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i n t r o d u c t i o n Thinking of Me Thinking of You Sympathetic Realism This book began in an effort to prove that one could write about sympathy in nineteenth-century fiction without writing about emotion. Emotions, I decided at the outset, are pesky and unruly creatures, hard to describe and still harder to define; it might be better just to avoid them. I had what I considered good reasons for doing so. For starters, the more I read and thought about sympathy, the more I came to recognize the significance of a well-known but often obscured fact, that sympathy and emotion are not the same.1 Emotions can of course emerge from sympathy, but sympathy itself is something else, a form of thinking geared toward others, including the other that is myself as others see me. Thinking of me thinking of you, thinking of you thinking of me—in these formulations, sympathy emerged as a cognitive exercise with strong affinities to intentionality and will. Frequently said to be a feeling—a “higher emotion,” “a kind of tenderheartedness linked to, but distinct from love”—sympathy came to look instead like an imaginative undertaking in which feeling played no absolutely necessary part (Lanzoni 273, 266). Moreover, I saw that this type of sympathetic imagining follows from aesthetic principles. Sympathy is formal. Its formal properties could thus be analyzed irrespective of whatever emotions were (or were not) produced or shared. On the basis of these findings, sympathy began to seem an especially valuable conceptual tool for understanding the nineteenth-century realist novels that were my principal object of study. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot: these were among those authors eager to render sympathy in art. But they were also, as I saw it, suspicious of the notion that knowing or feeling what others feel inspires ethical behavior in us. The book I wrote still holds that “thinking of me thinking of you,” and vice versa, is what sympathy is all about. But severing thinking from feeling turned 2 s y m p a t h e t i c r e a l i s m out to be trickier than I had imagined, particularly when I began looking into what contemporary philosophers and literary critics had to say on the subject. In the past twenty years or so, studies of emotion have proliferated, including Antonio Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (1999), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (2002), Rei Terada’s Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the “Death of the Subject” (2004), Charles Altieri’s The Particulars of Rapture: An Aesthetics of the Affects (2004), and Martha Nussbaum’s Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (2003), to name only a fraction of the works I found perspicuous. In none of these is the role of cognition a minor issue. The scholarly field known as “the philosophy of emotion,” as Robert C. Solomon writes, is “by one measure quite recent,” emotion having been dismissed by philosophers around the time of the Second World War as “mere subjectivity” at best, at worst “nothing but physiology plus dumb sensation” (3). Such views, if they are still tenable, are no longer typical, with the result that there are now many smart, complicated theories of the affects to which one might turn in the effort to distinguish, say, (bodily) feeling from (cognitive) emotion, or primitive (animal) emotions from advanced (human) thought—or theories to inform you of the many reasons why such distinctions inevitably fall apart. Dating to the Stoics, the belief that emotions entail judgment has received much recent scrutiny by cognitivists and others for whom it is no longer possible to deny emotions to animals and infants on the basis that emotions require language , because implying propositional content: that emotions, in other words, involve evaluative assessments of existing states of affairs. As Nussbaum suggests , not all cognitive appraisals need involve self-consciousness; to understand emotions as providing “acknowledgments of our goals and their status” is to affirm their general usefulness for basic cognitive skills like “intending an object and marking it as salient” (135, 129). My argument emphasizes the intentional and evaluative aspects of sympathy but makes no attempt to answer some of the most urgent questions inspiring Nussbaum and others: how feelings and emotions differ, how emotions can involve unthinking and cognitive elements at once, whether animals...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781421407456
Related ISBN
9781421406534
MARC Record
OCLC
822667313
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2012-12-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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