Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Pane of Glass

"Someone who does not see a pane of glass does not know that he does not see it. Someone who, being placed differently, does see it, does not know the other does not see it." --Simone Weil

The same reality can look quite different to those differently situated. When a person in a different social location remarks on an event or experience that we--despite living in the same "world"--do not perceive, our first response may be to deny or deride them as liars, charlatans, or fakes, for we do not see what they see. It is difficult for us to imagine that our vision may be constrained--especially if one is situated in a position that is treated as if its perspective is universal and whole. Meanwhile, the interlocutor is presented with a very similar problem. When an experience is right there in front of you, a fundamental part of ones existence that can feel, touch, block, or even slay you, it is hard to imagine that your partner cannot see it. The first person's objection is taken to be in bad faith, a manifestation of hostility.

In both cases, the problem is the projection of one's own experiences onto to the other. When this occurs, intellectual synthesis is stunted. Instead, one position--generally, the one whose social power renders his or her perspective as a Universal--dominates the other, banishing its counterpart as fiction, mirage, or (perhaps) an isolated event. Nobody learns from the other, the status quo is maintained, and alternative views of the way it is are sacrificed because they don't fit The Way It Is.

Ideally, both parties should recognize the limitation of their and their partner's perceptual horizons, adopting a stance of humility. She who does not see should nonetheless be willing to accept the other's sight, she who sees should be generous to those whose vision is lacking. The reality that our perspective is constrained by our social position affects us all, and that is something we share with every other body, no matter how far apart we seem on everything else. Thus, our demand should not be for others to see what we see. Rather, we have the right to demand a certain degree of wonder (to borrow from Luce Irigaray) on the part of our interlocutors in social discussions, "Wonder which beholds what it sees always has if for the first time, never taking hold of the other as its object. It does not try to seize, possess, or reduce this object, but leaves it subjective, still free." No matter how complete we feel our experience is, other people remain in some sense beyond us, and only they have the authority to tell the story of their own experience.

No comments: