Samantha Leersen

Samantha Leersen

Postgraduate journalism student from Australia. Lover of all things literary.

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    Latest Articles


    Latest Topics


    Literature as an 'empathy machine'?

    The phrase ’empathy machine’ was first used to describe the way that watching films can give the viewer an understanding of what it is like to be someone different (different age, gender, nationality, etc.). More recently, it has been used in reference to virtual reality technologies and their ability to allow users to ’embody’ someone else. The claims of both of these mediums as empathy machines rests upon their alleged ability to allow the viewer/player to understand and feel what others feel. This empathy is, of course, something they cannot get from their own life as they do not have the same shared experiences that the machine is allowing them to have. Thus, these tools as empathy machines are profound.

    But, to what extent can literature be seen as a so-called empathy machine? Using a selection of texts, discuss how they can provide the reader with the knowledge necessary to empathise with those depicted in the texts. This could include fiction, where the reader is learning about the life of someone unreal. Or, it could be non-fiction, where the reader is learning of the life of a real person. Ensure that the specific empathetic qualities of literature are discussed. This might include literature’s reliance on imagination, or the way that written texts allow for lengthy and in-depth first-hand accounts.

    The potential writer of this topic could provide an overall assessment; is literature more or less effective than film or V.R. in creating empathy? Why/why not?

    • Excellent topic. The writer may also may want to look into the potentialities of visual novels in creating this form of empathy. – Sathyajith Shaji Manthanth 2 years ago
    • Very interesting, indeed. Gary Saul Morson has written a lot about this topic, insofar as he centers empathetic engagement as the core of his pedagogy (see especially: ). If we want to dig a little deeper, something that I'm curious about is necessity to frame it as a "machine," per se. This is understandable in the realms of film and VR, which undeniably have a "mechanical" component to their narrative transmission, but literature is significantly more analog -- especially if we're thinking of it in terms of the "text" itself, as opposed to the materiality of print media. Though I suppose a case can certainly be made that literature is a "technology" (if we trace the etymology back the the original Greek "teche"; Foucault's "Technologies of the Self" come to mind, if a reference point for more abstract uses of such terms is needed). I dunno, perhaps I'm being too literal, and should probably be ignored. – ProtoCanon 2 years ago
    • Excellent topic. Within it, the author might also consider the different types of empathy. That is, there's a type of empathy that sounds like, "I have not been through this, but I can relate to something you are feeling." There's also a type that sounds like, "I have been through exactly this or something very similar, so I am relating strongly to your emotions and experiences, and may talk about them in relation to what we are both feeling." However, a lot of people only think of empathy as one kind or the other, so they either accuse others of having no empathy, or assume that empathy can't be found unless you have related personally to a given experience. – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
    • Different types of art, believe it literature, cinema, etc., are endowed with a defamiliarizing potentiality, meaning, they can help the viewers observe the world and the issues at hand through a different perspective. I believe that this research can be used to analyze the recent films that portray a certain group of people as the social others. Simply put, how films help us observe the world through the eyes of the marginalized and "othered". – mahdisafari76 1 year ago
    • If someone tackles this topic, you have to look at Mattie Brice's piece, empathy machine: – ProfRichards 1 year ago
    • Literature is definitely more effective in creating empathy than other mediums. While we do get certain perspectives through movie characters, we don't get the full in-depth take on their thoughts and actions. For example, someone who only watched the Harry Potter movies probably think that Harry is a brat who never listens and is always angry for no reason. But after reading the books, we see what he's thinking, why he reacts to certain situations the way he does, and what his perspective is during all the conflicts he endures. The "omniscient" aspect in literature is what really lets readers step into the characters' role, something we don't get in film or VR. The book that immediately came into mind while thinking through the lense of empathy is "All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. We get the perspective of a young French girl during the German seize of France, a young German boy who joins Hitler's army, a Nazi party official, a veteran with PTSD from the first world war, a French locksmith who gets sent to a "work camp", and many many more. We see the innermost thoughts of these vastly different characters which makes readers feel for everyone involved-- even those we thought were inherently evil have some good in them. The ability to see why these characters stand for what they stand for, what they're thinking through all these events, and how they respond/react humanizes even the most hard-core officer. Readers don't just get scenes with these characters interacting while the plot unfolds, they get the perspective of each character in each individual chapter. As a result, we can empathize with everyone whether we want to or not. Now, I have not seen the movie adaptation of this book, but I can almost guarantee we don't get insight into the fear Wearner feels when he's around German officers, even though he's "one of them." We don't get to see how angry Marie-Laure is all through out the book, because we don't get her *thoughts*. That's what is so important for empathy in literature-- without getting in the characters' head and seeing their thoughts, we only get half the story like in movies/shows. – allysonkadas 11 months ago
    • I would argue that empathy has some limitations especially between human and non-humans. Stories about non-humans are created by humans. Can we empathize with a plant or beetle the same way we do with mammals? I highly recommend reading 'Animal Writing: Storytelling, Selfhood and the Limits of Empathy' by Danielle Sands. – shaymichel20 4 months ago

    The Portrayal of Catfishing Within Popular Media

    The act of catfishing — pretending to be someone else online to lure someone into a false relationship — has become a somewhat common occurrence. This also means that this behaviour has started appearing in more entertainment media. This, then, begs the question. How is the act of catfishing portrayed in media?

    An analysis of this topic could start with the TV show Catfish, which depicts the act as cruel whilst simultaneously often showing sympathy to those who participate in catfishing depending upon their individual circumstances.

    Through looking at other examples — either fictional or non-fictional — try to determine whether popular culture depicts this as a severe violation, a minor problem, or somewhere in between.

    If possible, make a comment about what this says about societal values.

    Note: I have placed this in the Arts category, but it could potentially sit in the other media forms (like TV or Film) if they are most discussed.

    • I think adding an element about how there are movies where all someone does is take off a characters glasses and they are hot (She’s All That) is also a form of cat fishing happening. Or even a mistaken identity like in Eurotrip. There are a lot of instincts in movies or shows where people get tricked into think one thing about a character and finding out different. This will be cool to read/write. – mynameisarianna 11 months ago
    • I think this is a really great topic, especially with the Tinder Swindler on Netflix becoming so popular. A slightly different form but the same principle. – BrennaDempsey 11 months ago
    • The recent Netflix movie LoveHard tries to tackle both characters who have catfished and their attempting to convince others it is wrong, but in the end the main charactes still end up what does that all mean? – derBruderspielt 11 months ago
    • While the television show "90 Day Fiance" definitely has its racist, xenophobic moments and is not necessarily focusing on "catfishing", I think it also opens up the interesting dynamic of long distance relationships and its tendency to encourage hiding the truth. Often, both people are "catfishing" in some way, either by hiding appearance, intention, information. The show is really ambiguous in regards to who you should feel sympathetic towards. In the MTV show Catfish, usually the viewer is positioned to feel sympathetic with the person being catfished (of course, the presenters are quite balanced and often give the catfish an opportunity to be heard out). In many of the relationships that involve lying or covering the truth in 90 Day Fiance, it is a bit more ambiguous and often both parties have hidden something. – aidenmagro 10 months ago

    Fragmented Literature: What Does It Achieve?

    Modernist texts are often heavily fragmented – the plot is jumbled and does not follow a simple beginning to end chronology. This can be off-putting for many readers as it can make a story hard to follow and less immersive.

    However, what are the benefits and what does writing in fragments achieve? An article could look at a selection of texts that are fragmented and offer an analysis of what this particular structure is doing.

    For example, in Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertesz, the plot keeps circling back to the same line, its repetition representing the repetitive trauma it has caused the protagonist. Or, in The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon, the plot is broken up by page long chapters detailing the nightmares had by the protagonist which can show how they interject in his life just as they have interjected into the plot.
    There are many works of literature that fragment the narrative and do so for thoughtful and strategic reasons. Thus, exploring texts that do this meaningfully could be an interesting read!

    • I suppose in literature that would be food for thought. But, I can emphatically say that it occurs in film as well. Take for instance the film Raging Bull. To the untrained eye or first time viewer, the boxing scenes appear fragmented, or improperly edited. In fact, it is a deliberate technique known as image collision. Effectively what it does is arrange a sequence of scene cuts with no apparent flow between them. The viewer is left to fill in the gaps or smooth over the perforations in the actor's activity and the camera movement. In the process, the audience is drawn into the cinematic spectacle before them. I would be interested in knowing if this a common practice in literature as well. (Aside from the obvious example, Alice in Wonderland.) – L:Freire 2 years ago
    • Interesting. Modernism was a reaction against the inflexible confines of Victorian literature that preceded it. The motif of the circle, as in Kertesz's text, is an alternative to the traditionally linear conception of experience. The Modernist's realised that individual experience is not as simple as a traditional linear narrative with one major point of conflict; we think back, we reconsider, we hypothesise. The Modernists simply reflected this reality in the forms of their works. – hlewsley 2 years ago
    • I find fragmented writing to be very confusing, but very intriguing as well. A reader following a straight line can get tiring and boring. Putting in fragments adds not only a timeline to a story, but also adds depth to characters, settings, and plot. The reader is able to tie things together themselves rather than have someone tell them which is more entertaining. – devdroses 2 years ago
    • I don't really see "fragmented" stories as innately more confusing than linear ones. If you think about it, any story that starts in medias res or uses flashbacks--especially more than a couple of times--is making use of non-linear storytelling. That being said, probably one of the most infamous "fragmented" stories is The Trial, a novel by Franz Kafka. In that case, the reason why it's so fragmented is because the story was discovered after the author's death, and he hadn't managed to complete the story or put the pieces in order in the first place. Another interesting example of non-linear storytelling is in the movie Memento. The protagonist of that movie suffers from an inability to make new memories, and so the entire story is told in reverse, with the later events being shown first and the earlier events shown later, so that the audience can realize how confusing and misleading it would be to live in such a way. – Debs 2 years ago
    • What an interesting topic! This could be a hard one to write because temporal shifts and fragmented plots work to “achieve” different purposes for different Modernists. Perhaps a thesis that explores a few common effects of the narrative style within a particular subset of Modernist writing would work well. One might consider narrowing to the early Modernists or even just the early female Modernists, for instance. Or, contrarily, a broader survey of Modernists using the style over time to achieve the same purpose would be super interesting, too. Again, keeping the focus narrow will be difficult, but I think it would produce a rewarding piece. – JCBohn 2 years ago

    Job Precariousness in Sitcoms

    In many sitcoms, characters often suffer the consequences of job precariousness. This includes being underpaid, taking jobs they hate, or losing their jobs altogether.
    Almost the entire cast of Friends, Jess from New Girl, Britta or Jeff from Community, or the Roses from Schitt’s Creek are just some examples.

    An article looking at how these scenarios play out in T.V. could be an insightful read. Are they accurate depictions of real life, or do they diminish the real-world anxiety of this aspect of life? Is it enough to simply allude to homelessness or not being able to make rent, or should a show force its characters to endure this? You could offer a comparison of shows that do this well and shows that, perhaps, do not do this so well.

    You could offer an assessment regarding the impact this has on viewers, and contextualise the shows within both their setting and time of release.

    • It would be worth expanding this topic to examine and analyse similar scenarios in sitcoms from around the world. In this way, a comparison could be made between varying cultural values and institutional attitudes towards low paid workers. – Amyus 2 years ago
    • I think contextualizing the shows based on time of release is a good idea. Specifically, comparing the perception of unemployment in shows through every decade or during periods of financial downturn could be particularly interesting. – huiwong 2 years ago
    • It is interesting how you pay attention to this specific feature in sitcoms. Writers might also look into how job precariousness help to develop the plot, to make the plot fitting to sitcoms. – Heather Ka Man Chung 2 years ago
    • I have noticed that it seems far more of an element where the characters are if a grittier sort of Everyman: someone more working class. This would not be so much in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (for example). – J.D. Jankowski 2 years ago
    • Good one! I just submitted a topic about how sitcoms evolve in general, and this could be part of that or an article on its own. – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
    • This is so interesting. I think building off of Amyus and Huiwong's comment, it is really interesting to think of in the context of the working class. You could go at this through a lens of the levels of realism in character being fine without jobs, getting jobs easily, or living at a comfort level well of the range of their job. These are all obvious but it would be interesting to look at the way unemployment in the times of covid have given higher stakes for viewers watching this sitcom. – skruse 2 years ago

    Sitcoms: Live Audience Laughter Vs. Laugh Track

    For many sitcoms, including applause and laughter after every punchline is something of a staple. Laugh tracks, or ‘canned laughter,’ have been used in comedic television programmes for decades. However, many shows are also filmed in front of a live studio audience to produce the same effect.
    Evaluate the impact that filming before a live studio audience has on the programmes which use them. Moreover, how does this compare to the artificial laugh track? Is real laughter better than fake laughter? Or, are the criticisms ultimately the same? Such criticisms could include that the laughter is forced for unfunny jokes, it breaks the fourth wall, or it unsettles the timing of a show
    When building an argument, specific examples of T.V. shows should be discussed. The writer should choose specific scenes to analyse in order to demonstrate how they have been directly impacted by the choice to film in front of a live audience, and how their reactionary noises are used within the show. Try to limit the amount of personal opinion here, and have your argument based solely upon the artistic criticism of the shows themselves.

    • Perhaps another important element to explore is the decline of studio audiences and laugh tracks in sitcoms in general. Ever since shows like Sex and the City, Curb your Enthusiasm, and Arrested Development pioneered the single cam approach, it's become much more the norm in the medium (the last time more than one multi cam sitcom was nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Emmy Award was 2005.) Whether for flexibility in shooting, less reliance on punchlines, or less restrictive genre conventions, comedy seems to be headed in that direction more and more, leaving both live audiences and laugh tracks in the dust. – Double U 2 years ago

    What is the difference between Bildungsroman and Coming-of-Age?

    The word Bildungsroman is often used interchangeably with the term coming-of-age when describing growth-oriented literature. However, they are not necessarily the same. A Bildungsroman text is one that focuses on the psychological growth of a character. It follows said character from youth to adulthood, especially as they find themselves in difficult situations. Coming-of-age, however, is more of a broad umbrella term for any story about growing up.

    Through using one or more Bildungsroman and coming-of-age texts, the writer of this article could explore this difference. Some points to consider are the way a Bildungsroman is structured in four sections (loss, journey, conflict/growth, and maturity). Also, the way a Bildungsroman focuses on the entirety of youth, not just a small portion of it.

    Conversely, the coming of age text chosen should be used to show the ways that it is different from a Bildungsroman (such as, for example, focusing on only a month or year of youth). An article explaining these differences, with examples, could be an informative and educational read.

    • I was always kind of under the impression that a Bildungsroman was a subset within coming-of-age stories. As in, every Bildungsroman is a coming-of-age story, but not every coming-of-age story is a Bildungsroman. – Debs 2 years ago

    What Makes a Good Bottle Episode?

    A bottle episode refers to an episode of a T.V. show written to require only one or two sets, and only few non-regular cast members. These episodes are often the result of a dwindling production budget, or a pre-emptive cost-saving attempt.

    Some people view these as lazy, but bottle episodes often make for great television.
    An article on this could discuss specific examples of shows who have made successful bottle episodes, and how they have done so. Reasons could include great drama due to the restricted movement of characters. Or, many fan favourite bottle episodes are enjoyed because they showcase their characters in their truest form. The examples available are plenty, with famous shows like Friends, New Girl, or Community all having done them.

    The writer of this article could also use poorly received bottle episodes as a contrast, so long as they discuss why they were not successful.

    • Good topic! Bottle episodes are fascinating. I know a few good ones, especially from shows like The Twilight Zone (I'm a fan of some of the older stuff). You could even argue that certain shows or seasons are made up of bottle episodes. Once Upon a Time is my favorite example, especially the early seasons, because if you leave Storybrooke, something bad will happen. (Or, hold on, is that a bottle, or just a "closed circle?") Anyway, love the topic. – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
    • Is "The Fly" from Breaking Bad is another good example of a Bottle episode in a dramatic show. It was pretty polarizing when it was released but has some great acting from Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul. – Sean Gadus 2 years ago

    The Portrayal of Women in Gothic Literature

    Look at the portrayal of women in Gothic literature. What tropes do they often fulfil?

    There’s the shrieking heroine of The Monk or The Italian (written by Matthew Lewis and Ann Radcliffe respectively). Even modern day Twilight has this.
    Bram Stoker’s Dracula shifted things by having Mina as the ‘new’ woman – the only reason she was respected is because she supposedly had the brain of a man. Even then, she was viewed as someone who needed protecting.
    Even texts like Jekyll and Hyde make a statement about women’s place in society by simply NOT including women in the narrative.
    Modern Gothic texts tend to favour the cool and powerful female protagonist, which in theory seems empowering, but can also be problematic.

    What is the effect of each portrayal of women? Are the women in each given text empowered or powerless? Is historical/social context important in how the female characters are portrayed? Do any texts defy their time period? Is there a difference between texts written by men and texts written by women?
    An article on this should analyse a wide variation of texts, from different time periods.

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      Latest Comments

      Samantha Leersen

      I can see absolute merit in your claim that Kafka is misunderstood. My attempts to read and understand his writing have always been unsuccessful. Though I am unable to see myself becoming a frequent reader of his work, your article will prove a valuable resource next time I do attempt to delve into his writing.

      Demystifying Franz Kafka
      Samantha Leersen

      I agree! I have preferred Abyss from the get-go but not been able to understand why exactly, but this articulates perfectly why that is.

      Apex and Abyss: A Thematic Analysis
      Samantha Leersen

      I had the exact same experience! As soon as I begun to understand the story that was unfolding, my engagement with the album increased hugely.

      Apex and Abyss: A Thematic Analysis
      Samantha Leersen

      This is, hands down, the most generous comment that I have ever received on one of my articles. I just write about what I enjoy, and while I know that it gets read by many people, to think it can have such an impact is honestly a little mind-blowing. Thank you for this comment!
      But I also agree with what you are saying. These albums are incredible and powerful and hold so much depth that is easy to miss if you are not looking for it.

      Apex and Abyss: A Thematic Analysis
      Samantha Leersen

      Thank you so much for this feedback!

      Apex and Abyss: A Thematic Analysis
      Samantha Leersen

      I think I personally prefer Abyss to Apex. But that might be because I listened to it first, who knows? But yes, both albums are at their absolute best when they are enjoyed as a whole.

      Apex and Abyss: A Thematic Analysis
      Samantha Leersen

      Thank you so much, and yes, I completely agree! They were necessary research for this article, actually.

      Apex and Abyss: A Thematic Analysis
      Samantha Leersen

      Not sure if you have seen the vocalist’s explainer videos on YouTube, but she states in one of them that Abyss takes place 50 or so years later (which makes sense seeing as the son is still alive).

      Apex and Abyss: A Thematic Analysis