The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016


On February 16, 1981, the French artist Sophie Calle was hired as a chambermaid in a hotel in Venice. Each day, under cover of cleaning the guests’ rooms, she itemized and photographed the contents of their suitcases and bins. A postcard of the Basilica di San Marco. An Italian phrasebook with the page corner turned down. Train timetables and holiday clothes. Pills and diaries. A torn-up love letter describing a trip to Harry’s Bar.

The resulting artwork, L’Hôtel, for which Calle displayed the photographs and her descriptions side by side, evokes the disorientation felt in foreign places. It tells of deciphering a strange language, and squinting at peculiar currency. Of stumbling again and again over the same landmark in unfamiliar streets, and the feelings of license and anonymity that allow holiday romances to take flight. Even the form of Calle’s piece excites the experience of being a stranger. Each fragmentary clue draws us in, inviting us to imagine the occupants’ identities—but never quite giving their secrets away.

In France, the feeling of being an outsider is known as dépaysement (literally: decountrification). Sometimes it is frustrating, leaving us feeling unsettled and out of place (see: AMBIGUPHOBIA; PARANOIA). And then, just sometimes, it swirls us up into a kind of giddiness, only ever felt when far away from home. When the unlikeliest of adventures seem possible. And the world becomes new again.

The French seem to be particularly intrigued by emotions to do with disorientation. See: ILINX and L’APPEL DU VIDE.