In the words of Archdeacon R.H.Charles in 1931, science may have ‘exposed many superstitions of the dark ages and laid bare the falsity of the religious and secular magic of the past and present, yet in their stead it has introduced legions of new alarms that beset our lives from the cradle to the grave.
– Fear: A Cultural History by Professor Joanna Bourke [pg 5]
In 1862 Duchenne de Boulogne, a pioneering French neurophysiologist, published a book, The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression. A remarkable study, where he took the face of an old man, anaesthetised, and through electrocution sought to reproduce various emotions. With various muscles contracted, the emotional portrait of fear that he produced and photographed is as striking as it was thought provoking. According to Duchenne the face reflected directly the emotions (thus a wicked face is indicative of a wicked character). At the same time Darwin was putting forth his arguments for evolution and the ‘principles of expression’, and argued that the face of fear had physical attributes beneficial to survival (the eyes open widely with eyebrows raised, enabling the subject to view all around quickly). Professor Joanna Bourke, in her latest book, Fear: A Cultural History, uses this debate as her introduction to a vast subject, pointing out that while the experts could agree on what the face of fear looks like, they didn’t give us any greater understanding of what fear actually is, and what results from it.
One could imagine that the idea for this fascinating study came somehow through an observation of our post 9/11 world, but the inspiration was more historical. “It was supposed to be a history of emotions more generally: fear, anger, hatred, jealously, love, and so on”, explains Bourke, who is a lecturer in History at Birkbeck College, London. “The reason for my interest in the history of emotions grew out of an uneasiness with some of… FULL
Pain is titillating. In the so-called war on terror, it is easy to assume glibly that sexualised violence is so mainstream that it can no longer shock. But Steven Meisel’s fashion photographs, published in the current issue of Italian Vogue, take the pornography of terror to another extreme.
Bloodlust, says historian Joanna Bourke, is a civilized affair.