The Scholar and Feminist Online
Published by The Barnard Center for Research on Women

Issue 2.1 - Public Sentiments - Summer 2003

About This Issue

"Public Sentiments"

September 11th confronted Americans with a new set of emotions in responding to an unexpected and tremendously violent event. These emotions were both deeply personal and also part of our public culture. What are the implications of public sentiments? How did the various emotions evoked by September 11th - grief, anger, sadness, vulnerability - so quickly get turned to the nationalistic feelings of war? What can we learn from the study of public feelings in other times and places? How does art address public feelings? Does it serve as a useful basis for action? And what of activism and social movement? How have movements responded to September 11th?

These are some of the questions addressed in "Public Sentiments", a special double issue of S&F Online. The essays gathered here call attention to the range of ways in which feelings are central to public life, from the rallying of affect to produce national patriotism to passionate calls for activism.

Part One of this summer issue, "Archives of Trauma," emerges from the morning plenary session on the topic of "Memory, Trauma, History, Action" at the February 2002 Scholar and the Feminist conference held at Barnard College. The panelists, Marianne Hirsch, Saidiya Hartman, Nieves Ayress, and Ann Cvetkovich (all of whom, with the exception of Hartman, are included here), touched on a wide range of geopolitical sites of loss, violence, and trauma, including the events of September 11, 2001, the Holocaust, slavery and the African diaspora, political torture and repression in Chile, and AIDS. Contributors consider how trauma demands new kinds of archives that not only preserve or make space for memory and testimony but also intervene in more public conversations. In keeping with the multimedia format of the webjournal, our contributors address - and use - a range of genres, some of them ways of preserving and even reviving testimony, such as performance, video, and installation; others, such as photography, serving as sites (and sights) for "capturing" emotion.

Part Two, "Performance Works," turns more explicitly to the matter of performance, asking how performances, both on-stage and off, might help to generate different kinds of publics. As our guest editors note, theatre can provide a relatively safe, because bounded, space in which to explore and play out cultural responses to trauma. In Part Two, contributors explore the terms by which performers, teachers, and activists solicit feelings on the part of their various audiences in attempts to "move" them. "How do we bring together people who know about organizing and activism with those of us who know how to bring you to your feet?" asks celebrated playwright Anna Deavere Smith (author of Fires in the Mirror and Twilight, Los Angeles) in conversation with Ann Pellegrini. Through performance, photos, essays, and dialogue, our contributors consider how emotions, so vital to the formation of our communities, help define and determine the course of social justice movements. Together, they explore how art, performance, and activism serve as both records of and responses to trauma.

Throughout this issue, contributors consider how and to what ends a given performance of feeling might move a public to action. Note the editors in their joint Introduction, "The essays gathered here are not the last word on any of these issues, but are offered as a spark to what we hope will be a more general project of exploring public sentiments, of bringing affect into discussions of social and cultural phenomena, and, perhaps, just perhaps, of forging alternative possibilities, for emotional as for public life."

As we near the second anniversary of 9/11, we hope this issue of S&F Online will provoke you to explore how public sentiments can be important in processes of building a more just and less violent world.

We welcome your feedback.

Janet Jakobsen and Deborah Siegel
S&F Online


About the Guest Editors

The guest editors of "Public Sentiments" are well placed to think about "performance" and "trauma" together. Ann Cvetkovich has long been interested in questions of public feeling and trauma in particular. In her recent book, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures, Cvetkovich 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.

In Performance Anxieties, Staging Psychoanalysis, Staging Race, Ann Pellegrini 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.


About the Essays

Part 1 - Archives of Trauma

"Aftersight: Photographic Remains"

Unlike some forms of historical trauma, 9/11 has been a massively documented event in all forms of media, although perhaps most notably in the idioms of mass journalism, namely, television and newspaper. The essays in this section by Marianne Hirsch, Peter Lucas, and Mary Marshall Clark explore photography and oral history as documents through which 9/11 is archived, and they are concerned with how alternative representation of 9/11 might intervene in dominant constructions of the event.


In this cluster of essays, Nieves Ayress's remarks are juxtaposed with Anne Cubilié's and Margaret McLagan's discussions of human rights testimony in the international arena.

"Documenting AIDS Activism"

Like Cvetkovich, whose essay on AIDS activist oral history is included in this section, Roger Hallas is interested in developing alternative ways of documenting AIDS; his analysis of AIDS activists' avant-garde media strategies also expands our sense of testimony's visual scene/seen. In their multi-media contribution to this section, longtime AIDS activists and media artists Jane Rosett and Jean Carlomusto present a "living archive."

Part 2 - Performance Works

"Audience Making: Affect & Effect"

The category of performance not only captures activities explicitly marked as theatrical, such as the work of Anna Deavere Smith and Sarah Jones highlighted here, but also refers to such purposive activities as testimony and everyday expressions of affect. In the documentary theatre work of Deavere Smith and Jones, who, albeit in different ways, use testimony and oral history as the basis for performance, the line between performance, in the expanded sense described above, and theatre "properly speaking" blurs, if it does not disappear altogether.

"World Making: Performance and Cultural Formation"

In a provocative meditation on the trauma/drama connection, theatre artist and psychoanalyst Steven Reisner argues here that theatre can be a way to make the process of memory that is so integral to public acknowledgement of trauma more active such that people are not just left with feelings of loss and passivity. Essays by Rachel Lee, Daphne Lei, Judith Halberstam, and Janelle Reinelt help us see theatre, and live performance more generally, as rich and richly embodied occasions for generating and documenting alternative forms of social life and collective belonging. Theatre's talking cure (Reisner), Margaret Cho's transgressive stand-up (Lee), the queer stylings of dyke subculture (Halberstam), feminist theatre and performance (Reinelt), and Cantonese opera in diaspora (Lei): all of these theatrical idioms use the space of culture to present other ideas and feelings.

"Feeling Public"

This final cluster of essays document feelings that are part of everyday life; in so doing, the writing frequently becomes experimental, even "performative." Contributions by Rebecca Schneider, Alyssa Harad, and Kathleen Stewart continue the project of contextualizing September 11, 2001 by juxtaposing it with other scenes of emotion, often ordinary or everyday moments. Sharon Holland's essay articulates the quotidian moments through which racism remains active, part of a long legacy that includes the more overt traumas of slavery, lynching, and violent repression.

Jason Tougaw's and Alyssa Harad's essays on pedagogy refer back to questions of trauma raised in Part One. Rather than seeing trauma as something that effectively brings teaching to a halt, Tougaw and Harad both emphasize the everyday encounter as part of pedagogy, whether they are teaching 9/11 or teaching a particularly challenging film such as Requiem for a Dream.


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