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December 9, 2013 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Solmsen Fellow (2013-2014)
English, Stony Brook University
The word resentment and its cognates made their first appearance in the English language around 1600; but at that moment the word meant something strikingly different from what we usually mean by it. Far from naming a secretive and envious anger, it was associated with forms of immediate and incandescent rage; in other cases it named experiences that seem to have nothing to do with anger at all: sympathy, sensation, passion, touch, conaesthesis. How did the word lose this breadth, this—to us—messy combination of meanings? I will try to fill in that story, showing how a word for sensory response could double as a word for anger, what it meant for those meanings to part ways, and why that parting is a significant event for a social history of emotion from 1600 to 1800. In the process I will argue that resentment constitutes a significant element of a new language of the emotions that was taking shape in the seventeenth century; I will suggest some of the ways in which the lingering shadow of Nietzsche prevents us from taking a clearer view of the history of resentment as well as of the problem of the anger of weaker social agents; and I will sketch the broader trajectory of Inventing Emotion, the book-project from which this talk derives.
Solmsen Fellow Benedict S. Robinson is an Associate Professor of English at Stony Book University. His publications include Islam and Early Modern English Literature: The Politics of Romance from Spenser to Milton, as well as articles in Shakespeare Quarterly, SEL, Early Modern Cultural Studies, Spenser Studies, and elsewhere. Inventing Emotion has been supported by fellowships from the IRH, the Folger, the Huntington, and the Newberry. A version of the third chapter is forthcoming from ELH under the title, “Disgust c. 1600.”