Synapsis 2012: Passions

Synapsis (European School for Comparative Studies)
Closing date for submissions: 
15 May, 2012
Event dates: 
03.09.2012 - 10.09.2012
E-mail contact: 


For some time now, philosophers, sociologists and neuroscientists have started to look once again at the world of emotions and passions to try and understand the mechanisms behind them. The development of this field of inquiry bears witness to a renewed fascination for human behaviour. Many disciplines seem to be characterised these days by this ‘affective turn’, which has led to fresh attention to the nature of artistic and literary expression, and for its capacity to illustrate the physical and ethical dimensions of feeling. By taking up again questions which have been debated since Aristotle, this kind of enquiry is also intimately tied to the new realities of the contemporary world, which are quickly undoing the paradigms that
have dominated the cultural scene in the recent past, from structuralism to post-structuralism, from deconstruction to post-modernism.

In this debate between post modernism and a ‘new realism’, which Umberto Eco has recently pointed to, literature, now that it can no longer be assimilated to a self-referential game of allusions and bricolage, is gradually recovering its significance as a discipline side by side with history and moral philosophy. As the philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written, we must study “texts that contain a narrative dimension, thus deepening and refining our grasp of ourselves as beings with a complicated temporal history”. If “the role of diverse social norms in constructing a society’s emotional repertory” is of great importance, the emotions of an adult also “involve foundations laid down much earlier in life, experiences of attachment, need, delight, and anger. Early memories shadow later perceptions of objects, adult attachment relations bear the traces of infantile love and hate” (Upheavals of Thought. The Intelligence of Emotions, Cambridge 2001, pp. 3-6).
It comes as no surprise that discussion of the phenomenology, role and historical evolution of passions is so focused on literature, the arts, theatre, music and cinema, which have always offered privileged sites of representation for human passions, their genesis and dialectic.
To trace in all the different forms of the creative arts the “complicated temporal history” of passions, their growth or their dwindling, is to understand our changing ways of living over time. For this reason, scholarship too must preserve these rich dynamics which neuroscience and philosophy are now looking at with such interest.
As always, Synapsis will endeavour to give some sense of these riches, moving between literature, theatre, music, film, art and philosophy.

LECTURES (in English) (this programme is still being updated)

Gillian Beer (University of Cambridge),
Laura Caretti (Università di Siena),
Massimo Fusillo (Università L’Aquila),
Nadia Fusini (SUM: Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane), 
Patrizia Lombardo (Université de Genève),
Carlo Sisi (Art Historian and Curator), Janet Todd (Cambridge University),
Valentina Valentini (Università di Roma).

Round table: Simona Corso (Università di Roma Tre), Guido Furci (Paris, Sorbonne Nouvelle), Orsetta Innocenti (Università di Siena), Simona Micali (Università di Siena)

Lecture-Concert, The Fire of Passions, by Simone Brunetti


Gillian Beer (University of Cambridge) - in English, Maria DiBattista (Princeton University) and Barry McCrea (Yale University) - in English,

Patrizia Lombardo and Isabelle Pitteloud (Université de Genève) - in French,
Florian Mussgnug (University College London) - in German,
Ferdinando Abbri (Università di Siena) - in Italian, 
Roberto Bigazzi (Università di Siena) - in Italian,
 José M.  González García (Consejo Superior de investigaciones cìentificas, Madrid) and Fernando Bayón (University of Bilbao) - in Spanish

 Theatre Workshop 
directed by Laura Caretti

Film Screenings organized by Anna Masecchia