Metaphors of Empathy and Concepts of Abstraction in the Avant-garde

The project investigates the relationship between metaphors of empathy and concepts of abstraction in the historical avant-garde. It builds on the hypothesis that the turn toward aesthetic abstraction in the 1910s emerges not (as a juxtaposition à la Wilhelm Worringer would suggest) from a simple rejection of 19th century theories of Einfühlung (Vischer, Lipps, etc.) but from an extension and modification of these very theories. In order to reconstruct this continuity, the investigation focuses on a number of crucial linguistic tropes like “vibration,” “rhythm,” and “resonance” which operate in the conceptual (and historical) interface between empathy and abstraction. By examining the discursive efficacy of these figures in the context of both 19th century Einfühlungsästhetik and the early avant-garde, the project seeks to demonstrate that aesthetic abstraction is originally conceived — metaphorically — as a process of empathy.