There is a genealogical shorthand in critical, clinical, and empirical literatures that links Silvan Tomkins very directly to Charles Darwin. It has become common for researchers, as a way of introducing Tomkins’s affect theory, to claim that this work follows Darwin, builds or expands on Darwin, derives from or revivifies Darwin’s 1872 account of emotion in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Sometimes these small gestures of provenance point to a Darwinian lineage or tradition for which Tomkins is alleged to be the contemporary standard-bearer. Donald Nathanson, for example, speaks of “the red thread that stretches from Darwin to Tomkins” (30), and Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth suggest that “with Tomkins, affect follows a quasi-Darwinian ‘innate-ist’ bent toward matters of evolutionary hardwiring” (5).
We feel that the presupposition that Tomkins is very much like Darwin, or that he can be rendered taxonomically cognate with Darwin, requires some elaboration and revision. Such assertions tend to underread the dynamism and innovation of Darwin’s work on emotion, and they can imply that Tomkins’s work is more universalist or biologically concrete than it is. For example, the neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, using a fairly conventional appraisal of Darwin, positions Tomkins’s work in ways that are, quite simply, incorrect: “Building on Darwin, Tomkins proposed that several primary (or basic) emotions are genetically built into the human brain by natural selection and expressed identically in everyone regardless of race or cultural background. . . . Like Darwin, Tomkins focused on universal expressions” (121). We have disputed readings of Tomkins as determinist or universalist in earlier chapters (chapters 3 and 4). It seems to us that some of these misrepresentations of Tomkins’s work can be attributed to how the relationship between Tomkins and Darwin has been framed, and it is that framing that we address here.
In the first interlude, we made the claim that there are connections between Tomkins and Spinoza that have been overlooked and that there is benefit in thinking about these two bodies of work together. In this interlude, we move contrariwise, arguing that perhaps too much has been made, or assumed, about the alliance between Darwin and Tomkins. In these interludes, we hope to complicate the easy division of literatures on emotion into clearly defined, and clearly distinct, Spinozist (Continental) or Darwinian (Anglo-American) traditions. Without doubt, important textual similarities link Tomkins to Darwin. We wonder, for example, if Tomkins’s decision to give the primary affects joint names that express the affect at both low and high intensity (e.g., interest-excitement, fear-terror, anger-rage) might be influenced in part by Darwin’s strategy of ordering his material in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals according to families of emotional responses (e.g., chapter 11 is named “Disdain-Contempt-Disgust-Guilt-Pride, Etc.-Helplessness-Patience-Affirmation and Negation”). In addition, we note that both writers are skilled users of anecdotal and biographical data. Nonetheless, it is our argument that Tomkins’s ties to Darwin are not as intellectually, or indeed affectively, intense as his ties to the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Henry Murray (see chapter 11). As Tomkins himself notes in a late paper that reviews the study of personality,
Darwin’s theory of evolution was magnificent, but it lacked the genetic infrastructure supplied by Mendel, and lacked the helix model of Crick and Watson. What shall we do to revitalize the study of personality? Should we look for the helix, or for the evolutionary sweep, or something in between? I would suggest that one vital clue to our problem is to be found in Freud. (“The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection,” 447–48)
We claim, then, not that Darwin and Tomkins are detached from each other but that the influence of the former on the latter ought to be more carefully specified.
In the first instance, it is clear from even a cursory reading of AIC and some of Tomkins’s more widely circulated papers (“What and Where Are the Primary Affects?,” “The Quest for Primary Motives”) that his relation to Darwin is more attenuated and less deferential than one might first presume: reference to Darwin is not present in those places where one might most expect to find it; even when Tomkins does turn to Darwin, his use of that work is usually fairly brief; and his tone toward Darwin is often one of mild rebuke. For example, in a chapter on evolution and affect (where one might anticipate frequent use of Darwin’s writing on emotion), Tomkins is actually most interested in the work of two much less prominent twentieth-century researchers. The first of these is the surgeon George Washington Crile, who argued that different animal species have different profiles of arousal, maintenance, and decline of the same affect. The second is the biologist Curt Richter, whose experiments with Norwegian rats showed how selection for specific affects and their bodily correlates (e.g., fear) is different in the domesticated and wild types of the species. Having discussed this work, Tomkins’s central claim about evolution and the affects then proceeds without direct reference to Darwin at all:
If man can selectively breed other animals for such specific affective and behavioral characteristics as social responsiveness, aggressiveness, individualism, flexibility, emotionality and maze running ability, despite his ignorance of the specific genetic factors which are involved, it is certainly possible that natural selection, through differential reproductive success, could also have favored specific affective characteristics in man. It is our belief that such was indeed the case and that natural selection has operated on man to heighten three distinct classes of affect—affect for the preservation of life, affect for people and affect for novelty. (1:169)
Similarly, in a chapter on the face, Tomkins refers to The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals only in passing. Instead, he engages with a wide variety of clinical and empirical research in psychology, psychoanalysis, and physiology. Tomkins’s most sustained engagement with evolutionary argument in this chapter is in relation to Duchenne’s Mechanism of Human Facial Expression (1862) and the work of an early twentieth-century anatomist Ernst Huber. Their work provides a frame not just for Tomkins to think about the “possible relations between specific facial muscles and specific affects” (1:204) but also to make one of the most consequential arguments in AIC: that “affect is primarily facial behavior” (1:204; see also chapter 2). That is, Tomkins departs from the idea (in Darwin) that the face is simply a site for the expression of emotions that have been generated elsewhere in the body and instead makes the claim that the face (and later, he argues, the skin) is the locus of affect. Quite specifically, in Tomkins’s affect theory, it is the awareness of the feedback of facial responses that is the experience of affect (and this is part of Tomkins’s relation to a Jamesian tradition). This kind of claim about the phenomenology of affect (how does it feel to be angry?) is not the same as Darwin’s interest in the phylogenesis of rage (the furious snarl shared by man and animals). If Tomkins needs to put Darwin to one side to make one of the most important claims in AIC, and if Tomkins’s use of evolutionary ideas seems oriented more toward mental states and the socialization of feelings than to the physiology of descent, then it becomes important to qualify how intellectually allied these two bodies of work really are.
Tomkins’s most sustained use of Darwin comes, not in relation to a theory of evolution, but as he defines the primary affects. In the chapters that delineate each of the primary affects, Tomkins turns initially to Darwin to describe the bodily contours of that affect, but in each case, he quickly admonishes or revises Darwin’s contribution. He notes, for example, that interest-excitement is missing from Darwin’s classification of the emotions. In relation to fear, Tomkins notes that Darwin “properly includes autonomic and skin responses as well as motor responses” (3:495) in his description of fear (i.e., “trembling, the erection of hair, cold perspiration, pallor, widely opened eyes, the relaxation of most of the muscles, and by the whole body cowering down-ward, or held motionless” [The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, 360–61]), but he also argues that this definition pays insufficient attention to the face. He claims that Darwin’s definition of fear
should also have included the cry of terror, the raising and drawing together of the eyebrows, the tensing of the lower eyelid as well as opening of the eyes, the stretching of the lips back as well as the opening of the mouth, and finally, the contraction of the platysma muscles of the neck in extreme terror. (3:495)
While Tomkins returns repeatedly to the intimacy between specific facial muscles and specific affects, his uses for evolution don’t stop there. He is also interested in the social relations that the increasing visibility of primate facial musculature and expressiveness make possible. The human face “seems to have evolved in part as an organ for the maximal transmission of information, to the self and to others” (“What and Where Are the Primary Affects?,” 120). That is, an account of the evolutionary fine-tuning of facial musculature and affect programs is not an end in itself for Tomkins. Rather, it is one means by which he is able to build an affect theory that is psychosocial in nature.
In his last public lecture Tomkins gives one of the most concise accounts of his relation to Darwin. There he repeats the claim from AIC that the face is where the affects are: “a smile is where it appears to be. It is not in a group of happy cortical neurons nor in the folds of the stomach” (“Inverse Archaeology,” 284). He names this approach to affect an “inverse archeology,” as it reverses the archeological trope that affects are deeply buried, fossilized events from the past. Darwin’s focus on the expression of emotions is exemplary of the archeological tradition Tomkins wishes to invert:
Darwin thought there was something being expressed. What he saw wasn’t it. It was expressing something else. That is not inverse archeology. Inverse archeology not only locates motivation on those surfaces where it appears to be, rather than somewhere else, which it represents and expresses, but it also says that facial affect is at once individual and private and social and shared nonverbal communication. (285)
Following Tomkins on this point, we might say that he doesn’t so much follow Darwin as he turns him upside down or inside out.
What is needed, if we are to deploy the conjunction Tomkins–Darwin, is a more expansive sense of the intellectual lineage that these two theorists are said to share. As a first gesture, we ought to be wary of the temptation to create a fixed intellectual and historical origin in 1872 with the publication of The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, and we could pay more attention to the nineteenth-century work that immediately predates Darwin (and on which Tomkins sometimes draws): that of the neurologist Duchenne, the anatomists Pierre Gratiolet and Charles Bell, the psychiatrist James Crichton-Browne. Moving forward from 1872, we ought not to overlook the very interesting empirical work in the early twentieth century on facial recognition and the physiology of the face that likely came to Tomkins’s attention. Maria Gendron and Lisa Feldman Barrett dispute the commonplace notion that there was a dark age in the study of emotion in the early twentieth century (instigated by behaviorism) that was finally lifted in the 1960s with work by Tomkins, among others:
As it turns out, then, the “Dark Ages” of emotion in psychology were not really that dark after all. . . . The basic emotion perspective, usually traced back almost exclusively to Darwin, actually emerged more slowly with fundamental assumptions being articulated by theorists such as Dewey, Watson, Allport, and McDougall. (334–35)
Indeed, Tomkins (“Quest for Primary Motives”) himself remarks on these historical precedents for his theories, noting the importance of the work of the physiologist Walter Cannon, the endocrinologist Hans Selye, the biologist Curt Richter, the psychologist Eckhard Hess, and the ethologist Konrad Lorenz, who were all publishing in the early to mid-twentieth century.
Similarly, Carroll Izard and Maurice Haynes sketch a brief history of empirical research on contempt to contest the presumption that there was very little in the way of research on emotion after Darwin and before Tomkins. They point us to a paper published by Jean Frois-Wittmann in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 1930 that investigated how people make judgments about the facial expression of emotion. Showing 165 college students photographs of posed facial expressions, Frois-Wittmann found that these observers frequently agreed about what emotion they thought was being depicted. We note, in order to keep expanding and diversifying the intellectual network that enfolds Tomkins, that Frois-Wittmann (a cousin of Pierre Janet) returned to France after completing this work at Princeton University and became a psychoanalyst and a member of the Surrealist movement in Paris.
The more one follows the threads of citation in and around Tomkins’s work, the less it appears that there is a direct line that ties him in a dutiful way to Darwin—or, indeed, to the West. Vinay Dharwadker has made a compelling (and meticulously argued) case that there are connections not simply between Darwin and Tomkins but also between both men’s work and an eighteen-hundred-year-old Sanskrit text—Bharata’s treatise on the performing arts, the Nātyaśhāstra. The interrelations of these texts on emotion, he argues, “are neither slight nor superficial” (1381). Rather,
the forty-nine stable emotional states, auxiliary emotions, and psychosomatic symptoms that Bharata classifies for the arts coincide in exquisite detail with most of the thirty-four emotions that Darwin, in his later years, maps out. . . . Moreover, Bharata’s typology of eight stable emotional states that frame all secondary feelings and emotions interlocks firmly with Tomkins’s hierarchy of nine primary affects. (1381)
Dharwadker neither conflates Darwin and Tomkins and Bharata nor places them in entirely different epistemological spheres. Instead, he is interested in how these texts meet, contradict, repeat, and reinvent each other. He finds particular resonance between Tomkins’s cybernetic modeling of the relation between cognition and affect (partial independence, partial dependence, and partial interdependence) and how the Nātyaśhāstra models thinking and feeling as two modes of being in the world. Yet, he is also clear that the bhavas that Bharata describes (a term encompassing general states of being, both short and enduring emotional states, and certain bodily states) cannot be mapped onto the primary affects as Tomkins defines them. Dharwadker enmeshes these three theories of emotion in ways that confound simple linear models of temporal, cultural, and textual influence, helping us to further dissolve the easy calculus that connects Tomkins directly or exclusively to Darwin.
Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, published in 1872, is the place where Darwin gives his most sustained account of emotion. We refer readers initially to “What Is an Emotion?” and “The Place of Affectional Facts in a World of Pure Experience” if they wish to engage with William James’s theory of emotion.
In terms of early twentieth-century theories of emotion, we recommend the work of the physiologist Walter Cannon (who, along with Philip Bard, argued for the role of thalamic and hypothalamic structures in the expression and experience of emotion). There is, of course, much to be said about the place of affect in Freud’s work (see, e.g., André Green, The Fabric of Affect in the Psychoanalytic Discourse). The details of Jean Frois-Wittmann’s psychoanalytic career after Princeton have been gleaned from Roudinesco. See Lisa Blackman’s Immaterial Bodies for a genealogy of twentieth-century psychology that takes affect and the body to be central considerations.