Empathy, as I understand it, is an emotional enterprise whereby one subject projects herself into the shoes of another, to inspect and make sense of the other’s thoughts, feelings and pain. Although intrusive, this paradigm of emotional intelligence shares common grounds with sympathy. Both depend upon a second party. To sympathize is to shore up one’s own sense of normalcy by recognizing and staking out the other’s pain. Sympathy is an exercise in reserve: not a reflex but a reflection, it amounts to a non-action. Empathy moves beyond this restrained partiality. When one empathizes, both parties temporarily lose their moorings and move into a state of flux. One subject is weak, recessive and receptive, and makes room for a second subject, who is stronger, more confident, and capable of investigating the pain of the other while holding on to an unguarded or unmoored ego. Sympathy is static and self-shaping; empathy moves where it pleases, shaping things outside of itself.
In terms of dynamic energy flow, the sympathetic subject sucks its principium individuationis from the pain of others (even while offering assistance). In this negatively constructive way, the sympathetic subject makes sense of herself as relatively well off and self-sufficient. Sympathy is vampiric; it capitalizes on things. By contrast, the empathetic subject takes self-sufficiency as her starting point, is adventurous, and comes closer to the drunken self-forgetting of living in the beyond than sympathy ever will (which fears a loss of self-sufficiency). Sympathy shelters the scared self, while empathy advances the brave subject. If sympathy uses the bodies of others to make sense of its own body in space, empathy projects its body in space into the bodies of those around it. Sympathy presents the fragile body’s desire to formalize the disembodied strength of mind, and is a thinking feeling, while empathy designates the mind’s desire to assume the shape of the other’s body, and is a kinaesthetic feeling. If sympathy discloses the drive for form, empathy must be the shout of feeling.