Katrin Pahl


On her book Tropes of Transport: Hegel and Emotion

Cover Interview of March 05, 2012

The wide angle

I am trained in philosophy and literary analysis.  My particular take on the intersection of philosophy and literature consists in using the tools of a literary scholar to analyze a philosophical text.

I grew up with emotionality.  Like everyone, in some sense.  But my point here is that I have tended to try to figure out ways to grow up with and alongside emotionality, rather than growing up by dismissing emotionality as immature, irrational, or childish.

In my studies in philosophy, I was drawn to epistemology but I couldn’t find much explicit and sustained engagement by canonical philosophers with the role affect and emotion play—not only as a disturbance of rationality but as a partner, as it were, in philosophical attempts to envision and understand worlds.

Tropes of Transport furnishes some of this kind of engagement. I was looking for affect and emotion not as the object of philosophical knowledge but as philosophically acknowledged forces that propel and inhibit thought.  This is why Tropes of Transport explores less what Hegel says about emotion than how emotion organizes and disorganizes his text.

I am not particularly fond of the crisis model and of vehement relations to emotionality. The crisis model creates pressure in order to enable release and transformation. This psychic hydraulics operates by repression and produces violent outbursts. I will grapple again with violent emotion in my next book on Kleist, but Tropes of Transport ends with an argument against emotional violence. I am concerned with developing a steady relation to the unsteadiness that is emotionality.

All this is to say that my work is driven by a pressing feeling that we need better and more ways to relate to emotional life. I am convinced that this relation needs to be more nuanced than unconditional celebration or unqualified elimination. I also hope that a more nuanced or plastic relation to emotional life will stretch our modes of thought, our rationality, and our logic, so that they can accommodate and accept more confusion, incongruence, and messiness.