Narrative Empathy and Attention

Susanne Schmetkamp

Do we empathize with an art work? In contemporary philosophy empathy usually is focused on human beings, sometimes animals. According to the traditional theories on „Einfühlung“ at the beginning of the 20th century though, empathy can also be intended to objects, forms, colours, atmospheres. And these address us too. Is it therefore possible to speak of a „narrative empathy“ here? The term „narrative empathy“ normally refers to „the sharing of feeling and perspective-taking induced by reading, viewing, hearing, or imagining narratives of another`s situation and condition“, as a Suzanne Keen writes. Again another living entity is central here. However, objects tell stories too – can we therefore also empathize with them in the sense of a „narrative empathy“? How do we empathize with objects as such and with artworks in particular? We will clarify the issue of empathy in general, will then discuss the specific notion of „narrative empathy“ and try to adopt it to art works. In this regard we will also discuss whether empathy with artworks needs a specific form of attention: a steering towards the object where this is received in a manner different from other contexts.