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Empathy is sometimes –for unfathomable reasons– a surprisingly evasive emotion. It is indeed a problem open to discussion. It can be particularly problematic since, for one thing, it is in appearance the emotion responsible for stitching together a shared experience with our common fellow. It is the emotion essential to bridging the gap between subjects – to making a community. Some answers in this volume have their place of reference in the welcoming chambers of Mansfield College, at the University of Oxford (UK). The Empathy Project held its third Global Meeting within the premises of ye olde constituent college at Mansfield Road from Thursday 14th to Saturday 16th of July 2016. This volume looks for the common ground between both the results of the conducted research and our experiences: Digital Media ideas on the subject worked just fine elbow to elbow with those proposed by fields like Nursing or Health and Social Care; and Psychiatry, Psychology and Philosophy got along quite well with the lines of inquiry of Education, Literature and Dramatic Performance.

Contributors are Victoria Aizkalna, Rosa Elena Belvedresi, Giovanna Costantini, Ricardo Gutiérrez Aguilar, Irina Ionita, Nina Lex, Gerardo López Sastre, Barış Mete, Paulus Pimomo, Johannes Rohbeck, Judy Rollins, Josefa Ros Velasco and Christopher J. Staley.

Abstract

Martin Millar’s trilogy Lonely Werewolf Girl (2007), The Curse of the Wolf Girl (2010) and The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf (2013) focuses on the life of an adolescent Scottish werewolf, attempting to live and study in London but continually being drawn back into the patriarchal politics of her society and family. Kalix’s life is one marked by her own difference: addiction, aggression, and violence. In the family’s castle in Scotland, Kalix was the youngest of the Thane’s children by a large margin, and one of the few werewolves ever to have been born on the night of the full moon in her werewolf shape. In contemporary London, she struggles to emulate normality as she moves in with human friends and attends a remedial college while staving off werewolf hunters and murderous relatives. Kalix exhibits all the signs of an addictive personality, with her monstrous hungers and desires extending to a torrid love affair at the age of 14; well-established eating disorders and experimentation with alcohol while still in her mid-teens; and anxiety, depression, self-harm, addiction to laudanum, murderous rages and exile by the age of 17. Throughout the novels various members of her family muse that these excesses in personality must be related to the unusual circumstances of her birth. Kalix’s difference, then, is marked as congenital or a birth defect: the very way that the term ‘teratology’—or the study of monsters—was used historically. This chapter examines the ways in which Kalix’s lycanthropic monstrous hungers are depicted as a kind of birth injury with which she must live, and her attempts to create some agency within her own life.

In: The Pathogenesis of Fear
In: The Pathogenesis of Fear

Abstract

The modern Northern Irish conflict, euphemistically known as the Troubles, has attracted the attention of the media, politicians, anthropologists, social commentators, community groups and others interested in conflict and reconciliation studies. Questions concerning the origins of the conflict and its management have been the subject matter of numerous treatises and publications. These issues have also informed many works of art, including fiction.a The resultant Troubles novels are fictional representations of the problematic; however, they offer an invaluable source of information on perceptions and evaluations of the conflict. They depict the social and cultural context in which it is embedded. The number of sub-genres and narrative approaches employed in Troubles novels is vast. Nevertheless, concepts exist which manage to capture the causes of the conflict as well as of its endurance and resolution at the same time. One such concept is the myth of a wild man. It offers a critical reflection of Western humanity, manifesting how Western civilisations developed their identities in relation to ‘the other’. The Troubles are often explained as a conflict of perceived inter-communal differences; the myth of a wild man thus presents an apposite lens through which to examine the selected works. The critical reading that follows will discuss what the novels convey about the concept to illustrate that the texts seek to challenge hegemonic, monologic discourse of monsterisation, and that they champion the ethics of the other instead.

a It has been estimated that eight hundred novels that deal with the Northern Irish predicament have been published to date. See, Maev Kennedy, ‘The Trouble with Fictional Troubles,’ The Guardian, 2 June, 2005. However, an official comprehensive publishing statistics concerning Troubles fiction covering the period from the beginning of the conflict until today has yet to be issued.

In: The Pathogenesis of Fear
Author: Judith Rahn

Abstract

Cannibalism as a fear-inducing facture is as old as cultural narratives – maybe even older. It had its place in Greek mythology in the ‘Odyssey’ and was a stable feature of (early) accounts of America, where it took on utopian forms of a very palpable Golden Age which featured the western ideal of an earthly paradise and its counterpart: the cannibalistic native population. Cannibalism, therefore, is often used as a means of drawing a distinction between self and other, thereby facilitating the divide between the civilised western world and the (colonised) savage countries. Many narratives also feature the ritualised dissembling of a loved one’s body or monstrous (usually female) hunger as the source of anthropophagy. In his famously perplexing drama ‘Penthesilea’ (1808), Heinrich von Kleist has the queen of the Amazons devour her beloved, Achilles, in an all-consuming fight. Here, ideals of identity are reversed particularly with regard to the categories of femininity and masculinity, and coloniser and colonised. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902) explores this contraposition on a surprising, subtle and metaphorical level, where the term cannibal is more a normative than a descriptive term and is used to illustrate the colonial fear of either being cannibalised or converted to barbarism by the unknown. This results in a convenient classification of eat or be eaten and shows how precarious the image of western civilisation seemed to the colonising world.

In: The Pathogenesis of Fear
Author: Marita Vyrgioti

Abstracta

In 2013, a disturbing video was uploaded on the Internet showing a Syrian rebel, fighting against Bashar al-Assad, slicing open the dead body of his enemy, uprooting an organ, and while saying ‘I will eat your hearts and your livers, you Bashar’s dogs’,b bringing it close to his mouth. This act makes a reference to cannibalism as perceived in colonial thought: practised outside of Europe; a sign of primitivity and barbarity. In a bbc interview the rebel claimed that ‘nobody will touch me after this’.c Introducing himself as a cannibal that ‘will kill and eat Bashar’s dogs’ is presented as granting immunity, omnipotence and immortality. The act of dehumanising himself, through this iconic act of cannibalism, inaugurates the fantasy of being untouchable by the enemy, of becoming invulnerable and therefore sovereign. This chapter aims at unravelling the obscure thread connecting inhumanness, omnipotence and sovereignty. In other words, why an act of cannibalism can possibly justify a claim at sovereignty? What is the relationship between sovereignty, dehumanisation and cannibalism? In his last seminar, The Beast and The Sovereign, Jacques Derrida explored the complicated concept of sovereignty through its embedded ambiguity: the sovereign lying above the beast, while also being impersonated as the beast in numerous texts of political theory. Reflecting on sovereignty in these terms, Derrida invites us to think of the beast and the sovereign not as categorical opposites, or two concepts that are radically denying each other, but through a mechanism of mutual constitutions. In a nutshell, the sovereign produces the beast in order to then suppress, repress, and ‘swallow’ it: hence, ‘might sovereignty be devouring?’d Derrida asks. Raising this question, Derrida exposes sovereign’s orifice—the opening that renders him vulnerable—and thus undermines the unitary, autonomous and indivisible character of the sovereign.

a I would like to thank my fellow delegates of the conference: ‘Monsters and the Monstrous’ (July 2015, Oxford University) for their critical and inspiring feedback. Also, I would like to express my gratitude to the members of Department of Psychosocial Studies, at Birkbeck University of London, for their support and encouragement in the finishing stages of this chapter. Last, the financial support from the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy, at Birkbeck University, is thankfully acknowledged.

b Paul Wood, ‘Face-to-Face with Abu Sakkar, Syria’s “Heart-Eating Cannibal”’, bbc News Online, 5 July 2013, viewed 10 April 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23190533.

c Ibid.

d Jacques Derrida, The Beast and The Sovereign, Vol. i. (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), 26.

In: The Pathogenesis of Fear
Author: Cindy Smith

Abstract

This chapter will examine the ways in which the bbc series In the Flesh uses the ‘zombie’ as an apt trope both to emphasise humanity’s relentless urge to dehumanise the other and highlight the fragility of other more positive human pursuits under the dual pressures of late capitalism at a time of crisis: to create, to be accepted and to love. Through the triple inscription of difference in the main character, troubled teen Kieran, ‘a partially deceased syndrome sufferer’ – that of being gay, a zombie, and an artist – the series systematically charts Kieran’s journey through a series of re-humanisations and dehumanisations; from the moment he is picked up at the treatment centre by his parents after he has been provisionally rehumanised, he is no longer welcome in his former community despite the official view that the best place for him is home; his status as human remains contingent on his adherence to a strict regimen of medication and oversight, making him an irrevocable outsider, an incomplete identity barred from the transition he most requires, the conversion from enemy to friend. By considering several texts from a variety of sources – queer studies, disability studies and posthuman studies – in relation to key moments from the series this chapter will discuss how In the Flesh reveals the mechanics of discrimination and objectification in a fictional sci-fi narrative that deconstructs the methods related to each discourse (medical, social, religious and legislative) combining effectively to dehumanise the other: the recently treated zombies returning home. In the Flesh is meant to be a cautionary tale as series creator Dominic Mitchell has stated: ‘I always thought that at its core it’s about otherness and the fear of otherness.’a

a Dominic Mitchell in Liane Bonin Starr ‘Interview: Creator Dominic Mitchell Talks Season 2’, Hitfix, viewed on 12 January 2015, http://www.hitfix.com/starr-raving/interview-in-the-flesh-creator-dominic-mitchell-talks-season-2#FU5Kvbq0SFb64Rm4.99.

In: The Pathogenesis of Fear
In: The Pathogenesis of Fear

Abstract:

The turbulent history of the twentieth century gave rise to one of the most established genres in today’s literature: the dystopian novel. The present chapter focuses on the literary construction of the inhabitants of these symbolic landscapes. Often a great anxiety at the heart of dystopian writers was the fact that the world, especially during the first and second part of the twentieth century will evolve in a totalitarian direction. The greatest fear associated with the impact that totalitarian systems may have is the dehumanisation of the individual. After all, all totalitarian systems, whether placed on the extreme right or the extreme left of the political spectrum did postulate the creation of ‘a new man’, an individual that would be shaped ideologically and function within the narrow boundaries set by the totalitarian state. The aim to influence human behaviour in a certain direction. To this extent totalitarian states went to lengths whose gruesomeness rivalled the negative utopias. It is important to analyze the different creative ways in which authors imagined this process of dehumanisation. It may embody a medical operation like in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, extreme torture like we have in George Orwell’s 1984 or maybe hypnosis like we have in Huxley’s Brave New World (or many others). The present chapter concentrates on discussing different processes of ‘monster’ creation in a variety of dystopias, the historical roots of this kind of description as well as on presenting different characteristics of the finite dehumanised ‘monsters’ that result from the above mentioned processes.

In: The Pathogenesis of Fear
Author: Sarah D. Harris

Abstract

For the first time in 2011, a film by international superstar director Pedro Almodóvar premiered outside of his native Spain. This same film was also Almodóvar’s first foray into the horror genre. Despite these unusual characteristics, The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) simultaneously maintains a certain consistency with the director’s broader oeuvre. In it, he continues to explore, for instance, themes of gender identity, complex families, and melodrama. In the 2011 film, however, there be monsters. One monster dwells and schemes in some classic monstrous spaces: a dark cave and a private laboratory/fortress, where he builds Vera, a cyborg-like character whose seams remind us of Frankenstein’s monster, and of some of Louise Bourgeois’s sculptures. The mad and wealthy doctor who designs Vera also keeps vigilant watch over her, tinkering with her body and using a complex security system to gaze upon his masterpiece. The doctor’s vigilance introduces a visual play on power through images of hunger and mouths. Meanwhile, when another monster, less socially powerful but more physically adept, penetrates the fortress that the two main characters have shared, the power dynamic shifts drastically. Looking at Vera through a security camera, the intruder gushes, ‘It smells good. I’m hungry’, and licks the screen. The real shift in power, though, comes when Vera looks back. This chapter draws on notions of the cyborg and the monstrous feminine by Laura Mulvey, Barbara Creed, and Donna Haraway to consider all three characters’ monstrosity through the hungers that drive them and their slippery power dynamic.

In: The Pathogenesis of Fear