Spectacle and Empathy: The Role of Excessive (Em)Body(ment) in Narrative (Part 1) (Seminar)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Women's and Gender Studies

Sarah Beyvers (University of Passau)

Narratives need bodies. Stories are populated by characters whose bodies serve as focalizers for our experience of the narrated world. Certain genres, like body horror, pornography or fanfiction, are predicated on bodily excess, “spill[ing] out over the spectator and penetrat[ing] them with sexual ecstasy or […] terrifying violence” (Linn). In their reception process, some media, like video games and other interactive modes of textual engagement, ask for bodily involvement that exceeds the levels to which our bodies are implicated in other media. However, even without excess as a generic feature or explicit part of reception, embodiment as “a way of […] inhabiting the world through one’s acculturated body” (Weiss and Haber) always shapes how we engage with narratives – as readers, viewers, or players.

By paying attention to both the representations of bodies in narratives and the role of embodiment in their reception, we aim to explore the dual, both complementary and contrary, aspects of bodies as spectacles as well as embodiment as a mode of empathy (or compassion; cf. Ruberg, see also Haraway’s notion of ‘becoming with’) that are at play when considering narratives through the (excessive) body.

Being “attentive to the sociality of lived bodies and the embodiment of the social” (Monaghan), the seminar’s focus is on excessive bodies, i.e. on bodies that tend to be marginalised and othered as spectacle, like non-normatively gendered, disabled, racialised, or fat bodies and excessive embodiment, i.e. modes of engagement with texts that heavily rely on the body.

This seminar seeks to facilitate a discussion on bodies and/or embodiment in narratives and texts. For this purpose, we invite case studies on body representations and/or narrative embodiment that will serve as a basis for our enquiry into the work that bodies do in texts.


This seminar facilitates a discussion on bodies and/or embodiment in a variety of texts, using excessive bodies to explore the dual, both complementary and contrary, aspects of bodies as spectacles as well as embodiment as a mode of empathy that are at play when considering narratives through the (excessive) body.