Warm Like Ice, Radical Empathies in Glacial Times

Sarah Eliza Kelly

PhD Viva completed 2019-2020

Sarah Eliza Kelly: Warm Like Ice, Radical Empathies in Glacial Times

ABSTRACT

This thesis-led research is informed by emotional and cognitive dissonance, arising in response to confronting the experiential magnitude of living in precarious ecological times. In Staying with the Trouble, Donna Haraway (2016) invites us to “stay with” the challenges of such unresolvable discomfort. Yet, what is the experience of attempting to do so, and how might this enable generative forms of worthwhile response?

 From my own experiences, I witness myself shifting between either feeling ‘too much’ or ‘too little’, a paradoxical dynamic leading toward sensations of paralysis, numbness and overwhelm. My research seeks to understand these personal experiences by positioning them within a wider context of Western cultural narratives. It asks, in what ways are such narratives supporting and perpetuating collective states of disconnection and detachment? 

My hypothesis is that a relationship exists between cultural frameworks of time and cultural frameworks of empathythat are limiting my capacity to experience myself as deeply interconnected and interdependent within the world. This lack of recognition, I will argue, has a detrimental ecological impact. I therefore propose an urgent reassessment of the normative constructions of time and empathy alongside an exploration of their creative re-imagination, which I will offer in the form of two possible alternative narratives; Radical Empathy and Glacial Time. 

Radical Empathy is an amplified approach to relating with others which draws from, and exists in dialogue with ideas of “kinship” (Haraway 2016), the “suprasocial” (Manning 2013) and “solidarity” (Morton 2017). It forms part of a locus of theory rooted in queer and feminist thinking which is committed to posthuman and nonhuman concerns. Adapted from the work of John Urry (1994; 2011) Glacial Time is an alternative temporality that I am defining as a set of practices and attitudes toward thinking about time. It contributes toward an ecocritical exploration of time (Huebener 2018) that I will suggest opens new pathways for relating within the present, as well as offering new imaginations for orientating toward the future.

In positioning time and empathy as political and ethical concerns, it is my aim to investigate how reductive binary groupings such as ‘us’ and ‘them’ can be sustained in ways which enable us to locate ‘others’ outside of our circles of care and concern. I will assess how dominant linear temporal frameworks further justify and reproduce these divisive relational configurations, maintaining the conditions for personal and collective dissonance in the process. I will further look for ways in which to challenge dominant forms of temporal logic which forge value systems centred around progress and productivity that bind together an understanding of life and liveliness in ways that I perceive to be harmful. I will then ask how a more radical approach to empathy might instead rewrite the mythologies of containment that create a bounded and separate self, and offer alternative ways in which to orientate toward each other.  

I will engage with Radical Empathy and Glacial Time by means of a “doing-thinking” methodology (Gibson-Graham 2008) based in staying-with my own experiences and drawing them into my research to facilitate and support embodied connection as much as possible. In addition to reflecting on elements of my own practice, I will present my experiences of other writers, artists and thinkers whom I understand to be enacting, performing or generating elements of Radical Empathy or Glacial Time in their work. I look to these practices as a means of finding ways through dissonance and paralysis toward an increased capacity for responsiveness and responsibility in meeting the world.

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