Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Landon, Brooks

Second Advisor

Greyser, Naomi

First Committee Member

Wittenberg, David

Second Committee Member

Glass, Loren

Third Committee Member

Thaggert, Miriam


The concept of empathy has long been studied by literary scholars. Empathy can refer to several different affective, political, and aesthetic phenomena, however, and its often assumed connection to reading is far from proven. This dissertation explores three specific aspects of empathy as they appear in postwar North American fiction, with special emphasis on what they suggest about empathy’s relationship to gendered embodiment. Reading Ruptures examines readerly empathy (an aesthetic encounter with literature) in representations of dubious sexual consent; affective empathy (a political sentiment) in representations of pregnancy; and communicative empathy (a linguistic trope of science fiction) in representations of language viruses. While these distinct types of empathy can be conceptualized and experienced separately, they illuminate each other’s political opportunities and challenges when placed in conversation. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that although science fiction’s contributions to this conversation have historically been undervalued, SF offers fresh insights into empathy’s continuing and evolving relevance for posthuman embodiment and postmodern literature.


embodiment, empathy, gender, permeability, reading, science fiction


viii, 234 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 217-234).


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Copyright © 2015 Elizabeth Lundberg