… To make all this a bit more concrete, rather than merely programmatic and hortatory, let me take, in way of brief example, some recent discussions in anthropology, in psychology, and in neurology of that very elusive and miscellaneous particularity of our immediate life, the one Hume thought reason was and ought to be everywhere the slave of, namely, “passion” — “emotion,” “feeling,” “affect,” “attitude,” “mood,” “desire,” “temper,” “sentiment.”
… Words, images, gestures, body-marks, and terminologies, stories, rites, customs, harangues, melodies, and conversations, are not mere vehicles of feelings lodged elsewhere, so many reflections, symptoms, and transpirations. They are the locus and machinery of the thing itself.
“[If] we hope,” Rosaldo writes, with the groping awkwardness this sort of view tends to produce, given the ingrained Cartesianism of our psychological language, “to learn how songs, or slights, or killings, can stir human hearts we must inform interpretation with a grasp of the relationship between expressive forms and feelings, which themselves are culture-bound and which derive their significance from their place within the life experiences of particular people in particular societies.” However resemblant their general aspect, and however useful it may be to compare them, the menis-wrath of Achilles and the liget-rage of Rosaldo’s Philippine headhunters draw their specific substance, she says, from “distinctive contexts and . . . distinctive form[s] of life.” They are local “model[s] of apprehension mediated by [local] cultural forms and social logics.”
From this general sort of platform, inquiry can move in a number of directions, most of which have been at least tentatively explored. There are “vocabulary of emotion” studies, designed to ferret out the sense of culturally specific terms for feelings, attitudes, and casts of mind, as Rosaldo does for the Ilonget liget. (In fact this word is inadequately translated as “rage,” It is closer to “energy” or “life-force,” but even they won’t do. One needs, as one does for menis in The Iliad, extended glosses, sample uses, contextual discriminations, behavioral implications, alternate terms.) A whole host of anthropologists, myself included have performed similar services for words ethnocentrically, tendentiously, or merely lazily, translated from one language or another into English as those affective clichés “guilt” and “shame.” The culturological linguist, Anna Wierzbicka, noting that Japanese words “such as enryo (roughly ‘interpersonal restraint’), on (roughly, ‘debt of gratitude’), and omoiyari (roughly, ‘benefactive empathy’) . . . can lead us to the center of a whole complex of cultural values and attitudes . . . revealing a whole network of culture-specific . . . scripts,” not only demonstrates the fact for Japanese, but for Russian (toska, “melancholy-cum-yearning”), for German (Heimatliebe, “love of native place”), and for what she calls “the great Australian adjective, ” bloody . Others have carried out comparable unpackings of Samoan alofa (“love or empathy . . . directed upward from status inferiors to status superiors”), Arabic niya (“intent” . . . “desire” . . . “guileless” . . . “undiluted” . . . “sincere”) and Javanese rasa (“perception-felling-taste-import-meaning”).
[ … ]
… Anyone interested in individual development, from Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky to Jerome Bruner to Rom Harré, is likely to have similar concerns about any conception of the passions that does not inquire into the ontogenetic history. The issue is not that cultural analysis of emotions fail to account, as Chodorow seems to imply (“a separate register” . . . “this in-between” . . . “sui generis”), for how it really, really feels for someone actually, inside, in their heart of hearts, to have this one or that one. Put that way, the question is unanswerable; like pain (or “pain”), it feels as it feels. The issue is how menis, liget, wrath, or rage, toska, or heimatliebe, on, enryo, or omoiyari (or, for that matter, bloody), they come to have the force, the immediacy, and the consequence they have.
Again, recent research, mostly be developmental and comparative psychologists … but on occasion by psychologically oriented linguists and anthropologists … [leaving out long lists of names] as well, has pushed forward with this matter with some rapidity. Most notably, a seriously revised conception of the infant mind has emerged — not blooming, buzzing confusion, not ravenous fantasy whirling helplessly about in blind desire, not ingenerative algorithms churning out syntactic categories and ready-to-wear concepts, but meaning making, meaning seeking, meaning preserving, meaning using; in a word, Nelson Goodman’s word, world-constructing. Studies of the ability and inclination of children to build models of society, of others, of nature, of self, of thought as such (and, of course, of feelings), and to use them to come to terms with what is going on round and about have proliferated and taken a practical edge. Studies of autism as a failure (for whatever reason) on the part of a child to develop a workable theory of “other minds,” of reality-imagining and reality-instructing through narrative and storytelling, of self-construction and agency-attribution as a social enterprise, and of subjectivity as intersubjectivity, thus contextuality, thus culturally, achieved are giving us a picture of how our minds come to be in which “doing things with emotion words” and “personal meaning creation” do not much look like “separate registers.” “The development of the child’s thinking,” Vygotsky, the godfather of this sort of work, wrote seventy years ago, “depends on his mastery of the social means of thinking . . . The use of signs leads humans to a specific structure of behavior that breaks away from biological development and creates new forms of a culturally based psychological process.”