Emotion, Space and Society 21 (2016) 25e32
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What we talk about when we talk about intimacy Julia C. Obert University of Wyoming, Department of English, 209 Hoyt Hall, 1000 E. University Ave., Laramie, WY 82071, United States
a r t i c l e i n f o
a b s t r a c t
Article history: Received 13 July 2015 Received in revised form 29 September 2016 Accepted 18 October 2016
This essay develops a theory of interpersonal intimacy. It argues that intimacy is made up of four interrelated feeling-states: curiosity, vulnerability, empathy, and a recognition of irreducibilitydthat is, a recognition that one cannot ever fully know the Other, that one cannot ever completely ‘become one with the object adored’ (Woolf, 1992b, p.69). These four feeling-states operate as a carefully calibrated series of affective checks and balances; curiosity without empathy can become aggression, vulnerability without curiosity can become selﬁshness, empathy without uninhabitability can become selfcongratulation. However, when these affects coexist, they allow for a generous orientation towards the Other, and for the Other's openness in returndin other words, they lay the groundwork for interpersonal proximity. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Affect Emotion Intimacy Empathy Vulnerability
1. Introduction We say that we ‘crave intimacy,’ or perhaps that we're ‘afraid of intimacy.’ We host ‘intimate gatherings’ and reveal to our conﬁdants our ‘most intimate secrets.’ We read (supposedly) ‘intimate biographies’ of public ﬁgures; we wear so-called ‘intimate apparel’ next to our skin. But what is this thing we call intimacy, a thing so rhetorically powerful but so conceptually slippery? What is this curious affect, or cluster of affects, or affective orientation, that is both intensely personal and necessarily relational? Intimacy is not quite synonymous with love, nor with sex, nor with friendshipdit is rather a litmus test of the potential proximity of Self to Other. This proximity is, for many of us, the thing we desire most from our relationships; as E.M. Forster's (1910) famous maxim, ‘Only connect,’ suggests, we want to transcend our own boundaries, to be not just contiguous but continuous with other people. However, we are often made painfully aware that this continuity is surprisingly hard to achieve. In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (1992b, p.79) stages this difﬁculty, writing, What art was there, known to love or cunning, by which one pressed through into those secret chambers [of the Other]? What device for becoming, like waters poured into one jar, inextricably the same, one with the object adored? Could the body achieve it, or the mind, subtly mingling in the intricate passages of the brain? or the heart? E-mail address: [email protected]
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.emospa.2016.10.002 1755-4586/© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
This essay wrestles with some of Woolf's questions in an effort to clarify (pace Raymond Carver) what we talk about when we talk about intimacy. While various theorists have already grappled with the concept of intimacydmost notably in Lauren Berlant's edited Intimacy and Compassion collectionsdtheir analysis tends towards the geopolitical dimensions of (real or fantasized) proximity. Berlant (2000, p.3), for instance, discusses collective intimacy, or what she calls ‘abstract intimacy’: the troubling aspects of group belonging that lend themselves to blind patriotism. Similarly, Sara Ahmed's writing, particularly The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004b), illuminates the ways in which the bodies of Others are marginalized by way of hate, shame, disgust, and fear in order to generate the intimate publics of nationalism. More recently, the journal Area's ‘special section’ (2014) on ‘intimacy-geopolitics and violence,’ along with a 2014 issue of Emotion, Space, and Society on intimacy and embodiment, have taken up these concerns. For example, Rachel Pain and Lynn Staeheli's introduction to the former (2014, p.344) asserts that ‘all forms of violent oppression work through intimate emotional and psychological registers as a means of exerting control,’ and Kye Askins' short piece in the same issue (2014, p.353) argues for a ‘quiet politics of encounter’ between a native-born and a migrant woman in the north of England as a form of transformative
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geopolitical activism.1 This breadth of work informs my analysis heredindeed, this essay assumes that all interpersonal proximities are politically charged. However, I aim to complement these arguments, some of which take the term ‘intimacy’ as a given, by lending the concept some affective speciﬁcity. Going forward, we might therefore be able to analyze important geopolitical events on an even more granular emotional level. I have chosen eight texts that theorize about intimacydtexts ranging from Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway to Xiaolu Guo's A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers to Tony Kushner's Angels in Americadto guide this essay's inquiry.2 These texts suggest that intimacy is so complex, and so difﬁcult to achieve, because it is not a uniﬁed feeling-state; it is rather a number of discrete affects that coexist precariously. Intimacy, I argue, involves curiosity, vulnerability, empathy, and, perhaps most importantly, a recognition of irreducibilityda recognition that one cannot ever completely ‘become one with the object adored’ (Woolf, 1992b, p.69). The ﬁrst three of these feeling-states are all forms of openness: for generous orientations towards the Other, and for the Other's openness in return. Without each of these modes of opennessdafter all, curiosity without vulnerability can be proprietary; vulnerability without curiosity can be selﬁshdand without an acceptance of the ‘core of darkness,’ ‘invisible to others,’ that is central to ‘being oneself,’ intimacy is, I think, impossible (Woolf, 1992b, p.69). With them, however, intimacy can be revelatory of both Self and Other, at least to some degree; as Woolf's Lily Briscoe puts it (1992b, p.79), ‘it was not … inscriptions on tablets [that she desired], nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge.’
2. Irreducibility Jacques Derrida's Monolingualism of the Other argues, in discussing translation, that ‘one shall never inhabit the language of the other’ (1998, p.57). There is ‘no possible habitat,’ he explains, ‘without the difference of this exile and this nostalgia’ (1998, p.58). I would suggest, by extension, that the Other is fundamentally inaccessible, whether we share a language or not. There is no way to fully know another's thoughts nor to penetrate another's heart. There is no way to be coextensive with another persondwe can touch each other, but we can never be of one mind. For this reason, even our closest relations must remain in part ‘distant, heterogeneous, uninhabitable’ (Derrida, 1998, p.58). Woolf (1992b, p.69) describes this irreducibility in terms of shallows and depths, explaining that ‘[b]eneath [the surface] it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by.’ All of the texts I read for this project struggle with these inaccessible depths, but ultimately
1 Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner's collection The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in our Time (2012) also argues persuasively for the geopolitical as always already intimate (and vice versa). 2 I selected this study's primary texts by surveying approximately forty literature students and professors, soliciting titles that turned on questions of interpersonal intimacy and including the texts that became the touchstones of these conversations. These texts are historically and culturally variable; they span three continents and over eighty years. This comparative breadth is common in studies of affect: seminal texts like Eve Sedgwick's Touching Feeling and Sara Ahmed's The Promise of Happiness, for example, are similarly wide-ranging. However, I do not intend my attention to my texts' shared features to imply that intimacy is ahistorical or that it should be understood in universal terms. Intimacy is certainly, at least in part, culturally constructed and historically situateddas, I would argue, are all affects. That said, I am also interested in my texts' commonalities, and in considering what these commonalities might contribute to our understanding of intimacy. Nevertheless, more detailed cross-cultural studies of intimacy would certainly be welcome additions to the critical conversation.
indicate that intimacy rests on accepting rather than resisting our mutual ‘uninhabitability.’ Chinese-British author Xiaolu Guo's A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, the story of a young Chinese girl named Zhuang (‘Z’) who moves to London to learn English and begins a relationship with a Western man, hinges on precisely this predicament. Z resents her lover's desire for independence, and suggests that their problems stem from Western versus Eastern approaches to family: Maybe people here have problems being intimate with each other. People keep distance because they want independence, so lovers don't live with together, instead they only see each other at weekend or sleep together twice a week. A family doesn't live with together therefore the intimate inside of a family disappeared. ‘How,’ Z goes on to ask, ‘can intimate live with privacy?’ (Guo, 2007, p.87). While cultural and linguistic differences are certainly at stake in Z's relationship, she is also confronting a fundamentally interpersonal problem: she wants to live inside her lover's head, but ﬁnds she cannot. In this desire, too, she ‘lose[s her]self,’ loses the ability to ‘see [her]self,’ and eventually she reluctantly leaves her partner and returns to China (Guo, 2007, p.272). Intimacy must, she realizes, ‘live with privacy,’ both her lover's and her own. Even her poetic non-standard English, which she learns largely to better connect with her lover, cannot bridge the gap of that ‘privacy.’ This revelation of proximity's limits echoes Clarissa's sentiments in Woolf's Mrs Dalloway (1992a, p.156): ‘[T]here is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect … for one would not part with it oneself.’ Indeed, at one point in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary, Z says, Maybe this notebook which I use for putting new English vocabularies is a “Nushu” [a Chinese word for a secret female-only language used to describe one's innermost feelings]. Then I have my own privacy. You know my body, my everyday's life, but you not know my “Nushu”’. (Guo, 2007, p.97) This statement indicates that there is some core of herself with which Z will not, and perhaps cannot, part. The book therefore suggests that in order to achieve intimacy, one must accept the ‘Nushu’ in both Self and Other. I do not wish to minimize the complex geopolitics of Z's relationship: as a migrant body, she is marked as Other in London, and the dynamics of vulnerability in her relationship are troublingly uneven from the start (she can be deported at any time; her lover cannot). However, as though responding to Sara Ahmed's critique (2004a, p.32) of writers who conceal economies of appropriation or objectiﬁcation and who universalize the Western subject in discussions of ‘fellow-feeling,’ the novel takes Z's perspective and reﬂects on her affections and her attachments in her voice. This is far from a story of a migrant learning to ‘be British’ in order to mitigate her vulnerability; it is rather a story of Z's reckoning with her own desires for intimacy, desires that refuse to be dominated by those of the Western lover. Tellingly, the lover remains nameless throughout, and we are given very little information about his motivations or aspirations for the relationship. Instead, we see from Z's point of view, a political gesture that stems precisely from her recognition of her ‘Nushu’. She cannot live inside her lover's mind, nor can we; the novel's story is hers alone. Z's evolving understanding of her emotional landscape is also an evolving understanding of space. While she initially thinks of ‘emotional geographies’ (Bondi et al., 2016, p.3) as the contours of shared placeda family ‘living with together’dshe gradually learns
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that affects are always already spatial: that feelings are ﬂows, currents, or exchanges that measure the intervals between beings (not ‘objects’ to be owned). Cerasela Voiculescu (2014, p.26) calls these modes of connection ‘spacings,’ describing them as potential dwelling-places that can be ‘existential and relational’ rather than straightforwardly topographical. Z, who eventually does move in with her lover, discovers that cohabitation is insufﬁcient grounds for intimacy, and recognizes instead that her relationship's shared ‘spacing,’ even while it unfolds in shared space, is ambivalent at best: ‘I think you only want the joyful part of love, and you dare not to face the difﬁcult part of love’ (Guo, 2007, p.258). She therefore comes to the conclusion that her relationship cannot be her ‘only home,’ saying, ‘Maybe I should let my life open, like a ﬂower; maybe I should ﬂy, like a lonely bird’ (Guo, 2007, p.259). And ﬂy Z does, to a new life in China. However, when she receives letters from her former partner, she ﬁnds that a kind of intimacy still exists between them, even at a physical distancedand she can appreciate this intimacy now that she is not at risk of ‘losing [her]self,’ now that she can keep her ‘Nushu’ in view (Guo, 2007, p.272). She envisions the new cottage in Wales that he describes in his letter, and while trying to imagine his faraway life, a life that she will never fully understand, she remarks, ‘It is the best gift you ever gave me’ (Guo, 2007, p.283). The ‘gift’ she is referring to is, I think, that of minding the gap between self and Otherdof seeing ‘the absolutely singular character of each person who would, as singular, turn towards others for conﬁrmation and support’ (Costello, 2014, p.121). Guo's point here is crucial: irreducibility is not an impediment to intimacy; it is rather constitutive of intimacy. Kym Maclaren (2014, p.56e7) describes this structuring tension as intimacy's ‘strange spatiality’, explaining that the intimate Other often feels ‘both close and far, both here and there.’ Intimacy turns on a sense of nearness, but it must also involve a willing recognition of the Other's ‘independent freedom, unpredictab[ility, and] uncontrollab[ility]’ (Maclaren, 2014, p.56). Christopher Isherwood's novel A Single Man similarly develops this idea. Isherwood's George, an unhappy, mostly-closeted professor in the throes of mourning his dead partner Jim, begins to develop a close, even ﬂirtatious, relationship with his student Kenny. In one scene, George and Kenny shop together in the university bookstore, bantering casually about the colors of the pencil sharpeners they are selecting and debating what those colors represent (‘“What's red stand for?” “Rage and lust.” “No kidding?”’). The two then fall silent, and ﬁnd themselves ‘grinning almost intimately. George feels that, even if all this double talk hasn't brought them any closer to understanding each other, the not-understanding, the readiness to remain at cross-purposes, is in itself a kind of intimacy’ (Isherwood, 1964, p.68). This deﬁnition of intimacy as ‘the readiness to remain at cross-purposes’ is, I suggest, central to understanding human proximity. In order to achieve this proximity, we must be willing to live together in ‘exile’ and ‘nostalgia’ (Derrida, 1998, p.58). Jean-Luc Nancy's (1991, p.1) notion of ‘inoperative community’ also resonates with Isherwood's sense of intimacy-in-difference. Nancy argues that community as a kind of absolute conditiondas ‘fusion’dis impossible because of our incommensurability (1991, p.15). However, in sharing ‘the exposure of our ineradicable otherness to each other,’ a notion of community as ‘hope’ rather than as ‘concrete satisfaction’ can arise (Costello, 2014, p.121). Nancy (1991, p.39) goes on to theorize ‘inoperative community’ as a function of ‘touching’: a gesture that traces both interpersonal proximity and the intervals between beings, and that consequently immunizes against dangerous forms of overidentiﬁcation (such as jingoistic or xenophobic nationalism). His arguments therefore reinforce Maclaren's (2014, p.56) analysis of intimacy's ‘strange spatiality’: the simultaneous feeling of closeness and distancedand the ‘hope’
to be found in that simultaneitydthat Isherwood's characters experience. As these insights suggest, irreducibility and interconnectedness are not mutually exclusive. They instead exist in productive tension, a tension that lays the groundwork for intimacy. Woolf's Mrs Dalloway asserts that we cannot fully know the Other, no matter how intimate we might be. At the same time, however, the novel argues that our lives radiate out into the world, touching and moving others in many ways. Clarissa Dalloway feels fundamentally alone, and yet also believes that somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and ﬂow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, she was positive, of the trees at home; of the house there …; part of people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best, who lifted her on their branches as she had seen the trees lift the mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, herself’. (Woolf, 1992a, p.11) In other words, although we cannot be fully continuous with one another, we can still make impressions upon one another; although we cannot access the Other's ‘unfathomable depths,’ we can still affect one another keenly when we come into contact. Sara Ahmed (2004a, p.29) uses the concept of ‘the impression’ to explain how we dwell beyond ourselves even while remaining distinct from one another. Ahmed argues that it is through experiences such as pain and pleasured‘encounters between this body and … other bodies’dthat we develop ‘a sense of our skin as bodily surface.’ When my body is marked by Others, I become aware of my own separateness (my surface is felt as ‘“being there” in the ﬁrst place’). At the same time, though, these marks alert me to the ways in which I am affected by, and so connected to, Others. As Ahmed puts it (2004b, p.6), We need to remember the “press” in an impression. It allows us to associate the experience of having an emotion with the very affect of one surface upon another, an affect that leaves its mark or trace. So not only do I have an impression of others, but they also leave me with an impression; they impress me, and impress upon me. The word ‘surface,’ here, does not imply superﬁciality; Ahmed (2004a, p.30) later explains that ‘[t]he impression is a sign of the persistence of others in the face of their absence,’ indicating the lasting effects of ‘surface’ contact. Rather, our interpersonal experiences, even while they reveal our absolute singularity, change the very shape of our ‘bodies and worlds’ (Ahmed, 2004a, p.29)da profoundly intimate effect. The idea of the impression as a form of intimacy is particularly signiﬁcant given the terms' shared etymological roots: the word ‘intimate’ comes from the Latin intimare, which means ‘to put or bring into, to impress, to make familiar.’ Ultimately, then, despite the fact that your consciousness is inaccessible to me, and mine to you, we can nevertheless touch one another profoundly, with both of us being re-formed by the marks or traces of that contact.
3. Curiosity Laura Mulvey's Fetishism and Curiosity (1996, p. xi) deﬁnes curiosity as a ‘desire to know,’ a counterpoint to the ‘desire to see’ that immobilizes the object of the scopophilic gaze. Mulvey's deﬁnition helps us to understand another fundamental aspect of intimacy: a desire to know (or at very least to approximate knowing) about the Other's world that amounts to a ‘political, critical, and creative drive,’ a drive that can carry a relationship beyond superﬁcial
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pleasantries and towards lived proximity (1996, p.62). It is not necessary that we be the same to be intimate, as intimacy doesn't demand uniformity (if it does, it risks becoming the kind of base jingoism that Berlant fears). Of course, intimacy frequently requires tricky navigations of race or class or sexuality or religion or ideologydagain, interpersonal intimacy isn't apolitical. Nevertheless, the basis of proximity is a curiosity about the Other's world, even if that world is substantially different from one's own. Our interest in another's experiences cannot overcome our mutual ‘uninhabitability’ (Derrida, 1998, p.58), but intimacy is precisely the creative tension between wanting to understand the Other and accepting that this understanding can never be complete nor unmediated. This sense of productive incompleteness, a sense that one's conversation with the Other will remain perpetually unﬁnished, is also what keeps us actively engaged with one another. As Isherwood's Kenny says to George (1964, p.133), ‘What's so phoney now is all this familiarity. Pretending there isn't any difference between people …. If you and I are no different, what do we have to give each other? How can we ever be friends?’ Difference is therefore ‘what we have to give each other’dthe very root of intimacydso long as we are willing to reach reciprocally towards that difference. Most of us have relationships where that willingness is truncated on one side or both, limited by narcissism (the friend who only wants to talk about themselves) or by a presumption that some kinds of difference are unbridgeable (the relative who dismisses your work, and with whom you must bracket your professional life). These relationships aren't unsustainable, but neither, I argue, can they be intensely intimate. However, these observations also indicate the ways in which intimacy's constituent parts must coexist. Curiosity must be beset by irreducibility, otherwise it can be a threatening rather than a generous orientation towards the Other, an orientation that is tantamount to ownership. The etymology of the word ‘curiosity’ is telling in this respect. Dating from the 14th century, the term means ‘a desire to know or learn,’ but in an invasive sense; the neutral or ‘good’ valence of the term only appears in the 17th century. Many books about curiosity, such as Susan Scott Parrish's American Curiosity (2006) and Justin Stagl's A History of Curiosity (1995), are actually accounts of colonialism and anthropological travel, which suggests that a ‘desire to know’ can easily verge on a ‘desire to have.’ The Renaissance-era ‘curiosity cabinet’ illuminates this proprietary urgedas a room full of cultural artefacts, a room meant to be a microcosm of the world, it was also intended to convey the owner or patron's control of that world (Fiorani, 1998, p.268). Curiosity must therefore acknowledge its own limits; one must want to know about the Other's world even while recognizing that there are things about that world that one will never know. Curiosity must also coexist with vulnerability (which I discuss further below): the former requires the latter in order to operate reciprocally, as vulnerability is a kind of openness to the Other's curiosity. In intimacy, a ‘desire to know’ must be met with a willingness to be known, at least as far as the limits of uninhabitability allow. In Tony Kushner's Angels in America, intimacy is underscored by curiosity; proximity is only possible in the play insofar as Kushner's characters are willing to know and to be known. Millennium Approaches (the ﬁrst of the play's two volumes) features a moving scene in which Harper, a Mormon housewife with a Valium addiction, and Prior, a gay New Yorker facing an AIDS diagnosis, share a dream sequence, managing a hallucinatory intimacy with one another even as they become increasingly estranged from their real-life partners. Harper and her closeted husband Joe cannot be curious with one another, because neither can face the question of Joe's sexual orientation head-on. Harper laments the distance between them, telling Joe, ‘Even the weight of you in the bed at night,
the way you breathe in your sleep seems unfamiliar,’ while Joe tries desperately to repress his supposedly ‘deviant’ desires (Kushner, 1992, p.37). Similarly, Louis, Prior's partner, fears Prior's illness, and that fear precludes curiosity; after Prior's diagnosis, Louis can scarcely bring himself to look at Prior's body, let alone to imagine a future of living with disease: ‘[M]aybe [I] can't, um, incorporate sickness into [my] sense of how things are supposed to go. Maybe vomit … and sores and disease … really frighten [me], maybe … [I'm not] so good with death’ (Kushner, 1992, p.25). Prior and Harper, however, open themselves to one another's worlds despite having virtually nothing in commondthey ask question after question of each other (‘Aren't you too old to have imaginary friends?’ ‘Why are you wearing makeup?’ ‘You stole these?’ ‘Do you see anything about me?’), demonstrating a genuine, and genuinely reciprocal, ‘desire to know’ (Kushner, 1992, p.31e3). They agree that they are at a ‘threshold of revelation,’ a reference to the liminal dream-space in which their encounter takes place, but also to the space between their lives that they are both at pains to occupy (Kushner, 1992, p.33). The scene concludes by explicitly connecting this mutual curiosity to intimacy: PRIOR: […] I just looked at you, and there was … HARPER: A sort of blue streak of recognition. PRIOR: Yes. HARPER: Like you knew me incredibly well. PRIOR: Yes. HARPER: Yes. (Kushner, 1992, p.34) This ‘recognition’ is far from the satisfaction of gazing upon one's own likeness; again, Harper and Prior's lives could not be more different. All the same, though, these characters bear out Isherwood's sense that intimacy requires difference (‘If you and I are no different, what do we have to give each other?’). For Kushner, difference is a kind of necessary distance, with curiosity as an affect that charts that distance's course as best it can. This observation also reminds us that emotions are always already spatial phenomena. Prior and Harper's shared curiosity bridges a very tangible gapda sense of emptiness that both characters feel as their old intimacies unraveldeven though their geographical worlds have not yet intersected in the play. 4. Vulnerability As I've suggested above, vulnerability is also an essential component of intimacy. Berlant's writing (2000, p.2) indicates that vulnerability cannot be divorced from intimacy, even if we might harbor desires to the contrary: ‘[Intimacy's] potential failure to stabilize closeness always haunts its persistent activity, making the very attachments deemed to buttress “a life” seem in a state of constant if latent vulnerability.’ Put otherwise, a longing for intimacy paired with an acknowledgement of irreducibility means that close relationships are always a source of vulnerability. Judith Butler's Precarious Life (2004, p.23) explains relationality as our being ‘undone by each other,’ deﬁning vulnerability as a willingness to be so undone. Thus, when we say that we ‘fear intimacy,’ it may well be that we fear vulnerability insteaddfor who among us wants to allow the costume that we wear to greet the world to be so easily unbuttoned; who among us wants to be exposed? Moreover, true intimacy makes us vulnerable to loss: not just loss of the Other but loss of the ways in which the Other reshapes the self, the ways in which, as Butler (2004, p.49) puts it, ‘you are already of me.’ However, Butler (2004, p.30e1) also theorizes vulnerability as the basis of community, as a resource for ‘tak[ing] our bearings and ﬁnd[ing] our way’ together. Of course, physical vulnerability is differentially distributed across the globe: some bodies regularly
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experience violence and deprivation while others occupy positions of relative privilege. Butler (2004, p.46) cautions, though, that we must acknowledge the weight of this inequity without denying our own vulnerability, because our ability to relate ethically to others relies on remaining ‘impressionable,’ on ‘giv[ing ourselves] over to th[ose] Other[s] in ways that [we] cannot fully predict or control’. As Janine Wiles (2011, p.182) puts it, when our vulnerability is revealed, so too is our ‘capacity for caring and exchange.’ Without this kind of revelation, the Self remains insular, inaccessible to the ‘impressions’ that others might make, inviolable but alone (Ahmed, 2004b, p.6). This observation illuminates an unexpected convergence: just as curiosity can be deﬁned as ‘openness, receptivity,’ and empathy, as I'll suggest, as ‘porousness’ (Jamison, 2014, p.6), so too is vulnerability described as an ‘attitude of openness’ (Slegers, 2010, p.2) or ‘susceptibility’ (Culp 2010, p.16). All three of these terms therefore gesture towards a particular kind of orientation towards the Other: a willingness to accept the ‘marks or traces’ that our attachments leave on our bodies (Ahmed, 2004b, p.6). Vulnerability, curiosity, and empathy are all discrete feeling-states, but they are also surprisingly synonymous, pointing to the (potentially pleasurable) ‘disruption of hegemonic comfort’ that we must acquiesce to in order to be relational beings (Berlant, 2000, p.2). This constellation of affects is thus the dwelling-place of intimacy. Donna Haraway (1991, p.224) movingly asserts that ‘Life is a window of vulnerability. It seems a mistake to close it.’ This project's primary texts echo Haraway's sentiments, suggesting that intimacy is impossible if one fails to leave one's ‘window of vulnerability’ ajar. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (1990, p.245) resolves on precisely this point: Ishiguro's Stevens, who uses his professional personadhis role as a buttoned-up butlerdto elide personal attachments throughout the novel, eventually comes to realize that ‘in bantering lies the key to human warmth.’ Initially, when asked to confront emotionally charged subjects, particularly his latent desire for his colleague Miss Kenton, he forecloses feeling entirely, hiding behind propriety and dropping the ‘I’ in favor of a distancing ‘one.’ For instance, when Miss Kenton is angry with Lord Darlington for dismissing two Jewish maids under her supervision and frustrated by Stevens' seeming indifference to their plight, she exclaims, Do you realize, Mr. Stevens, how much it would have meant to me if you had thought to share your feelings … ? You knew how upset I was when my girls were dismissed. Do you realize how much it would have helped me? Why, Mr. Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend? In response to Miss Kenton's plea for ‘shared feeling,’ Stevens maintains his stoic ‘pretense,’ and can only stammer, ‘Really, Miss Kenton … Naturally, one disapproved of the [maids’] dismissals. One would have thought that quite self-evident’ (Ishiguro, 1990, p.153e4). Stevens does his utmost to deny his own vulnerability, rejecting his ‘susceptibility’ as a liability: with love comes the specter of loss, and grief, as Stevens suggests after his father's death, is troublingly ‘undigniﬁed’ (Ishiguro, 1990, p.110). Stevens' efforts to sidestep his own feelings by professing that ‘[one's] professional duty is not to [one's] own foibles and sentiments' leave him incredibly isolated; all of his relationships, including his would-be connection with Miss Kenton, remain at arm's length (Ishiguro, 1990, p.149). However, as the novel ends, Stevens' hunger for intimacy at long last overtakes his slavish adherence to social constraint. The restrained rhetoric of his epiphany still indicates the depths of his repression, but I would argue that what Stevens calls ‘bantering’ actually means ‘expressing one's feelings,’ which is to say vulnerability, a willingness to lay oneself bare. By ‘human
warmth,’ too, he appears to mean ‘intimacy,’ ‘membership in a larger human community’ (Bass, 2014). Although several critics read Stevens' decision to work on his bantering as a way of acquiescing to the demands of a new, more loquacious master (the wealthy American Mr. Farraday), with self-revelation operating as nothing more than a mode of ‘ongoing and disappointing deference to Farraday’ (Horton, 2014, p.191), I argue that something larger is at stake here: Stevens' desire to ﬁnd a way to move from protected solitude to the kind of ‘susceptibility’ that breeds intimacy. Stevens' recognition of the need to speak himself, even if that openness means he may be ‘undone,’ is reminiscent of Clarissa's predicament in Woolf's Mrs Dalloway (1992a, p.154): her intimacy with her husband Richard is curtailed because ‘he could not bring himself to say he loved her; not in so many words.’ Richard appears to be a good, if conventional, person, but he fears vulnerability; although he thinks to himself, ‘it is a thousand pities never to say what one feels,’ he still cannot bear to expose himself to his wife (Woolf, 1992a, p.151). Conversely, Clarissa shares what she calls an ‘exquisite intimacy’ with Peter Walsh, because Peter cannot help but make his feelings clear to her (Woolf, 1992a, p.59). Although Clarissa laments, ‘[W]hat can one know even of the people one lives with every day? … Are we not all prisoners? She had read a wonderful play about a man who scratched on the wall of his cell, and she had felt that was true of lifedone scratched on the wall,’ she also knows that her life's scribblings leave traces on Peter, and his on her, even if they cannot ﬁnally breach one another's walls (Woolf, 1992a, p.252). 5. Empathy The ﬁnal component of intimacy is, I argue, empathy. Leslie Jamison's essay collection The Empathy Exams (2014, p.6) offers a useful point of entry into its focal emotion, deﬁning empathy as ‘porousness,’ a willingness to ‘feel … with’ the Other (Woolf, 1992a, p.59). Jamison (2014, p.23) further explains, Empathy isn't just something that happens to us … it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we've committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations. By this logic, empathy takes effort; it is (at least in part) a kind of agency, an active commitment to ‘caring,’ to taking part in someone else's suffering or ambivalence or joy. Robert McLiam Wilson's novel Eureka Street (1996, ch.4) advances much the same argument, positing that empathy involves very intentional imaginative work: The human route to … empathy is a clumsy one but it's all we've got. To understand the consequences of our actions we must exercise our imaginations …. If you do thisdif you can do thisdthen violence or harm becomes decreasingly possible for you. You hold a gun to someone's head, hammer cocked. If you can see what this would do to that head, then it is literally impossible to pull the trigger. Empathy is therefore a kind of ‘exercise,’ a deliberate movement towards rather than passive regard for the Other. However, Jamison (2014, p.20) also indicates that ‘imagining someone else's pain with too much surety can be as damaging as failing to imagine it.’ Empathy must therefore be poised somewhere between vulnerability (the capacity to ‘imagine’ how the
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Other might be feeling) and uninhabitability (the recognition that we can never precisely ‘feel another's pain’). Without the former, we cannot be anything ‘greater than the sum of our individual inclinations,’ but without acknowledging the latter, empathy can be more like ‘theft.’ Jamison claims that she herself is sometimes guilty of what she calls ‘inpathy’: less ‘expatriating [herself] into another life’ than ‘importing its problems into [her] own.’ ‘Inpathy’ can, after all, be seductive: vicarious suffering is typically easier to bear and to resolve than one's own pain, and it can also prompt a sense of smug self-satisfaction. Marjorie Garber (2004, p.24), too, is suspicious of easy claims to empathy for exactly this reason, noting that ‘[a] person who displays empathy is, it appears, to be congratulated for having ﬁne feelings.’ Several postcolonial critics also reiterate this critique of ‘inpathy’ (which Suzanne Keen Broadus [2007, p.159] terms ‘false empathy’), particularly as it underscores uneven power relations between ‘the West’ and ‘the rest’: in a culture saturated with celebrities staging photo opportunities in developing countries to demonstrate their humanitarian zeal, we are all too familiar with ‘the selfcongratulatory delusions of those who incorrectly believe that they have caught the feelings of suffering others from a different culture, gender, race, or class’ (Broadus, 2007, p.159). Sara Ahmed (2004a, p.35) similarly cautions against ‘feeling fetishism,’ noting the geopolitical ramiﬁcations of egotism that masquerades as empathy. Ahmed argues that ‘[b]eing moved by the other's pain elevates the Western subject into a position of power over others,’ and explains that such a view can ‘ﬁx’ the Other as sufferer, as a victim to be rehabilitated by the generosity of the compassionate Westerner. When these fetishizations of (seeming) empathy operate at the level of national policy, they deny the agency of subaltern bodies and allow feel-good gestures of generosity to replace broader structural change. However, empathy need not be infantilizing nor invasive; if we approach empathy with humility, it can be a source of deep connection and of genuine comfortdwhich is to say of intimacy. As Jamison (2014, p.5) puts it, ‘Empathy requires knowing that you know nothing’: I cannot know how you feel, but I am willing nonetheless to ‘bear witness’ to your feelings (Zillman, 1991, p.135). Jill Bennett's (2005, p.8) theory of ‘empathic unsettlement’ (a term that she borrows from Dominick LaCapra) sketches the shape of this ‘ethical empathy,’ as her discussion of ‘trauma art’ hinges on empathy beset by irreducibility. Bennett is interested in how such art affects its spectators, and while she carefully analyzes the problems of viewer identiﬁcation and appropriation, she also clears a space for ‘the aesthetic experience of simultaneously feeling for another and becoming aware of a distinction between one's own perceptions and the experience of the other.’ Empathy, then, rests on the capacity to open oneself to the Otherdto be curious enough about the Other's world to make oneself vulnerable to an echo of that world's sufferingdas well as on the recognition that one must not borrow that suffering in order to experience secondhand relief or resolution. Eula Biss' recent essay collection On Immunity can also further our understanding of empathy. While Biss (2014, p.162) looks at immunity in literal terms, examining contemporary fears of vaccination, she also uses the concept of immunity ﬁguratively to speculate about human interdependencedabout ‘our inescapable network of mutuality.’ Biss outlines the ways in which our bodies depend on others' choices; vaccination is a collective necessity, as it can only eradicate disease if enough individuals in a particular area contribute to the common good. In some ways, therefore, much as we are inaccessible to each other, we are also ‘inescapably’ dependent on each other. This interdependence is
frightening, as it calls the Enlightenment notion of the selfenclosed ‘I’ into question, and, as Biss (2014, p.157) acknowledges, ‘[t]he more vulnerable we feel, sadly, the more smallminded we become.’ However, in order to be relational beings, we must operationalize rather than resist our ‘mutuality,’ turning this ‘porousness’ into empathy rather than into egotism or xenophobia, and remaining open to others' ‘impressions’ rather than shoring up our own boundaries. Woolf's To the Lighthouse stages both of these responses to interconnectedness and juxtaposes their results. Mr. Ramsay, an accomplished metaphysician, falls to pieces in the face of scholarly critique. When forced to confront his own intellectual vulnerability, he becomes an insufferably ‘egotistical man,’ incessantly ‘demand[ing] sympathy’ from his wife and refusing to return that sympathy (Woolf, 1992b, p.42e4). Mrs. Ramsay muses that after talking to her husband, ‘there was scarcely a shell of herself left for her to know herself by’ (Woolf, 1992b, p.44). This is why young James resents Mr. Ramsay: his father treats vulnerability as a liability, as a loss or potential loss of the Self that he must remedy, and he responds to criticism by enlisting his family's energies to rebuild his own ego. He is, James feels, a man with whom reciprocity is impossible (Woolf, 1992b, p.200). On the other hand, Mrs. Ramsay opens herself constantly to fellow-feeling: she revels in her own ‘porousness’, which means that her intimacies are legion. Woolf (1992b, p.88) writes, ‘[Mrs. Ramsay] felt … that community of feeling with other people which emotion gives as if the walls of partition had become so thin that practically (the feeling was one of relief and happiness) it was all one stream.’ Mrs. Ramsay therefore bears out Bennett's theory of ‘empathic unsettlement’: she is willing to enter a ‘community of feeling’ and to take the part of the Other, even while recognizing that ‘walls of partition’ do exist between people, however thin they might be. €’s semi-autobiographical novel A PerSimilarly, Kenzaburo Oe sonal Matter advances a theory of learned empathy that rests on €’s protagaccepting one's ‘porousness.’ The novel opens with Oe onist, Bird, nervously awaiting the birth of his son. When the baby arrives, he has a massive growth on his head, which is initially diagnosed as a ‘brain hernia’ (we later ﬁnd out that the growth is just a tumor). Bird reacts with anger and fear to this seeming ‘monstrosity,’ and encourages the doctors to let the € (1988, p. 53, 166) describes Bird's otherwise healthy baby die. Oe response as one born out of the ‘egotism of shame,’ an egotism that, as with Woolf's Mr. Ramsay, short-circuits empathy, and here even goes so far as to ‘reject … another life’ in order to disavow the Self's vulnerability. After the birth, Bird wonders selﬁshly, ‘How could he discuss the misfortune with other people …. He had the feeling this would never be a problem he could €, 1988, p.53). Later, however, share with the rest of mankind’ (Oe with the help of his lover Himiko, he begins to accept his own ‘porousness,’ saying, ‘You're right about this being limited to me, it's an entirely personal matter. But with some personal experiences that lead you way into a cave all by yourself, you must eventually come to a side tunnel or something that opens on a €, 1988, truth that concerns not just yourself but everyone’ (Oe p.155). The ‘side tunnels’ that Bird mentions here are manifestations of the ‘routes to empathy’ that McLiam Wilson envisions above: lateral paths that one must choose to pursue in order to imagine oneself towards (if not into) the Other's predicament. € suggests, offer us alternatives to burrowing These paths, as Oe further down into the ego's depths. Tellingly, A Personal Matter concludes with Bird returning to his wife and accepting his son, and the novel's ﬁnal scene ﬁnds Bird
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examining his own reﬂection in the boy's pupilsdan image of intimacy born of dawning empathy. However, the intimacy that develops in this scene is limited by the uninhabitability of the Other: Bird tells us that ‘[t]he mirror of the baby's eyes was a deep, lucid gray and it did begin to reﬂect an image [of Bird], but one so €, 1988, excessively ﬁne that Bird couldn't conﬁrm his new face’ (Oe p.165). In this case, his son's irreducibilitydBird's bearing witness to his son's pain as well as the gap between himself and his son's paindprevents Bird from using his newfound empathy to bolster his ego. Having ‘virtuously’ decided to support his family, Bird feels that he is a new man and wants to see his ‘new face’ as conﬁrmation, but his son's pupils refuse to yield that image, stubbornly remaining more eye than mirror. This scene therefore insists on the ﬁssure between father and sonda nearness-yet-distance that is the very stuff of intimacy's ‘strange spatiality’ (Maclaren, 2014, p.56). Alterity, here, illuminates the distinction between empathy and Jamison's ‘inpathy; ’ Bird must see his son as his own ‘personal matter,’ not as a provocation to self-pity or self-aggrandizement. 6. Intimacy In Hanif Kureishi's novel Intimacy (2001, p.77), his protagonist Jay reﬂects, I know love is dark work; you have to get your hands dirty. If you hold back, nothing interesting happens. At the same time, you have to ﬁnd the right distance between people. Too close, and they overwhelm you; too far and they abandon you. How to hold them in the right relation? This is the question on which this essay rests: what is the nature of intimacy's proximity, and how can the constituent parts of that proximity be held in the ‘right relation’? The balance of curiosity, vulnerability, empathy, and uninhabitability is, after all, a precarious one: if one values only irreducibility, then one may never extend one's curiosity or reveal one's vulnerability to the Other; if one fails to value it at all, one forecloses Isherwood's deﬁnition of intimacy as ‘the readiness to remain at cross-purposes.’ Similarly, curiosity without empathy can become aggression, vulnerability without curiosity can become selﬁshness, empathy without uninhabitability can become self-congratulation. In some ways, intimacy even divides us against ourselves: it asks us to open ourselves to the ‘impressions’ that others leave on our bodies while minding the ‘gulf’ that exists between even the closest of companions (Woolf, 1992a, p.156). If we can withstand this divide, however, we are gifted with something remarkable: a relationality that helps us to feel at home in the world, but that also prevents our falling into ﬁxity by usefully unsettling us from time to time. Perhaps this is why Woolf's Lily Briscoe (1992b, p.79) frames intimacy as a kind of epistemology: it enables us to know our own coordinates, but only insofar as the constantly shifting geometry of our world's Others allows. Martha Nussbaum (1995, p.742e3) argues that over the course of Woolf's novel, Lily's desire for ‘complete transparent access’ to other charactersdparticularly in her ‘wish to be fused with Mrs. Ramsay’dgives way to a more modest willingness to ‘know one thing or the other’ about those characters. Nussbaum further explains that Lily comes to ‘conceive of a knowledge that does not entail possession, that acknowledges, in fact, the impossibility of possession as a central fact about the lives of persons.’ Lily's development accounts for the novel's euphoric ending: as she abandons her proprietary urges, and settles for knowing ‘one thing or the other’ rather than knowing all, she ﬁnally manages true fellow-feeling for othersdeven for the difﬁcult Mr. Ramsay, whose masculine authority she has long resented. In gauging her relation to those Others, Lily, too, is able to orient herself, and herself as artist, more clearly. This feeling allows Lily to
ﬁnish the painting that she has been working on for so long; she sees her subject ‘clear for a second,’ realizing that it needn't be constantly in focusdrealizing that neither art nor love cannot fully contain its subjectddraws a ﬁnal line, and lays down her brush (Woolf, 1992b, p.209). With this ﬂourish, Woolf counters Lauren Berlant's notion (2000, p.7) that intimacy is fundamentally conservative because it presumes a desire for stability: To the Lighthouse argues that intimacy is actually about foregoing the security of ownership and learning to dwell with disruption. Ultimately, what we talk about when we talk about intimacy is less stability than it is ecstasy, both the orienting elation and the vertiginous sense of ekstasisdof being ‘beside oneself’ or out of placedthat accompany the proximity of Self to Other (OED, 2014). References Ahmed, Sara, 2004a. Collective feelings, or, the impressions left by others. Theory, Cult. Soc. 21 (2), 25e42. Ahmed, Sara, 2004b. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh UP, Edinburgh. Askins, Kye, 2014. A quiet politics of being together: Miriam and Rose. Area 46 (4), 353e354. Special section: intimacy-geopolitics and violence. Area 46 (4), 2014, 344e360. Bass, Randall. Bantering as a Framing Device in the Remains of the Day [online]. Available from: PostcolonialWeb.org (accessed 15.10.14.). Bennett, Jill, 2005. Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art. Stanford UP, Stanford. Berlant, Lauren (Ed.), 2000. Intimacy. U of Chicago P, Chicago. Biss, Eula, 2014. On Immunity: an Inoculation. Graywolf Press, Minneapolis. Bondi, Liz, et al., 2016. Emotional Geographies. 2007. Routledge UP, London. Broadus, Suzanne Keen, 2007. Empathy and the Novel. Oxford UP, Oxford. Butler, Judith, 2004. Precarious Life: the Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso, London. Costello, Peter, 2014. Towards a phenomenology of community: Stein and Nancy. Emot. Space, Soc. 13, 121e133. Culp, Christine Ann, 2010. Vulnerability and Glory. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. Derrida, Jacques, 1998. Monolingualism of the Other, or, the Prosthesis of Origin. 1996. Trans. Patrick Mensah. Stanford UP, Stanford. Ecstasy, 2014. Oxford English Dictionary Online (accessed 7.12.14.). Fiorani, Francesca, 1998. Reviewing Bredecamp. Renaiss. Q. 51 (1), 268e270. Forster, E.M., 1910. 1989. Howards End. Penguin Books, London. Garber, Marjorie, 2004. Compassion. In: Berlant, Lauren, Gilbert, Paul (Eds.), Compassion: the Culture and Politics of an Emotion. Routledge, New York, pp. 15e28. Guo, Xiaolu, 2007. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. Anchor Books, New York. Haraway, Donna, 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature. Free Association Books, London. Horton, Emily, 2014. Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Affect and Ethics in the Modern British Novel. Palgrave, London. Isherwood, Christopher, 1964. A Single Man. Methuen & Co, London. Ishiguro, Kazuo, 1990. The Remains of the Day. Penguin, London. Jamison, Leslie, 2014. The Empathy Exams: Essays. Macmillan, London. Kureishi, Hanif, 2001. Intimacy and Midnight All Day: a Novel and Stories. 1998. Simon & Schuster, New York. Kushner, Tony, 1992. Angels in America. Theatre Communications Group, New York. Maclaren, Kym, 2014. Touching matters: embodiments of intimacy. Emot. Space, Soc. 13, 95e102. Mulvey, Laura, 1996. Fetishism and Curiosity. Indiana UP, Bloomington. Nancy, Jean-Luc, 1991. The Inoperative Community. Trans. Peter Connor et al. U of Minnesota P, Minneapolis. Nussbaum, Martha, 1995. The window: knowledge of other minds in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. New Lit. Hist. 26 (4), 731e753. €, Kenzaburo, 1988. A Personal Matter. 1969. Grove Press, New York. Oe Pain, Rachel, Lynn, Staeheli, 2014. Introduction: intimacy-geopolitics and violence. Area 46 (4), 344e347. Parrish, Susan Scott, 2006. American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World. U of North Carolina P, Chapel Hill. Pratt, Geraldine, Rosner, Victoria (Eds.), 2012. The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in Our Time. Columbia UP, New York. Slegers, Rosa, 2010. Courageous Vulnerability: Ethics and Knowledge in Proust, Bergson, Marcel, and James. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands. Stagl, Justin, 1995. A History of Curiosity: the Theory of Travel 1550-1800. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, UK. Robert, McLiam Wilson, 1996. Eureka Street: a Novel of Ireland like No Other. Arcade Publishing. Kindle ed, New York. Voiculescu, Cerasela, 2014. Voyagers of the smooth space. Navigating emotional landscapes: Roma street vendors in Scotland. Emotion, Space and Society 13, 24e31. Woolf, Virginia, 1992a. Mrs Dalloway. 1925. Oxford UP, Oxford.
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Woolf, Virginia, 1992b. To the Lighthouse. Penguin Books, London, 1927. Wiles, Janine, 2011. Reﬂections on being a recipient of care: vexing the concept of vulnerability. Social & Cultural Geography 6, 573e588. Zillman, Dolf, 1991. Empathy: affect from bearing witness to the emotions of others. In: Bryant, Jennings, Zillmann, Dolf (Eds.), Responding to the Screen: Reception and Reaction Processes. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, pp. 135e168.
Julia C. Obert is Associate Professor and Assistant Chair in the Department of English at the University of Wyoming. Her book Postcolonial Overtures: The Politics of Sound in Contemporary Northern Irish Poetry was published by Syracuse University Press in 2015. Her work has also appeared in Postmodern Culture, Textual Practice, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Irish Studies Review, Eire-Ireland, New Hibernia Reivew, Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, and Postcolonial Text, and is forthcoming in Irish University Review.