Barrett vs Tolstoy

Lisa Feldman Barrett begs to differ with the opening premise of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," as she believes that happiness-- like every emotion-- defies categorization and is much more variegated and complex in form (and much simpler than was once thought in content, controlled by two factors: valence and affect) and she points out that "you can smile in happiness, sob in happiness, scream in happiness, raise your arms in happiness, clench your fists in happiness, jump up and down doling high fives in happiness, or even be stunned motionless in happiness . . . your eyes might be wide or narrowed, your breathing rapid or slow . . . you can have the heart-pounding exciting happiness of winning the lottery or the calm relaxed happiness of lying on a picnic blanket with your lover" and this idea connects to Barrett's central thesis, that emotions aren't set pieces waiting to be triggered, they are created on the fly, thus the title of her book: How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain . . . and if don't feel like wading through the text, you can listen to Invisibilia "Emotions Part One."


zman said...

I think Tolstoy's point is that happy families are all alike in that they are boring and thus not useful fodder for writers, while unhappy families' misery makes them interesting, often in different ways and for different reasons.

Dave said...

of course, but i'm all about the drama . . . have you read the short story "the ones that walk away from omelas"?

A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.