Empathy: Seeing Myself as The Other Sees Me [1]


One of the themes I have been wrestling with in the new writing I am doing (firm news on that soon, I hope) is around the subject of empathy for ‘the other.’

Philosophical lines appear to have been drawn between thinkers like Levinas on the one hand, and Hegel/Zizek/Lacan on the other. I personally felt more settled on the Levinasian view, until it was nicely disturbed by some converstations with Pete last weekend.

Levinas’ view is perhaps best summarised by his words that, ‘the other has a face, and it is a sacred book in which good is recorded.’ Or, as Rsyzard Kapuscinski paraphrases in his book ‘The Other’:

‘Stop,’ he seems to be saying to the man hurrying along in the rushing crowd. ‘There beside you is another person. Meet him. […] Look at the Other’s face as he offers it to you. Through this face he shows you yourself: more than that – he brings you closer to God.

Zizek, and others, are very critical of this over-romantic view of the other, and accuse Levinas of too simplistic a view of the idea of ‘neighbour.’ I would agree that this is a risk, and that for a faith that looks to a God whose face was battered beyond recognition, we need to be careful not to have too saccharine view of the face of the other.

Levinas’ position is perhaps towards the optimistic, whereas someone like Lacan would want to affirm that true love for the other does not spring from the ground of our seeing them as good, but from the fact that the other is not perfect.

What I want to discuss in the next post – is where our fear of engaging the other might lie, and how the location of that fear may be important in our attempts to live more empathetically with one another.


One response to “Empathy: Seeing Myself as The Other Sees Me [1]”

  1. I’m looking forward to seeing where you go in this series of posts. Then tension between — to put it in shorthand — Levinas and Zizek on this subject is something I’ve been wrestling with myself. I believe there to be merits in both but I’m not sure how to reconcile the two (perhaps that is impossible, I don’t know).