A Manifesto for A/Human Empathy
The Human is central to the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion that propel capitalist accumulation and energize the politics of liberal democracy. The category of the Human is contested and and historical, drawing our attention both upward toward the terrible pleasures of universalism and downward toward the pleasurable tremors of the corporeal. Codified by the constitutions of white supremacy and colonial domination, the Human is also known by other names: the Enlightened, the Patriarch, the President, the Police. Whether weilding a ballot or a baton, He moves through the world dripping head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.
And yet, from another vantage point, in the shade of His shadow, a dream festers. A series of constellations form from the particularities and singularities of experience. At the edge of this shadow each dynamic movement of inclusion and exclusion can be seen as a fissure in the Human project, an opportunity to encounter each other empathetically and ethically — an opportunity to choose what side of the Human fold to side with.
How do we determine what side of the human fold to side with? What are the contexts and drives that inform this choice or determination? Is choice conditional or unconditional? If determination becomes a conscious, calculated, deliberate act/gesture, is this not already pre/over determined by rationality, which is the defining quality of Enlightenment, an antithesis to empathy or ethic, if in a Levinisian sense?
I want to think us to reflect on what I speculate are the coordinates of Empathy: Proximity and the Face. Two questions arise from this reflection: Is nearness to the other (broadly conceived, human and nonhuman) a precondition of empathy? Do I need to see the”face” of the Other in order to feel empathy? If these are the coordinates upon which empathy lies, how them might we make it more capacious to exceed adjacency or the face (name?).
If manifesto assumes something that is manifest, from its Latin roots, so to speak: something that we can see (as in manus – hand, the “face”? proximal?), yet in the same breadth it evokes a sense of “hostility” (-festus, meaning “hostile”) to the norm, the establishment, to institutional life. Mark the tension between empathy and manifesto.
What if empathy must first start with our body? What does our body has to tell us about empathy? This is a self centred or autonomous thinking but a care-centred and empathetic way of being. This is phenomenology as its most primal, right?
Let me explain.
In this hypercapitalist world, the body must be active, busy and useful. The norm frowns at and maligns passive, indolent and “useless” body, designating them within the discourse of abjection and disvalue. Not productive bodies, not potent for reproducing capital, value. Push the body. Work it. Just do it. All signifying activity. Sports culture particularly promote and valorise “breaking points”. What if the body does not want to be broken? What if the body does not want to “be for profit”?
We tend to see the body as an object. Something to be deployed, mobilised, organised, conscripted, controlled and dominated, all articulating an ethos of normative masculinity. In doing so, we instrumenalised our bodies for a cause, even if at that moment all the body needed was a different rhythm, i.e. passivity?
What if the body is insisting we see it as a subject so that we can better appreciate other bodies as subjects? What if the body wants us to be attune to its own causes, rhythms, emanations, vibrations, and resonances? What if the body sometimes opposes what our mind proposes on our behalf? What if there are insights the body wants to gift us if only we are less resistant to feeling with it and probably speaking, dear body, you are not a vessel, a receptacle, but the boss. So speak to me. Come now, let’s chat or even listen to the snatches of assonance in a world growing increasingly dissonant?
If i recall correctly Deleuze, in The Affect Reader, says something about the body has its own capacity to act. Thus the body is an agent, even though we easily take it for granted.
If we feel with the body, would we be much receptive to feel with other bodies in predicament, pain, precarity and perdition? Can we feel along with others when we resist to recognize the most proximal body in us?
Perhaps a new way of thinking about the a/human empathy would be: when last did we empathise with our body? Might this be the first credo of such a manifesto? You cannot give what you do not have, the cliche goes.
Rob, is it too Zen to listen to our bodies?
I would be glad if at the end of your presentation you allow attendees to sit on the floor, you dim the lights and allow a mere 5 minutes empathy talk with the body, a kind of quiet contemplation of our body, of feeling with our body.
1. When did we last empathize with our body?
2. When the body as to concentrate on insignificant, everyday issues going on all around it, how can it be contemplative about what goes on inside it?
3. This body is both my body and also not my body.
4. My senses are a raw nerve. I can’t hear you through this body.
5. A Dolphin surely seems too close, orangutans closer, a fish further. But my body plan, developmentally, is shared with all of these in outline if not in detail.
6. The body, our first territory, our first manifesto. El cuerpo, nuestro primer territorio, nuestro primer manifesto.
7. Capacities of bodies aren’t the same thing as agency.
8. Friends! (I) have what is hostile to the norm in (my) hand.