More or less profound feelings

or: who am I to talk about Anxiety …?

further notes on anxiety and fear

Notes based on Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings

From chapter 5. Anxiety

Anxiety has gradually replaced melancholia as the intellectual’s signature sensibility, indeed becoming the distinctive “feeling-tone” of intellectual inquiry itself. 

Moreover, anxiety has a history of being gendered, not least through the influence of psychoanalysis, where the centrality of the castration complex ensures that ‘only male subjects are capable of experiencing genuine anxiety or dread, whereas female subjects are allotted the less traumatic and therefore less profound (certainly more ignoble) affects of nostalgia and envy.


Sianne Ngai is Professor of English at Stanford University.

The feelings I examine here are explicitly amoral and noncathartic, offering no satisfactions of virtue, however oblique, nor any therapeutic or purifying release. In fact, most of these feelings tend to interfere with the outpouring of other emotions. Moods like irritation and anxiety, for instance, are defined by a flatness or ongoingness entirely opposed to the “suddenness” on which Aristotle’s aesthetics of fear depends. And unlike rage, which cannot be sustained indefinitely, less dramatic feelings like envy and paranoia have a remarkable capacity for duration. If Ugly Feelings is a bestiary of affects, in other words, it is one filled with rats and possums, rather than lions, its categories of feeling generally being, well, weaker and nastier.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Rio says:

    Well we do tend to approve of the “therapeutic and cleansing release”, over the slow burn, though there are some who living with anxiety and depression feel this is where they find their engine of creativity… Our religious and non religious belief systems, at least for several thousands of years were always moralizing about the merits of one type of suffering/exaltation or other.

    To be clear a mind can be aware of the density of emotions, the duration, qualities and even warnings they may imply and not confuse being, with transitory conditions. The love of story or the need to diagnose are in themselves sorts of clouds and are only marginally useful dissipating conditions that have become a trap for the body/mind.

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