Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody poor.
These are the first two lines of William Blake’s The Human Abstract, one of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794). I use them as a starting-point for considering the disjointness of pity: that is, the asymmetric feelings that those who pity have for the pitied. The complexity of these feelings is an important component of my research project Other People’s Struggles which concerns the participation of outsiders – or ‘adherents’ as I term them – in social movements from which they do not expect to benefit directly. Blake’s treatment of pity in this poem got me thinking about the ‘innocence’ and ‘experience’ – the ambivalence – of pitying.
IMAGE CREDIT: WILLIAM BLAKE, PITY (1795) (MONOPRINT, WITH INK AND WATERCOLOUR) (DETAIL) TATE GALLERY, LONDON.