How Language Influences Emotion.

Gracie Lofthouse interviews cultural historian Tiffany Watt Smith in the Atlantic about her new book, The Book of Human Emotions; it’s pretty hand-wavey stuff, but worth reading if only for the concept of “homefulness” and the fact that “The last person who was diagnosed with nostalgia as a cause of death died in 1918.” Thanks, Trevor!


  1. Narrow Margin says

    Am I correct in concluding that you can feel nostalgic only for what you’ve personally experienced? Of course, it isn’t restricted to an “event”. It could be a time period, or simply a place. But at least something with which you’re personally familiar.

    I was wondering about this when one person or another expressed to me “nostalgia” for a time before they were born, or a place they got dreamy-eyed about but were never at.

    (Sorry to go off topic but I just logged on and saw the new posting, and got nostalgic about asking an off-topic question.)

  2. I’m not sure that should be, Margin. Nostalgia is not a clear-eyed wish for an alternate circumstance which happens to lie in one’s past; nostalgia is a longing for a past personal golden age. That golden age is always idealized. Why not mythic? A pearl with a grit at the center and a pearl without, should it concern us?

  3. I think I agree with tangent, but nostalgia is a tricky concept and it may be that everyone has their own personal sense of it.

  4. I miss the days when everyone agreed on what “nostalgia” meant.

  5. Better the pain of home than the Great Pain of Space. Le silence eternel des ces espaces infinis me torture.

  6. “éternel de”, not “eternel des”.

  7. Of course. Anti-ticipation. Unfortunately I didn’t have my nifty Moby Latin keyboard then.

  8. I still feel bad for the oysters.

  9. marie-lucie says

    JC: Pascal wrote Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.

    “the eternal silence of those infinite spaces frightens me”

    Fear, not pain.

  10. I miss the days when everyone agreed on what “nostalgia” meant.

    Those days were long gone even 50 years ago: Nostalgia Isn’t What it Used to be

  11. m-l: Yes, I changed the verb on purpose. The conceit of the story I referred to is that human beings can’t travel while awake and alert beyond the Moon because they suffer something called the Great Pain of Space, which is invariably fatal. Only passengers in frozen sleep and crews who have been surgically altered to be unable to perceive pain can make the trip. But this is about to change, and some people don’t like it….

    “Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood level away from anger. He stamped across the room by judgement, not by sight. . . . Scanner to the core, he had to scan himself. The inventory included his legs, abdomen, chestbox of instruments, hands, arms, face and back . . . Only then did Martel go back to being angry.”

  12. And even past the great pain, there are the dragons.

  13. marie-lucie says

    JC, I guess you are quoting some work of science fiction. I don’t read much fiction these days, let alone science fiction, so I am unable to truly appreciate your quotation.

  14. @Narrow Margin personally experienced

    Those who remember Woodstock (or The Isle of Wight festival, or the 60’s in general) can’t have been there.

  15. marie-lucie says

    AntC, Those who remember … can’t have been there.

    Perhaps you are too young to remember those times yourself? I was not at Woodstock or even at less significant events but I definitely had an earthly existence then as now.

  16. m-l, AntC is referring to the adage that in the 60s (and especially during said festivals) everybody who truly experienced them was so high that they can’t remember anything. You have been caught giving an earnest response to a joke. 😉

  17. marie-lucie says

    Thanks Hans. I am afraid I often misunderstand jokes!

  18. This morning, my wife told me that one of our cats was psychic. I don’t know how I would have responded if I hadn’t been thinking about Cordwainer Smith yesterday, but as it was, I shot back that if the cat was really telepathic, then she ought to be “out there in space, playing the Game of Rat and Dragon.”

  19. Brett: That’s your companion.

    (What is this, LinebargerInJokesHat? —ed.)

    Marie-Lucie: If you ever do make exceptions, Cordwainer Smith’s fiction is truly remarkable. We’ve talked about it and its author, whose real name was Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, on several occasions.

  20. The Ballad of Lost C’Brett. (And yes, I second JC’s recommendation.)

  21. What is this, LinebargerInJokesHat?

    We’re taking over, using Psychological Warfare.

  22. “I weep for you,” the Brettus said:
    “I deeply sympathize.”
    With sobs and tears he sorted out
    Those of the largest size,
    Holding his pocket-handkerchief
    Before his streaming eyes.

  23. @ Marie-Lucie: Thirded. I have read a fair amount of science-fiction, and Cordwainer Smith is definitely one of the best masters of the genre, light-years ahead of better-known science-fiction writers such as Asimov or Clark. To my mind only the Strugatsky Brothers and Stanislaw Lem are better, and admittedly this may be because Cordwainer Smith died young: had he lived longer and thus had had the chance to produce more stories he might well have become the best writer of the genre.

    Incidentally, if anyone reading this is looking for a topic for a book or thesis to write in Science-fiction studies: I admire all three writers above, but have often noticed that the Strugatsky brothers and Cordwainer Smith share a certain similarity in terms of themes and narrative genres which is not shared with Lem. Now, PRIMA FACIE I would have expected that the Strugatsky brothers and Lem would be closer to one another stylistically and thematically than either would be to Cordwainer Smith (after all, the latter didn’t have to write under the constraint of the censorship existing in a communist regime). I recently learned that, of the two brothers, Arkady was a Japanese translator. Now, since Cordwainer Smith was an East Asian expert, I wonder whether this similarity I’ve perceived (assuming it is real) might be due to a common influence of East Asian literature upon their writing.

  24. marie-lucie says

    JC, LH, Etienne: With those recommendations, I will have to read Cordwainer Smith! That kind of name is quite memorable, not easily confused with others. I am making a note of it for future use.

  25. His complete works are available in two volumes: The Rediscovery of Man (the short stories) and Norstrilia (the novel). He also published several non-science-fiction novels which I have not read.

  26. Some of his short fiction can be found online. As good starting points, I recommend Golden the Ship Was—Oh, Oh, Oh and Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons.

  27. It occurred to me rereading this post that nostalgia might have had its original sense of ‘homesickness’ rather than ‘longing for the past’ in the 1918 mortality case. One of the OED’s most recent quotations for this sense is from Somerset Maugham in 1937: “Some of the convicts […] had such a nostalgia for France that they went mad with melancholy.” The first definition in the TLFI corresponds exactly: “État de tristesse causé par l’éloignement du pays natal.”

    To be sure, homesickness is a species of longing for the past, but it is much more focused.

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