9780393047561 / 0393047563

Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears


Publisher:W W Norton & Co Inc



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About the book:

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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