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Living Things: Feeling Into Art, Disability, and Embodied Presence


Living Things: Feeling Into Art, Disability, and Embodied Presence

Longman, Madelaine (2023) Living Things: Feeling Into Art, Disability, and Embodied Presence. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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From the 19th century German aesthetic theory of Einfühlung to contemporary scholarship in disability studies, many have noted the tendency to affectively and sensorially respond to visual art objects as fellow living, feeling beings. This phenomenon is complicated, however, both by variations in individual sensoriums and by cultural politics undergirding assumptions about what, how, and even if other people think and feel. Such assumptions become particularly evident in instances of art vandalism, where damaged art objects are often described in media coverage as injured beings needing care, while vandals are met with stigmatizing language related to mental illness and cognitive disability. Working against the assumption that art vandals – and, often, people with disabilities in general – are “senseless,” I explore how the creation, protection, destruction, and repair of art might all be approached as socially situated, intensely sensory, inescapably embodied, politically charged, and bound in threads of relation.

Structured as a lyric essay, this thesis interweaves aesthetic analysis and cultural criticism with personal experience of chronic illness and neurodiversity. Examining my own affective and sensory responses to art, artists, art vandals, and people I encounter, I consider what these reactions suggest about larger political networks of affect, care, and embodied relation. Creative writing, specifically the lyric essay’s “I” voice, provides a valuable methodology both to emphasize my own imbrication within this constellation of relationships and to call upon readers to consider their own.

As critics have noted, Einfühlung (literally “feeling in”) provides an intriguing critical framework but often fails to account for cognitive, sensory, and emotional differences between individuals, as well as for how social positionalities including race, class, gender, and sexual identity inform dynamics of feeling. Using an approach I term critical Einfühlung, I explore how such politics both shape and are shaped by encounters between art objects and human agents, including how my own living, feeling bodymind participates in these dynamics and bears their traces. Taking feelings seriously as a politicized intertwinement of affects and sensations arising out of relationship, I consider how feelings towards, with, and about aesthetic objects can illuminate social dynamics between people.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Humanities: Interdisciplinary Studies
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Longman, Madelaine
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:14 July 2023
Thesis Supervisor(s):Bolster, Stephanie
ID Code:992862
Deposited By: Madelaine Longman
Deposited On:16 Nov 2023 17:49
Last Modified:16 Nov 2023 17:49
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