Speaking Difference

This is how I, idiosyncratically, conceptualize empathy: as the willingness to meaningfully project my existence beyond its structural confines. Here, empathy is an attempt at awareness that cannot ever capture, nor is it meant to, actual facets of different ways of being. When empathy is effective, it encourages a resonating vulnerability that increases interdependencies. Empathy is a tool to reduce the distance between myself and others.

Empathy is surely not the only tool that can be used to get from me to you, but when it functions in this way, what makes empathy more or less effective? What other tools are either already available or possible to cultivate when I endeavour to understand myself in unfamiliar ways?

I am staking out empathy as an initial position to consider speaking difference from, and in a practical sense I have to come to terms with what it might mean to apply empathy to my own curatorial methodologies. Maybe it’s like this at the beginning of any investigation, but I’m not sure at all how to instigate an empathic curatorial practice, nor even if empathy is capable of the things I hope it is, but empathy is my hypothesis.

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2 thoughts on “

  1. Kimberly Simon says:

    I may be misreading your initial thoughts here but I’m interested in how you’re constructing a curatorial methodology for speaking difference that uses notions of relation (“getting from me to you”) as a means to “understand yourself.” Interesting that you talk about understanding yourself rather than understanding difference… Does acknowledging the subjective in your curatorial methodology necessitate putting yourself first in relations to difference? Or is it you as a curator who is speaking difference in your conception of these projects? Is your research around how we understand ourselves through (in relation/against) that which is different? Or are you looking at how we see ourselves as difference.

    If we are talking, perhaps more conventionally structured here, about curating voices of difference and to what effect… my questions lie in the ways a relation of empathy is, perhaps unproductively, always a putting oneself in the shoes of others, always a bringing back or a grasping of the other in terms of one’s sense of self. What are the ways we might stay in relation to that which is truly unknowable in our own terms. I think working through notions of proximity first might be fruitful — proximity with something unfamiliar can destabilize one’s sense of self, make one vulnerable… and then what? I’ve always been interested in the possibility for certain practices of representation to solicit a productive anxiety, a productive vulnerability. I’m looking forward to the ways your curating will enact such moments of productive vulnerability, and I’m looking forward to thinking through together what the productive might mean here.

    • You are right, that there is a certain…egotism in attempting to come to difference through an understanding of yourself. But I don’t know how to get around that, and I think it is productive in the sense that it calls attention to our subject positions and pushes for an accounting of them in our interactions with the world. Or in this case, our confrontations with art objects.

      Our looking at the world is never neutral. When I speak about understanding myself, I don’t mean putting myself in the position of another, but rather paying close attention to how confronting different realities destabilize my own. The differences are alive through what you are calling the generation of a productive anxiety and vulnerability. The whole rest of the world [and even so much of myself] will forever remain fundamentally unknowable. But I think it might be possible to cultivate a world view that relies on a multitude of representations. This is what I mean to invoke when I speak about increasing interdependencies. This could be a way to stay in relation to something that is unknowable, by making it necessary for the sustenance of the things we do understand, by recognizing the way all of these different realities are implicated in our own.

      I don’t want to come to difference as a spectator. The idea of speaking difference means to participate in conversations that are not properly my own, and to attempt to do so responsibly. This might be impossible. But then again, it might not be.

      Do you think that this conception of empathy could be used to cultivate productive anxiety and vulnerability?

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