Colloquium by Margrit Pernau on “Feeling the Future”; 26 February 2020
26 February 2020, 11am-1pm
Venue: ICAS:MP Office, Delhi
Abstract: Emotions happen in time and influence our perception of time passing. Psychologists have made that their research. They change over time and have a history. This has been the focus of the history of emotions. But what is the relation between emotions and temporalities, the interpretation of the past, the present and the future and their multiple interdependencies? Can we bring the wealth of the theoretical reflections produced by both disciplines into a meaningful dialogue, allowing a new perspective on both emotions and temporalities?
At times, histories of temporalities do mention emotions – pride and shame evoked by the past, hope and anxiety triggered off by the future – but often rather casually. These emotions need to be historicized before they can explain anything: what explains national mobilization or triggers off a revolution is not some generic and universal sense of pride or hope, but emotions that are specific to a certain time and a certain social and cultural group, and it is here that historians of emotions have developed refined theories and methodologies. As a next step, we can ask whether temporalities are not suffused and moved by emotions to a much greater extent than hitherto assumed. I would argue that it is not only the rational coherence of a temporal interpretation, but equally, and perhaps even more, the emotions that it evokes which render it plausible. This takes up considerations on overcoming the dichotomy between rationality and emotions, and investigating the role emotions play in the creation of knowledge.
If historians of emotions can contribute a more refined understanding of emotions, historians of temporalities (from Reinhart Koselleck to François Hartog and Ethan Kleinberg) return the favor by bringing to the conversation a more complex framework for the relations between the past, the present and the future. Instead of imagining a simple arc, from the past to the future, in which the past is gone and the future not there yet, the past, present and future can be conceived in a relational manner. This in turn allows us to see how the past remains present, but also how it changes according to different futures. However, ghosts do not come to us only from the past, but also from the future, intruding and changing the present.
Margrit Pernau is Senior Researcher at the Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. She studied History and Public Law at the University of Saarland and University of Heidelberg where she took her PhD in 1991. From 1997 to 2003, Margrit Pernau conducted research in Delhi on “Plural Identities of Muslims in Old-Delhi in the 19th century” and has been research fellow at the Social Science Research Center in Berlin and at the Modern Orient Centre in Berlin. Beyond the history of emotions, her areas of interest include modern Indian history, the history of modern Islam, historical semantics, comparative studies, and translation studies.