Monday, March 29th, 2010 by Rachel

I’m reading Alice Fulton’s Feeling as a Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry for class, and I came across this chunk that really made me happy and sad all at the same time. It seemed timely too, with Easter coming up… and I think it says something special about grad students. Enjoy!




Did I say emotions were irreproducible results? Silly me. On TV last night a relaxation therapist described a test conducted on rabbits. The animals were fed a high-fat diet in order to determine its relation to arterioschlerosis. When the rabbits were “autopsied” (the flimsiest shade of misgiving passed over the therapist’s face as he said the word), one group proved to have healthy arteries. This was mystifying since all the animals have received exactly the same food. Upon investigation, a single difference came to light: The healthy rabbits had been cared for by a graduate student who stroked them when she fed them (At this, a doctor serving as audience smiled benignly: Isn’t that sweet.) Of course, the experiment had to be conducted several times in order to verify the findings. After a sufficient number of rabbits had been caressed and vivisected, the student concluded that compassion lowers cholesterol.


At last a sound argument for loving kindness. Let’s be merciful and lower each other’s cholesterol. The experiment also gave a reproducible effect (healthy arteries) stemming from an emotive cause (compassion). Compassion? Wouldn’t duplicity, selfishness, coldness, calculation better describe the experiment’s character? The listening doctor’s sappy smile made me suspect a connection between sentimentality and synecdoche. To feel selectively, responding with fuzzy feelings to one aspect of an event while repressing any troubling emotions stirred by other aspects is, I submit, sentimental.

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