Violent Sympathies -- MLA Chicago 2014
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith reminds us that sympathy for another must emerge from an act of imagination. Yet this act of imagination ultimately fails to capture fully the suffering of another. "Though our brother is upon the rack," Smith warns, "our senses will never inform us of what he suffers" because "we ourselves are at our ease." It follows then that true sympathy and compassion can only come with vulnerability: when the spectator of suffering feels his own life in equal danger.
This proposed panel explores the possibility of experiencing violence vicariously. We are particularly interested in how violent representation—from fictional depictions to actual instances of violence in American culture—can produce a space of vulnerability that allows for different forms of sympathy to come about. The panel thus welcomes papers that explore how such scenes of vulnerability, where spectator and subject are both placed in distress, potentially encourages sympathy and, in this way, attends to the powerlessness imposed on specific individuals and groups from the nineteenth to the early twentieth century.
Panel participants must be MLA members by 7 April 2013. Please submit a 250-word abstract and a brief CV by 1 March 2013 to Rebeccah Bechtold (firstname.lastname@example.org).