Open to Gallatin first-year students only.
Since the mid-twentieth century, the old word “relatable,” which once signified that which can be “told or narrated,” took on a new dimension,
or so the Oxford English Dictionary tells us. It began to be used to deem a person, situation, or work of art “that…with which one can
identify or empathize.” “Relatability,” in turn, could then indicate the degree to which a work of art or a circumstance could be approached
or, more simply, liked. This semester, we will take a harder look at the political, philosophical, and rhetorical circumstances that determine
what counts as “relatable” or not. However ordinary the term might seem, the assessment of what or who is “relatable” has prompted fierce
criticism: it has been denounced as “empty,” “a critique killer,” and “self-involved.” To understand why and how this term might court
controversy, we will examine texts across disciplinary, national, and historical fields that help us form a genealogy of sympathy and its kin:
empathy, pity, the more recent “relatable.” We will ask how moral philosophy has handled the question of fellow-feeling; how
psychoanalysis understands the operations of identification and narcissism; how alternative genealogies of sympathy in Stoic,
neoplatonic Islamic, and early modern European philosophies of “natural sympathies” might change how we understand the operation of “relation”; how (and when and why) literary form might undermine “relatability”; and how the determination of the relatable emerges as a question of politics.
First-Year Program: Interdisciplinary Seminars (FIRST-UG)