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Catalogue d'objets introuvables - Tomes 1 et 2 by Jacques Carelman

By Jacques Carelman

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The conservative attacks by Canning and Gillray imply that the values of sentimentalism allowed one to shed tears over the trivial whilst neglecting the larger, social tragedy brought about by the ideology of sensibility. Interestingly however, while the lack of sympathy was perceived as morally problematic, the excess of disinterested feeling was also seen as threatening to the integrity of self and society. Throughout the eighteenth century, a number of literary writers (including Sarah Fielding, Henry Mackenzie, Oliver Goldsmith and Mary Wollstonecraft) voiced concerns about the consequences of other-regarding feelings operating impulsively and irrespective of who their object really is.

At the beginning of the twentieth century psychoanalysis developed a language and a methodology specifically aimed at understanding emotions and their ambivalence. This understanding can, to some extent, shed some light on the problematic structure of feelings throughout their long history. 45 My aim is to argue the relevance – whilst bearing in mind the historic specificity – of chronologically distant discourses, which are distinct, yet interconnected, segments of a long history of emotional 20 Introduction response.

His charity is not a voluntary act but the work of an irresistible force: the mechanical operation of sympathy. Earlier in the century Bernard Mandeville already drew attention to the problem that sympathy sometimes operates even when it should not. In The Fable of the Bees he gives a rather sharp critique of the rhetoric beggars use in order to persuade us to give alms even when we would not otherwise want to do so. The beggar, Mandeville writes, invites you to view ‘the worst side of his Ailments and bodily infirmities’, he gives you ‘an Epitome of his Calamities real or fictitious’, appeals to God and religion, and flatters your pride.

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