Watching on television a group of people in grief at the death of a relative after some bombing, some atrocity or even some accident, those sudden 3 second shots have always for me suggested a spontaneous expression of grief. So the idea of the performance of emotion was mind-blowing to me – that expressions of grief may be socially constructed and finely calibrated, which is not to say the pain is not heartfelt.
The author attests that within her research area, among the Paxtun women she studied, she became able to predict with a good degree of accuracy what distance someone would stand on these occasions: who would cry publicly and for how long, where they would stand – this being determined so far as she could discern, by their official relationship with the deceased. The author also tracks how this ‘performance’ might boost the honour of a family.
I picked the book up in 2007 while on a visit to Pakistan and only started reading it thoroughly in 2014. From that, I started looking at old English public weeping traditions, at professional mourners (a widespread tradition across the world whereby those who have no emotional connection with the deceased can, on payment to them of a fee, do the wailing for the family if there is a shortage of wailers). It was all useful background to a chapter I was working on.
The Performance Of Emotion Among Paxtun Women by Benedicte Grima
Oxford University Press (India) ISBN 978 0 19 597881 0
(Blog by Pete Kalu)
*First line of a Dylan Thomas poem