Skip to Gallatin Navigation Skip to Gallatin Main Content

First-Year Interdisciplinary Seminar: (Un)relatable

Semester and Year FA 2018
Course Number FIRST-UG113
Section 001
Instructor Andrea Gadberry
Days MW
Time 3:30 PM - 4:45 PM
Units 4
Level U


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.


All Syllabi

Course Type

First-Year Program: Interdisciplinary Seminars (FIRST-UG)