A Study of Being as Love

Discover yourself as being poetry through an autoethnography, i.e. a fictive-academic novel that draws concepts from philosophy, the humanities, and the social science. I will guide you to understand how and why through the fullest love you can transform yourself and the world around you into poetry.
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According to Faulkner, the methodology of poetic inquiry allows the use of: “personal experience to create something which is universal or generalizable because the reader sees the words as if it were their own.”[1] This type of ‘universality’ is not achieved through an assurance of fixed knowledge (e.g. Platonic form of the Good). Rather, through intersubjectivity, a particular ontology has the potential of becoming universal within another person’s ontology if such poetic narrative can be experienced “as if it were their own,”[2] i.e. through the process of empathy. Moreover, the language artist Mary Weems argues that: “the E in poetry stands for empathy” because in the same way one inhabits within a web of interrelations (e.g. community and even the ecosystem which sustains a community), the “meaning of words — one word leading to another, the lives of people are connected.”[3]

The modern use of the word empathy comes from the German word einfühlung (i.e. “feeling into”). This concept was coined by the psychologist Theodor Lipps to describe an introspective: “fusion between the observer and his or her object.” According to Christiane Montag, Jürgen Gallinat, and Andreas Heinz, the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl was influenced by Lipps’ notion of empathy.[4] Husserl critiqued Cartesian dualism through the notion of a phenomenological reduction. The reduction is an approximation to the notion of poetic silence which brings us into “the presence of the instant”[5] that leads to profound understanding of love and empathy. Whereas Lipps’ defines empathy as a fusion between the object-subject, Husserl argues empathy is possible through a mental representation, i.e. not an actual fusion but a fluid process of intersubjectivity. According to the philosopher Kevin Hermberg, Husserl argues that intersubjectivity is only possible through empathy:

“To have an intentional object is, then, also to have an awareness of Others (even if it is only a tacit awareness). …The intersubjective life-world is at the ground of all intentional activity, and validity is attained via intersubjective harmony. Consequently, intersubjectivity (which requires empathy) is required for any knowledge of any object whatsoever.”[6]

Thus empathy solidifies and confirms knowledge, rather than falling into solipsism; empathy through intersubjectivity allows you to conceive the fusion with the other through thought experiments as embodied experiences.[7] One must be aware that Husserl does not mean that the Other or only your mind’s content exists (e.g. solipsism). On the contrary, in the Fifth Meditation on Cartesian Meditations, empathy solidifies the existence of both (i.e. oneself and the Other) through an “intersubjective harmony” that actualizes the Other beyond oneself. This is done through a thought experiment, the epoché or phenomenological reduction, which requires the suspension of judgment (i.e. let the object or subject stand in its openness). One undergoes this process in order to observe beyond personal bias which allows you to empathize and feel the other, i.e. as a real and actual person who suffers and experiences as yourself through embodiment.[8]  That said, Husserl’s reasoning is an example of how “empathy is possible,” [9] as Weems argues, because poetry is a mode of language that:

“…represents a path to a greater understanding of what is means to be othered, to the importance of thinking deeply about an experience you’ve never had, to constructing a passion for acting as an agent for social justice and love.”[10]

Therefore, my method of poetic inquiry based on empathy also focuses on the notion of love because in order to attend to something or someone; there must be an intentional act that contains an implicit eros or desire toward some sort of good toward oneself or others.[11] That said, the notion of love is highly neglected in the research system as Leggo argues:

“I especially focus on the word love as four silent letters that need to be declared, heard, and lived in schools and out of schools. It is puzzling that a library search with the descriptors love and school turns up almost no sources. Perhaps educators fear love, and loving, and saying I love you. Why aren’t we researching love more?”[12]

Thus, my methodology is responding to Leggo’s latter question because poetic inquiry allows the notion of love to be studied through an exercise of empathy as Weems argues.[13] This empathic process begins in the poetic act and continually re-represents itself in the different contexts that surround us. For example, through poetic inquiry a sad child becomes a dripping ice cream of dreams that needs to be attended.  The visual representation of the ice cream and dreams might cause an empathic process within your cognition through your memories that analogize your childhood to the child being described in the latter sentence. The way each poet uses analogies and metaphors as a continual poetic activity is particular to each poet’s method for creating her or his data (i.e. poem creation) because poetic inquiry can be: “…a tool and method for presentation of research data, as a source of data, and source for data analysis.”[14] Thus, I will present a set of poems and photographs as my data source because sometimes in poetic inquiry visual images can interact with the poetry.[15] Then through an autoethnographic novel, I will analyze the poetic data. In the following section, I will explain how I collected the data and how I use autoethnography to analyze this data.



[1] Faulkner, 17.

[2] Faulkner, 17.

[3] Mary Weems, “The E in Poetry Stands for Empathy,” in Poetic Inquiry: Vibrant Voices in the Social Sciences, ed. Monica Prendergast, Carl Leggo, and Pauline Sameshima (Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 2009), 133.

[4] Although Lipps’ notion is based on introspection, behaviorism and experimental psychology overpowered this approach; see Christiane Montag, Jürgen Gallinat, and Andreas Heinz, “Theodor Lipps and the Concept of Empathy: 1851-1914,” American Journal of Psychiatry 165, no. 10 (October 01, 2008): quotes in 1261, accessed November 5, 2011, doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2008.07081283. I will give a detailed account of the history of introspection in section 1.3

[5] Richardson, 451.

[6] Kevin Hermberg, Husserl’s Phenomenology: Knowledge, Objectivity and Others (London: Continuum, 2006), 97.

[7] Hermberg, 100.

[8] Hermberg, 66-70, quote in 67; Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations: an Introduction to Phenomenology, trans. Dorion Cairns (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1999), 89-157.

[9] Weems,133.

[10] Weems, 133.

[11] Irving Singer, The Nature of Love, vol. 1 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009), 47-87.

[12] Carl Leggo, “Living Love Stories,” in Poetic Inquiry: Vibrant Voices in the Social Sciences, ed. Monica Prendergast, Carl Leggo, and Pauline Sameshima (Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 2009), 147.

[13] Weems, 133.

[14] Faulkner, 20.

[15] Prendergast, xxxvi.