Nagel, Thoreau, and Cavell: an interactive workshop on identifying with “the other.”

Caitlin Smith Oyekole, fourth-year English Ph.D. candidate and Presidential Fellow, University of Notre Dame.

Thomas Nagel’s 1974 classic essay, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” points out the difficulty of understanding the experiences of a being radically different from oneself. But Nagel’s insight is a problem for popular theories of empathic listening. If empathy starts with imaginative identification, and imaginative identification is limited, where does that leave us? What kind of alternatives do we have for ways of listening? In this session, we’ll read a few excerpts of Nagel, Thoreau’s Walden, and Stanley Cavell’s response to Thoreau. These thinkers will frame a discussion about the limitations and advantages of imaginative identification while listening to difference.