Moods and Stories and Temporality

I just got back from the American Society of Existential Phenomenology meeting in New York City.  Wayne Martin was presenting a paper on the will in Luther, but this inspired me to read an earlier paper of Wayne’s on “Manic Temporality’.  Francisco Gallegos of Wake Forest University also presented a paper on moods.   It got me thinking about the intersection of three different phenomena: mood, narrative, and temporality.

Mood is easy to get a handle on if we contrast it with emotion. I could hate a person or be jealous of a person or angry at a person.  Mood in contrast is not focussed on a specific person or event or thing.  Mood is the background emotional color of everything I experience. If I’m in a sunny mood, everything seems hopeful. If I’m in a bitter mood, everything seems like a waste.

But when we look at a mood like anxiety or depression or panic, what really seems to get warped into a particular shape is our experience of time.  In an anxious mood, all future possibilities seem both desirable and scary.  In a panic the future seems inaccessible and all that exists is an intolerable present.  As Wayne Martin points out in his paper on manic temporality, when we are manic all future possibilities seem very good, although vague.  I think love is a form or mania focussed on a particular person; that person seems to be the gateway through which a bounteous, exciting future makes itself present.  And as we would expect mania has its corresponding temporality in depression — the future seems hopeless. And romantic love has its corresponding form of depression which we call heartbreak — the only possibility of happiness lies in the other and that is impossible.

Moods it seems to me (and this is developing on a theme from Francisco Gallegos) carry with them a characteristic narrative.  That’s because narrative, according to Aristotle structures events in a particular way — it makes us focus on events that turn things from bad to good or from good to bad (peripateia/reversal of fortune) and on events that cause us to understand ourselves and our situation in a new way (anagnorisis/removal of ignorance).

Together mood, temporality, and narrative reinforce each other to define our lives.