On Discomfort and Empathy as Ethical Relations

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This paper is concerned with the prevailing campaigning desire of documentary and its historical entanglement with the idea that engendering empathy in viewers will give rise to political action, or help create a more just, equitable paradigm of a ‘better world’. I examine the documentary method in an interdisciplinary context paying particular attention to the historical fault lines of documentary’s aspiration to be of socio-political use and examine what this can tell us about potential fault lines to come in art.
I examine the use-value of the documentary's preoccupation with the production of empathy for socio-political ends. To solicit empathy in the viewer, I propose, is to embed into the work an error of cinematic language. And this error, I suggest, may negatively impact on the political efficacy of the work.

Presented at the “Art and Empathy” panel at the College Art Association (CAA) 107th Annual Conference, New York. (2019)
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeNot Eligible
EventCAA 107th Annual Conference - New York, United States
Duration: 13 Feb 201916 Feb 2019
Conference number: 107


ConferenceCAA 107th Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew York

Fields of Science

  • 6132 Visual arts and design
  • artist's film, documentary, ethics, empathy

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