Social Invisibility and Emotional Blindness

In Fred Cummins, Anya Daly, James Jardine & Dermot Moran (eds.), Perception and the Inhuman Gaze: Perspectives from Philosophy, Phenomenology and the Sciences. New York, NY, USA; London, UK: Routledge. pp. 308-323 (2020)
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Abstract

The unsettling, humiliating, and often threatening experience of feeling oneself ‘invisible’ before the gazes of other people in one’s social world has obvious potential as a theme for collaborative efforts between social theorists and phenomenologists. This chapter proposes one way of approaching such an engagement, drawing in particular upon three authors who offer detailed analyses of social visibility and its potential pathologies: Axel Honneth, Frantz Fanon, and Edmund Husserl. The specific phenomenon is first be located by way of Honneth’s treatment of social invisibility as frequented by behaviour that expresses an attitude of nonrecognition towards other persons immediately present. Drawing from Fanon (and others), it is then argued that Honneth’s generally perceptive analysis, by focussing primarily on cases involving the seeming absence of all emotive recognition, underestimates the role of certain (dehumanising) emotional responses in conveying to persons their ‘invisibility.’ While the exact relationships holding between perception and affect remain largely unexplored in Honneth’s work, the chapter goes on to consider these relationships phenomenologically by drawing upon Husserl’s unpublished writings on emotion and social experience. Moreover, it is suggested that the form of nonrecognition involved with social invisibility can be understood as a manifestation of a broader danger implicit within affective life, that is termed ‘emotional blindness’. Briefly put, it is proposed that the ‘invisibilising gaze’ manifests an affective response that, while sometimes partially co-responsive to social perception and understanding, is contaminated with associative configurations that lead our feelings astray.

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James Jardine
University of Parma

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