Posted by: glue | June 22, 2011

Empathy

The Turn

 A story in the news this week, about an Emperor Penguin, a youth who made a wrong turn while chasing dinner, and ended up in New Zealand, rather than in Antarctica with his mates. He is only the second penguin to come to Zealand on record.  That this story made it into international news shows the virtue of empathy that is an important capacity of imagination. It is not difficult, even if only glimpsing the poignant photograph of the penguin alone on a vast beach, to identify with the scene as a figure of something felt, an isolation, the alienation of the modern human condition.  Aby Warburg developed empathy as an art historical methodology, using it to understand how the humanists and artists of Renaissance Florence selected and updated the monuments of Antiquity.  Modernist literature is defined by the poetics of epiphany, anticipated by Romanticism’s negative capability in the English poetics, the prototype set by Baudelaire’s correspondences, to Eliot’s objective correlative, and various other versions.  Existential phenomenology applies a philosophical version of the poets’ “worldinnerspace” (Rilke), with intentionality naming the operations of ontology, as in Sartre’s being-for-itself intending a material being-in-itself.  It is Merleau-Ponty’s chiasmus, the intertwining of outside-inside:  the human inner world of invisible spirit is constructed through engagement with an external material circumstance.

Flash Reason develops this natural capacity for identification into a mode of inquiry.  The Avatar effect of consultation is mediated through just such an effect, augmented into a filter for global information.  It is important to note in the first place that the quality of the feeling available in the scene is not arbitrary, but derives from the features of the situation immediately legible through the common experience of embodiment (to be isolated, alone in a strange land, a singular figure upright in a vast and forbidding landscape).  The natural qualities are enhanced by cultural anthropomorphisms, in part through the tradition of animal fables, enhanced by the recent popular documentary, March of the Penguins.  A fact intensified for identification in the life of the Emperor Penguins is that they mate and produce offspring in the perpetual night of Antarctic winter.  Love finds a way, as the commentators observed.

Instructions:  reading strategy (scan the news for potential fables).

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