Nidesh Lawtoo - On Empathy and Aesthetics

The Mimetic Foundations of Empathy

Missed the lecture? You can watch it again below.

Empathy is often restricted to a moral feeling, but what if the human ability to “feel into” others goes to the palpitating heart of aesthetic and, perhaps, life experiences in general? Part of an ERC-funded project titled, Homo Mimeticus (http://www.homomimeticus.eu/), Prof. Nidesh Lawtoo (KU Leuven) takes the Wired for Empathy exhibition (Curator: Karen Verschooren) as a timely occasion to reconsider a human propensity for mimetic/empathic experiences that are increasingly recognized as central to aesthetics (from aisthēsis, “sensation”). From Theodor Lipps’s concept of Einfühlung (“feeling into”), out of which the concept of “empathy” was born, to the recent discovery of “mirror neurons,” there are indeed multiple indications that humans are “wired for empathy.”

Conceived for a general audience, the talk explores how the artworks animating this exhibition do not simply represent the world from an autonomous and disinterested distance. Rather, they encourage us to experiment with all our senses the shared affects (sym-pathos, feeling with) that both connect and disconnect self and others, minds and bodies, humans and nonhumans, experiences in life and artistic experiences. That the human need for sym-pathos is accentuated by a prolonged and painful period of social distance during the Covid-19 pandemic, testifies to the importance of reconsidering the role of empathy—for both art and life.

Nidesh Lawtoo is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and English at KU Leuven and PI of an interdisciplinary project titled Homo Mimeticus: Theory and Criticism, funded by the European Research Council (ERC). His work is located at the intersection of literary theory, continental philosophy, and film studies, with special focus on interdisciplinary theories of mimesis (imitation, contagion, simulation). He is the editor of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Contemporary Thought (2012), and the author of The Phantom of the Ego: Modernism and the Mimetic Unconscious (2013), Conrad’s Shadow: Catastrophe, Mimesis, Theory (2016; Adam Gillon Award 2018), and (New) Fascism: Contagion, Community, Myth (2019). His next book is titled Violence and the Unconscious: From Catharsis to Contagion (forthcoming).

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement n°716181)

Mon 21 Jun 2021 19:00


STUK Auditorium


Bijkomende info

The lecture will start at 19:00, not at 20:00 as announced earlier.