Notes on Defining a Journalism of Sonority

A Framework for Analyzing Emotions


It is a palace without an architect and a skyscraper with no blueprint. Like a half open window it invites us to look inside. But the room is pitch black and we have no electric torch to illuminate the darkness.

It inhabits our bodies like a hum or a shiver. It is the echo which reverberates through our skin. It is so obvious. Yet we cannot comprehend it.

The question then which wrestles with us is whether we can fathom what we feel in terms of logic? How do we analyze that which is known in our bodies but remains unrepresentable in our language? This paper is a tentative step towards defining an analytical framework through which we can study the emotional patterns of a group in conjunction with various forms of discourse analysis:

  1. The main problem with analyzing emotions, especially at a societal level, is that we do not really communicate them through representations. Simply stating that you are in grief barely conveys the intensity of your experience. It is a common problem, especially when one goes through extreme mood disorders, to actually make another person understand what one is going through.
  2. Emotions are not conveyed through representations, but are induced. One needs to create an approximate experience inside the reader, audience or the listener in order to help them comprehend an effective experience. I will call this ‘resonance’ when the author uses signifiers not to label the emotion which is to be conveyed but to recreate a simulation of an experience which will induce and generate the intended experience within the audience. It is an ‘echo’ of the author’s internal experience inside the reader.
  3. Emotions are primarily experienced in the body. In human infants, advanced empathetic and emotional skills develop way before the higher cognitive skills even start to emerge in their behavior. Moreover sophisticated and subtle communication of emotions occurs purely through gestures and body play.
  4. Keeping this in mind, the analysis of emotions should be centered on the body so that the experience of immediacy is kept intact both in the process of analysis and also communication of results.
  5. The primary way of doing this is by generating and designing appropriate body and sensory metaphors to precisely communicate the experience which is being studies. One example of this is a term I coined to describe a particular feeling in our context. It is called ‘Discourse Drowning’ where one’s voice, dignity, security and freedom seems irrelevant in the vision of ‘society’ and the mass consensus of people. The individual feels that he or she is being drowned by the suffocating majoritarian and authoritarian discourses which saturate our media.
  6. Apart from this, the general poetic and narrative techniques used by fiction writers and poets can help create resonance both by empathetic and aesthetic strategies.
  7. This framework is called the Journalism of Sonority since sonority is a reference to both the concept of resonance as defined before but also to sound and in extension, speech, text, talk, discourse and its analysis.
  8. Fossilization’ and ‘fluidity’ form the two main poles of analysis for this framework. The former is a process and the latter is a quality.
  9. Fossilization refers to the stabilization of certain structures of feeling in terms of habitual pattern of action and reaction. For instance rage and outrage as instantaneous and normative pattern of reacting to the ‘other’. The feeling of lethargy and hopelessness with respect to the future. The sentiment of enthusiasm for change which is seen during every rebellion and resolution such as the Arab Spring, French Revolution or Independence Movement of India. This process grants a permanency to certain emotional structures in both memory and behavior. It is the whole field of the status quo which includes the dominant power, entity or ideology along with its primary, recognized opponent. For instance the fervent divisive nationalism of the majority along with the calls for universal human relation and peace by their opponents in various societies. The process of fossilization is the process which stabilizes certain emotional tendencies and infuses it with narratives (or through them) to generate history.
  10. Fluidity is the essential quality of emotions. It refers to the volatile immediacy and ephemerality of emotions. It points to the fact that our experience of emotions are always present and even when we remember them, we actually simply re-experience them. Emotions can quickly seize the totality of an individual but it can easily be overpowered by yet another feeling in a matter of seconds.
  11. Fluidity is the counteracting force to the process of fossilization. ‘Liquidation’ refers to an event where status quo-ist, fossilized arrangement of emotions is liquidated and the volatility of emotions return. After this the structure once again becomes open to immediate or gradual change. ‘Cathectic Seizure’ is the sudden eruption of a sentiment in the masses which is unexpected, surprising and almost impossible to contain. It is similar to what Freud called as ‘Mass Hysteria’.
  12. Fluidity is not a process. It is the latent quality of emotions which is always already and the process of fossilization seeks to mask and control it. Emotions can be seen as the sands on a beach. Fluidity is its inherent quality of being light and unstable- swept away by winds and waters. Fossilization is the effort to hold it in a certain structure- like a wet sand castle. However, inevitably, the quality if fluidity makes this structure crumble and collapse. Transformation is thus the constant, eternal ‘form’ of emotions whose rate and range of occurrence is controlled by Fossilization.
  13. Fluidity manifest itself in at least 4 forms: as a rupture, and a violent contradiction from the previous held emotional structure. As spontaneous nostalgia from past times usually lost or forgotten, and projected as an ideal. This is often combined with a yearning to return to those times at least emotionally if not in material times. As reactive instinct, when inherent emotions react spontaneously to an external material or cultural environment. This usually relates to our inherent human nature. And lastly, as the uncanny when a completely unknown thing is encountered in the world like a natural disaster, an abrupt social change or new technological marvels. In other words, this is the feeling of encountering strangeness which shakes up the whole foundation of our world views.
  14. The forces of fossilization and fluidity coexist simultaneously in every society and every psyche. Usually the process of liquidation follows a process of decatastrophization where the threatening instability and uncertainty is rendered harmless. After this decatastrophization the forces of fossilization try to establish a status quo again. This relationship between the two forces is always there and it will be termed as ‘Entwining’.
  15. A period of this kind of entwining where fossilized status quo is challenged, liquidated, decatastrophized and transformed which makes the period between . This period is called as a ‘wave’. A collection of these waves is called a spectrum. This forms the basic chronological untis of analysis in the journalism of sonority.
  16. The taxonomy of various emotions are taken from Natyashastra. The basic emotions elucidated in it are Fear (Bahyanak), Joy (Hasya), Anger (Raudra), Wonder (Adbhuta), Disgust (Bibhitsa), Erotic Love (Shringar), Heroism (Veera) and Compassion (Karuna). Along with this, intensities, valence (negative/positive) and duration are used to categorize and identify the specific emotions and their effects.
  17. The mid-point of ‘wave’, when the status quo is liquidated but the process of decastrophization has not started, is a period of uncertainty is known ‘Bardo’. This is a concept taken from Tibetan Buddhism. It is the period between two lives. In this framework, this period is marked by an increased range of possibilities where no emotional structure has been able to seize the whole society or group. This period often results in an increase in creativity especially in philosophy since the uncertainty creates the motivation to build new world views and emotional structures.
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