What does Empathy sound like?

Detail from Grace Hartigan, Grand Street Brides

My research on Sophocles centers on how Sophoclean characters listen to one another. My article Listening in Sophocles: The Sounds of Empathic Dialogue appeared in “The Voice”, a special issue of American Imago (Johns Hopkins University Press). It is based on my doctoral dissertation, The Poetics of Listening in Sophocles (University of Chicago, 2018). I focus on lyric dialogues, scenes in which choruses sing with other characters, and analyze the way the metrical patterns of the songs reflect the forms of listening of the singing partners. The notion of listening that I apply to these scenes is not that of a passive, merely receptive stance; rather, I view listening as an active response that can be understood through vocalization. At its best, listening is a manifestation of empathy.

In Sophoclean lyric dialogues, the singing voice is charged with multiple, often contradictory, meanings. What can we make of the fact that two characters sing in metrical harmony but express a fundamental ethical difference? Does meter itself—as a poetic effect used to create echoes, for example—have moral significance in Sophocles, or does it gain such meaning only by virtue of the dialogic situation and its particular dramatic context? What does empathy sound like? These are some of the questions with which the dissertation is concerned. The poetics of listening in Sophocles thus addresses the interplay between what can be considered, on the one hand, purely sonic attributes of the song and, on the other hand, its ethical import within the dramatic interaction between characters.

I have presented parts of my doctoral research at international conferences, including the 2018 annual meeting of SCS (The Society for Classical Studies), and the 2016 meeting of CAMWS (The Classical Association of the Middle West and South).