Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Mimetic Communication, Visual Media and Queer Cultures

Anna Gibbs.

In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Darwin mentions several different kinds of sympathy: that between different parts of the body which move in involuntary unison; that between the motor systems of two bodies, as when action in one body produces another’s involuntary attempt to perform the same action; and affective sympathy, as when the distress of one person incites tears in another. Contemporary infant research (eg Papousek and Papousek, 1971; Trevarthen, 1979; Demos, 1984;) has likewise focused on the sympathetic ‘entrainment’ of gesture with speech, and of the movements of infants in rhythmic time with the affectively coloured rhythms of speech of their mothers. William Condon has characterised this phenomenon as part of a more general ‘sharing of form’ that ‘appears to be the fundamental communicational principle running through all levels of behaviour’, and what connects humankind with the natural world in which this phenomenon also occurs.
This sympathetic ‘sharing of form’ - above all of movement and affect - is an involuntary activity, but it is also possible to share form voluntarily by virtue of what philosopher Walter Benjamin (1969) called ‘the mimetic faculty’. More recently, the discovery of mirror neurons has suggested a biological basis for human mimeticsm. This paper investigates the mimetic faculty as it is mobilised in visual media, especially in certain queer productions.


Anna Gibbs  (Australia)
Senior Lecturer in Text and Writing
School of Communication, Design and Media
University of Western Sydney

Anna Gibbs is a member of the Affect-Image-Media Research Group at UWS. Her current research is in affect theory and contemporary cultures. She has recently completed clinical training in psychodynamic psychotherapy.

  • Affect
  • Queer Theory
  • Communication and Culture

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)