• The Ethics of Emotion: The Dialectic of Empathy and Estrangement in Postwar German Literature and Film

    Stacy Hartman (see profile)
    LLC 20th- and 21st-Century German, MS Screen Arts and Culture, TC Cognitive and Affect Studies, TC Science and Literature
    Film studies, Germanic literature, Literature, Literature and science
    Item Type:
    cognitive science, empathy, ethics, postmodernism
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    Although the question of the role of empathy in our experience of fiction is currently an active one in psychology, most of the relevant research has been conducted on popular literature and film. This dissertation seeks to change that by using cognitive approaches to literature to examine how and why postmodern texts disrupt the reader or viewer’s expected empathic connection with the narrator or protagonist. Drawing on research by both cognitive psychologists and cognitive cultural theorists, I examine first how this disruption is accomplished, through techniques of both narrative and ethical estrangement, such as: narrative unreliability or non-cooperation; mindreading puzzles that can never be solved; moments of intimacy and empathy that are deliberately thwarted; and the presence of the disgusting or the grotesque in the text. Ultimately, I argue that in the wake of the disastrous failure of empathy that was World War II, postmodern writers and directors have sought to render moral judgment and decision-making conscious and deliberate, rather than unconscious and emotion-based. Principle authors and texts include Günter Grass’s Die Blechtrommel, W.G. Sebald’s Die Ausgewanderten and Austerlitz, and Michael Haneke’s films, Die Klavierspielerin, Das weiße Band, and Amour. This argument has implications for not only the field of cognitive cultural studies, but also for psychology, ethics, and education.
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