Empathy in Crisis: Considering 20th- and 21st-century Literature

(Panel)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Comparative Literature

Anna Veprinska (York University)

Discussing empathy, psychologist Robert L. Katz argues, “The empathizer tends to abandon his self-consciousness. He does not feel with the other person as if running along on a parallel track. The sense of similarity is so strong that the two become one ̶ his own identity fuses with the identity of the other” (Empathy: Its Nature and Uses 9). The role empathy ̶ the ability to imaginatively experience someone else’s emotions ̶ plays in literature carries ethical implications for our relations with one another in and outside of texts. Carrying the promise of connection and understanding across cultures, histories, and subjectivities, empathy emerges as a desirable human trait. Yet the “fus[ion]” of identities that Katz describes also harbours another narrative: closing the space between self and other can teeter from connection to appropriation; the empathizer threatens to usurp the emotional stance of the other. Empathy as symbolic violence comes up against empathy as pro-social connection. This panel seeks papers that confront the multifarious nature of empathy in literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. How does contemporary literature represent empathy? Is there room for competing narratives of empathy in a text? Considering literature of various genres and cultural contexts, this panel asks to what extent empathy itself is in a position of crisis.

This panel seeks papers that confront the multifarious nature of empathy, as both connection and appropriation, in literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Is there room for competing narratives of empathy? Considering literature of various genres and cultural contexts, this panel asks to what extent empathy itself is in a position of crisis.