The affective depth of bereavement: some preliminary remarks

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  • Allan Køster
In his mourning diaries, Roland Barthes circles around a distinction between the ‘emotivity’ of grief and what he terms ‘suffering’ in grief. The emotivity of grief, we are told, passes with time. Suffering, however, does not. While emotivity manifests in waves, like brushes of emotional states with relatively clear boundaries, suffering remains a constant affective reality. What Barthes ventures into, is the complexity of the poorly understood affective dimension of grief. Grief is usually referred to as a cluster of mixed emotions, including anger, longing, despair etc., and only rarely is it understood in simple terms as a specific emotion with clear-cut boundaries etc. Unfortunately, there are therefore close to no resources in contemporary literature that can help us theorise what Barthes refers to as ‘suffering’ in grief, when this designates the affective constant throughout waves of emotivity. In this paper, I shall pursue the idea that there is an affective dimension of grief that precedes particular emotional manifestations. Specifically, I will draw on recent phenomenological theories of affectivity which all emphasise a basic level of affectivity responsible for how the world manifest as such to the individual (e.g. Heidegger; Ratcliffe; Colombetti; Waldenfels) in combination with first-person accounts of grieving to show that we need to recognise that bereavement may incur a profound existential modification of the very affective tonality of the bereaved. This, I submit, may help us captures elements of what Barthes refers to as suffering in grief.
Original languageEnglish
Publication yearJul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017
EventInternational conference on grief and bereavement in contemporary society - Lisabon, Portugal
Duration: 12 Jul 201715 Jul 2017


ConferenceInternational conference on grief and bereavement in contemporary society

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