Professor Georg Witte, Freie Universität Berlin:

“We are different”: Dostoevsky’s A Gentle Creature as an experiment of empathy and perspectivistic capacity

Langugage: English

By the example of  Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “A Gentle Creature,” this talk addresses some core issues of the recent poetological and empiric psychological discussion on readers’ emotional involvement in fiction. Current psycho-narratological research on affect modulation in the aesthetic experience – Cupchik, Oatley, Miall, Kuiken, Menninghaus and others – aims at differentiating a typology of emotions aroused in the process of reading (“evaluative feelings,” “aesthetic feelings,”  “narrative feelings,” “self-modifying feelings”). A cardinal question in this discussion regards the interplay of empathy and narrative perspectives. Rejecting naïve conceptualizations of empathy as an emotional identification and a merging of perspectives, advanced positions (Breithaupt, Zunshine, Tooby/Cosmides and others) underline the distinction of perspectives as the precondition of empathy – and the anthropological-evolutionary pivotal role of narration in the building of this capacity.