With sparkling eyes, the children stand in front of the decorated tree at Christmas and create touching scenes.
Daniel ArnetEditor of Sunday Blick magazine
It is 1.38 a.m. on the Saturday night of September 24, 2022, and not a dry eye remains: Swiss tennis star Roger Federer (41) has just finished his last game as a professional alongside Rafael Nadal (36) at the Laver Cup in London and breaks in tears. At this sleepy time, more than half a million people in Switzerland also get watery eyes in front of the TV sets.
Boy’s don’t cry – no way: Roger Federer (left) and Rafael Nadal provided the most touching moment of the year.
We were touched. The crying man moved us to our hearts, we felt an inner emotion, emotion, which is what the word “movement” has meant in German since the 18th century. A feeling that celebrates its birth at Christmas – in the face of grown-up family members who hug after a long time, and children who stand in front of decorated trees with bright eyes.
This year already offered plenty of touching scenes: before Federer’s farewell match, an audience of millions sat in front of the television sets or stood in the streets of Great Britain for days because of the death of the Queen (September 8); moved to see how a Ukrainian family was able to hug their son after the withdrawal of Russian soldiers (April 5); and Federal Councilor Simonetta Sommaruga (62) said when she left the President of the National Council on December 7: “Thank you very much for your words, they touched me very much.”
“Tendency to New Sensitivity”
“Today there is a tendency towards a new sensitivity,” says Roger Fayet (56), Director of the Swiss Institute for Art Research (SIK-ISEA). The doctor of art history is a specialist in the field, as he held his inaugural lecture as a lecturer at the University of Zurich in 2018 on the subject of “Emotion. On the Aesthetics of an Unappreciated Feeling». Next year Fayet will publish a touching book with Basler Schwabe-Verlag.
“Emotion is not so appreciated in art and is seen there as a sign that the subject is not too demanding,” he says. Words that are often used in this context are sentimental and shallow. Kitsch is also something that can be touching. “And those who are touched are often not considered to be demanding and intellectual people,” says the SIK director. Nevertheless, there are such tears, corns and lump-in-the-throat moments in life. “So it would be wrong to suppress emotion or dismiss it as something that shouldn’t exist,” says Fayet.
It seems no coincidence that an art historian takes on this topic, because it is primarily writers, philosophers and historians who write about emotion. “Our understanding of crying does not come from the medical or psychological sciences, but from countless representations in poetry, fiction, drama,” writes US author Tom Lutz (69) in his cultural history of tears.
“Thank you very much for your words, they touched me very much”: Federal Councilor Simonetta Sommaruga on her farewell.
In fact, the “Dorsch”, the most important encyclopedia of psychology, does not contain an entry for the keyword “touch”. And the renowned emotion researcher, the American psychologist Robert Plutchik (1927-2006), lists 32 terms in his “Wheel of Emotions” (1980) with eight basic feelings and their gradations – from “anxious” to “happy” to “angry” – , but nowhere is there a «touched».
At least in crying, interest has increased in recent years, so that the psychologist Lauren Bylsma (41) from the University of Pittsburgh (USA) was recently able to present an overview. “Empathic people generally sob a lot more,” the journal Psychology Today summarizes the results. Women cry far more often than men and people from Western nations more often than Asians.
“Only over the years do we develop the ability to cry for positive reasons,” quotes “Psychology Today” Bylsma’s findings. “The suffering of fellow human beings generally moves adults more than children to tears.” Here we get to the heart of the emotion: when we see Federer and Sommaruga weeping or watching the British royal family at the Queen’s funeral, we sympathize.
Positive ending essential for emotion
But emotion is not just pity, as the German poet Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805) stated in his study “On the Reason for Enjoyment in Tragic Objects” (1792): You see something surprising that actually shouldn’t happen, you experience it own person as a moral authority and in this sense has a positive experience.
The positive ending is an essential element of emotion in the narrower sense, otherwise it would just be sadness and thus emotion in the broader sense. “When the feeling of rebellion is replaced by a feeling of reconciliation, then you feel touched,” says Fayet. At the Queen’s funeral, the ceremonial manifests that not everything is over with death: The Queen is dead, long live the King!
What about King Roger? “He himself and the audience made the experience that the effort was worthwhile and that everything turned out well in the end,” says Fayet. This can be observed in many athletes when they win an Olympic victory or world championship title after long suffering and hard training – as was the case with Argentina’s national soccer team last Sunday in Qatar.
Don’t cry for me Argentina: Argentina’s soccer coach Lionel Scaloni after winning the 2022 World Cup.
“Shaken, not stirred” was James Bond’s motto in the last century. Today many are touched and shaken. “Recently there have been works in which emotion plays an important role and which have received extraordinary attention,” says Fayet. He names the video installation “Flora” by the artist couple Hubbard/Birchler at the Venice Art Biennale in 2017 and the performance by Patti Smith (75) for the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan (81) in 2016.
Irish Teresa Hubbard (57) and Swiss Alexander Birchler (60) filmed a tribute to US sculptor Flora Mayo (1899-2000), who had a love affair with Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) in the 1920s . While Giacometti is in every art dictionary, Mayo is just a footnote in his biography. “Flora” is supposed to be a reparation and a salvation for the artist – with the result that the audience ran out of the Swiss Pavilion in Venice in 2017, touched.
The invited guests were also touched on December 10, 2016 – despite the stiff atmosphere in the presence of the Swedish royal family in the Stockholm concert hall: Without Dylan present, who was supposed to pick up the Nobel Prize for Literature, singer Smith performed the Dylan song «A Hard Rain’s A -Gonna Fall» for the best – and fails. She has to interrupt her performance and says sheepishly: “Sorry, I’m so nervous.” Applause! And in the audience someone wipes a tear from their eyes here and there, as you can see on the video on Youtube.
Intellectual Distance in the Last Century
Weakness and failure touch people more in times of crisis, they pay more attention to each other. At least since the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, the West has been aware of its vulnerability and has developed a certain sensitivity in society. More recent experiences of crises, such as this year’s Ukraine war, have reinforced social feelings.
It was completely different in the largely crisis-free 1980s and 1990s: Back then, even when faced with murder and manslaughter, people were little moved and instead laughed. Examples of this are films such as “Drowning by Numbers” (1988) by Peter Greenaway (80), where people die in droves, or “Pulp Fiction” (1994) by Quentin Tarantino (59), where blood splatters around the inside of the car after a headshot – and the whole cinema burst out laughing.
Brain before heart: “In the postmodern era of the 1980s and 1990s, intellectual distance was maintained,” says Fayet. But thinking is not necessarily remote from feeling, since it was the rational Enlighteners of the 18th century who were the first to address the topic of emotion, such as the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) in his “Critique of Judgment” ( 1790).
With reason on the feeling: The Enlightener Immanuel Kant was one of the first to deal with the theory of emotion.
However, the first theoretical discussion from this point on does not mean that there was no emotion earlier. Fayet knows of chroniclers from the Middle Ages who report how there were expressions of extreme emotion during peace negotiations between enemy war delegations – when the treaty was signed, everyone cried with joy, also to show each other how important this step is. “Today, such behavior would be considered unprofessional,” says Fayet.
And a touching scene is already known from Greek antiquity. This is how Homer describes the reunion of Odysseus and his wife Penelope in the 23rd canto of the “Odyssey” (7th century BC) after his long odyssey following the Trojan War: “He spoke it; but her heart and knees trembled when she recognized the signs that Odysseus proclaimed to her. / She ran upstairs crying and with open arms / threw herself around her husband’s neck (…)»
So, was inner emotion always inherent in sensitive people, could the Neanderthals (25,000 BC) have shed a tear of emotion? Nobody knows, but Fayet thinks it’s possible.