Notes on Lather P. ' Against Empathy, Voice and Authenticity' Reprinted from Transgressive Methodology, special issue of Women, Gender and Research, v. 4, Copenhagen, 16-25, 2000.  and in Voice in Qualitative Inquiry: Challenging Conventional, Interpretive, and Critical Conceptions, Alecia Youngblood Jackson and Lisa Mazzei, eds. NY: Routledge.

[NB page numbers refer to Prof Lather's personal copy sent to me very kindly]

The demand for empathy voice and authenticity in feminism is central to the rejection of scientism, but open to the critics of the coherent subject.  In particular, narrative and representation of the other seems to be based on things like empathy and mutual knowing, but risks 'imperial sameness'(1).  What if we refuse these conventional grounds and opt for 'messy "spaces in between"'?  Britzman is cited on the effects of heroism and rescue in ethnographic attempts to research the other through more adequate methodology.  Instead, we have to admit that knowledge and understanding can fail.

It is scientificity that is the problem rather than the actual practices of science.  Poststructural science through Britzman involves instead 'the need to be wounded by thought as an ethical move'.  We should not respond to demands for voice or standpoint.  Qualitative research still involves 'sacred objects to be recovered, restored, centered' (3), an avoidance of difficulties, the preservation of research.  There is a tendency to 'too easy to tell story of salvation', continued reliance on foundationalism and 'nostalgia for presence'[all of this summarizing Britzman].  We need to develop instead Nietzsche's gay science, 'splintering of the mechanisms of control and the resultant incredulity about salvation', progress and reason.  We should research instead 'how knowledge remains possible' after the demise of value free science.  Examples are to be drawn from the book on women with HIV/AIDs.

Ethnographic representation is inherently manipulative, but this book uses 'various layers and shifts of register', requiring the audience to actively try to hear, ignoring disciplinary constraints, occupying 'the very space opened up by the ruins of the concept of ethnographic representation'(4).  The text offers 'discontinuous bits and multiples', using the very failure to represent as a way of conveying experience, preventing both voyeurism and a sense of difference.

Empathy is always related to sameness, so it cannot reproduce discrimination.  Ellsworth sees empathy as offering '"the beautiful fit"'and recommends instead 'querying, disidentifying denaturalizing, defamiliarising: producing differences instead of the same'. Empathy implies a mirror relationship with the other.  We should occupy instead 'the abject space of the between', and keep it unsettled, breaking with the usual 'logic of identity and difference'.  This can be seen as Deleuzian becoming.  It denies underlying structures that everyone shares, and presents into subjectivity as a riddle.  It implies competent readers, nonrhetorical writing, and a move away from  'fantasies of mutuality' and 'touristic invitations to intimacy'(5).

Their text is 'less argued than enacted', refusing mimetic desire, opening the distance between the reader and the subject of research, refusing empathy.  This meets both epistemological and ethical requirements, of reminding us not to assume that we have the right to know, and avoiding forcing identities and overlooking differences.  Those rejected techniques involve 'a kind of violence', in the demand for totality.  Instead, we need to develop modesty and respect before our desire to possess and know.  It requires careful listening without presuming mutuality, withholding intimacy, and trying to teach the reader to develop a response that acknowledges difficulties.  Thought is always presented as inadequate to its object.  The comfort of the text is denied.  [So there are links with discomforting pedagogy?]

Similar problems are addressed the issues of authenticity and voice which are 'at the heart of claims to the "real" in ethnography'(6).  Voice is sometimes granted a privileged authority.  These claims cover 'confessional tales, authorial self revelation, multivoicedness and personal narrative'.  They challenge scientism, but risk 'a romance of the speaking subject and a metaphysics of presence'(7).  [One example is a fraudulent autobiography written with full authenticity and voice.  Uncle Tom's Cabin was also not just a series of narratives by the slaves, but one that had intertextuality and authorial contributions. Note that Hargreaves has also criticized the reliance on teachers voices -Hargreaves A 1996.  'Revisiting voice'.  Educational Researcher 25,1: 12-19].

Authenticity has been much discussed by Adorno who blames Heidegger - Lather offers a more generous reading of his efforts (8) and then summarizes Adorno's critique of the cult of authenticity.  Apparently, there was a link to Benjamin on the loss of the aura and how we might live afterwards, with no transcendent dimension.  Benjamin also showed that the 'ruins of theology' were still present current efforts to gain knowledge, especially in 'post kantian modernity'.  Modernism and secularization eventually produce 'get[ting] lost at the limits of representation', where the old signifiers remain as mere empty shells

To get back to the book on women with HIV, there was an effort not to take advantage of emotion, especially sentimentality, by constructing 'a questioning text' (10).  The women were described as angels as 'the shell for the ghost of meaning', trying to use theological symbols to preserve otherness, and to refer to Benjamin's angel of history.  This will apparently help escape 'from the general cliches of the Frankfurt school' and start new thinking about otherness that remains as traces.  The angel represents 'unassimilable otherness' haunting reason and subjectivity, an effect, producing ' a less bounded space where we do what we can'.

Jameson was wrong to predict the waning of affects -emotional responses and feelings are more widespread than ever, as in first-person public discourses, therapies, talk shows, moral panics and so on.  Benjamin and others tried to avoid such subjectivist thinking by considering affect as dynamism and complexity.  The turn to affect can turn into 'the return of "sentiment and sobs"' (11) [citing Stockton], including the reactions to AIDS.  Even academic cultural critics seem to embrace '"emotional extravagance"'.  There is a tendency to perform  '"teasing out sobs"'to connect with public sentiment, developing a transgressive personal form.  Stockton instead recommends 'personal writing that is scandalous, excessive and leaky but based in lack and ruin rather than plenitude' by including the loss of aura argument.

In the 'frenzy of demands to show emotion, voice is an authorizing disclosure'. The '" validity of tears" is a concept arising from discussing audience reception of the book [a critic said this? She responded to a critic with this?] .  It is based on 'the abjection of theory and the reinscription of presence'.  Instead, the intention was to produce authoritative interpretations 'to construct a different relationality' (12) beyond excessive subjectivity.  However, voice can also be linked to a demand for the acknowledgement of subjugated knowledges, as in Spivak on the subaltern. 

The main problem is not so much to oppose it then, as to guard against a process of 'assimilation into sameness', to oppose mimesis pragmatically.  Various 'de-authorizing devices' are required - counter voices, 'subtextual under-writing which ruptures the narrative and forces reading in two directions', dialogic openness, variable meanings that prevent rhetorical claims that the authors are the one who know, 'partiality, chunkiness and deferral' to deny that representations are simply depicting the real, a refusal of closure, especially one that turns on recuperation.  These techniques can be seen as a contribution to an effort to rethink science and culture based on difference, but there is no claim to be 'romantic god-artists who create sublime moments of unity and totality'.  It was informed by attempts to develop a new ethnography which did not claim authorial knowledge: pages were split into women's voices and authors', poems were produced without authorial judgement.  The aim was to trouble 'authority in the telling of other people's stories'.  Interpretation could still take place, but the author could no longer appear 'as either priest or prophet' (13).  The intention was to get lost and reveal unease.

There is no simple style or popular appeal, despite what readers might think in a book that honours victims, no 'consumption, a too-easy, too-familiar eating of the other'.  The work is 'emotive, figurative, inexact, dispersed and deferred', showing responsibility and truth-telling within indeterminacy.

NB there are some useful references to Britzman, various pieces in Qualitative Studies in Education in the late nineties.

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