The Literature of Pity
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Pity represents a combination of fear, helplessness and overwhelming agitation. It is a term which suffuses our everyday lives; it is also a dangerous term hovering between approval of sympathy and disapproval of emotional wallowing (as in 'self-pity'). David Punter here engages with a wealth of theoretical ideas to explore the literature of pity, including Freud, Derrida, Levinas and others. His chapters cover "Distinguishing Pity", the Aristotelian framework; Buddhism and pity; the pieta in the Middle Ages and Renaissance; Shakespeare on pity; Milton's pitiless Christianity; pity and charity in the early novel; Blake's views on pity; the Victorian debate, from Austen to Dickens and George Eliot; Brecht and Chekhov on pity and self-pity; "war, and the pity of war"; Jean Rhys and Stevie Smith; pity, immigration and the colony; and finally three contemporary texts by Michel Faber, Kazuo Ishiguro and Cormac McCarthy.
in obvious protection of her son/lover/alter ego, but rather in the hope that somebody else will come to her aid – it is almost as though her right hand reaches out of the canvas to solicit help from the passer-by, perhaps, indeed, the Good Samaritan whom we have come across before. The hands of the male figure, however, are indicators of pain and resignation – one, perhaps, grasping onto the folds of his clothing, the other curled uselessly against the incursions of the natural world, perhaps
is already treating this woman as a physical object, considering her in the context of those bodily functions in terms of which she does not want to be considered; he is thus precisely invading the world of the burkha, feeling the frustration of a type of imagination which (like, it has to be said, most of the British romantic poets) he considers to be a God-given patriarchal right. Such feelings among western men are, obviously, not uncommon; indeed, in such countries as France it appears that
continuing connection between pity and water, which seems to be reversed from the ‘waterfalls’, but perhaps is not, when we inspect it, so different. If the water runs deep, then perhaps it cannot return to the surface – indeed obviously it cannot. And so the continuing passional moving which is pity cannot operate. I mean, of course, the word ‘moving’ in both of its major senses: as physical motion, and also as the ability to be moved emotionally. If there is nothing worth stealing (as also
Attributed to Maximilien Robespierre, speech to the National Convention (February 1794). 2. See, e.g., Pity and Power in Ancient Athens, ed. Rachel Sternberg (Cambridge, 2005); David Konstan, Pity Transformed (London, 2001); Douglas N. Walton, Appeal to Pity: Argumentum ad Misericordiam (Albany, 1997). 3. See David Hume, ‘Of Self-Love’, in An Enquiry into the Principles of Morals, in Enquiries, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford, 1966), pp. 295–302; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin
Literature (Edinburgh, 2011). 2. See W.S. Graham, e.g., Malcolm Mooney’s Land (London, 1970). 3. See Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, ed. Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford (New York, 2002), e.g., pp. 246, 274. 4. Jane Austen, ‘Ode to Pity’, in Juvenilia, ed. Peter Sabor (Cambridge, 2006), p. 97. 5. See, e.g., Peter Hunt, Children’s Literature (Oxford, 2001), pp. 33–6, on Judy Blume. 6. See, e.g., Alan Richardson, ‘Apostrophe in Life and in Romantic Art: Everyday Discourse, Overhearing,