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Dehumanization and narrative empathy: Perspectives from literary theory and philosophy
Many literary scholars accept Martha Nussbaum’s and Lynn Hunt’s influential claim that works generating narrative empathy with dehumanized others contribute to the advancement of human rights, even though there is no empirical proof that empathy with fictitious characters correlates with readers’ readiness to help fellow beings. At the same time, there are others that dispute the ethical and political role of empathy. Hence, while some scholars in literary theory and philosophy, following the 18th century British tradition, argue that empathy makes us better and should be one of the main pillars of our society, others point to the dangers of empathy, emphasising its necessarily biased character, as well as the dark uses to which it can be put.
The invited speakers of this workshop critically intervene in the debates around dehumanization and narrative empathy. After an introduction on the state of the art by Andrea Timár, the invited guest speakers will focus on important blind spots or complexities to be taken into account. Marc Redfield brings in the experience of the perpetrator rather than the victim, examining Jonathan Littell’s controversial novel, The Kindly Ones in the context of Kierkegaard’s take on Abraham’s sacrifice. Alice Crary discusses cinematographic representations of dehumanisation, such as Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019) and Jordan Peele’s Us (2019). Robert Eaglestone argues “against empathy”, questioning the beneficial role of empathy in reading, ethics and politics. The three talks (each with a short discussion) will be followed by an in-depth general discussion.
1:00-1:30 Introduction by Andrea Timár
1:30-2:30 Marc Redfield
3:00-4:00 Alice Crary
4:00-5:00 Robert Eaglestone
5:30-7:00 General discussion, chaired by Maria Kronfeldner
This event is co-organized by Andrea Timár and Maria Kronfeldner and funded by CEU’s Institute for Advanced Studies and the Epistemology of the In/Human Project (Philosophy Department), which is currently funded by CEU's Research Excellence Scheme Fund.