapon, like the concepts of honour and personal courage it represented, was reserved for men, and only to those of good birth; no one else was expected or permitted to have a sense of personal pride or honour. Offences against a woman were revenged by her chosen champion.

A woman with a sword, then, is a powerful emblem. She is no one’s property. A crime against her will be answered by her own hand. She is armed with the traditional weapon of honour and vengeance, implying both that she has a sense of personal dignity and worth, and that affronts against that dignity will be hazardous to the offending party. This is hardly the woman of pornographic male fantasy.

In male fantasy, women are always powerless to defend themselves from hurtand humiliation. Worse, they enjoy them. Treatment that would drive the average self-respecting man to desperate violence makes these fantasy-women tremble, breathe heavily, and moan with desire: abuse and embarrassment are their secret needs. The “womanliness” invented by pornographers is a deep masochism, which renders women as powerless to defend self and others as the sweetness-and-light female patience and martyrdom of Christian romanticism. It’s but a short step from the ladylike and therefore ineffectual face-slaps of Nice Girls to the “hot and steamy surrender” in the dominant male’s brawny embrace.

But a woman with a sword, that is a different matter.

The troublesome question of nonviolence haunts the women’s movement and always has. We despise the brutality to which women are subjected by men, the arrogance and casual destructiveness of male violence as embodied in domestic battery, gang skirmishes, and officially sanctioned wars. Feminists have traditionally opposed police brutality, the draft, warfare, rape, blood sports, and other manifestations of the masculine fascination with dominance and death.

Yet like all oppressed peoples, women are divided on the essential question of violence as a tactic. When is it appropriate to become violent? Is the use of force ever justifiable? When is it time to take up arms? to learn ju-jitsu? to carry a knife? Is violence just plain wrong, no matter who does it? Or can there be extenuating circumstances?

The flow of our debate is muddied by traditional ideas of womanliness with which feminists struggle. Are women really better than men? are we inherently kinder, gentler, less aggressive? Certainly the world would be a better place if everyone manifested the virtues tradition assigns to Good Women. But will gentleness and kindness really win the hearts of nasty and violent people? Will reason, patience, and setting a good example make men see the error of their ways? Is “womanly” non-violence “naturally” the best and only course for feminists?

Historically, the prospect for peoples and cultures which avoid violence is not good. They tend to lose territory, property, freedom, and finally life itself as soon as less pleasant neighbours show up with better armaments and bigger ambitions. It’s hard to survive as a pacifist when the folks next door are club-waving, rock-hurling imperialists: you end up enslaved or dead, or you learn to be like them in order to fight them. The greatest challenge to nonviolence is that to fulfill its promise it must be able to prevent violence. The image of the nonviolent activist righteously renouncing the use of force–while watching armed thugs drag away their struggling victims–is less than pleasing.

We have also the problem of effectiveness. Non-violence is far more impressive when practised by those who could easily resort to force if they chose. A really big, tough man in the prime of life who chooses to discipline himself to peace and gentleness is an impressive personality. A mob of thousands who choose to sit down peaceably and silently in the street, rather than smash windows and overrun police lines, is an unnerving sight. These kinds of nonviolence make a profound political point. But when women advocate non-violence it may be much less effective.

Why? Because women are traditionally considered incapable of violence, particularly of violence against men. In the 40’s the film beauty used to beat her little fists ineffectually on the strong man’s chest before collapsing into passionate tears; in the 70’s the ditzy female sidekick inevitably left the safety catch on when it was time to shoot the bad guy. Women are commonly held to be as incompetent at physical force as they are at mechanics, mathematics, and race car driving. The only violence traditionally permitted to women is the sneaky kind: conspiracy, manipulation, deceit, poison, a stiletto in the back.

And when women do become violent, we perceive it as shocking and awful, far worse than the male violence which we take for granted. There is a self-serving myth among men that, given power, women would be “even worse” than the worst men–which, of course, justifies keeping women firmly in their place and making sure no power gets into their nasty little hands. Many of us believe that myth, to some extent: I can remember my mother (a strong and resourceful woman) retailing to me the common doctrine that the female camp guards of the Third Reich were worse than the men.

Of course, only a handful of women attained to power in Hitler’s Germany; prison-guarding is an unfeminine occupation, also. So female camp guards, of high or low rank, were exceptional and therefore suspect. Their deeds are documented and unquestionably vile, but it’s hard for me to say how they might be distinguished as measurably worse, more evil, than those of their male colleagues. What makes them worse in the eyes of Allied historians, I fear, is that in addition to their other crimes they stepped out of women’s place.

This different perception of male and female violence, this double standard, afflicts women at the most elementary levels. When a man makes unwanted social advances to a woman in, let’s say, a restaurant or theatre, and she eventually has to tell him loudly and angrily to get lost–she is the one who will be perceived as rude, hostile, aggressive, and obnoxious. His verbal aggression and invasiveness are accepted and expected, her rudeness or mere curtness in getting rid of him is noticed and condemned. One of our great myths is that a “real lady” can and should handle any difficulty, defuse any assault, without ever raising her voice or losing her manners. Female rudeness or violence in resistance to male aggression has often been taken to prove that the woman was not a lady in the first place, and therefore deserved no respect from the aggressor or sympathy from others.

Until recently, violent women in fiction were always evil. Competence with guns, long blades, or martial arts automatically marked a female character as “mannish”, possibly lesbian, destined for stereotyping as a prison matron, pervert, manhater, sadist, etc. On the other hand, cleverness with tiny silver-plated pistols, poison rings, or jewelled daggers identified your “snakelike” villainness whose cold and perfect beauty concealed a heart twisted by malice and frozen with selfishness. Heroines, predictably, fainted or screamed at moments of peril and then waited to be rescued in the penultimate chapter. By the 1920’s the Good Girls might put up a brave struggle and kick the bad guy in the shins, but they certainly did not throw furniture, break necks, cut throats, or whip out a sword-cane and chase the villain through the abandoned warehouse.

Tougher females emerged for a while in the war years, but only in the last 20 years have fictional females arrived who are ready with fists, karate kicks, and small arms. A new genre of Amazon Fantasy has grown up, where previously there were only one or two authors who dared to put a sword in a female character’s hand. Warrior women have become protagonists, with books and even epics to themselves. Admittedly, most of them are required by the author (or editor) to Learn to Love A Man Again by the end of the plot, but at least they start out by avenging their own rapes and their family’s wrongs. In commercial film (a conservative medium) fighting heroines and anti-heroines are beginning to surface: Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita, Deborra-Lee Furness in Shame, and of course there are Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Thelma & Louise. Even in films with no pretense to social commentary or good intentions, fighting female sidekicks are popping up here and there (Conan the Destroyer, The Golden Child) who previously were restricted to the world of Marvel Comics.

Americans are beginning to be able to handle the idea of female rage and vengeance, or at least of serious female violence, in fiction. In much the same way, the reading public of the 20’s and 30’s began to accept the Career Woman long before women made real inroads into the professions. Does this mean something? Is the ability to be violent a prerequisite for equality–as the maintenance of army and arsenal is for nationhood? Are these fighting females a good sign?

Maybe. In a perfect world, no. In a perfect world we wouldn’t lock our doors, and no one would know how to throw a punch or how to roll with one. In this world, alas, perhaps the price of full citizenship is the willingness and ability to defend one’s self and one’s dignity to the point of force.

We do respect people who “know their limits”, who cannot be pushed past a certain point–just as we mistrust and disrespect those who have no give in them at all and overreact violently to every little frustration. We respect people who can take care of themselves, who inform us of their limits clearly and look prepared to enforce them. Women are traditionally denied these qualities–the “no means yes” of male mythology–and one reason for this is that we are denied the use of force. To put it very simply, little boys who get pushed around on the playground are usually told to “stand up to him, don’t let him get away with it,” whereas little girls are more usually advised to run to Teacher.

The bottom line in not being pushed around is our willingness and our capacity to resist. At some point resistance means defending ourselves with physical force. Women, kept out of contact sports, almost never trained in wrestling or boxing as boys often are, taught to flatter strong men by acting weak, are denied the skills and the emotional preparedness required to fight back.

Men commit the most outrageous harassments and insults against women simply because they can get away with it: they know they will not get hurt for saying and doing things that, between two men, would quickly lead to a fist fight or a stabbing. There are no consequences for abusing women.

There are several ways to prevent crimes from happening. One is education and reason, and our effort to bring up children to be good adults. Then comes elementary preparedness and awareness on the part of the innocent. Then there is active resistance and self-defence when a crime is attempted; lastly, there is the establishment of consequences for the perpetrator. Every time a man molests his daughter and still keeps his place in the family and community–every time a man sexually harasses a female employee and still keeps his job or his business reputation–every time a rapist or femicide gets a token sentence–there is a terrible lack of consequence for the commission of a crime.

We disagree as a society about the level of “punishment” or retribution or reparation which should be enforced. We can’t agree whether murderers should themselves be killed. Most of us would agree that hanging is too severe a penalty for stealing a loaf of bread or a sheep, but is it too severe a penalty for hacking a woman to death? Some would say yes and some no. Others think we should abandon the concept of punishment or reparation altogether, with their authoritarian implications, and concentrate on re-educating and reclaiming our errant brothers, turning them into better people.

While we argue about these things, women are steadily and consistently being insulted, molested, assaulted and murdered. And most of the men who are doing these things are suffering no consequences at all, or very slight consequences. The less the consequence of their offence, the more it seems to them (and to everyone) that there is really nothing so very wrong with what they have done.

When as a society we sanctimoniously clasp our hands and reject the death penalty, letting femicides and rapists free after token jail terms and “therapy”, we merely make a callous value judgement. We judge that a man’s life–even a rapist’s or a murderer’s–is more valuable than the life and happiness of the next woman or child he may attack.

Effectively, when a killer is released and kills again, those who released him signed the death warrant for his next victim, someone they did not know and could not identify: that person’s life was the price of their squeamishness and reluctance to sign the death warrant for a man they could name, whose face they knew.

If the State is not going to step in and enforce severe penalties for abusing and murdering women, then is it women’s responsibility to do so? When a woman’s dignity, honour, and physical person are assaulted or destroyed, how shall we get justice? How shall we prevent it from happening again?

If the courtroom and the law are owned by men (if a Clarence Thomas, for example, can be appointed to the Supreme Court regardlesss of the evidence that he routinely insulted and harassed women) at what point are women entitled to take the law into their own hands? At what point can we justify personal vendettas by angry survivors of male violence? What about violent action for political (rather than personal) agendas?

It’s a thorny question for sure. Vigilanteism is so very trendy in our fragmenting culture: in films and cheap novels by the dozen, angry protagonists (almost all male) go out and shoot up the bad guys in a series of solo crusades, for revenge and the justice that a corrupt and ineffectual System cannot provide. America’s love affair with flashy violence and alpha-male bravado is so traditional and distressing that one does hesitate to suggest vigilanteism as a feminist tactic.

Yet–but–on the other hand–sometimes a demonstration of violent rage accomplishes what years of prayers, petitions, and protests cannot: it gets you taken seriously. (On the other hand, it can also get you labelled crazy and put away.) Palestinian terrorists may have done more harm than good to their people’s cause–or they may have been an essential part of a liberation struggle. It depends who you ask.

When we consider violent political tactics such as terrorism and retribution, we have to remember that male implementation of these tactics is all mixed up with the traditions of male amusement and competition. Too often the political cause of the moment is no more than an excuse for a gang of rowdy boys to play about with high explosives and automatic weapons–just another form of blood sport. Often there is more violence, and more random violence, than is called for–simply because the terrorists are having so much fun frightening and killing people.

Would women succumb to this temptation?

Another common belief about female violence is that it will only escalate male violence. I have heard from people of widely varying ages and politics the argument “if women learn judo, then men will start using guns.” This rather sidesteps the fact that a large number of men already own and use guns, knives, and other portable weapons; but it’s a familiar argument from all liberation struggles. What if resistance to the occupier/oppressor only leads to increased brutality, repression, and suffering?

We can end up in a sadly familiar conflict–some women will hate and fear feminists and self-defence advocates because they anticipate that male anger, stirred up by these uppity females, will be vented on all women, including the “innocent.” No liberation movement has ever escaped this bitter argument.

Will we make it worse by resisting? Feminists who demonstrated publicly and disruptively at the turn of the century were accused at the time of worsening women’s prospects by their violent and provocative behaviour; yet today we honour them as the instigators of changes that lifted women halfway out of serfdom. Certainly forceful and loud resistance to sexual assault tends to result more often in escape or reduced injury than “womanly” tactics like tears, pleading, or co- operation.

If the risk involved in attacking a woman were greater, there might be fewer attacks. If women defended themselves violently, the amount of damage they were willing to do to would-be assailants would be the measure of their seriousness about the limits beyond which they would not be pushed. If more women killed husbands and boyfriends who abused them or their children, perhaps there would be less abuse. A large number of women refusing to be pushed any further would erode, however slowly, the myth of the masochistic female which threatens all our lives. Violent resistance to attack has its advantages all round.

A backlash is always possible, whether women “behave” or not. The strength and viciousness of antifeminism, and its appeal, have a lot more to do with the prevailing economic and political weather than with anything women actually do. A subject population can be as polite, conciliatory, and assimilated as possible–and still wake up one morning to discriminatory laws, confiscation of property, and all the rest.

For these reasons the argument that female violence “will only hurt women” or “make things worse” seems irrelevant to me. In fact, female violence that only hurts women is perfectly acceptable. Women have always been given the dirty work of disciplining their daughters into women’s place, whether this meant binding little girls’ feet or blaming and beating them for being raped. Today, a “feminist community” which claims to find violence of all kinds distasteful is still able to find lesbian sadomasochism sexy and chic. Images of women hurting other women are widely accepted even where images of men hurting women are criticized.

Now, I am not particularly attracted to images of anyone being hurt, period. But I see potential value in fiction and film on the theme of women taking violent means of vengeance on rapists and femicides. One benefit is the assertion of female personal honour; another, quite frankly, is the shock value. Those who are appalled by the idea of vigilante women hunting down men should be asking themselves what they are doing about this world where images of men hunting down, overpowering, and hurting women surround us. If violence is so terribly wrong when committed by women, then damn it, it is as terribly wrong when committed by men.

Let’s face it, we still live in a world and a century in which a woman who walks (mistake) in the wrong part of town (oh dear) after dark (uh oh) alone (a big no-no) will be blamed by all and sundry if she is raped. People will ask what she expected, doing a fool thing like that.

It’s interesting–amusing in a bitter kind of way–maybe even liberating–to envision a slightly different world. The man limps into the emergency room with one ear half-torn off and multiple bruises. As he gasps out his story, the doctor shakes his head: “You mean you grabbed at her breasts and tried to pull her into your car? Well I mean, dummy, what did you expect?” And he gets no sympathy, not a shred, from anyone.

If women become more violent, will the world be a more violent place? Perhaps, but it’s not a simple equation of addition. We will have to subtract any violence that women prevent. So we will have to subtract a large number of rapes and daily humiliations suffered by women who today cannot or will not defend themselves. We might have to subtract six or seven murders that would have been committed by a latter-day Zodiac Killer, except that his first intended victim killed him instead. Suppose one of the women in the lecture hall in Montreal had been armed, and skilled enough to take out Marc Lepine before he mowed down fourteen of her classmates . . .

It’s not as if we were suggesting that women introduce violence into the Garden of Eden. The war is already on. Women and children are steadily losing it.

And women are already violent. Women take out the anger and frustration of women’s place, and the memory of their own humiliations and defeats, on each other and on their kids, on their own bodies. Would we rather that incest survivors mutilate themselves, commit suicide, abuse their own children–or go and do something dreadful to Daddy? We don’t know for sure that doing something dreadful to Daddy will heal a wounded soul, but it does seem more appropriate than doing dreadful things to oneself or any innocent bystander.

And one last great myth: “Violence never solves anything.”

In the grand philosophical sense those words may ring true. Violence is like money: it can’t make you happy, save your soul, make you a better person– but it certainly can solve things. When the winners exterminate the losers, historical conflicts are permanently solved.

Many a high-ranking criminal has lived to a comfortable and respected old age only because a few pesky witnesses were no longer alive to testify. Many a dissatisfied husband has got rid of an unwanted wife. More women than we know have probably got rid of abusive husbands.

Violence definitely solves some things. A dead rapist will not commit any more rapes: he’s been solved. Violence is a seductive solution because it seems easy and quick; violence is a glamorous commercial property in our time; violence is a tool, an addiction, a sin, a desperate resort, a hobby, depending on where you look and who you ask.

I am not here to lay out a list of easy answers, but a tangle of difficult questions.

Violence may be a tool and a tactic that feminists should use; certainly we ought to be putting some serious thought into it. If we refuse it, it should not be because it offends against our romantic notion of morally superior Womanhood, but for some better and more thoughtful reason. If we accept it, we had better figure out how to avoid becoming corrupted by it.


Romney and ‘los indignados’

Momentum has changed in favour of Mitt Romney following the first televised debate in the U.S. Presidential election campaign, but momentum in what and why?

The change is in emotional momentum. We got to compare what they said and, equally important, how they said it. Romney struck an emotional chord and Obama did not. This chord is still reverberating and it energizes the Romney campaign.

Hope is a spent force and Obama may well be spent too. The dominant emotion, certainly on the streets, is the rage of the indignant: outrage.

‘Los indignados’ (‘the indignants’) is the name of those who take to the streets to protest the imposition of ‘austerity’ in Spain. It is equally applicable to similar protests throughout Europe, North America and the Arab world. Different scenarios; similar emotions. ‘Los indignados’ are mad, and occasionally joyful, and justifiably so.

Romney, unwittingly I suspect, quivers with the same feeling, if for very different and less noble reasons.

Indignation was the source of his advantage in his debate with Obama. It was evident in his scorn of the President. He’s not accustomed to being talked down to like that.

Romney is indignant about Obama’s seeming inability to ‘solve’ America’s economic problems. He’s indignant about Obama’s foreign ‘policy’ and the liberties America’s enemies take with its interests. He’s indignant because he feels all of this is unworthy of America and its ‘honour’. This indignation may be without grounds, but the feeling he projects seems genuine and that’s all most of us care about.

This indignation resonates with the viewing public because they felt the same way, albeit, again, for different reasons. Had it not, Romney could easily have been perceived as churlish and mean-spirited. He said the same words as before but it was how he said them that made the difference in perceptions of him.

Never forget that the hatred between Republicans and Democrats is so large because the differences between them are so small. They are both parties of the corporate world, financed by Wall Street.

Romney’s is the indignation of privilege and the old order. But before this is figured out it may well be too late for the real indignants. Things are going to have to change, but this change will be fought for from below, not bestowed from above.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: Closing Statement at the Pussy Riot Trial

I don’t know much about the punk band Pussy Riot but I know a great courtroom speech when I hear one.

I refer to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s closing statement at the Khamovnichesky Courthouse, Moscow, on August 8, 2012.

She can be seen and heard making the statement here. You will find a transcript, with more commentary, here.

She and her two band members are to spend the next two years in prison, so please take 10 minutes to listen to and read her speech.

Above all, she demands emotional authenticity in Russia:

We were looking for authentic genuineness and simplicity and we found them in the holy foolishness of our punk performances. Passion, openness and naivety are superior to hypocrisy, cunning and a contrived decency that conceals crimes. The state’s leaders stand with saintly expressions in church but, in their deceit, their sins are far greater than ours. We’ve put on our political punk concerts because the Russian state system is dominated by rigidity, closedness and caste and the policies pursued serve only narrow corporate interests to the extent that even the air of Russia makes us ill.

Russia’s enemies in the United States will attempt to use this to further their own interests. I think Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has little in common with them. She sounds like a Russian patriot to me.

Further more ‘Passion, openness and naivety are superior to hypocrisy, cunning and a contrived decency that conceals crimes’ is true of the West too.

In a world were even emotions are simulated for commercial ends, know that performance art can not be. Acting is one of the few authentic things left.

Support actors and performance artists. Spare them a crust of bread.

I salute Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and her demand for ‘authentic genuineness’.

The imagined inside—feeling corporeal emotions

This is the second in a three-part series inspired by Barbara Duden’s The Woman Beneath the Skin: A Doctor’s Patients in Eighteenth-Century Germany(1997). It builds on the first, The Feeling of Perceiving, so a quick review of that will give the following more meaning. (All page references are to this book.)

How did these early 18th C women experience their bodies and their illnesses?

In the West, our perception of the body is almost exclusively shaped by science. It is this perception, we should note, that has conceived emotion as an impediment to rationality.

Duden takes us back to a pre-science time.

She reconstructs “an extinct body perception” (p. 2) and “a socially ‘raw’ corporeality” (p. viii) from the notebooks of Dr. Storch in early 18th C Eisenbach, Germany. Although extinct in the modern West, there are similarities in body perceptions between women (and men) in less medicalized societies today and these women 18th C women.

The scientific lens has become so pervasive that it makes the current perception of the body seem self-evident, obvious, and “natural”. In fact, this perception is a social creation. As Duden says, “The notions about corporeality seem deeply embedded in us, like petrified deposits of the [modern] age to which we belong” (p. 22). Our conception of “nature,” itself, is a social construction.

Again, the question is not, how could the Eisenachers fail to see what to us is obvious, but how did we come to take the body for granted as a self–evident unchanging biological reality? (p. 3, my emphasis).

Consider the relationship between the dead body and the living body, in other words, the relationship between anatomy and physiology. In Storch’s day, the revelations of the dissecting knife (for example, a disease’s devastation of an organ) “did not explain the way a disease affected the living body” (Duden, p. 106).

Anatomy dissected the body into its component parts, but the living body could be understood only in motion. “The experience of living bodies refuted the anatomist” (p. 117). As previously noted, “the eyewitness account of a phenomenon of the living body was more convincing to Storch than a fact uncovered in a dead body” (p. 70).

Autopsy findings, almost by definition, speak of a pathological state—the person is dead. They reveal little conclusive about the “normal” condition inside the living body. Now, of course, the dead body casts a large and dark shadow on the living body.

We should note that while “opening” a dead body was regarded as a violation of the integrity of the person, Storch’s own body was dissected by his brother (Licentiate Jacob), in accord with Storch’s instructions (Duden, p. 71).

The body, for these women and their doctor, was opaque, a place of mysterious hidden activities. Doctor and patient imagined what existed and went on inside, and imagined this in a pre-modern, pre-Cartesian way: body and soul were indivisible. How, then, did they imagine the inside of their bodies?

For one, it was a sphere of “incessant metamorphosis” (p. 107), of “invisible flowing. . . . All matter, though ultimately the same, is involved in constant transformations” (p. 109). Freckles could become bad breath.

Substances took on different forms as they moved around the body. Milk, for example, could move around the body and could be excreted from several openings. Breath and sound could exit from the ears, not just the mouth. As well, because matter flowed, transformed, the inside must be a “porous place.”

Bodily phenomena were ambiguous and many-sided. Thus they could only be understood in their context—by establishing connections between the interior and the surface of the body and between the body and events, past and present.

These connections gave meaning to the various experiences described by Storch. Duden attempts to reconstruct the Eisenachers’ explanatory structures and their linkages—their inner causal principle.

For them, each bodily phenomenon:

  1. has a cause: it comes from something
  2. has an effect: it leads to something
  3. has an inner meaning: it is a change for the better or the worse

Implicit in almost all of Storch’s stories are three orientations:

A. the linkage of each phenomenon to an event that preceded it in time—the external and internal cause

B. the linkage to the present and the future—the effect

C. the inner, unexpressed meaning—what the body wants (p. 111) It was over the meaning of the signs “that the doctor and the women diverged most strongly. . . . For Storch, the body had an ability, even in a malady, to aim at something good . . . . The signs of the body spoke to the women more of an obstinate and stubborn interior threatened by stoppage” (p. 112).


A flux is “the name given for pains a woman felt inside from matter flowing in her body” (Duden, p. 130). In a note, Duden defines flux as “‘every ailment whose causes the people cannot fathom,’ ‘sudden and swift illnesses in general.’ The term was used until the end of the eighteenth century, by humoral pathologists as well as in popular medicine” (p. 226, n. 34). But flux could also refer to something flowing from women’s bodies. Certainly, “the flux is a strange thing” (p. 130).

There were inner and outer fluxes. An inner flux was a problem when it did not flow, when it stagnated or accumulated. Treating surface ailments risked driving the flux inside, repressing inner fluxes. An outer flux was a running flow—it ensured cleansing and unburdening. Here, the danger was “obstructed evacuations.” Stagnation of the monthly flow was “the one trouble the women complained about most and which stood in the center of everyone’s attention” (p. 139).

What caused anxiety and fear was “the perception of the inner space as a sphere of induration and stoppage,” when flux “seeped into the depths of the body and collected there” (p. 132). This was seen as a gathering of evil. “Healing lay in supporting the external flows of impure, dirty, pustular matter until the body had been sufficiently cleansed” (p. 133).

Inner flux is the name that these women used for their internal landscape, their viscera. They equated a bad feeling with evil: it made them anxious and fearful.

“‘Flux’ signified a contradictory echo between inside and outside” (Duden, p. 130). An imbalance between outside and inside led to stagnation, decay, and death. The motus tonicus (internal motive power) grew weak; the will to live weakened.

Death was heralded by

  • something rotten (black, yellow–white, putrid)—images of stagnation and corruptio
  • something ulcerated, cancer-like, gelatinous—images of hardening, petrification, accumulations, stagnation, hardening

Pain wandered about the internal landscape. There was a “chaotic multitude of painful sensations” (p. 153). “The pains were the active agent, the story revolved around them and they drove the story forward” (p. 154). “The experience of the sufferer shaped the temporally disparate and physically scattered sensations into a personal story of suffering” (p. 157). Sufferings “remained stuck to the body. Even after they had disappeared they were still present” (p. 150).

Men and Women

Duden reconstructs Dr. Storch’s views on the “physiological difference between women and men” (p. 112). She notes that “many of the manifestations that we clearly perceive as sex characteristics, were in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries not unequivocal signs for the difference between man and woman” (p. 113).

Note that the women of Eisenach had no need for terms referring to what we now call sexuality and reproduction. Nor did they need a term that could subsume insemination, pregnancy, and birth. They spoke in terms of fruitfulness (in Latin, generatio).

‘Reproduction’ emerged around 1800 as a direct analogy with the production of commodities. The Cartesian dualism between body and mind complemented—indeed, made possible—this metaphor, for Descartes conceived of the body as a machine; a woman’s body became a machine for producing babies. In traditional perception, women were begetters of life (generatio).

‘Sexuality’ had yet to be invented. According to Duden, “our modern ‘sexuality’ took shape with and after the Marquis de Sade. With de Sade, sexuality became visible, describable, dissectable” (p. 29). Sexuality redefined and reinterpreted lust, just as reproduction transformed generatio. Nor had menopause, as a word and as a concept of physiology, been invented (p. 118).

What we recognize as sexual organs had not been demarcated from the rest of the body. There was, therefore, no hard and fast boundary between being a man and being a woman. Sex characteristics “were . . . not unequivocal signs for the difference between man and woman” (p. 113). Monthly bleeding was not enough to distinguish women from men, because not all women bled, and some men did, via what we recognize as hemorrhoids. “The ‘bleeding piles’ . . . were seen as analogous to women’s ‘monthlies.’ . . . Evidently the discharged matter itself was not gender–specific” (p. 115). The flow of each was equally sensitive to “stoppage,” which produced similar ailments.

Furthermore, men “could resemble women even in a characteristic that would seem to be exclusive to women” (p. 117). Boys and men could have milk in their breasts. “It was only from the end of the seventeenth century that blood and milk were definitively assigned to the functional sphere of physiological motherhood” (p. 117).

During the seventeenth century, Duden argues, menstruation was reinterpreted: it was transformed from a sign that woman was the prototype of the self–healing body, in popular therapy and humoural pathology, into a sign that women had bodies inferior to those of men, bodies that were designed for procreation and domestic activity (p. 224, n. 21). Before this transformation, women “embodied the self– healing power of the discharge from the inside.

Bloodletting . . . was supposed to be aligned, like proper menses, with the lunic phase, and it was interpreted explicitly in analogy to the menses” (p. 118).

Male and female were not fixed, “definitive and unambiguous attributes,” polar opposites—they were relative categories, like right and left. “Gender was constructed only through diverse relationships to each other and to the environment” (p. 119). The accent was on diversity, not normality.

The Skin

The skin is a boundary, but not a seal: a “surface on which the inside revealed itself,” via emissions, through “a collection of real, minute orifices—the pores—and potential larger orifices” (Duden, p. 121). These were the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, breasts, navel, anus, urinary passage, and vulva. However, unlike today, “the body openings [were] not clearly designated for a single substance” (p. 120).

It is because the body is conceived as a porous place of metamorphosis that a variety of superfluous or impure matter could be ejected anywhere the skin opened or could be induced to open. It was “a flowing and indistinctly structured body” (p. 124). But this was no passive oozing: matter pushed to the periphery, it searched for an outlet. “These women experienced themselves as multidimensional vectors, as bundles of constantly shifting but directed forces” (p. 123).

The imagined causal connections within the body are an instance of action at a distance. “Impulses to movement” of the inner flux “could be caused from afar” (Duden, p. 124). Movement responded to stimulations.

There are three interrelated concepts that “coexisted in Storch’s notions of the inner body”:

  1. urge and habit
  2. the interior as an unstructured osmotic place
  3. the auxiliary categories of the mechanistic body model as interpreted by the school of Stahl (p. 127) Duden’s discussion of these three interrelated concepts sheds more light on the nature of the inner forces.

Motus tonicus is a tension force. “The ‘tonus’ of muscles and fibres . . . was set in motion by a ‘motus’” (pp. 127–128). It was this inner force that “moved the body on the inside, kept it together”; “this power moved the blood in the directed of due secretions and excretions” (p. 128). This tension force, this power, this immaterial agent capable of wandering throughout the body and responding to action–at–a– distance, is what they called the soul. It is what we call emotion.

Social conflict and corporeal emotions

Duden asks what, according to Storch, causes women’s diseases? A brief answer would be, mishaps.

“‘Mishaps’ were incidents that affected the body from the outside, that happened to the body and made an impression upon it” (Duden, p. 140). Anything out–of–the–ordinary, an evil coincidence, could be a mishap. “A sudden shower could chill the blood, drive it inside, cause it to stagnate.” The toils of daily work, however, “were very seldom experienced as causes of illness” (p. 140). Other mishaps could be anything entering through the mouth, tripping, lightening, cold air, or damp cloth.

Anger and fright (especially at something sudden or unexpected) were mishaps (p. 147). The body “attracted and absorbed effects from outside.” Thus “the soul, one’s mood, and specific perceptions” could trigger an ailment from the inside (p. 141). In fact, “anger and fright, impressions, delusions, and imagined things were the prime causes of illness” (p. 142). Anger was seen as an inner poison. It was a “heated, internal upwelling that caused a multitude of pains” (p. 143).

Anger could stagnate inside the womb. Fright and anger were mirror images. “Fright penetrated, drove the blood from the limbs to the heart, caused the heart to tighten, to suffocate under the abundance of blood. Anger caused the blood to surge to the periphery, toward the head, into the limbs, into the womb, where it caused cramps by its surging” (p. 149).

Evidently emotion was experienced as physical. There was “a perception of emotions actually inside the body, where they could be and had to be worked on. Emotions affected the body in very immediate and direct ways. . . .

Phenomena we would consider psychic and part of the noncorporeal realm, were treated in Eisenach in the same way as other ailments (p. 144). Duden cites a study, Mind and Body in Eighteenth Century Medicine, “in which anger, fright and distress were considered the prime causes of illness, and a person’s mood was the decisive factor in preserving good health” (n. 47, p. 228).

Social conflicts were internalized, becoming inner conflicts, creating (emotional) substances that had to be drawn off or expelled. The body was not self–contained. The social environment did not stop at the skin. “The concept of a body that could be isolated did not yet exist because an isolated individual did not exist . . . . [People] were bound into social relations down to their inner–most flesh” (p. 145, my emphasis). The moral personality of these women was ingrained in their bodies.

During the fertile years, especially, women lived in a state of ambivalence, perched on the edge between good growth and evil stagnation; they walked a tightrope between hope and fear. The womb was regarded as a collecting basin for blood, and if it did not flow every month, women feared stagnation, decay, and death. The womb, then, was regarded with ambivalence; it could be the site of healthy evacuations, or of potential blockage leading to death. Retention of the menses “could be interpreted as a sign of pregnancy, but could also be a sign of an impending illness” (p. 159). “Hidden in women were death and life” (p. 162). Good and evil coexisted within the body (p. 163).

A woman’s mood was paramount: the foetus could be marked by a woman’s mood swings (p. 167). “Anger of any kind could have a deadly affect on the fruit” (p. 169).

Where does all this take us?

These women had no medical terminology with which to describe their experience of their bodies. They were, however, highly sensitive to how they felt and had the vocabulary to express these feelings.

Dr. Storch never physically examined his female patients because he was not looking for symptoms. Rather he listened to women’s descriptions of their feelings, i.e., the sensations of their corporeal emotions—and it was these feelings that he treated.

Duden contrasts this eighteenth-century experience with current perceptions: “in a medicalized culture such as ours, it is not people who are ill with something, but their bodies and organs that are diseased” (p. 157).

NEXT: Taking Feelings Seriously

On this theme:

Weber, A S. 2003. “Women’s Early Modern Medical Almanacs in Historical Context.” English Literary Renaissance 33(3):358–402.

The Feeling of Perceiving

Barbara Duden

You can usually tell just from the sound of someone’s voice if he or she is worth listening to. Many years ago now, by chance I happened upon the German sociologist Barbara Duden being interviewed on CBC Radio Ideas program about her book The Woman beneath the Skin: A Doctor’s Patients in Eighteenth–century Germany (1997). Hers was the unmistakable voice of an original, creative thinker. I remembered the voice when I came across her book, again by chance, some ten years later. So I read it.

In this, the first of a three part series, I introduce readers to Duden’s ideas about the woman beneath the skin. It has much to teach us about how we experience emotions today.

Duden’s book reconstructs how women in early eighteenth–century Germany experienced their bodies. It returns us to a pre–Cartesian time and illustrates how the experience of feeling emotions is culturally shaped. The women discussed had no conception of a divorce between reason and emotion, head and heart, the mental and the physical, and so they did not experience their lives in these terms. Nor, interestingly, did they have a conception of a sharp demarcation between men and women.

The book’s title, The Woman beneath the Skin, brings to mind Antonio Damasio’s observation that the skin is much more than a sense of touch. It is an organ, the largest viscera of the body. It is where all of our senses are to be found. Skin mediates between inside and outside; it faces both ways; it senses things both internal and external to the organism.

Evolutionarily, before organisms perceived, they were sensitive to sensations: there was a feeling of the body as it touched or saw or heard or moved. As the senses evolved, Damasio argues, attention to their component of perception increased and attention to the feeling of perceiving decreased and became background feeling. But consider: “When you see, you do not just see: you feel you are seeing something with your eyes [rather than your forehead]” (Damasio, 2000, p. 232). The women discussed in this book lived during a time when the feeling of perceiving was rawer and when the vocabulary for describing that feeling was richer.

The women in question were patients of Dr. Johannes Pelargius Storch, a physician in the town of Eisenach, Germany, between 1721 and 1740. Eisenach, at that time, was a thriving market town of around 9,000, the capital of a tiny, absolutist principality (Duden, p. 50). [A map of Eisenach is here.]

Dr. Storch is described by Duden as “a narrow–minded, well–read pedant, who never forgot anything and who lived for his profession and found in it a path of social advancement.” He was a sensible Lutheran, “rooted in the traditional body perception of his female patients, yet at the same time knowledgeable about the medical theories of the time” (p. 50). At university, in Jena, he was introduced to the “mechanical doctrine,” according to which “the body was made up of tubes in which moved fluids composed of minute particles.” He was more familiar “with the idea that the heavenly constellations and diabolical powers could have effects in the body via extremely fine liquids that formed the nervous system” (p. 52). He also learned to dissect.

Remarkably, Storch kept meticulous notes on his communications with his patients. “Each history begins with a brief characterization of the woman, the time of her first consultation, her complaints, her medication, and so on” (p. 66). In his old age, he compiled these notes into a handbook of instruction for younger colleagues, published in eight large volumes entitled Diseases of Women. “Storch did not write as a scholar for other scholars, but as a practical doctor for ‘young, future practitioners’ . . . [He] wanted to publish his record of ‘unembellished notes for the day–to–day usefulness of younger colleagues’” (p. 64).

Each volume of Diseases of Women relates to a “natural state” of the women, and covers the period of 1721 to 1740. Storch presents about 1,800 individual cases, in which a total of some 1,650 different women were treated. The women are nameless. Most “were older women in the ‘middle years,’ between twenty and ‘well into their thirties’” (p. 79).

“Pain is in the body,” Duden argues, but “it leaves no trace for the historian, unless complaints about it are recorded” (p. 62). Storch did precisely that; he was “a witness to an orally transmitted popular concept of the body” (p. 37).

He took patients at their word and wrote down what he heard: their descriptions of their feelings, “the chaotic sensations that were bred in the inner body” (p. 64). Above all, the women described complained about what we would now call their emotional pain—anger, fright, sorrow, excitement, agitation, sadness, and fear—and its physical manifestations. This was a time when good and evil fought for supremacy within the body, a time before emotions—as presently understood—existed.

Many of the consultations took the form of “messages carried by intermediaries. . . . In a great many of the case histories Storch did not see the patient, at least not during the critical stages” (p. 81). “Even when Storch saw the woman with whom he was talking . . . in most instances he did not touch her for the purpose of examination. Here too he acted on the basis of what the patient said and what he could find out in further conversations” (p. 83).

For Storch, the stories of these women’s bodies were more believable than “evidence” uncovered through dissection; according to contemporary anatomy, many of the women’s stories were anatomically and physiologically impossible. “The eyewitness account of a phenomena of the living body was more convincing to Storch than a fact uncovered in a dead body” (p. 70). Duden uses Storch’s notebooks to reconstruct how these women patients experienced the inside of the female body “and how these ideas shaped their actions and gave meaning to their experiences” (p. v). She calls her book a history of corporeality, a sociogenesis of contemporary notions about the body.

It is hard not to wonder how people from a past age could be ignorant of a physical reality that seems to us self–evident. But Duden poses a more interesting question: how can we be so ignorant about the socially constructed nature of our experience of this same physical reality? Our supposedly “natural” perception of the body—the division between physical and mental illnesses—was centuries in the making.

The professionalization of medical terminology, Duden argues, produced two heterogeneous modes of speech and perception, and thereby silenced the patient.

We tend to describe our experience of our bodies in medical terms rather than in terms of our inner feelings. Power over the correct word, Duden argues, became concentrated on the side of medicine. “Today we can only stutter or keep silent in the face of the normative nomenclature of medical language” (p. 88).

But prior to the nineteenth century, this “boundary between diagnostic vocabulary and the feelings of the patient was blurred and permeable, if it existed at all” (p. 62). In Storch’s day, the words of the patients and the terms of the doctors still interacted.

It is now taken for granted that pain is a warning that something is wrong with the body. It is important to note, however, that pain emerged in medicine as the guardian and keeper of life only around the mid–eighteenth century. Until then, body and soul were imagined as inseparable realities, and pain was experienced as the suffering of the soul from the defectiveness of the world. Only later, Duden argues, did “the Cartesian idea of pain as a message from the body to the consciousness become a part of medical thinking: pain turned from a flaw of nature into a protector of life” (p. 88).

The transformation of ideas about pain coincided with the development of the notion of disease. Pain and illness, once considered a burden of life to be endured, became symptoms of an alien presence that could be expunged through medical intervention. In the modern sense, the real object is the body; in the Storchian sense, the real object is the life.

Disease was both a qualitative change in the body and a quantitative deviation from a prescribed physico-chemical norm. Thus there arose a new medical theory and practice focused on normalization. Disease became a mode of analyzing bodies for the purpose of intervention and correction. In the course of this transformation, Duden argues, “being ill” lost its former meaning as a personal event in a life story—something that could be felt—and became a deficiency in relation to a medically described norm—which, for the most part, cannot be experienced by the senses (pp. 30–31).

The examining gaze of the doctor became like a dissection, and the sick patient came to be treated in a way that once had been conceivable only with dead bodies. This medical gaze “penetrated inquisitively into the inside, evaluating the palpated organs and relating them to a visual image of the organs of cadavers.” Fixed in the medical anatomizing gaze, the body was pacified, rendered docile; it became something that we have, rather than something that we are (p. 4).

Duden thus presents us with an account of how the pre–modern body was experienced before mind was separated from body; before the body was separated from its environment; before people became separable from community; and before people became modern “individuals.”

NEXT: How these women experienced their bodies—the imagined inside.


Barbara Duden. The Woman beneath the Skin: A Doctor’s Patients in Eighteenth–century Germany,1997

Antonio Damasio The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Harcourt, 1999.