interoception and the emotional body. or, how do we know what’s going on inside?

On March 1 2019, I convened a workshop on the visceral bodywith Professor of Psychology, Manos Tsakiris. Exploring the cultures of interiority and interoception (the subjective awareness of what is happening inside the body), papers drew on a wide range of historical, social, psychological, neuroscientific and artistic considerations. They explored the visual history of interiority – from medieval anatomy to 20th-century brain scans – and considered the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity, the meanings of ‘self’ and society, and how the two connect.  

 What struck me, as stories weaved from Jack Hartnell’s account of the 13th-century Abbey of Maubisson to Katerina Fotopolou’s research at the 21st-century London Neuropsychoanalysis Centre, was the different ways bodily subjectivity has been accessed and interpreted objectively. Most notably from the 19th century, with the emergence of scientific medicine, but also through the distancing lens of the other, as I discussed in my own contribution on the heart of Harriet Martineau (see also my book, This Mortal Coil.) Perceptions of emotions are no different. Modern neuroscientific accounts of emotion tend to focus on the brain rather than the heart – replacing the cardiocentric model of emotions that dominated Western medicine for two centuries. But the viscera are back: heart-brain and gut-brain interaction are becoming reintegrated into new interoceptive models.

Interdisciplinary events like these allow us to explore key areas like interception in new and exciting ways. And to consider the ways that historical ideas about medicine and health tend to find their way back into modern analyses. You can download the podcast of the day’s talks here:

I talk more about the emotional body in my forthcoming book with Oxford University Press on the history of Loneliness:, entitled A Biography of Loneliness: The History of An Emotion. Having submitted the monograph last July, the wait has seemed interminable. But copies will be available for pre-order soon, and I’m delighted to be able to share the cover with you at last.