The University Record, October 30, 1995

Emotion in public figures topic of two-day conference

By Betsy Nisbet
Institute for the Humanities

 When Sen. Edmund Muskie wept during the 1972 New Hampshire primary, his presidential ambitions were shattered. By contrast, many public figures today deliberately trade on the display of emotion to move the public to a particular point of view.

The shift in how public figures play out emotion---in politics, art and daily work life---is the topic of "Emotion in the Public Sphere," a free two-day conference at the Alumni Center sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities.

The conference begins at 8 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 2) with a concert by pianist/composer David Burge. Discussion sessions, featuring Burge, Peter Stearns, Ann Cvetkovich and Michael Krausz, will begin at 9:15 a.m. Friday (Nov. 3) in the Alumni Center.

Burge, a close friend and collaborator with dozens of composers, is a noted proponent of 20th-century piano music and is the author of more than 250 articles on a variety of musical subjects.

His recital program includes his work, "Go-Hyang (Ancestral Home)," the "First Piano Sonata" by Charles Ives and "Makrokosmos," Vol. 1, by George Crumb.

Burge has been heard in concert worldwide for the past 40 years and is the author of Twentieth-Century Piano Music, the first book to be devoted to that subject.

Recent writings include an article on musical complexity for Perspectives of New Music and an extended reminiscence of Vladimir Horowitz, included in Remembering Horowitz.

He was professor of piano at the Eastman School of Music in 1975-93 and has been a guest professor in Korea, Sweden, New Zealand, Thailand, Canada and elsewhere.

In his talk on "The Condition of Music," Burge will talk about the emotion embodied in a composer's works, referring to the works performed the evening before. He will examine how the listener and the composer each bring a set of experiences to music which shape the meaning for each of them. Burge will speak at 10:30 a.m.

Stearns, professor of history at Carnegie Mellon, discusses "Emotional Change and Political Disengagement in the 20th-Century United States" at 9:15 a.m.

He says that Americans expect their political leaders to project a restrained emotional image, and the public expresses its own cool view toward the political process with a declining tendency to vote.

Issues that evoke strong emotions---led by feminist, gay and environmental groups, for example---stand in sharp contrast to the cool emotional style of their often far larger opposition.

Stearns adds that it is still too early to tell whether the "fire-eating radio talk shows" and strong conservative appeals are signals of a new emotional culture.

Cvetkovich, professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin, will look at the way in which intersections of gender, sexuality and emotion have helped redefine emotion in the private and public spheres in her presentation on "Lesbian Passions and Public Emotions" at 1:30 p.m.

Recent lesbian culture, she suggests, "exposes the limits of the strategy of arguing that emotions are culturally and socially significant because they play a role in the public sphere."

In "Changing One's Mind, Changing One's Emotions," Krausz, professor of philosophy at Bryn Mawr, will explore the relations between reasons and emotions, particularly as they arise in cultural practices. Trained as a positivist by Karl Popper, Krausz radically changed the direction of his philosophical practice because of experiences he had as a painter. He will speak at 2:45 p.m.

For more information on the conference, contact the Institute, 936-3518.