The construction of personal life within modern culture has been accompanied by a conception of emotion as central to what it means to have a private life. The keywords of this special issue might thus strike some as an unusual, even oxymoronic, coupling. In joining "public" to "sentiments," however, we aim to challenge the idea that feelings, emotions, or affects properly and only belong to the domain of private life and to the intimacies of family, love, and friendship. The essays gathered here rather call attention to the range of ways in which feelings are central to public life, from the deployment of affect to produce national patriotism, to the rallying of audiences on behalf of social forms of oppression and violence, to passionate calls for activism.
Culture, especially mass culture, is an arena in which feeling has been especially visible, a cornerstone of mechanisms for entertaining, shocking, and moving audiences. Television talk shows are the quintessential example here, in their merging of the therapeutic and the titillating. But the discourse of feeling is scarcely confined to entertainment media. The charge to get in touch with your feelings has sometimes seemed to get in the way of or at least displace politics and social analysis. When then-President Clinton went before the nation in the summer of 1998 to acknowledge that he had indeed had "inappropriate" relations with Monica Lewinsky, his acknowledgment and apology were scrutinized for the feelings that were, or were not, on display: Was his apology sufficiently contrite? Were we witnessing shame or defiance? More recently, we have seen another President - George W. Bush - draw on many Americans' feelings of loss, fear, and anger in the wake of September 11, 2001, to rally a nation behind his war on terrorism. This President is famous for his mangling of the English language, but he may be speaking more truly than he knows when he refers to a "war on terror," rather than a "war on terrorism." What does it mean that the President of the United States has effectively declared war on a feeling, terror? In thus misspeaking, the President revealed something of the dense and very public circuits of national affect.
At the same time, some of the cultural forms discussed in this issue, especially performance, suggest ways that affects can be mobilized and circulated to create new and counter-cultural forms. Public feelings, then, are neither inherently subversive nor inherently conservative. Rather, what Diana Fuss has said of essentialism could be said also of public sentiments; to assess their politics or meaning, we must ask into the instant and consider "who is utilizing it, how it is deployed, and where its effects are concentrated" (20).
Even to speak of "private" and "public" as we have thus far been doing risks reasserting them as opposites. We hope to move beyond the "separate spheres" model that has presumed feelings are private. That model has proven surprisingly persistent even in feminist transvaluations of the private/public binarism - especially those that have called for and celebrated the public expression of feeling. The essays in this volume, then, do more than charge us to consider context; they also challenge us to take into account affective intensities. Or, as Kathleen Stewart puts it, "The feminist slogan, the personal is political, [takes on] a new charge of intensity and swirl[s] in spinning, floating contexts far beyond any simple ideological clarity or political program" (unpublished manuscript). Indeed, in calling for "no more separate spheres!," Cathy Davidson invokes Eve Sedgwick's model of "reparative reading" in which Sedgwick proposes the nuances and diversity of affective response as an antidote to the paranoid policing of culture for instances of containment and subversion.
Nonetheless, the possibilities and risks of public sentiments may be - may feel? - especially heightened for women, due to a long association between emotions and "the feminine." Indeed, the word "sentiments" in our title bears the trace of that most disparaged of affective cultural forms, the "sentimental," a term which continues to imply that particular feelings are excessive, insincere, and best relegated to the private. In other words: "feminine." We need to acknowledge the powerful and ongoing cultural significance of such associations (as well as the important work feminists have done in exposing and criticizing them). However, as feminist scholarship has also shown, sentimentality has been used to draw attention to important social issues, most notably, in an early example of human rights advocacy, slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The exemplary case is Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, which, however debated this novel and its tactics have been, nonetheless shows the power of sentiment.
Moreover, in slave narratives, the autobiographical "true life" genre with which Stowe's fictions are most often contrasted (and not in her favor), sentiment and sentimentality play a formative role in enlisting the horrified sympathy of presumptively white readers. In more contemporary times, authors of neo-slave narratives, such as Toni Morrison in Beloved and Gayl Jones in Corregidora have found ways to circumvent sentimental responses but have done so in order to create other equally powerful emotional responses. Indeed, in "The Site of Memory," Morrison suggests that the slave narrative was not emotional enough, and, borrowing language from Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl, sets out to "rip that veil" from "proceedings too terrible to relate" in order to venture into emotional terrain that might have been too disturbing for nineteenth-century readers, whom the abolitionist publishers of slave narrative sought to protect from defensiveness or guilt.
In slave narratives, but not only there, the work of testimony is doubly wounded. That is, in speaking from and giving evidence of the trauma of slavery, the testifying subject seeks also to pierce readers' moral complacency or ignorance about slavery and so move them to action. Throughout this special issue, the contributors variously address the complex and context-specific interplay between speaker and listener, and the mechanisms by which a listener becomes a witness, that is, someone who actively responds to testimony, if only by sharing the burden of its history. (See Felman and Laub on testimony and witnessing.) One of the things that emerges from such considerations is the value of thinking "performance" and "trauma" together.
The two guest editors of this special issue may be especially well placed to think through this performance/trauma nexus. Ann Cvetkovich has long been interested in questions of public feeling and trauma in particular. In her most recent publication, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures, she seeks to expand what counts as national or public trauma. To do so, she turns to neglected archives of feeling, including ephemeral performance works, to show how minoritized sexual subjects experience and negotiate everyday encounters with homophobia, racism, and sexism. If investigations of trauma have led Ann Cvetkovich towards performance, for religion and performance scholar Ann Pellegrini, the movement went in the opposite direction. In Performance Anxieties, Staging Psychoanalysis, Staging Race, she works "in between" selected psychoanalytic texts and specific theatrical performances (Anna Deavere Smith's Fires in the Mirror among them) in order to open up some of psychoanalysis's - and feminism's - most cherished assumptions about sex, race, and the "problem" of difference. This engagement with both psychoanalysis and feminism on the subject of sex has lately led Pellegrini towards the subject of sexual injury and the urgent question of traumatic witness. For both Anns - Cvetkovich and Pellegrini - exploring the messy intersection of performance and trauma has also meant challenging too-neat distinctions between public and private, politics and pleasure.