Empathy’s echo: post-apartheid fellow feeling
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The concept of empathy has been set to work, across a range of fields, to mark a break with the relational patterns of apartheid. Similarly, empathy has been identified, historically, as that which, within apartheid and colonial rule more generally, exceeded or escaped relations of domination. This paper approaches the discourse of empathy from a different angle, taking empathy as a concept embedded in colonial thinking. Given that so many claims to empathy have had recourse to psychoanalysis, the paper focuses on empathy in Freud’s work, specifically Dora’s case and Freud’s analysis of Michelangelo’s Moses, which are read alongside the images and installations of contemporary South African artist, Nandipha Mntambo, in particular her collection of images and installations in The Encounter. Three scenes are conjured wherein empathy confronts its impossibility, but rather than foreclose on empathy as a postapartheid condition, it is through the disclosure of the aporias of empathy that it might be brought into the realm of the ethical through a practice of reinscription and through the figure of Echo.