Behind the human eye lies a complex system of dozens of secretory and excretory glands bearing such names as "crypts of Henle" and "Wolfring's glands." These glands combine to produce basal tears that flow into the nasolacrimal duct, which in turn empties into the nose. Under the right conditions of irritation, emotion, or illness, the glands yield more liquid than the nasolacrimal duct can handle, causing tears to spill out and drain over the eyelids. Thus crying, a rare human universal that we share with no other creature, for which reason Charles Darwin called it "a special expression of man."
There you have the basic science behind crying, a branch of inquiry that in literary scholar Tom Lutz's view ought to but does not bear the name "lacrimology" or even "lamentology." Lutz considers the natural history of weeping, writing vigorously and accessibly about the mysterious workings of the human body. But more, he looks into the cultural rules that surround crying, especially those in Western societies that only in the last few decades have established norms whereby women are supposed to cry freely in times of stress and trouble, whereas men are not. Illustrating his cultural history with examples from literature and art, Lutz delivers a fine, eminently readable exercise in popular anthropology, one that will be of wide interest. --Gregory McNamee
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From Publishers Weekly
Observing that the act of weeping is exclusively human, though its interpretation is by no means universal, Lutz (American Nervousness, 1903) offers a fascinating, multi-disciplinary study of tears. With a fluid style and an astonishingly vast reachAencompassing history, literature, the arts and the social sciencesALutz explores how crying has been portrayed and perceived throughout history. In a dense but essential section, he examines the physiology of tears and cites theorists, Darwin among them, who considered crying a physical, muscular act. Of course, tears are more commonly viewed as expressing "a surplus of feeling over thinking," whether of sorrow, happiness, pain, relief, pride, empathy, catharsis, deception (as in crocodile tears) or any combination of these emotions. Lutz asks not only why we cry, but why we stop crying and how we react to another person's tears. His examination of gender stereotypes and the traditional division of emotional "labor" in our society, according to which women cry and men restrain themselves, is especially provocative. Turning to pop culture, Lutz comments on how contemporary American gender-typing has shifted in books, movies and real life, noting two iconic images: Jacqueline Kennedy's stoic reserve at her husband's funeral and Michael Jordan's open sobbing at a championship victory. This accomplished work is a rich treat for anyone intrigued by emotional displays. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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