In May 2013 we invited the fabulous Carnival of Lost Emotions to join us at Secret Cinema’s Brazil to bring their unique look at the classification of feelings to our exploration of how different systems can shape who we are. The CLE’s Sarah Chaney tells us about the experience…

image 1 using machine

From the department store on the third floor to the incredible view from the Director’s Party on the thirteenth, every inch of the 14-storey building offered unusual interactions and weird conversations – with actors or fellow new employees.

Brazil‘s bizarre medical and psychological interventions created the perfect setting for the Machine of Lost Emotions. Conceived by the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions, the machine is a suitably weird-looking cabinet, covered with dials and levers. Its previous outings claimed it to have been devised by eccentric inventors seeking to rid the world of negative feelings. Unfortunately, the mechanism failed, and instead the invention spews out emotional states from across history, passing on these unexpected experiences to its operator.

But what relevance can these obsolete emotions have for us today? Well, one idea underpinning much of the research at the Centre for the History of Emotions is that the feelings we have today are not universal, unchanging entities, but are shaped by ideas and experiences specific to our time and culture. Not only do the words we use to describe emotions and the ways in which we explain them shift across time and place, but this also alters the way in which we experience the feelings themselves.

The Machine was brought to the Secret Cinema by the guests of Ida’s party: an outlandish pair who claimed themselves to be scientists but may equally well have been swindlers. Other guests were invited to try out the machine to encounter historical emotional states. An unfortunate technical glitch meant that most of the emotions brought forth were unpleasant, requiring direction elsewhere for a cure (often to the pecuniary advantage of the machine’s operators).

These cures, too, were historically specific. A worrying bout of hypochondriasis (which could bring on digestive problems, nerve spasms and a selfish and morose attitude) required regular occupation: the employee was clearly not working hard enough, and was told to report for duty on the tenth floor.

Meanwhile, the medieval state of frenzy – failing the availability of the traditional remedy, the application of an animal lung to the shaven head, for mysteriously no party-goers had packed this standard medical item – might require rest in a cool, dark place, or even a visit to a sinister third-floor clinic to remove blood from the swollen brain.

image 2 frenzy

Late one evening, mid-way through the spectacular finalé, one of the tricksters was unfortunate enough to encounter one of their previous victims.

‘That’s the lady who gave us melancholy!’ she cried accusingly.

‘I do apologise for the inconvenience’ came the response. ‘Might I enquire how you are feeling now?’

‘Oh, much better!’ said the employees appreciatively. ‘I followed your advice and visited Dr Leon for some neural enhancement.’ A blue stamp on the forehead of each indicated that the procedure had been a complete success.