Session 7 - Experiencing safety

Experiencing safety

Dr. Marieke Borren (Open University)  
The Color of Safety. Racializations of Lived Embodied Experiences of Un/Safety of Public Spaces
This paper explores the variety of first-person lived embodied experiences of safety and unsafety of public urban spaces, and how these are bound up with people’s racial situatedness (and its entanglement with class and citizenship - formal citizenship status, i.e. being documented or not) within different socio-historical contexts.

For example, white privilege entails the taken-for-granted freedom to inhabit public space, to move in and out of it and around it as one sees fit (‘white expansiveness’). For white bodies, public space may appear as open spaces, whereas non-white bodies seem to be exposed to police violence and street crime (and higher risks of viral infection) far more frequently. For them, movement in public space is inhibited, while they are simultaneously condemned to unsafe public spaces more often, for a variety of reasons. To give just one example: as we have seen during the Covid pandemic, poor people around the globe - the majority of them being non-white - do not have the privilege of working from home, but need access to public space to make a living.
I will study the relation between race, space and movement, not (at least not only) in an empirical (‘ontic’) register (history, social sciences, etc.), but on the ontological plain, translated as the relation between embodiment, spatiality and motility. I will mainly draw on the phenomenological notion of the ‘I can’ body (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Arendt) and its entanglement with one’s ‘facticity’ or ‘situation’ (Beauvoir, Fanon).
I will explore the interaction between two dimensions of the workings of racialization of bodies in public spaces:

(a) the lived body: How is what bodies ‘can do’ in public space, who can and who can’t move around it freely, confidentially and uninhibited, racialized? 
(b) the appearance and lived quality of public spaces and the relation between private and public spaces: How is the appearance of public space as either open or as a space of harmful visibility, racialized?

I will illustrate the interactions between these two dimensions with three recent examples of the spatiality and motility of white embodiment, taken from different geographical contexts: South Africa, Netherlands and the US. 

Dr. Bianca Briciu (Saint Paul University, Ottawa) 
I See It So That You Don’t Have To: Safety, Compassion and Vicarious Trauma in Films about War Correspondents
This paper explores the lack of safety in war journalism through the analysis of two films: A Private War (Matthew Heineman, 2018) and 1000 Times Goodnight (Erik Poppe, 2013). The films detail the stories of female war correspondents who are torn between two conflicting emotional forces: the belief that witnessing and documenting violence will lead to change for people experiencing the traumas of war and the attraction for danger caused by their vicarious trauma. Theories of trauma point out two major effects on the individual psyche: disconnection between mind and body and the disconnection of the individual from collectivity. This paper explores the emotional architecture of safety in relationship to the emotional after effects of trauma. The compassion that the protagonists of these films feel towards people who experience the brutalizing violence of war leads to their disregard for safety and the unravelling of their own world. Gender plays also an important role in the framing of safety and danger in the films since courage has been traditional seen as masculine. The female journalists in these three films take ownership of the traumatic experiences of others through their compassionate drive to make the world intervene but they end up experiencing trauma themselves. The emotional after effect of trauma is the lack of concern for one’s own safety, a certain fascination with death and suffering that ends up taking over the lives of the protagonists. The films invite us to experience a sense of shared responsibility as interconnected human beings through the act of witnessing the suffering of others. We cannot be free unless others are free and we cannot feel safe when we witness acts of cruelty and violence. Unclaimed traumatic memories travel our collective imagination like restless ghosts trying to find appeasement through the act of witnessing. Vicarious trauma shows us that we cannot be safe unless all of us are safe.  

Dr. Frederik van Dam (Radboud University Nijmegen)
Safety as Nostalgia: Literary Representations of the European Question in Interwar Fiction
In the years between the two World Wars, people were caught between the trauma of one total war and the fear of the next. Scholars of modernist literature such as Paul Saint-Amour have argued that this culture of anxiety determined the experimental and encyclopaedic form of contemporary fiction. While this focus on the literary representation of anxiety and isolation has yielded significant findings, it has obscured literature’s imaginative and connective potential. This paper contributes to larger project which aims to recover this potential and which suggests that certain novels in this period instilled a desire for peace and security. These novels belong to a genre that I would call the novel of cosmopolitanism, a genre that aimed to foster a renewed belief in world citizenship, thus providing a fictional response to the so-called European Question. In this paper, I will explore how these novels’ representation of safety is informed by feelings of nostalgia, the longing for a lost homeland, and I will illustrate my claims by means of a close and comparative reading of Stefan Zweig’s Ungeduld des Herzens (Beware of Pity, 1939) and Sándor Márai’s A gyertyák csonkig égnek (Embers, 1942). These novels infuse the world of the nineteenth century, or what Stefan Zweig in his memoir called ‘Die Welt der Sicherheit’ (‘the world of safety’), with a sense of nostalgia. Scholars often interpret such instances of nostalgia as reactionary or xenophobic, but I aim to show how these novels establish an ethical ideal that could be shared by diverse groups whose only connection was the longing for a past that never was. 

Dr. Femke Kok (Open University)
Feelings of being (un)safe. A philosophical exploration of feelings of unsafety in the work of Magda Szabó (1917-2007)
In this paper, I analyse the role and nature of feelings of unsafety in the work of the Hungarian novelist  Magda Szabó (1917-2007) by means of the emotion-theories of two philosophers: Martha Nussbaum and Matthew Ratcliffe.

Feelings of (un)safety play a prominent role in Magda Szabó’s work, for example in the famous novel The door, about the loaded and unpredictable relationship between a writer and her housekeeper during Communist rule. They are also prominent in Iza’s ballad (1963), a novel about an elderly woman who gives up her family-house in the countryside and moves to Budapest after her husband died, and in Katalin street (1969) which centres around the murder of the young Jewish girl Henrriette Held during the Second World War. All three novels deal with feelings of unsafety in the context of historical trauma.

Martha Nussbaum’s philosophical oeuvre examines the role and value of emotions from the perspective of literature. Her approach of emotions is particularly fit for the analysis of Szabó’s work, not only because she uses literature for philosophical purposes, but also because she acknowledges the important role of (personal) history in the expression and appearance of emotions. Since Nussbaums cognitive approach of emotions is often disputed, particularly by phenomenology, I will contrast her views to the phenomenological emotion-theory of Matthew Ratcliffe, aiming to find out whether the feelings of unsafety as represented in the work of Szabó are better understood as ‘cognitive emotions’ or as ‘existential feelings’.