Table of contents

(In)sensitive culture. Sensitivity in culture
4(103)/2018

I (IN)SENSITIVE CULTURE. SENSITIVITY IN CULTURE

INTRODUCTION

Magdalena Szpunar

Culture of emotions

Magdalena Szpunar

Insensitive culture. On the chronic need for sensitivity in the contemporary world

Kazimierz Krzysztofek

Sensitivity encoded in algorithms? Between human technomorphization and machine anthropomorphization

Bogusław Dziadzia

Anaesthetics vs. evaluation and categorization of art

Małgorzata Lisowska-Magdziarz

Poverty as an aesthetic problem. Polish underclass in media representations

Ewa Bielska

Insensitive state, sensitive literature. Svetlana Alexievich’s texts as an example of trauma (un)told

Edyta Żyrek-Horodyska

Sensitivity of a reporter? Self-reflection of journalists confronted with “regarding the pain of others”

Jan Pleszczyński

Axio- and ratiomorphism vs. emotional and cognitive sensitivity

Barbara Cyrek

Sensitivity vs. psychologization of life and exhibitionist culture

 

II CONTEMPORARY SENSITIVITY

Marta Chojnacka

Feeling – premonition – compassion. Existential sensitivity in Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy

Maja Brzozowska-Brywczyńska

The politics of pity and regimes of representation: dilemmas of a spectator watching the suffering of others

Marta Rakoczy

“This is not a disease or a syndrome” – a child and modern discourses on sensitivity

Katarzyna Najmrocka

Tourist photography – between sensitivity and lack of it. A brief study of modern tourism

Dorota Olko

Body practices in everyday experience of Poland’s working and rural classes

Paweł Tomczok

Insensitivity of the economic man

Justyna Szklarczyk

“To be a post-communist plant” on the example of Do tmy [Into Darkness] by Anna Bolavá

Anna Michalak

Dorota Masłowska’s vulnerability in the face of the “second novel syndrome” as a theme in Paw Królowej [The Queen’s Peacock]

 

III REVIEWS

Krzysztof Łukasiewicz

One more introduction to the philosophy of culture

(In)sensitive culture. Sensitivity in culture

On the chronic need for sensitivity in the contemporary world It is extremely rare that humanistic discourse reflects on the category of sensitivity, a topic in a way perceived as a taboo and thus excluded. If discussed at all, it is usually juxtaposed with a rational, matter-of-fact and emotionless view of reality. In other words, it tends to be oversimplifi ed, consequently turning into a misleading dichotomy where something is either rational or affective, with a clear line of demarcation between the two. The age of enlightenment has brought a distinct devaluation of emotions, feelings, “animal instincts”, and fi nally, of magical thinking in favour of reason. The author of the article forms a thesis that sensitivity, while devaluated and depreciated, constitutes one of the most important keys to understanding the condition of postmodern human. She argues that life in a world drained out of emotions is indeed dysfunctional, both for individuals and consequently, for entire societies.

Observing our life in the modern world of today’s technology, the author is wondering whether we are facing sensitization or desensitization of technology users. The problem is discussed in the context of technomorphization of humans on the one hand, and anthropomorphisation of machines on the other. In the analysis the sociological approach is confronted with other perspectives, particularly the cognitive and anthropological ones, which are inevitable in HMI (human-machine interaction) studies. The author concludes by trying to answer a number of questions: Are we truly experiencing technomorphization? Is it only bringing us harm, or does it also have something useful to offer? Can the technology support sensitivity? And finally, will the machines themselves not turn out to be pre-programmed for sensitivity in the future?

The main topics discussed in the article include: criteria developed for the evaluation of artistic facts (objects and events); the clash of conflicting traditions of thinking about art, for example perceiving it as an area of creative freedom; emphasis put on the utilitarian and decorative features of art; and socially engaged art. The discussion revolves around the category of helplessness that one has to feel in the face of such a multitude of theoretical approaches to art and blurred boundaries of what belongs in the concept of art. This includes anaesthetics which, next to pragmatic aesthetics, serves as a turning point in the discourse on art that constantly calls for redefining the identification fields for selected manifestations of art in social reality.

The paper is devoted to the analysis of the conventionalized representational practices being used to represent the poverty problem and the economically marginalized citizens in the information and entertainment media in Poland. The conventionalization as the phenomenon typical for the information formats may impede the empathy, nevertheless, it does not make it impossible. The attitude of entertainment media to the poverty, though, is much more problematic, as they defi ne the underclass in their own, specific way, while providing the readers and the viewers with the voyeuristic pleasures of watching its members struggle to alter their economic status.

The paper discusses selected aspects related to the socio-cultural representation of a traumatic experience. It explores the material based on testimonies available in Svetlana Alexievich’s works. Analyzing them, the author refers to Cathy Caruth’s theory of socio-cultural trauma, Neil Smelser’s writings, socially and culturally adapted components of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and elements of the testimonium theory.

The paper aims to outline ways in which the category of sensitivity is perceived and valued in terms of a theory of modern reportage. Self-reflexive statements by such journalists as Ryszard Kapuściński, Wojciech Tochman and Jacek Hugo-Bader are analyzed, who throughout their professiographic reflections often return to this topic. The research reveals that the findings made by these journalists correspond to a significant extent with Susan Sontag’s conclusions in her book Regarding the Pain of Others. On the one hand, the reporters seem to treat sensitivity as a desirable attitude adopted by a journalist in his or her encounter with others, and on the other hand, as a quality that in some cases may stand in conflict with journalistic professionalism.

New technologies operate according to Boolean ratiomorphic mechanisms (ratiomorphism can be defi ned as unconscious, innate, genetically determined and survival-driven cognitive faculties of organisms). Consequently, the contemporary media are not conducive to either cognitive or – most of all – emotional sensitivity. Instead, it is being suppressed and eliminated from social life, and so is empathy. The disappearance of emotional sensitivity and empathy is a serious threat to the human world as we (still) know it. Paradoxically, the hope for saving them may involve a certain form of ratiomorphism that I the author of the article call refers to as axiomorphism. Axiomorphism is when ratiomorphism is teleonomically oriented toward ethical and aesthetic values recognized in the human world, such as goodness or beauty.

Rather than being used as an opposite to rationality, sensitivity is here perceived as a cognitive category and a quality that enables a better understanding of both one’s own experiences and social reality. Subjected to psychologization and tyranny of intimacy, post-modern culture seems to have an ambivalent attitude to sensitivity. While understanding and empathy are highly desired values in the ever more individualized society, cultural exhibitionism leads to atrophy of sensitivity and escalation of narcissistic attitudes.

Contemporary sensitivity

The aim of the article is to present sensitivity in the context of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential thought. Based on the definition of sensitivity as the ability to react to stimuli, the author discusses three chosen types of reaction: feeling, premonition and compassion, and puts them in the perspective of the respective themes from Sartre’s philosophy of existence: being, time and relationship. The paper discusses the place and role of the concept of sensitivity in existentialism, arguing that every human being thrown into this world is forced to react to stimuli due to his or her existential construction. The author also introduces the concept of existential sensitivity – a logical consequence of our life to which we are all condemned.

The article offers a look at the issue of sensitivity in the context of media and media spectacles representing the suffering of others. It refers to Hannah Arendt’s concept of politics of pity, further developed in the context of media and their representations of reality by Luc Boltanski, pointing to dilemmas experienced by a spectator watching the suffering of others. The text discusses three regimes of representing the suffering of others, as described by Boltanski and Lilie Chouliaraki, i.e. denunciation, sentimentalism and sublimation. Adopting a different approach to the spectator’s situation and using different means of expression, they outline possible directions and at the same time signal specific dilemmas related to the spectator’s moral involvement in media spectacles of the suffering of others.

The paper presents a study of the category of hypersensitivity based on Polish parenting websites and a discourse on children and child rearing. Using discourse analysis methods and findings from new childhood studies, the author explores the current aporias regarding sensitivity. She analyses social narratives entailed in them, including those concerning child education and upbringing, related to modern biopolitics and various risk discourses according to which the responsibility for the proper control and development of the child’s sensitivity lies within the parent-expert. Based on the studied material, a thesis is formed that connects  the  discourse on hypersensitivity with modern, also neoliberal, thinking, pointing to  the  post-moralistic implications of this relationship – possible outcomes of treating child development as a strictly individualistic process. The article also shows mechanisms of depriving children of subjectivity through discursive child management, in which the child is no longer a person and becomes merely a representative of certain characteristics of a specific group of population recognized as hypersensitive.

Contemporary tourism is one of the most dynamically developing branches of the global economy. Together with travelling masses there come reflections on the cultural and social determinants of travelling itself and tourism, as well as meetings with the other, i.e. the cornerstone of anthropological research. Tourist sensitivity may now be observed from the interesting perspective of a photograph which reveals not so much the intentions of the author as the whole baggage of his or her cultural experience and related contexts. This tourist viewpoint, while often stereotypical, does not necessarily have to be a mere reproduction of certain representations. An example from an online forum about travelling in Morocco shows that some travellers are becoming increasingly aware of the complexity of contacts with foreign culture. Most of them understand that sensitivity and respect are usually the key to mutual understanding and turning tourism into an ethical tool for exploring the world.

Based on a high number of in-depth interviews and three case studies, the article analyses and reconstructs the role of body practices in everyday experience of the working and rural classes in Poland. Contrary to what the self-help and media discourse might indicate, practices aimed at paying attention to one’s body and staying fit are not fixed points on the agenda of the working and rural classes, structuring the narrative of their everyday life. Their relationship to the body is dominated by work which is often directly connected with the body (physical work, providing care to someone). The study confirms earlier findings in this area according to which certain lifestyle elements cannot be analyzed in terms of “free choice”. Instead, they should be explored taking into account the inequalities that exist in the distribution of economic resources, workload and working conditions, as well as access to knowledge and health-care infrastructure.

The article discusses the links between the theory of economic man and the culture of insensitivity. It refers to the genesis of economic subjectivity, inextricably connected with reduced emotions, leading to emotional coldness, detachment and indifference. It is a structure of subjectivity that may be found in many cultural texts. The article provides a short description of two novels which take up the topic of economy while analyzing the relationship between the psychological structure of the characters and the economic system. Additionally, it presents how the model  of economic man has expanded beyond the world of economy, and how  the world of life and interpersonal relations has been colonized by various ways of converting reality into quantitative data.

The text tries to analyze the radical gesture of breaking with the post-communist social reality. On the example of the novel Do tmy [Into Darkness] by Anna Bolavá, the author of the article draws the socio-political landscape of the Czech Republic after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. The main character of the book, Anna, stands out as a woman, irritates and queers the well-established space, only to finally smash it by proposing – now as a plant – a new social order (not only with people as social actors). Anna Bolavá’s novel not only diagnoses the postmodern times, with their abundance of sounds and images, but also offers a strategy how to change the reality.

Basing on the example of Paw królowej [The Queen’s Peacock], the article presents the manner in which Dorota Masłowska problematizes her own situation and position in the world of (pop) culture after the spectacular success of her debut novel White and Red. The paper defi nes the category of vulnerability and uses it to determine the subject position of the author. Female characters in the book are treated as meta phorical incarnations of Dorota Masłowska, reflecting her emotions related to her vulnerable position.

Reviews

Thies, Christian. Alles Kultur? Eine kritische Bestandsaufnahme [Everything culture? A critical register]. Stuttgart: Taschenbuch, 2016.