In the introduction to the edited volume Compassion: The Culture and Politics of an Emotion, Lauren Berlant describes the project as “seeking to understand the concept [compassion] as an emotion in operation” (2004, 4). “In operation,” Berlant explains, “compassion is a term denoting privilege: the sufferer is over there” (4). Berlant’s volume explores how compassion operated culturally and politically in a particular time and place—the United States in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the volume’s opening essay, also called “Compassion,” literary critic Marjorie Garber offers an extensive genealogy of the word, concept, and practices of compassion. Garber’s essay and Berlant’s introduction historicize the term in relation to political discourse around the turn of the new millennium. Garber argues that the two most recent US presidents at that time—Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—“sought to associate themselves, at least rhetorically, with the concept of compassion” (18). She cites Clinton’s “compassionate catchphrase” (“I feel your pain”) and Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” as attempts to operationalize compassion politically.

This essay may be found on page 37 of the printed volume.

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