18 Fictional Empathy. Rita Felski and Namwali Serpell (with JP)

John travelled to Odense, Denmark for a conference called “Love Etc.” (RTB is for it…) and fell into this conversation about empathy, identification and “uncritical reading” with the novelist Namwali Serpell and literary theorist Rita Felski. Hannah Arendt’s distrust of too much feeling, not enough thinking loomed large; so did Zadie Smith’s recent article in defense of empathy. The room was unexpectedly resonant–but so were Serpell and Felski’s insights.

Mentioned in the episode:

Michael Warner, “Uncritical Reading

Zadie Smith, “Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction

Namwali Serpell, “The Banality of Empathy

Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

George Eliot, “Middlemarch”

Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics

Cartherine Gallagher, “The Rise of Fictionality

Noel Carroll, Beyond Aesthetics

Brett Easton Ellis, American Psycho

John Bender and Michael Marrinan, Culture of the Diagram

Sophocles, The Women of Trachis

Bernard Williams, “The Women of Trachis: Fictions, Pessimism, Ethics

Hans Christian Anderson’s charming, tiny house:

Listen to the episode here:

Read the transcript here:

Upcoming: in early December, string theorist Albion Lawrence discusses the powers (and pitfalls) of scientific collaboration with EF and JP. They try to decide if they should be jealous of the sorts of teamwork and back-and-forth that nowadays profoundly shape all branches of science. Maybe a case can be made for an elective affinity between solitary cogitation and disciplines like anthropology and literary history. Or maybe JP and EF just need their alone time, curled up in the corner with a favorite blanket….

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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