Du steckst mich an. That can mean different things. For example: You infect me. You enthuse me, inspire me. It’s contagious. On the other hand: You make me sick.
Which emancipatory potentials reside in an emotional infection for future communities? In turn, which dangers lurk in a lack of critical distance and in an over-identification with the feelings of the other?
We hear it all the more often now: We need empathy instead of sociopathy; we want open arms instead of narcissistic coldness. The plea sounds like an exit strategy. When progressive politics become thwarted, the desire for empathy at least promises the moral of a humanism from below.
Where does empathy begin? With taking sides. Acting empathically means sharing.
That’s the good news for humanity: Mobilising empathy can traverse social chasms and solicit collective action.
And the bad news: Also the populists count on feelings. Their version goes like this: The heartless elite lack any understanding for the true problems of the people.
The I-perspective of Twitter warriors and Facebook likers espoused by the technical media of the emotion industry replaces the endeavours of an empathic interest in the you. Anger requires decibels and amplifier towers; the breaking glass comes from a sound database. A close-up of tears creates the illusion of tasting their saltiness. The subjective camera wobbles through video games, virtual reality animations, porno settings, and horror movies. It turns smartphone owners into reporters.
Empathy is an activity that needs a stage. Therefore, it has always been suspected of fraud – just like theatre. How real is the pain?
But also: How real is the compassion?
Faced with the misery of the world, we feel comfortable in a helper position which sympathises with the victims – as long as they remain victims.
Even so, time and again we search and find empathic moments. On the stages, in the sounds, in the nights.
There, we experience something peculiar: Perhaps we feel closest to those who express that they cannot be grasped. Voices become distant; machines advance.
We love music that speaks to us from a different star. We admire artists who are not themselves anymore. We escape from the illusion of reality and search for the reality of illusion.
Let’s get infected by this movement at this year’s donaufestival.
In this spirit, I very much look forward to my first edition of the festival, which has set milestones in the past years, and thank the wonderful team, including this year’s performance curator Bettina Kogler, for their great work.
Let’s all get infected together!