I Am You

I Am You: The Hermeneutics of Empathy in Western Literature, Theology and Art

Karl F. Morrison
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    I Am You
    Book Description:

    Important trends in contemporary intellectual life celebrate difference, divisiveness, and distinction. Speculative writing increasingly highlights "hermeneutic gaps" between human beings, their histories, and their hopes. In this book Karl Morrison identifies an alternative to this disruption. He explores for the first time the entire legacy of thought revolving around the challenging claim "I am you"--perhaps the most concise possible statement of bonding through empathy. Professor Morrison shows that the hope for thoroughgoing understanding and inclusion in another's world view is central to the West's moral/intellectual tradition. He maintains that the West may yet escape the fatal flaw of casting that hope in paradigms of sexual and aesthetic dominance--examples of empathetic participation inspired by hunger for power, as well as by love.

    The author uses diverse sources: in theology ranging from Augustine to Schleiermacher, in art from the religious art of the Christian Empire to posty2DAbstractionism, and in literature from Donne to Joyce, Pirandello, and Mann. In this work he builds on the thought of two earlier books: Tradition and Authority in the Western Church: 300-1140 (Princeton, 1969) and The Mimetic Tradition of Reform in the West (Princeton, 1982). "I Am You" goes beyond their themes to the inward act that, according to tradition, consummated the change achieved by mimesis: namely, empathetic participation.

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5943-6
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxvi)

    The history of compassion is yet to be written. With the studied artlessness of his age, Bernard de Fontenelle (1657–1757) lightly touched the starting point—a common humanity. “All human faces in general,” he wrote, “are of the same model, and yet the Europeans and the Africans have two particular models: nay, commonly every family has a different aspect. What secret then has nature to show so much variety in a single face? Our world, in respect of the universe, is but a little family, where all the faces bear some resemblance to each other. . . ,”¹ In...

  7. Part I The Content of the Saying

    • ONE The Positive Content
      (pp. 3-32)

      This chapter and the next constitute a dossier for the incredulous. Readers familiar with the language and tradition of empathy may well begin with later chapters. However, for many, the world of empathy, ways of thinking about it, and the vocabulary it requires are unknown. To provide some guidance, I have cast these chapters on positive and negative contents in a fairly schematic way. Attempting to keep the schema from beginning in categories and ending in catechesis, I have supplied numerous illustrations at most points. In this way, I hope to provide a systematic introduction to a subject that flies...

    • TWO The Negative Content
      (pp. 33-40)

      The sentence, “I am you,” had a positive content, made up of what was understood: propositions drawn from sacramental theology, metaphysics, and epistemology. These propositions converged into two broad paradigms, corresponding with flesh and spirit, that provided ways to explain how many became one, but they were by no means self-evident. The grounds of their validity went beyond logical, and even empirical, proof. They extended to yet more general doctrines that defied the law of contradictions and, indeed, that prescribed negation and the coincidence of opposites.

      The positive content of the sentence (the formal propositions) was what was understood; the...

  8. Part II Patterns of Understanding

    • THREE Amorous Sympathy: John Donne
      (pp. 43-68)

      Thus far, I have indicated some features of the strategy of proof that interpreters use to make the sense of the sentence “I am you.” I have usedDonne’s Meditation 17as the point of departure, and indicated that principles of human solidarity expressed there derived from a tradition that began in classical antiquity and that extended, with many changes, into modern times.

      To demonstrate that those principles, and the supporting strategy of proof, actually served to organize a whole picture of the world, I shall have to go further, from the sentence to the patterns of understanding that made...

    • FOUR Malevolent Sympathy
      (pp. 69-136)

      In the first two chapters, I established a dossier on the sentence, “I am you,” the signature of a tradition. With the discussion of amorous sympathy, the inquiry went a level deeper. From the sentence, we moved to patterns of interpretation, including a strategy of proof, that made the sentence possible. Those patterns circled around two common paradigms, the biological and esthetic, both dealing with the formal coherence of separate things, and with the dynamic by which it becomes possible for many individuals to participate in the same coherence and thus to become one. Evidently, in the tradition represented by...

    • FIVE Implications for Social Unity: Augustine and Feuerbach, with a Digression on Darwin
      (pp. 137-166)

      In previous chapters, it has become evident that, whether by amorous or malevolent sympathy, the empathetic identity of “I” and “you” did not exist from the start, except potentially. The dominant patterns of understanding required what was potential to be made actual by a process of transformation that narrowed the distance of relationship until it closed. Closure came through affective bonding in which love, conflict, and hatred could combine. In the present chapter, I explore the implications of the patterns of understanding empathy by which interpreters made the sentence make sense for social unity. To illustrate the continuity of ideas...

  9. Part III Understanding Understanding:: The Silence of Words

      (pp. 169-171)

      A small clue can sometimes unfold into a great mystery. We began with a short declarative sentence, a concrete, but microscopic, artifact of Western culture. After unpacking the rather dense contents of its three monosyllables, we considered the patterns of understanding that made the sentence possible. Now, we have seen that those patterns are not the end of the trail. We have been dealing with a nest of puzzles, and only now are we able to approach its center. The patterns of understanding, including strategies of proof, are mediators of the sentence, not its source. We must go further to...

    • SIX Rhetoric Swallowed up in Hermeneutic: The Case of Augustine
      (pp. 172-190)

      Anyone who reflects on the assimilation of alien symbols into early Christian thought can see that what the Fathers read in the pagan texts before them was quite different from the meanings that they read into those texts. Their approach to scriptural exegesis was often similar. The Fathers’ primary concern was not what Scripture said but what they thought it meant, and sometimes, more precisely, not what Scripture meant but what understanding Scripture meant. The subject of the present chapter is what understanding Scripture means; my title is taken from Todorov’s observation that Augustine changed the Western tradition of symbols...

    • SEVEN Diagramming the Hermeneutic Circle: The Example of Gerhoch of Reichersberg
      (pp. 191-237)

      The “strange hermeneutics” practiced by Augustine was a massive apparatus. Its power to convince derived, in part, from its comprehensiveness—that is, from its ability to encompass, digest and absorb the most disparate elements. All agreed that the cycle of understanding consisted of a vicious circle when understanding did not go beyond rhetorical demonstration. For then it became little more than a ventriloquist’s trick, the same person interrogating the text and responding for it. But, when the cycle produced authentic understanding, it was never self-reflective, because it depended on powers, insights, or visions that did not originate in the interrogator,...

    • EIGHT Schleiermacher’s Anthropology
      (pp. 238-261)

      Unlike Gerhoch of Reichersberg, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) was celebrated in his own day, and, despite fluctuations in appraisal, his writings have continued to exercise a wide and profound effect. Even one of his severest critics acknowledged that he “determined the nineteenth century,” and that “he must certainly rank among the great names in Christian theology, being mentioned alongside Origin, Augustine, and Calvin.”¹

      In this chapter, I propose to explore the residue of the hermeneutic tradition, represented by Augustine and Gerhoch, in Schleiermacher’s doctrines. The discussion leads naturally to the juncture between his theology and his hermeneutics. It begins appropriately...

      (pp. 262-266)

      The doctrines of Augustine, Gerhoch, and Schleiermacher concerning interpretation elucidate two points: first, the complex frame of reference that was thought to verify the sentence, “I am you,” and, second, the continuity of that frame of reference in a Western hermeneutic tradition. The verifying structure can be briefly summarized. Beginning with a distinction between flesh and spirit, it was deduced, ultimately, from Plato, and, in various guises, it posited an ironic tension between archetype and image, on the participation of the image in the archetype, and on the actual presence of the archetype in the image of likeness. Further, the...

  10. Part IV Understanding Understanding:: The Invisibility of Art

    • NINE The Hermeneutic Gap in Painting
      (pp. 269-280)

      We have now considered the understanding in the enterprise of understanding words. From words, or participation in another through the sense of hearing, we turn to pictures, participation through sight—the sense that, with hearing, lies at the base of all thought about esthetic understanding. Here, as in earlier discussions, we shall find that, even when the esthetic paradigm of assimilation predominated, it was complemented, through a common link of eroticism, with the biological paradigm. The analogy of composing with engendering was never entirely out of mind. As before, we shall find that the union of “I” and “you” was...

    • TEN Participatory Bonding through Painting: The Iconoclastic Dispute (ca. 726–843)
      (pp. 281-295)

      John Ruskin, who invented the term, believed that the pathetic fallacy was a characteristic of modern artistic expression, but not of ancient or medieval painters.¹ However, the task of the present chapter is to indicate the importance of the performance engendered by the pathetic and affective fallacies in a great controversy of late ancient, or early medieval, culture—namely, the Iconoclastic Dispute. That conflict arose in the eighth century, in Byzantium, and, inciting great political and military strife, eventually drew into the debate scholars and princes even in distant regions of the West. I hope, in the process, to locate...

    • ELEVEN Art as Iconoclasm: The Contemplative Tradition in Western Art
      (pp. 296-325)

      Silence, emptiness, darkness, and immobility are aspects of the holy. They also characterize the medium of painting. They were considered “deficiencies” of painting as long as art was regarded as a rival or correlate of nature, as it was throughout the Renaissance.

      Eventually, from the mid-nineteenth century onward, the correlations between art and nature snapped. Once art was considered to be autonomous (that is, independent of nature), what had been considered the “deficiencies” of painting could be made its very subjects. To achieve this was to disarm the hermeneutic of calculated misunderstanding that we have described. For the misunderstanding that...

    • TWELVE The Ascendancy of Sensations over Passions: Departures from Visual Realism
      (pp. 326-345)

      The contemplative tradition in Western art was an erotic tradition. Violent and exalted, eroticism took many forms, but it was always present in that moment when the contemplator took to his heart the object of his desire. When this kind of absorption occurred in the asymmetry of viewer and painting, it generally hinged on invention, that is, on the subject portrayed. When it occurred in the asymmetry of artist and painting, it hinged on the manifold experience of previsualization, that is, on the instant of choosing the subject. The pathetic and affective fallacies played a role in both asymmetries.


    (pp. 346-349)

    As literature and theology were pervaded by historical standards of judgment from the eighteenth century onward, the possibilities of esthetic bonding were seen to narrow. This constriction occurred because human existence itself, and with it human knowledge, came to be seen as creatures of finite historical situations that could not recur. Human actions and feelings, confined to nonrecurring situations, could not teach by example; they were inimitable; they could not be reexperienced or performed by spectators.

    The same narrowing occurred in the history of painting, but in a distinctive fashion. Whereas literature and theology were verbal enterprises, painting engaged both...

    (pp. 350-352)

    Almost at the very beginning of this book, we considered John Donne’s verses on the delight that painters take “not in made work, but whiles they make” (Chapter 3, n. 79). All that we have said locates the bonding of the “I” and the “you” in art in the creative act, but we have also seen that the creative act may occur, not once only, but many times. It may occur, as Donne wrote, when a painting is first made. Or it may occur repeatedly, as often as viewers imaginatively reexperience the creative instant when artist and painting both were...

    (pp. 353-358)

    Only a few of the contents of the words, “I am you,” have been unpacked in this essay; many, perhaps very many and splendid ones, remain to be discovered. At any rate, I have considered some of the ideas contained in those three monosyllables—the simplest of words—and I have sketched, after a fashion, ways in which those ideas formed great enterprises in literature, theology, and art. Because the sentence is a riddle or a bafflement to many, I have tried to explain how it could be understood. The major part of my task, in fact, has been to...

  14. INDEX
    (pp. 359-366)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 367-367)