[-empyre-] question of empathy?

Mine Kaylan M.Kaylan at brighton.ac.uk
Fri Nov 14 00:00:38 EST 2014


Hello dear Empyre colleagues,

Forgive the delayed intervention. It is true that I am ‘legless’ at present but neither in a serious (it will pass) nor unfortunately in a more pleasurable way. I have been considering the very interesting topic and reading your posts with great interest, trying to find a point of intervention that might add something without throwing the flow and exchange off kilter! I know Johannes does an amazing job of holding the miscellany of approaches and discussion threads into a rich weave of discourse.
I will take Yoko’s poetic lead and write more subjectively, where I feel more secure about commenting on the subject of 'violence, terror and performance’. If you will permit, I will take advantage of my slow uptake(!), to make a shwyeh, shwayeh (slowly, slowly) introductory approach.

I wanted to start with quoting Kate Tempest interviewed by Jon Snow of Channel4 29 Oct 2014 at the Mercury Prize nominations
http://www.channel4.com/news/kate-tempest-mercury-awards-nominee

“Kate Tempest is a poet, a rapper, a playwright and a social activist from south London. She s also nominated for a Mercury music prize, and she s been speaking with Jon Snow.” (transcribed by me:)
JS: "You’re an activist so if yr poetry could change the world what is it you would like to change
KT: “we have become obsessed with these notions that the things that we carry through life are the things that define us as people but they are not real, only thing that  is real is,,not accolades, not anything but how we engage with our fellow human beings and we have arrived in this very strange space where if some fellow human being asks us for help, rather than responding we ttrreat them w suspicion. If I could say anything to anybody it is to encourage empathy, real empathy. There is horrible fear and ignorance festyering in our own cities and towns and globally, the situation we have got ourselves in is terrifying.., the lovely young British …artist: poet, musician, writer and activist, who has just won the Mercury prize for her music.. It is not that I am a particular fan of her music /poetry (rap), but I know she is well loved and respected by her peer group (thus the award). She was being interviewed by the respected veteran TV journalist, Channel 4 news presenter, Jon Snow and he asked her: “you are an activist..what would you want to change:

Empathy. I have been considering about this as a force for change, more an more, however I have done so indirectly, through the practice and education of Performance and Theatre. It has taken me awhile to dare to name what is probably at the heart of much of my interest as academic, artists and  even (if I optimistically identify with what someone has kindly called me), ‘an educational activist', myself. I sort of knew the feeling that ran through all of my enquiry, but I seemed to refused to name it, because it seemed too obvious, too simple- simplistic perhaps. 

Johannes mentioned that I was interested in poetics of live exchange and convening creative ‘spaces' for this to happen- nothing new or original, of course. Artists like Suzanne Lacey have been working with such forms for years and to be sure, it is what we are doing here on empyre!  Cultural theorists like Richard Sennet have written around this subject- esp his book ‘Respect’. 
I suppose it sounds fairly generic- common to any academic community or social group which sets up gatherings, seminars etc... As well as continuing to curate many such gatherings, perhaps, what I have been attempting to do, is something more particular to my professional and cultural background.By apply the training and work as a performer, specifically in the matter of highly tuning the *attention through the body and the visual image (through the body), and by working on all the skills of ‘becoming present’, one can ‘charge’ a communal space  where a genuine open exchange can occur in the present tense. This I do because I believe that these can be spaces where the power relations are equalised, where across disciplines, across cultures a non-hierarchical exchange happens. I have tested this through many educational projects in various cultural contexts ad well as in my teaching over the last 25 years.  Of course, what I have been interested in all these years can also be named as ‘spaces of empathy’.

Now for the subject at hand. I do find it difficult to comment with any deep knowledge about the actions of the many political factions that appear to be terrorising ‘ordinary and innocent’ folk- especially as highlighted in the Middle East, at present. Not because I do not feel terrified and violated by actions as others do, of  appalling acts transgressing our sense of what is a civilised human.  However, I am also quite interested when I experience something of the same feelings: terrified and violated, from actions of those who are much closer to my relatively blessed academic, ostensibly peaceful middle class British professional life..I.e. when I feel violence and terror within my own community. 

Whilst I do not wish to simplify, deny or diminish the anguish of those in midst of atrocities as have been referred to in the discussions so far, I do know that there is a shared threshold for these feelings, once transgressed, the degrees of intensity and tragedy vary, but the ingredient of feeling may share some things.. And of course, there are further thresholds. Metaphorical rape is a million miles from actual rape etc..However, I believe there is also something in the dynamic of action in its perpetrators, that is shared. Of course, again, all this is nothing new, this is why we have the internationally agreed landmarks for  'human rights' etc.

I suppose, naïve though it might seem, I am interested in what there is in common between the deranged, brainwashed, self proclaimed young ‘terrorist’ beheading another with his sword is  and for example the British politicians  who sent young soldiers to ‘behead’ Iraq. Are/were they were suffering from a similar physopathology: an inability or refusal to exercise empathy. Ironic it is that much of the recent examples have been in the name of religion (including Blair and Bush’s 'hotline to god' syndrome), when empathy is supposed to be at the heart of religious teaching of any creed.

And here comes the ‘performance' link for me, and I shall propose it here for critique and analytical tousling:  the central and most affective element of ‘Performance’ as a discipline and as an art form is the ‘making present’ of people and ideas together as a space for 'live exchange'. Herein lies the metaphysical formula to constitute, create, remember the empathic relation. Empathy. (I am talking about embodied presence here, as I do not have enough practice on this , about remote, mediated presence, but am open to comments and discussion.)

I have tried to summarise my perhaps all too simplistic equation. Forgive me if so and I welcome your thoughts.
Thanks for bearing w me and I look forward to any responses..and will write more.

Best
Mine K
*see for e.g. The work of my once teacher and mentor Steve Paxton. http://www.walkerart.org/calendar/2014/talking-dance-steve-paxton




________________________________________
From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Johannes Birringer [Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk]
Sent: Thursday, November 13, 2014 9:16 AM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] From a distance

----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------


Hallo Pier
thank you for your response, and I can imagine the quiet place you are speaking of. But I was not writing of film in that sentence, i was suggesting that I reject the idea of war against war, war against terror,
and prefer truce, negotiation. and I only use the german word because of the "stillstand" as i was still thinking  of Yoko's performance.    I like what you say about Rachmanut.
About distance: it's probably not the same as the concept/technique of the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, at least not the way in which Yoko, I believe, was implying her reflections on the local elderly people, and
the dogs barking, in the mountains far removed from ISIS, and yet not far enough perhaps from Fukushima.

regards, Johannes


[Pier schreibt]

Johannes, I only just got to watch a German trailer of Waffenstillstand and I assume when you say “prefer” that film, I assume you are not comparing them. I don’t see how they can be compared.
I come from a place where Robert Bresson is one of the best filmmakers, so it is a very quiet place - hence that Gueules Cassées old film - without its new overpowering track - fills me up through its vacuum.
This is an important concept for me that I saw described in the Hebrew word for Compassion Rachmanut which contains the word for Matrix, having to make room for another inside one’s womb.
Fullness does not invite anything else, the space is already taken. This applies to sound, pictures, words, etc…

About distance, since it is one of the topics here, while I was always interested in many films that brought up the distance that Brecht wished for, we have now a new distance, the remoteness of great distances.
Of course, there was also distance with Claude Eatherly - Gunther Anders exchanged letters with the US bomber (Hiroshima).
Good luck in Dresden.




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