Mapping Sympathy: Sensibility, Stigma, and Space in the Long Eighteenth Century

Foy, Jennifer, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wall, Cynthia, Department of English, University of Virginia
O'Brien, John, Department of English, University of Virginia
Pasanek, Bradley, Department of English, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

I argue that the emergence of a culture of sympathy and sensibility created by the boom in travel in the eighteenth century produced a backlash of stigmatizations that allowed Britain to reconcile its imperial and sentimental ambitions.

Many critics argue that ideas of sympathy arose as a response to travel and global exploration. I build on these conversations by arguing that in this period, theories and representations of sympathy also assume the logic of imperial travel, most insistently and compellingly figured as movement. Both sympathy and travel require self-extension, but both entail significant risk to the subject who extends himself. The moment of genuine sympathy, which is itself contagious, produces a danger for the imperial project and its recourse to forced labor. In this way, then, the figurative map of sympathy threatened the literal map of empire. My project centers on a constellation of writers, including Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Samuel Richardson, and Sarah Scott.

I argue that stigma was produced in the eighteenth century as a broad imaginative reflex to sympathy. Stigma castrates sympathy by forcing disidentification, rather than the identification that sympathy requires. In doing so, it protects self and empire. I argue that sympathy can only be understood as a trope of movement, and that stigma is its spatial and affective counterpoint, which I describe as localized and geographical in character. To help me draw out the implications of this, I rely on Erving Goffman, who provides a theoretical structure that understands stigma less as an aberration of the body than as a transactional event in lived coexistence.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Literature, sympathy, stigma, space, empire, mapping, Scotland, Caribbean
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