Anxiety, Whitman, Sympathy
a lecture by Jane Bennett
October 23, Thursday
6:30 to 8 pm
Jane Bennett, Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
American public culture is today full of anxiety, ceaselessly renewed by the news and entertainment media, by government claims and policies, by everyday exposure to extensive surveillance, disciplinary, and militarized technologies. Anxiety is, by and large, a system-maintaining affect; it has supported the regime of neo-liberal capitalism by de-politicizing the experience of its violent and unjust effects. One project for the Left today might be to build a machine for fighting anxiety. I explore this task, finding resources for it in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. There Whitman works to inflect anxiety sometimes toward righteous anger, but more often toward sympathy. Whitman invokes several different kinds of sympathy, from a sentimentalist version to an impersonal cosmic force akin to gravity. In each case, sympathy emerges as a modification of anxiety: the high-alert sensory agitation of anxiety is turned into a high-alert sensory discernment of similarities and resonances between bodies. Whitman helps us to discern a politicizing potential within sympathy and to help us to think about how to turn anxiety into something more politically potent.
Tisch Dean’s Conference Room
721 Broadway, 12th Floor
This event is free and open to the public. Venue is wheelchair accessible.
For more information, please contact CSGS at csgs(at)nyu.edu or 212-992-9540.