95 :: Bellies, panics of sympathy, and the cold, cold pastoral

Apologies for the long post ahead, but I want to get my chat out before class, because we’re going to need to hit the ground running in order to do Addie justice and overcome the specter of the comps.

Your blogging has been looking good, especially as I imagine that you are all itching to “get back to the book.”

But oh! please know that all of this is for the book, in honor of it, even.

Again, if we imagine that literature has anything to teach us, then it is on us to look at all the different kinds of ways that teaching might happen. Sometimes that means looking at the social and historical milieu of a text. Sometimes it means looking to source texts that might help us decode writerly decisions. Sometimes, like now, it means expanding the conceptual apparatuses with which we approach texts. True, one might argue that a text’s meaningfulness comes to us through its beauty, but I am pretty sure y’all have the appreciation part down– now it’s time for the rigor.

I am reminded of the final lines of Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” which I like to think of as a beautyful poem that best captures the pleasure and frustration of scholarly contemplation:

Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, –that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

That’s right: we will stare and stare, brought closest to truth at the moments when we are simultaneously most affected by a text and most aware of our distance from it.


So stare at “empathy” and “sympathy.” Not in order to find straight examples of empathy and sympathy in Faulkner, rather to rub the terms together. See where they come together, and where they diverge. Use them to conceptually spatialize some of the human relationships in AILD. This is where several of your posts over the weekend seem to be going: push it harder.

mhpdRemember, mapping space and finding geometry aren’t only about laying down material relations; they are also strategies for locating the parts of ourselves that by necessity exist in relation to parts of others: call it entanglement, imbrication, or Lacan’s notion of “the inexhaustible quadrature of the ego’s verifications.” Entanglement is the definition of family, but, as AILD and SatF have shown us, this plays out in startling and disturbing ways–especially when we add the notion of the texts themselves being metaphors for larger social or historical phenomena AND a notion that Faulkner’s material geographies might also reflect psychic meanings within the texts themselves.

Anyway, here are some treats for your pre-class thinking. The first is this post I found on Objectify This. It’s about “empathy bellies” for men who want to experience what their wives/girlfriends/baby’smamas are experiencing in pregnancy. The post touches on several of the questions we raised in our own discussion on Thursday, and, unexpectedly, also comes back to the equality question. Check it out.

Strangely, that same day, I came across this article in The New York Times, about the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn. Half way down there is a description of Henry Ward (you know, the guy standing next to the Octagon) Beecher’s abolitionist techniques:

“Beecher’s most successful tactic for arousing what he called “a panic of sympathy” for slaves was to stage mock slave auctions in the church, with the congregation bidding furiously to buy the captives’ freedom.”

Um, yeah. You should go read it.

You know, if you’re interested in the sympathy/empathy thing in its historical American uses, James Baldwin has a pretty interesting take on the matter in Notes of a Native Son (speaking on Richard Wright and Harriet Beecher Stowe), and Saidiya Hartman has a pretty interesting book on the subject, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America.

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