Feeling into Action

Okir-Analog_5-4-2013_JVengua

A haptic I drew to the sound of crickets. Pen and ink on paper.

Colin Dayan’s review of Lori Gruen’s book, Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with Animals, is fascinating to me, relevent to my practice of haptic drawing/painting, where attentive drawing to, say, the sounds of crickets or birds, can take the artist, for the moment, out of herself. But then what? I do think that empathy cannot be true empathy if it does not change you, somehow–change how you move through the world, change what you do.

[Gruen] asks us to experience surrender without sentiment, salvation without angels and harps. Such entanglement is ever proximate, earthbound, and sensible (dependent on the senses). Reducible to no moral, or any other kind of code or doctrinal purity, such a revitalized encounter is not empathy as we usually understand it. Instead it is a giving away of self. Empathy thus demands not only that you recognize another’s feelings, but also that you attend and respond to, become infused by and then act on, another person’s feelings and needs.

For Gruen such openness is not confined to humans but engages explicitly with animals, the nonhuman persons in our midst. She emphasizes attentiveness as well as the leave-taking of self, that prelinguistic place of mutual inhabitation and lived reciprocity where “the unique capacities that other animals possess . . . might be valued in themselves” rather than for their resemblance to human qualities.

Dayan mentions here some anti-empathic stances. For example, he quotes Paul Bloom: “Empathy will have to yield to reason if humanity is to have a future.” Well, humanity itself may be the problem. But, going beyond the binary of rational/empathic, Gruen seems to be shaping an ethics in which, according to Dayan, “empathy is not a displacement of reason but rather a re-invention of it, in another register, as something like cognitive attentiveness.”

 

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