Humiliation: And Other Essays on Honor, Social Discomfort, and Violence
Publisher: Cornell University Press
ISBN 10: 0801481171
ISBN 13: 978-0801481178
How do we feel when our friend turns up with a holiday present and we have nothing ready to give in exchange? What lies behind our small social panics and the maneuvers we use, to avoid losing face? Recognizing how much we care about how others see us, this wise and witty book tackles the complex subject of humiliation and the emotions that keep us going as self-respecting social actors.
William Ian Miller writes astutely about a host of homely and seemingly banal social occasions and shows us what is buried behind them. In his view, our lives are permeated with sometimes merely uncomfortable, sometimes hair-raising rituals of shame and humiliation. Take the unwanted dinner invitation, the exchange of valentines in grade school, or the "diabolically ingenious invention of the bridal registry." Readers will have no trouble recognizing the social situations he finds indicative of our often perilous dealings with each other.
Educated as a literary critic and philologist, by profession a historian of medieval Iceland, by employment a law professor, Miller ranges comfortably beyond his areas of formal expertise to talk about emotions across time and culture. His scenarios are based on incidents from his own college town and from the Iceland of the sagas. He also makes incursions into the emotional worlds represented in the Middle English poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and in some of the works of Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, and others. Indeed, one theme that gradually becomes specific is how meaning travels from one culture to another. Ancient codes of honor, he insists, still function in contemporary American life.
Some of Miller's narratives are unsettling, and he acknowledges that a certain ironical misanthropy may run through his discussions. But he succeeds in cutting through a mountain of pretensions to entertain and enlighten us.
"Miller deploys the resources of a host of disparate disciplines in order to reveal the remarkable richness of certain emotional experiences―emotions that help shape the words and actions of human beings when they perform the immensely complex work ofmaintaining the social worlds that they construct, and which help construct them. In doing so, he has written a unique and valuable book."(Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities)
"Translating emotions over time and across cultures is Miller's major methodological challenge―and he meets it with ranging and learned references, a wry and unpretentious style, and a genuine respect for the power of those ancient, forgotten sources on which modern social exchange depends."(Kirkus Reviews)
"In an illuminating and darkly intelligent study, Miller has revealed humiliation as the closet dominatrix she is, an emotion whose power to discipline us makes the world go round.... Miller makes his pages blaze and roar by throwing another handful of hollow complacencies upon the fire.... The five essays making up this book are about the persistence of the norm of reciprocity in our daily lives, about the possibility of tracking emotions across time and culture, and about the ways in which shame and envy and especially humiliation sustain 'cultures of honor' to this day."(Speculum)
From the Back Cover
'In an illuminating and darkly intelligent study, William Miller...has revealed...humiliation as the closet dominatrix she is, an emotion whose power to discipline us makes the world go round...Miller makes his pages blaze and roar...by throwing another handful of hollow complacencies upon the fire....The five essays making up this book...are about the persistence of the norm of reciprocity in our daily lives, about the ways in which shame and envy and especially humiliation sustain 'cultures of honor' to this day.'-Speculum
About the Author
William Ian Miller is Thomas G. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. His other books include Eye for an Eye (2006); Faking It (2003); The Mystery of Courage (2000); and The Anatomy of Disgust (1997).