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A Summary of Sympathy - Class Summary, February 2

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Class Summary

February 2, 2010




The paper –

Longer than 4 pages is acceptable because of a traumatic incident in Prof Dalke’s past.

Think about the possibilities that the web gives you for formatting your paper. Images? Make it accessible and appealing for the layperson. Give it a good, grabbing title. Please use text only, don’t use html or word documents when posting.


FOR MONDAY Finish reading The Turn of the Screw, as well as the two readings of the short story available online on Serendip.


Do names matter? Do we need to be credited for our work?

KJMASON – It’s irrelevant who actually said it. Hopefully we’re all gravitating towards similar ideas.


CALAMITY – It would be better if we knew each other’s pseudonyms.


JRLEWIS relates a piece to us that she wrote for Serendip, about a friend who has a concussion.

ANNE – This makes me wonder…Are there parallels between interpreting a text and diagnosing an illness. Can we read symptoms like we read a text? There are a variety of interpretations of the undiagnosability of Alice James.


There is a show called “The Mentalist” at UPenn, at 8 PM, inspired by the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” very potentially resonant for the experiences of Alice James.


ANNE – What did you pick up from the Barnum Monstrosity?

FABELHAFT – Alice was using her diary to control people’s perception of her and her illness.

ANNE – How did she want other’s reactions to be different? What is sympathy?

KJMASON – Attention?

ANNE – Do you like it when people are sympathetic to you, attentive to you?

PENGUINS – My friends and I have “misery poker,” try to op one another with ‘I have more work than you do, so ha.” I think in some strange way I would like sympathy, but I’d also ask them to stop, I can do it myself, it’s not nice. It would make you seem weaker, like, poor you, you can’t do this, it’s making your life so difficult…

ANNE – So it becomes pity and a putdown.

MISSARCHER2 – I definitely see Alice viewing it as pity, it has to do with the way she views herself. If she’s accepting sympathy from specifically William, it means that she could then not pretend to be whatever it is that she thinks…

ANNE – So, it takes away her agency. It makes her feel powerless and unable.

MISSARCHER2 – Yes. It also makes her a character worthy of sympathy or pity, which she does not want to be or even really seem to be.

ANNE – Why doesn’t she want to be?

KKAZAN – She feels that her identity is stolen when someone says that they are sympathetic to her. She doesn’t call it herself. It’s always nice that someone feels sympathy for you, it means they care in most sense ,but in some sense I like to be the only one who knows how I feel.

ANNE – So the sympathetic visitor is presumptuous in saying that they know what your experience is.


KJMASON – I attended an interesting talk this year, where a woman was talking about different world issues and the difference between empathy and sympathy, empathy coming from a common ground, whereas sympathy is coming from a demeaning, almost debasing place. That’s how I personally respond to sympathy.

ANNE – So empathy and sympathy are equally objectionable to Alice James, because she wants to be the one to right a script of her life. Any one else would be impinging upon who she is, and it sounds like several of you share that.

JRLEWIS – Katherine was this person who was very, very different from her, who seemed to rejoice in their difference. Katherine doesn’t even bother trying to empathize or understand, she just goes, you’re wavering over what to do, I’m going to make a decision, I’m going to be the opposite of you. It gives both Alice and Katherine identities of their own.

ANNE – Henry and William were a little troubled by the close relationship that their sister had with Katherine Loring, realized that she had displaced them, but were not particularly fond of her. We don’t really have her story of what she was like.


KJMASON – It really is based on experience, how much sympathy is required. Someone who is sick all the time will react differently to sympathy than someone who has never been sick in their lives.

ANNE – So, we cannot know one another, other selves are not…knoweable? Do we think we can know the mind of other?

MARINAM – To some extent. We can try to use theories and models, but we can never actually get into the mind, which is why mental health is such an issue.

MISSARCHER2 – Support is different from sympathy or empathy. You may not know what another person is going through, but you can support them, which is what Katherine Loring is doing. Alice doesn’t seem to have any regard for the fact that she would not have been able to live the life that she did without Katherine Loring.


ANNE – I think on the one hand, Bourdreau is saying that Alice James rejects sympathy, it discounts her own experience eof suffering, and is exploitation for the pleasure of the sufferer, a primary threat to her subjectivity. Alice James constructs an alternative, a comedy of manners, a freak show…to keep people at a distance. So all of that is performative. She somehow rewrites her body as monstrous, and foreign, and separate from herself. In this reading, Alice James gets a kind of pleasure from doing this, self protective game, serves psychological purposes, but there’s a pleasure. Does anyone want to push back, or does that make sense to us?


CALAMITY – I disagree with the idea that people go to the hospital for self gratification.


ASEIDMAN – I think it’s a very complicated emotion. Going to see someone who is sick getting well again is a combination of self gratification, and self gratification through watching the gratification of the other.


ANNE – William James seemed to care very much about his sister.


KKAZAN – Henry visited Alice to see her, to share with her, to talk to her…William just sort of came to sympathize with her, they are very different kinds of relationships.


ANNE – The Turn of the Screw, in Bourdreau’s essay, makes the argument that “no subjectivity is self sufficient. One can never exist without an audience. Self reliance always is an impossibility. The self is constructed by the presence of others, it is a fiction based on theatrical exchange.” She’s essentially saying, unless someone mirrors me back to myself, I don’t exist. I’m not a teacher unless I have students, I’m not a mother unless I have kids. I don’t exist without someone to respond and pick up on what I am putting out.


JRLEWIS – I understood the first half of her paper as an objection against people who want to be the same as her, and the second half of the paper as an assertion that she wanted people who would complement her, fulfill the need without necessarily knowing it.


ANNE – So, we’re filling roles in each other’s scripts. We admit all along that we don’t know one another, or understand one another.


KJMASON – I think it’s honest.


KKAZAN – We respond to how other people see us, and adjust and adapt accordingly.

PENGUINS – If you just put somebody into a room by themselves for a long time, they’d be a different person. They’re being shaped by the fact that there’s no one to respond to them or react to them.



KKAZAN – I’d say we have two selves, your inner self and your outer self. One can exist without people, one can’t. I think Alice James’ diary is the one that can exist without herself.


MISSARCHER2 – Putting someone in a room by themselves makes me think of different ways of raising a child. We as people are who we are because of things we’ve learned from others.


ANNE – how does child psychology talk about this?


MARINAM – That’s a really hard question. People definitely have different personalities in certain situations around certain people. You’re one way with your friends, you’re another when you’re by yourself.


KJMASON – If Alice sees a difference between performance and reality, do you think she actively tried to close that gap, or just more of like, sorting her ideas out?


ANNE – That gets back to the question of the audience of the diary. There’s that opening line that says she’s clearly writing for herself, but you could say that the very act of writing the diary assumed some kind of uptake on her part of who she was.


KJMASON – Was illness the expected performance of her gender? It’s very weak.


ANNE – Yeah, I see what you mean.

So, what are our opinions about The Turn of the Screw?


NOTE – has an 8 or 9 dollar unabridged version of this book, on audio for PC. If you don’t have 8 dollars, come over to Rhoads North basement, Room 61, and I will burn it for you., if you want it to help you write a paper, or something. - ASEIDMAN


People who had finished it – unwilling to give away the ending, judgment reserved?

People who had partially read it – Enjoyed it, not hooked yet.

People who had read only a little bit of it – Some very complicated sentences and word choices.

People are having to take it sentence by sentence, pick it apart carefully. “I think this is what it’s saying…” Interpretation is difficult.


We notice that there are, in fact, several small word choice chances between the different editions we’re reading of the first paragraph of “The Turn of the Screw.”


ANNE – Why the multiple frames of the story?

FABELHAFT – Makes me think of girl scouts sitting around the fire telling stories, you’re more removed from the actual action.

ANNE – So they’re evoking another story, which is the apparition of the old house.

ASEIDMAN – A sense of the unreliability of the narrator?

FABELHAFT – I don’t like the whole distancing effect of stories within stories.

ANNE – So why do that? Why make it so distant?

CALAMITY – Maybe the main story is going to be as layered and complicated as the sentences and the difficult frames in the first paragraph.

ANNE – This harkens back to the idea, can you get to someone else’s experience? The reason that we use words is actually to communicate information, that’s the point of transparency of language. Another way to think about it is that it’s a process of obstruction. I don’t think Henry James believed that you could use language to represent the word as it was. All the obliquity has everything to do with the way James saw the world, and how he thought about the use of language. Paul Armstrong says that it is about the ‘realist/idealist’ question. Henry James may not have been a realist. Henry James believed very much in the power and the richness of the imagination.




















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