In recent years, a growing field of empathy studies has started to emerge from several academic disciplines, including neuroscience, social psychology, and philosophy. Because literature plays a central role in discussions of empathy across disciplines, reconsidering how literature relates to "feeling with" others is key to rethinking empathy conceptually. This collection challenges common understandings of empathy, asking readers to question what it is, how it works, and who is capable of performing it. The authors reveal the exciting research on empathy that is currently emerging from literary studies while also making productive connections to other areas of study such as psychology and neurobiology.
While literature has been central to discussions of empathy in divergent disciplines, the ways in which literature is often thought to relate to empathy can be simplistic and/or problematic. The basic yet popular postulation that reading literature necessarily produces empathy and pro-social moral behavior greatly underestimates the complexity of reading, literature, empathy, morality, and society. Even if empathy were a simple neurological process, we would still have to differentiate the many possible kinds of empathy in relation to different forms of art. All the complexities of literary and cultural studies have still to be brought to bear to truly understand the dynamics of literature and empathy.
Table of Contents
Introduction Meghan Marie Hammond and Sue J. Kim Part I: Empathy and Reading 1. Novel Readers and the Empathetic Angel of Our Nature Suzanne Keen 2. Empathy Aesthetics: Experimenting Between Psychology and Poetry Susan Lanzoni 3. Feeling Your Pain: Exploring Empathy in Literature and Neuroscience Lauren Fowler and Sally Bishop Shigley Part II: Empathy, Form, and the Body 4. Empathic Noise John Melillo 5. I Object: Autism, Empathy, and the Trope of Personification Ralph James Savarese 6. "Hearing the Speechless": Empathy with Animals in Contemporary German Lyric Poetry Eleonore De Felip 7. Empathizing with the Experience of Cultural Change: Reflections on Contemporary Fiction on Work Sigrun Meinig Part III: Difficult Empathy 8. Empathy and the Unlikeable Character: On Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Zola’s Thérèse Raquin Rebecca N. Mitchell 9. "The Great Sum of Universal Anguish": Statistical Empathy in Victorian Social-Problem Literature Mary-Catherine Harrison 10. Conformist Culture and the Failures of Empathy: Reading James Baldwin and Patricia Highsmith Suzanne Roszak 11. "More Electrical than Ethical": Joan Didion and Empathy Karen Steigman 12. Humanizing the Inhumane: The Value of Difficult Empathy Eric Leake Part IV: Empathy and Genre 13. Empathy and Gender Activism in Early Modern Spain: María de Zayas’s Amorous and Exemplary Novels Isabel Jaén 14. Irony as Cognitive Empathy: Mind-Reading Tom Jones’s Narrator Nathan Shank 15. Gertrude Stein and Empty Empathy Meghan Marie Hammond 16. Paradoxical Worsening of Empathy: Ambassadorial Science Journalism and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Sarah L. Berry
Meghan Marie Hammond teaches at New York University. She is the author of Empathy and the Psychology of Literary Modernism, forthcoming in the fall of 2014. She has published articles and book chapters on Herman Melville, Henry James, Ford Madox Ford, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Her next book project is a cultural history of the corpse in the modern era that examines the material relationship between the dead body and narrative.
Sue J. Kim is Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She is the author of On Anger: Race, Cognition, Narrative (2013) and Critiquing Postmodernism in Contemporary Discourses of Race (2009).
"The essays in this volume expand and complicate our sense of what it means to empathize—with others or with animals, with objects or with letters on a page. Bringing scientific and literary arguments together, it treats empathy as a robust power capable of bringing harm as well as good." – Rae Greiner, Department of English, Indiana University, USA