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Sophie Abriat
18min of reading
Sophie Abriat
Charlotte Casiraghi + Robert Maggiori

They are the authors of Archipel des passions, a book which has drawn passionate reactions. It explores the imbrications and divergences of our emotions : love, cruelty, patience, boredom, malice and so on - islands linked by invisible threads, electrified by passion. In this book, Charlotte Casiraghi and Robert Maggiori dedicate a chapter to shame. A hidden, disavowed emotion : shame is held at a distance : shame is shameful. We burrow it away in the deepest recesses of ourselves, to the point of forgetting, of amnesia. Is it so unseemly to approach shame ? Is it so unimaginable to make this approach public ? As with all feelings, shame cannot be named in an unequivocal fashion. It’s a lattice work where feelings, thoughts, dreams, are interwoven along with imaginings, emotions and passions. Liberating, emancipating, redemptive when it is shucked off; necessary, vital, beneficent when it provides protection from the self, from others; duplicitous, deceitful and dangerous when it is forgotten; humiliating, unbearable, inadmissible when it is experienced. This is the kaleidoscopic emotion that we are here to explore with Charlotte Casiraghi and Robert Maggiori. To engage with shame is to touch the deepest, most intimate part of oneself, of others. By dedicating an entire issue to it, Exhibition Magazine lives up to its name more than ever as it assumes its tautology : Exhibition Magazine exhibits, in the sense of showing, stripping bare, unveiling. Without modesty, without restraint. Because if modesty pales, shame reddens, with a sudden rush of blood. And blood is life.

In your foreword, you write that “emotion is not merely made of thought but its construction involves the body and the senses.” Later, you add that “philosophy cannot be a merely conceptual exercise; it is rooted in the ground of the sensible, of emotion, of affect, of sensation, of states of mind,” that it is, “lived.” And you conclude with the words, “writing Archipelago of the Passions also meant accepting the most secret part of ourselves, accepting ourselves at our most contradictory, most fragile, most human, most inhuman as well.” If subjective experience is both the beginning and the anchoring point of reflection, was it necessary for you, during your conversations and the writing of this work, to break through the wall of modesty around your own emotions and lay bare your individuality ? And could you do that without too much difficulty and without shame ?
CC ⏤ Our Archipel des Passions is many things, but it’s not a manual or a treatise. It’s an extremely personal book. We undertook a real journey together, over the course of which our thoughts, our emotions, our dreams, our memories, our doubts, sometimes our angsts, mingled with our discussions. The goodwill and the compassion that we have towards each other created, over time, a protected space where we could allow ourselves a very free discussion without fear of being fixed in the gaze, the discourse or the attitude of the other. That said, I don’t think that anyone can ever completely reveal themselves in their individuality, even in relationships of intimacy and trust. There’s always the hidden and secret part of ourselves, which is our deepest self, and which cannot be subject to scrutiny, or bear too peremptory an unveiling.
RM Someone in the grip of jealousy or in the throes of anger is not best placed to talk about anger or jealousy. But someone who has never experienced those emotions would have nothing at all to say about them. That’s the paradox. When you analyse feelings or emotions, you have to establish a distance, the distance that thought puts between itself and the “object” of its analysis, and which we describe as critical. Charlotte and I are friends; it is clear that we have shared moments of suffering and moments of joy, have shared in each other’s tribulations and those of our loved ones. We’ve shared experiences of discouragement and enthusiasm alike for the things we have managed to achieve with our friends, in the context of the Rencontres Philosophiques de Monaco. We hardly have any difficulty in “opening ourselves up” to each other, nor do we experience any “shame” in showing ourselves sad, distressed, distraught, or in talking about anything very personal or intimate, because friends don’t “judge,” they welcome, and they put the other person’s worries before their own. When we sit down to write, we are “enriched” by everything we’ve shared and still share, but as soon as you start to write, you must necessarily, in order to translate affect into concept (and betray it no doubt), establish the critical “distance” that analysis demands and to transform; as Bergson called it, “lived time” into “space” – the space created by the line, the paragraph, the unfolding of the sentence, the space which is more “objective.”

You dedicate a chapter to shame, which is the theme of this issue. Generally, shame is held at a distance. Is it always inappropriate to talk about shame ? Is the person who does so inevitably identified with shame itself ?
RM Inappropriate to talk about it ? Absolutely, but the problem is that shame itself is “inappropriate.” It has no sense of “propriety” and just turns up whenever it feels like it. You are “overwhelmed” by shame as you are submerged by a wave, it’s a totality which envelops, stifles and leaves the subject completely “at sea;” it cannot be kept at a distance or only partially experienced. When shame comes, it takes us over completely and makes a shame-being (which we should write without a hyphen) just as in the description Sartre offers in Being and Nothingness of the person who is caught looking through a keyhole and whose entire being at that moment is made of shame. Humiliation is so strong at that moment that you can no longer bear to “look at your self;” you hope that the earth will open up and swallow you, you want to no longer exist. That’s why we have so much trouble not only in admitting to shame, but even in designating it as such and why we try to keep it as deep inside ourselves as possible. Effectively, we are ashamed of shame, which only makes it stronger.
CC ⏤ Shame is difficult to talk about, to admit, to share, because it reaches the deepest part of ourselves and “dis-integrates” us, in other words it attacks our unity, the very foundations of our identity. That’s why it’s difficult to separate the act from the person, because shame is invasive. But if we cannot speak about shame, if we cannot recognise it, we have no solution other than to bury it, and then it can shake us to pieces at any moment, as soon as we are confronted with the gaze or the judgement of the other. Sometimes we have to have recourse to a symbolic external authority, which can help us distinguish between what belongs to the order of wrongdoing and what belongs to the order of value judgement in order to put ourselves together again.

In your work, you show how emotions form an “archipelago,” how they depend upon each other, how they are joined together by “invisible links.” “Nothing is ever separable or circumscribed.” Shame emerges as a kaleidoscope feeling, linked to guilt, disgust, anger, sadness, pity… It’s dizzying just trying to describe it. You write that “shame is the apprehension of a limit which demarcates something we don’t want anything to do with, something disturbing, repulsive, even dangerous.” Isn’t it the difficulty in defining this “something” that makes the task so arduous ?
CC ⏤ It’s true, shame is a subtle emotion, which has a multiplicity of nuances and degrees, notably because the situations where one can experience shame are multiple, if not to say infinite, in the sense that shame attaches itself both to acts we have committed and to those wish we hadn’t. In that case, it is close to repentance or remorse, as well as to acts that we didn’t commit ourselves, but of which we are the innocent bystanders – in which case it is close to compassion, a “smothered” compassion, so to speak.
RM Yes, but shame is also associated with circumstances that prevent me from being, constrain me, paralyse me, even when I haven’t done anything wrong. Not so long ago, I witnessed a scene at a train station, where some teenagers were showing off their trendy designer trainers. One of them seemed to hunch over on the bench, hiding his feet, covering them with his bag… he was wearing tattered old shoes, and, at that moment, I am sure he wanted the train to arrive so that they could move on and talk about something else. He was ashamed. Ashamed of his poverty, of his social “inferiority.” But that kind of shame is not linked to any culpability; it’s to do with modesty and humiliation, or more exactly – although the term is much less common – with “ignominy,” that “embarrassment” that makes us afraid of the gaze of others, afraid of being an object of mockery or condescension, that makes us feel that we are not “up to scratch,” that we are inadequate. The Greeks had two terms for shame : aidos and aischyne. The first can translate modesty, and everything to do with expression, “I don’t dare” (I don’t dare speak for fear that they hear my foreign accent, I don’t dare take off my coat for fear that they see my old worn shabby jacket, I don’t dare invite my friends to my house for fear that they see the bunk beds and the mattress on the floor, etc.) or a kind of “embarrassment,” a feeling of compunction that inhibits me and prevents me from performing actions that could be a source, real or phantasmagorical, of blame, of taunts, discredit, mockery or humiliation. In that sense, aidos-shame is “preventative,” whereas aishyne-shame is secondary, because it comes after the fact, after we have done something bad, sinful, excessive, blundering, or criminal.
CC ⏤ That “something” you were talking about is the difficulty, yes, of course, of talking about shame, because it is painful to get close to it, because disgust, fear and anger are so bound up together, and because, moreover, shame can be active in every different sphere of life, and it’s sometimes hard to understand that what someone else experiences as shameful only makes sense in the context of their life story. At the origin of shame, there is always a violence, which has ripped apart the idealised image of the self, and sometimes you have to go very deep to understand that.

In the “liquid society,” a perpetually changing society with no fixed boundaries, (Zygmunt Bauman) to which you refer in your book, what is the place of shame ? On social networks, we exhibit ourselves, we exhibit our lives, even in their most banal, most trivial aspects, we flaunt our emotions shamelessly, we comment without embarrassment, we unveil intimate aspects of ourselves (our homes, the faces of our new-born babies, etc.) in more or less staged ways… In such a context, is shame, whose vocation is to establish a border between the showable and unshowable, the sharable and the unshareable, destined to disappear ? Or rather to burrow down more deeply into the hidden recesses of the self ?
RM What seems to be disappearing in our society of generalised exhibition, is not shame per se, but modesty – in a movement which mirrors that whereby eroticism, which presupposed seduction, chiaroscuro, deferred gratification, masquerade, veiling and unveiling, has been supplanted by pornography, which shows everything, with no veils, no filters, no metaphors – which is, in a word, ‘ob-scene.’ Nowadays, everything is on display, including what used to be thought of as intimate, be it within family or friendship groups : pregnancy, the baby in the maternity ward, birthdays, honeymoons, exam results, hotel rooms, surgery, new hair styles… The boundary between the intimate and the public seems to have been abolished by a mixture of vanity and immodesty which makes people think that their child’s birthday is of interest to the whole world !
CC ⏤ Modesty seems to have disappeared, and that obviously has to do with the effacement of the boundaries between the private and the public, the real and the virtual but also to do with the disappearance of some feelings which once loomed large in works on civility and morality, and the function of which was to protect you in society from the gaze of others. I’m talking about restraint and discretion, for example, which were seemly to maintain in certain situations to avoid exposing oneself publicly. We are all the more vulnerable to shame because on social networks there is a tendency to offer “revelations,” to be open, which, in certain situations, can prove liberating. But when you come out of a close-knit group, in which you can rely on the empathy of your friends, onto the Internet, you don’t control the violence of certain reactions, and you can then suffer from no longer being perceived except through the act of revelation, as is the case for example, for people who have been the victims of shameful acts, with which, once revealed, their names are always associated.

In our narcissistic society, in which an idealised self-image is constantly in play, “in this age which honours power and performance,” is shame not to a certain extent, a virtue ?
CC ⏤ I think so, as long as we are talking about shame not linked to guilt, but shame linked to modesty. The individual who is incapable of experiencing that kind of shame and who “dares to do anything” has, in a way, lost all sense of limits. The shameless person doesn’t respect anything, will say anything, and profanes everything, they are unlimited in their being, and if they don’t wallow in their animal instincts and desires, they let their will to power run riot, swollen by pride, cupidity, envy, and the absence of all sense of shame.
RM We could also see the corollary of that : modesty-shame, hesitation, shyness, fear of exposing oneself, would be virtuous if they were to act as inhibitors and put a brake on both the valorising of performance and the sacralisation of power. They do act in this way. The problem, is that those with powerful voices do not listen to this weaker voice, pay no heed to it, despise it even.

You write that “shame is reduced when it is shared.” Is that the case with #metoo ? (there has been much talk of an end to victim shaming)
RM To an extent, yes, shame is a lighter burden to carry when, originating from the same cause, is shared, because it creates a fraternity, a sorority in this case, which allows awareness to develop more quickly and communal action to result. The expression “an end to victim shaming” doesn’t seem adequate to me, because on the side of the harassers and the rapists there is no shame, neither the modesty-shame which holds someone back from committing excesses, violence, and abuses of power, nor remorse-shame, which follows once the crime has been committed – if that were the case, they wouldn’t have harassed or raped anyone. The hope is that preventative blame starts to diffuse, thus removing from the minds and from the bodies of men the very idea of violence against women, which hopefully will one day disappear. Such violence can no longer be envisaged and make people ashamed.

If one is ashamed of oneself, one can also be ashamed of other people (“I’m ashamed of you !”). Is it not more shameful to be ashamed of others (parents, children) than to be ashamed of oneself ?
CC ⏤ Being ashamed of others can be more painful when it comes to people close to us, because love, friendship or affection are also wounded. Shame is contagious.
RM Yes, it seems to me that it is cast in the negative space of pride, and functions according to a reverse logic of the latter. In addition to being proud of myself, I can be proud of someone else (my father, my cousin, my student, my apprentice, my friend, etc.) if I can discern in the acts or attitudes from which the pride derives my own participation, be it ever so slight. The coach is proud of the victory of his or her athlete because they recognise that they are involved in their success, because they taught the athlete to train well, to lengthen their stride. As far as shame is concerned, it is the same thing, but in reverse. I am ashamed of the way my son has behaved, not only because I realise that in acting the way he has, he has disregarded everything I thought I had taught him, but also because I feel guilty, for not having inculcated him with certain values, for not having instilled in him the necessary strength, courage or decency…
CC ⏤ That’s why in the shame that we feel for someone (someone close) there is always, at the same time, the pain of seeing them in trouble, embarrassed, humiliated, and the guilt that we feel not for any wrong we ourselves have done, but for what we didn’t do to prevent the other person from behaving badly or in a cowardly way…

Running through “Archipelago of the Passions” is a question of the ambiguity, of the permanent imbrication of ideas and feelings, of a refusal of univocity. You suggest that we can also “lie to ourselves about the true nature of our feelings and our emotions.” Do we ever fully assume our shame ?
CC ⏤ Shame is not something that we can “admit” to feeling. We can acknowledge our sins, our uneasiness, our difficulties, our desires, our bad thoughts, our secrets… But shame “possesses” us, ambushes us. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, it seizes hold of us, makes us tremble, makes us sweat, makes us gasp for air. It’s not within our control. It’s shame which controls us, which establishes itself, in the redness on our faces and the clamminess of our palms… We have to pay attention to the culture of avowal and not fall into the obscenity of misfortune, because when we expose our wounds, we also expose ourselves to blows. Shame invades the entirety of our being and sometimes leads to an amputation of memory, because shame can take root in a traumatic experience which splits the subject in half. In those cases, it’s a question of finding the word to restore the integrity of the subject and the thread of his or her story, not through admitting something but through constructing a narrative.

Our issue is called “Blushing.” Why does shame make us blush whilst modesty make us pale ?
RM It’s strange, isn’t it ? Shame is “affluent” we could say, it’s an afflux of blood, a sort of hot and humid panic which takes over the whole organism, puts it in the spotlight, magnifies it, exposes it; when we’re ashamed we have the impression that the world is looking at us and shaming us, that we are nothing more than a presence, a gigantic blob exposed for all the world to see as visible as a giant, red stain. Redness in the face belongs to the semiotics of danger, of the fear that our entire being, everything we are and everything we have done, is reduced to the shameful act we have committed. Modesty, on the contrary, is “defluent.” We don’t want to be seen, we withdraw. We don’t dare show ourselves, speak, sing, dance or recite a poem in front of the class, and we want to be transparent, to blend in to the background of the world, not to be noticed, to disappear, to bleach ourselves of all colour, of every visible mark. We talk about “shrinking back into ourselves,” and we could also express the idea of making our blood flow downwards to leave nothing more than the lymph, which we imagine to be the milky whiteness of pallor.

Translated into English by Sara & Emma Bielecki


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By Saskia de Brauw for the Blushing Issue
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by Maxime Delcourt
By Jessica Michault