by thomasmagnahastings

Empathy, or Einfühlung, is something you must guard yourself against. When the empathic other looks at you with feeling, just close your eyes. Sympathy is fine: the kind where your eyebrows fan out in public and the distance between two bodies is registered as a space of difference.

Empathy, by turn, should be sensed for what it keeps discrete, a process of sensory acquisition. Meaning literally, that when standing in front of an object (the object of empathy is an object like Hegel’s slave), I hold my body in a certain way, with my weight distributed frontally forward. This kind of kinaesthetic poise is completely deliberate, and designed to empower the eye, which assumes the telescopic, nearly telepathic power of antennae.

Process: the empathetic subject empties outward, discharging a burst of energy that shines up the spine, rattles through the antennae and, materializing light as a carrier of sight, cuts right through sympathy’s sovereign space of difference to penetrate the object of study. The act of empathy is phenomenological down to the ground. For instance, see Le Corbusier’s drawing of a stick person made mobile through the discursive extra-agency of a detachable eye:


Architecture is at the centre of the nineteenth century German aesthetician’s account of Einfühlung, because the scene of judgment (the scene of acquisition) is here not circumscribed by a frontal perspective. The empathic subject first learnt how to smuggle his emotions, intentions, agendas and designs into the object by wandering freely around interior space. Walking through close-packed rooms, or up and down stairs, the proximity of walls induces a kind of myopia that channels a surfeit of vision back in to the body’s skin, muscles and nerves. The empathic body is supplied its charge from this excess of vision, so that when it eventually stops stationary in front of object x, it has accrued the energy it needs to collapse a distance and smash through the object’s defences.

Domestic abuse is often not physical, and the alibi of ‘emotional support’ should be checked against the aesthete’s divisive fashioning of Einfühlung as an imagining will, or Vorstellungswille.

* Click on the image to enlarge.