T H I N K I N G F E E L I N G , F E E L I N G T H I N K I N G
It’s rare nowadays to hear words which, belonging to no
one in particular, can be the property of anyone, words that
are solid and inexhaustible like ‘‘grief’’ or ‘‘hatred.’’
—J.-B. Pontalis, Love of Beginnings
Critical reflection on emotion is not a self-indulgent
substitute for political analysis and political action. It is itself a
kind of political theory and political practice, indispensable for
an adequate social theory and social transformation.
—Alison Jaggar, ‘‘Love and Knowledge’’
Stories are much bigger than ideologies. In that is our hope.
—Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto
The Year of Magical Thinking. I picked up Joan Didion’s book by chance one
night (I couldn’t sleep, no surprise there) and didn’t put it down until I was
finished. The next day I realized it o√ered me a perfect prism with which
to open this book. For Didion’s narrative uncannily echoes many of my
own concerns in the pages to follow, not least of which is the signal
importance of understanding our emotional experience through litera-
ture. For those who haven’t read the book, Didion writes about her devas-
tating grief in the wake of the altogether unexpected death of her husband
of forty years. At first she turns to reading—a form of research for her, as it
is for me—to help her understand what she was feeling and why. There is
Freud’s seminal essay ‘‘Mourning and Melancholia,’’ poetry and fiction
and journals, self-help books and professional literature. But precious
little makes a di√erence to her. The professional literature in particular
seems peculiarly inapt—unfeeling. It is poetry with its distinctive vocabu-
lary and rhythm that provides something illuminating to grasp and hold
close. Surprisingly perhaps, the advice she finds in the redoubtable Emily
Post’s book of etiquette, published in 1922, also provides comfort through
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