Academic journal article Western Folklore

Other People's Stories: Entitlement Claims and the Critique of Empathy

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Other People's Stories: Entitlement Claims and the Critique of Empathy

Article excerpt

Other People's Stories: Entitlement Claims and the Critique of Empathy. By Amy Shuman. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005). Pp. viii + 190, acknowledgments, introduction, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00 cloth)

Let me begin in the middle, which, according to Amy Shuman, is where stories always begin. As soon as I hear one, it is already in the middle of its journey elsewhere. This is a book about stories that travel, about the sorts of baggage they pick up and put down on their way, and about the ethical quagmire they can fall into. The middle of Other People's Stories, the philosophical core inscribed in its subtitle, is an examination of this ethical quagmire: the critique of empathy.

Empathy for the suffering of other humans is assumed to be one of the grounds for moral action. It is an unexamined assumption. In her deeply philosophical meditation on the fate of stories that travel, Shuman observes that as a story draws away from its owner-the person who inhabits it, the person who tells it-it is no longer the story of a particular body but the story of some body, of any body. The particular body of its subject remains fixed to its particularity but emptied of its subjectivity so that the body becomes an emblematic body and the story becomes, in Shuman 's terms, an allegorical story. An allegorical story is no longer in the service or under the command of the person whose story it is. It is a strategic token deployed in an axiological space to which its principals do not have access. This displaced value space may purport to entail ends that are good for these persons but the entailment is merely theoretical. If I give money to the girl in the story with multiple sclerosis/ the orphaned child in Guatemala/ the autistic woman, in principle, the person whose body has been put forward as a narrative exemplar might get some; in practice, the emblematic body is remote from the charitable act. Shuman's clear-eyed interrogation of the stories attached to junk mail, poster children, the experience of autism, of orthodox Judaism, of rape, of fights, of fights that did not happen, refuses to sentimentalize suffering in the interests of moral action. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.