I listened to a really fascinating TED talk today in the car about how little we actually know about the five senses… it is an interesting and quick listen!
Abram says in the chapter “The Flesh of Language,” “Every attempt to definitively say what language is subject to a curious limitation. For the only medium with which we can define language is language itself” (Abram, p. 73). Thinking about language in these past two chapters has been difficult because I know that the language I am using inherently influences the way I am regarding it. Throughout the chapter “Animism and the Alphabet” the thread running through my head was that knowledge creation/production is a form of elitism, and therefore so is reading and writing.
Abram touched on this briefly, when he say “another factor inhibiting the development of a fully phonetic script was the often elite status of the scribes” (Abram, p. 98). This was because the scripts, letters and words were so extensive; very few could be trained to use them. Abram says, “Complete knowledge of the pictographic system, therefore, could only be the province of a few highly trained individuals.” (Abram, p. 99). I feel like this is still extremely relevant, and a bit hypocritical of Abram. Even through reading and writing is more common that it was when the first alpha-beth was being created and implemented, it is far from universal. There are still countless people in the United States in 2017 who don’t have access to education to learn reading/writing. And there are countless more who do not have the privilege to attend higher education systems that teach you how to dissect, understand, and speak in the manner with which David Abram writes.
I feel as if Abram understands how language reinforces a hierarchical system (though he may only point out that human language is valuable above environmental forms of language), but doesn’t analyze the role he is now taking in it. By writing in classic philosophical style, he makes it incredible difficult for anyone to comprehend his meaning. Maybe if we have the time to read his book three times, maybe if we have been studying philosophy for years, it can get easier, but for a general (or every slightly above average) audience his work is STILL challenging to understand. If he wanted his ideas to genuinely appeal to the masses, he needs to deeply rethink his approach. As Finney says in her interview, “it’s not reading the right books or talking to the right people… its playing attention to what’s going on around you.” Abram might agree if she were talking about the environment, but Finney would push him to “know where you are standing right now” and do the work of self evaluation and recognize that Abram is standing in a privileged position that is making it difficult for him to reach the HUMANS that could make a difference he wants so badly.
A lot of what Abram talked about in this chapter reminded me of the research I did in Morocco. I have included an except from the month long research project I did regarding indigenous language politics centered around the standardization of an oral language that is happening CURRENTLY. (See at the end of this Blog post)…
I also have thought a lot about learning Arabic while reading this chapter. Abram says “these letters I print across the page, the scratches and scrawls you now focus upon, trailing off across the white surface are hardly different from the footprints of prey left in the snow” (Abram, p. 96). I think about how second nature it is for me to see the Latin letters we use for English and take meaning from them immediately. Learning Arabic, it was easy for me to learn nouns, verbs, grammar, etc orally, but extremely difficult for me to learn it visually. Speaking in Arabic with my host family and on the streets I caught on surprisingly quickly, but re-training myself to learn a new alphabet was difficult. Even if I knew a word, I might not be able to read it on paper. And now that I am back in Greensboro, I am taking an Arabic class that is solely focused on reading and writing, and for a while this was beneficial but now I have forgotten my oral skills. Abram points out that Plato in Phaedrus was critical of learning written languages because “if men learn this, it will implement forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks (Abram, p. 113). Abram refers this to collectively forgetting how to read the language of the environment, but I think about it other terms like learning a foreign languages, or taking photos on our iPhones and forgetting to look up to the beauty around us.
Reading and writing is inherently multisensory, using our eyes and our ears and our mouth. Abram says “yet my experiences of the world is not fragmented; I do not commonly experience the visible appearance of the world as in any way separable from its audible aspect, or from the myriad textures that offer themselves to my touch” (Abram, p. 125). Our senses are inherently multi sensory and we should embrace that. We also need to recognize that all people have different forms of seeing because we have all lived different life experiences. Finney says we need to increase our competency to talk across difference (Race, class, ideology). I believe this work should be falling on the dominant groups (white, male, etc), and includes checking how your life experiences and privileges are affecting what you bring things to the table. For example, some people know how to find bathrooms in a city, while others know how to find bathrooms in the woods. You may have to learn to re-see, like working out new muscles. For example, pooping in the woods requires maybe some trial and error, but generally training yourself to find a spot that wont be washed into the river, digging holes, not using TP, etc.
There are places you want to leave no trace, and others were you don’t. When you are on a camping trip in the woods you might want to leave no trace, but when you are a student organizer you might want to create lasting change in your institution. I have been thinking a lot about the WorldCafé since last week. There was one section for talking about ethical leadership. I have been thinking about how Guilford as institution still has really far to go on this topic. As Finney says “What is my larger intention?” How can Guilford College serves our core values and not the fear that comes with risking doing something different but necessary (like divesting or not allowing ICE on campus)?
I have been working with a student group around Divestment (from fossil fuels, prison industrial complex, and the occupation of Palestine) and how, as Finney says, “it’s not on student organizers to do all the work.” We hosted a protest on Friday and we want our administration to be inspired and also be inspiring by showing that they are willing to take risks for students. As Finney says, the success and failure model should not necessarily be a binary. She says “For me you never lose, you actually have gained something even if it hasn’t worked out the way you wanted it too.” We have nothing to lose.
I have been applying this to my post-college plans as well. Though I didn’t necessarily like Julia Opaleski’s job, I identified with her process. She says she had no idea how to find out what she was qualified for, what she wanted to do, or her skill sets. She said that “If I didn’t have a plan I was going to freak out!” which is exactly how I feel. But I am trying to follow Finney’s advice, which is to revisit my vision, and don’t do things perfectly, do them intentionally. I hope that both Guilford College and myself can find a way to live this truth.
Click here my Morocco Writing Excerpt:
Dear Davia (fours years older, and perhaps wiser?),
Who could have thought you are where you are now? 17 year old you applying to collages could NEVER have anticipated where 21 year old you ended up, what you learned along the way, the experiences you have had, the hardships you have endured, the friends you made or the growth you have undergone. So I have no doubt that four more years will bring many more unexpected challenges, successes, failures, progress and more. Are you fulfilled? Are you mentally, intellectually, emotionally, challenged? Are you still in contact with the people who you are closest too at 21? Have you walked through heartbreak and tragedy and come out on the other side? Have you worked on your faults and celebrated your triumphs?
I’m writing because this is a time of intense transition, maybe even more so that I have ever experience to this point. As Hannah Sherk says in her article “Fresh Eyes” about graduating college: “Four years later, I was ambushed by a very punctual quarter-life crisis.” I am sure if I feel this way now, I can only imagine how you are going to feel in another four years. I want you (future me) to be able to reflect on my current times, and make sure that you stayed on track with what you originally wanted. Senior year at Guilford in Maia’s IDS class (titled Creativity, Vocation, and Success) I read a series of works called “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rilke. A few parts were so powerful that I am using them as a guide for my advice to you. Wherever you are and however you are doing, remember these things.
- “Just the wish that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; that you may gain more and more confidence in what is difficult and in your solitude among other people. And as for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.” (Rilke, Letter 9)
I’m sure by now you will realize how much you took for granted in college; the highlights like Frisbee end zone catches, dancing with your best friends at 1AM on a Saturday night, and presenting final papers you working on endlessly. And the small things like caf dates, laughing at memes in the library while procrastinating, how happy your sister was when you made the hour drive from school to home. The list is probably filled with endless things I can’t even anticipate right now.
In “Words to Live By” by Eric Ginsburg he says “Our conditions are like the air we breathe, so all encompassing and obvious it’s easy not to identify directly.” Sometimes you won’t be able to apprecaite these things until you don’t have them anymore. So now, in 2022, sit back, breathe, and take stock of everything you are grateful for in this moment. Get out a piece of paper. Make a list of everything you take for granted: the people who love you, the learning you have done, opportunities you have had, even the small things like the material goods you rely on, the air you breathe, a working body.
- “No, there is not more beauty here than in other places, and all these objects, which have been marveled at by generation after generation, mended and restored by the hands of workmen, mean nothing, are nothing, and have no heart and no value; but there is much beauty here, because every where there is much beauty.” (Rilke, Letter 5)
- “Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition.” (Rilke, Letter 7)
- “And the expenditure of energy seems to you so great only because you overvalue victory; it is not the “great thing” that you think you have achieved, although you are right about your feeling; the great thing is that there was already something there which you could replace that deception with, something true and real.” (Rilke, Letter 8)
Remember there is not a “final destination.” Embrace your journey. Believe I know this is hard for you! Let go of what you think 25 “should be.” I’m sure at this point some of your best friends are married and maybe even (yikes) be pregnant or parents. This is your reminder that that DOES NOT HAVE TO BE YOU!! If thing’s are not going as planned do not panic.
Move through life on your own time frame, and definitely remember that even if it feels like everyone else has things “figured out,” they probably don’t. Embrace your mistakes gracefully and recognize they are a part of the process of getting you where you need to be. Everything is relative. What is “conventional” is not necessarily what YOU need. Don’t be afraid to travel the uncomfortable path. And don’t rush!
- “No experience has been too unimportant, and the smallest event unfolds like a fate, and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide fabric in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand and laid alongside another thread and is held and supported by a hundred others.” (Rilke, Letter 3)
Think about ALL THE TIMES you internalized your stress, expressed worries to your friends, sweated with anxiety at night, and cried in the shower about the outcomes of situations that were out of your hand. Things always worked out. You always ended up exactly where you needed to be, learning from something you never would have chosen for yourself and from experiences you never could have anticipated. Think about how you unconventionally ended up at Guilford. You met people who taught you how to be a supportive friend, how to survive grief, professors who forcibly and willingly brought you outside your bubble, found opportunities to travel all over the world. Think about the internships you never expected to take, and how you learned how to be an ally, how to be responsible for humans other than yourself, how to work as a collaborative team. Think about Israel/Palestine, Morocco, Chile and the travel and people who taught you tolerance, passion, and understanding. Keep seeking that out. In “Words to Live By” Ginsburg says “it is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid being shaped by the institutions in which we participate. Our jobs, families, homes and so many other factors leave indelible marks on our lives and sense of self, often in ways we don’t even realize.” Step back and recognize all the positives that have come from the institutions you have been a part of (and don’t worry, you are still allowed to call out their faults too). Thank the people who were helped you to get those opportunities.
- “And if what is near you is far away, then your vastness is already among the stars and is very great; be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend.” (Rilke, Letter 4)
Be kind to others dealing with daily battles you could never understand. You are there for so many of your friends and that is one of your greatest strengths. Keep giving support and advice to those who need it. Never forget the daily inspirations your friends are to you. Think of the shit they endure and come out on the other side the better for it. Stay in contact with those people who changed your life for the better (your study abroad friends, college friends, professors, mentors). I hope that you are still dedicated to teach those who are ignorant; be patient, and learning about yourself through that process as well. As a person with lots of privilege, this is your duty. It will be hard but will come easier with practice, and Barak Obama urges me with wisdom that I sometimes know what is it like “to know what its like when you are born on third bass thinking you hit a triple.” I am in a unique position to make others in my position recognize this too and work to dismantle these systems of oppression designed to benefit us while pushing others down.
- “Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. And if out of, this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not.” (Rilke, Letter 1)
Be okay with being by yourself. Love your solitude; recognize that is the space you should settle into. I know that is a place you are comfortable, so don’t get TOO caught up in it. But be okay with who you are and who you have become without the approval of others. Are you happy with yourself?
- “I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.” (Rilke, Letter 1)
Constantly be questioning your intentions. Is seeking justice still important to you? Are you still living that potential? What are you doing that is selfish? When is it okay to be selfish and when is it not? Hopefully you have found found a balance between necessary selfishness and self care. Hopefully you have recognized that you are committing yourself to life work that requires being selfless and understanding that a lot of things are NOT ABOUT YOU! You should keep your mind open, acknowledge and be humbled by the amount you still have to learn. As Dr.Carolyn Finney says in a 2013 Interview “My thinking always evolves.” Just like Finney, you are not static and as the world changes around you be willing to change and learn with it.
- “For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.” (Rilke, Letter 7)
- “But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being”(Rilke, Letter 8)
I have a feeling I don’t need to tell you that you are whole on your own. You know that and you have lived that reality your entire life. But remember that it doesn’t make you less whole to let someone in, to be physically and emotionally intimate. With all companionships, never compromise who you are but be willing to recognize that others can pull you up, make you stronger and better.
- “Think, dear Sir, of the world that you carry inside you…What is happening in your innermost self is worthy of your entire love.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
Write down your deepest insecurities. But them onto paper and into the world. Ask yourself what if these are TRUE? Really contemplate how your issues can affect other around you. Then forgive yourself. Show the list to the people you love the most and it will be okay. Trust others with your dark parts more than you have before because if you haven’t yet, now is the time. Rilke says in Letter 1 “Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose.” Don’t be afraid of your emotions, especially the terrifying one. You are such a support to your friends but remember that you can ask others for support too. Open up and be vulnerable. And take your own damn advice!
- “And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our fate, as murmuring blood, and as gesture that rises up from the depths of time.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
- “Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad.” (Rilke, Letter 8)
- “We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes” (Rilke, Letter 8)
Think of all the people you have loved and lost. Think of the moment when you realized that life was finite and that death was a reality that sometimes seems crushing. Are you living your best life in their honor? If not, think about how you can change that. Write a letter to the people you have lost and let that out. Embrace your grief and hold it close until it doesn’t seem impossible to go on. Rilke says “A house that a guest has entered change,” but it can adapt and become stronger.
- “There is only one solitude, and it is vast, heavy, difficult to bear, and almost everyone has hours when he would gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial or cheap, for the tiniest outward agreement with the first person who comes along, the most unworthy.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
Someone once gave you really good advice, “Kiss nice people or nobody at all.” And that applies to much more. Be friends with people who love you, challenge you, teach you, or no one at all. Work in a job that is fulfilling, engaging, or not at all (this may not be possible- but at least maybe attempt to change something if this is not true). Live in a place that excites you to get out of bed in the morning, or not at all (or move, you know what I mean.) I hope you are embodying these everyday.
- “You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” (Rilke, Letter 4)
IF YOU THINK YOU UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING, YOU DON’T. Grapple with all the difficult life questions, but accept you won’t be able to figure out everything. Love and enjoy that struggle. It should never be perfect.
Rilke asks: “How could it not be difficult for us?” (Letter 8). Guess what, it’s gonna be difficult! Let it be difficult. Let is hard. Let the obstacles come. Barack Obama says “Your generation is uniquely poised for success… but that doesn’t mean we don’t have work” (11:30).
“Be patient and without bitterness.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
“Be glad and confident.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
Be articulate and passionate.
Be unapologetic and empathic.
Be vulnerable and resilient.
Form/join communities that give you meaning, honor yourself like you honor your friends, keep your drive (but let yourself off the hook if outcomes aren’t perfect), read a book instead of watching trashy TV, FaceTime your mom and dad, take a trip to the ocean no matter where you are and swim in the salt water, blast One Direction in your car, spend your money on something crazy (I know you are waiting for that “big thing”—make that leap now), eat some glazed donuts!
Lastly, and most importantly: “You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall” (Rilke, Letter 8)
“Your greatest weaknesses are your greatest strengths and some of your greatest strengths are your greatest weaknesses” –Maia Dery 2/15/17
This is a difficult idea to process. When I think about my weaknesses, I think about all the ways they hold me back from being able to do what I want to do. One of my so-called strengths/weaknesses is my “planning” ability. I love to plan. I like to make lists, check things off the list one by one. I like to know exactly when things are happening and what to expect when they happen. To me, this seems like a burden. It’s hard for me to be flexible and spontaneous. I want to be able to sit and soak in the moment, but instead I am constantly thinking about the next step. I see some of my friends around me who are able to thrive when things go wrong and to just love the place they are in at the time they are in it. I want to be the person who can whole-heartedly say “its about the journey not the destination.” If I am on a road trip and we take a wrong turn, I am the person who automatically thinks of the seventeen ways we can find our way back (turn on the GPS, ask for directions, look at a map, turn around and go back, etc), not the person who looks around and says “what a lovely view, I’m in car with all my friends, so what if we are lost?”
Obviously, it takes both types of people to make the world go round. This aspect of my life that comes so easily, and sometimes, frustratingly, to me can also be a skill. In my senior capstone research project I am able to bring a logistical planning mindset to the table (always taking notes, sending emails, making sure everyone knows their tasks) while other members of my group who have different skill sets can utilize them (like designing flyers, talking to community members, etc). We have different strengths, but they are all complimentary. I am working to see how this planning mindset that is so natural for me, can benefit the larger group and communities I am a part of.
In my last week’s class blog response I made a list for my vision board. One of the tasks was “identify my inspirations and their qualities and work to emulate them.” I made a list of the qualities people in my life have that I would love to mirror. I won’t give names, but here are a select few qualities:
Articulate, unapologetic, engaging when speaking to groups, extremely knowledgeable on topics they are passionate about, live every day spontaneously, selfless, appreciative of everything, dedication to developing a certain skill, communication through confrontation, empathy, living with simplicity, etc.
While learning to think of my weaknesses as strengths, I also need to practice promoting myself. As Minette Coleman says “write as if your life depends on it!” She believes that when you are writing anything you are promoting yourself. As I am buckling down to write resume after resume and cover letter after cover letter, I realize how difficult this is. I am used to academic writing in a school setting, but Ms. Colman says writing is actually EVERYTHING. Writing is a skill you use when sending emails, writing Facebook captions, artists blurbs, crafting texts to that “hot hottie,” etc etc. Looking towards the future, I hope to find ways to promote myself by recognizing my greatest strengths as strengths, starting to be intentional about practicing new strengths, and as well as ALWAYS putting forth my best writing.
These readings combined with some of the writing I have been working on recently, I was thinking a lot of the jobs I am applying to after college this week. I feel as if I am still in my discernment process, but am being pushed and pressured from all sides (including from myself) to be making some final decisions around what area of work do I want to do, what jobs I will apply to, where I will live. As this has been weighing heavily on my mind, many aspects of each reading brought me back around to think about post-grad life. Minette Coleman speaks on the importance of revision. She says “writing is always needing to be written and rewritten,” and I spent this week thinking about that in the context of my cover letters and resumes. For everything that I apply to, I have to cater my writing specifically to that. This is a skill I need to exercise, and dedicate time that I sometimes feel like I don’t have. Nevertheless, it is a crucial and beneficial task. On a larger scale than applications, many aspects of our lives should be “written and rewritten.”
As Obama says in his commencement speech to Morehouse College “it’s not enough to be clever, honest men, trusted in public and sensitive to wrongs and suffering and injustices of society but to accept responsibility to correct those ills.” That struck me because with my CMJS major I know I want to do organizing work around some of my passions (environmental justice, Palestine organizing, racial and economic justice) but I am still trying to find my place within this work. I am constantly evolving the more I learn and change. As I said in the earlier blog post, I want to be doing something that is fulfilling and challenging systemic oppression because I know that is how I want to utilize my skills, I just don’t know exactly how yet. Obama explains privilege in an easily digestible way; he says that some people in America feel like “you are born on third bass thinking you hit a triple.” As someone with privilege as white, college education, middle class female, I know that I want to dedicate my energy to seeking justice and equity. Even if it never goes perfectly, Obama points out that everyone is always growing and changing. He says, “even now I am still practicing, still learning, still getting corrected how to be a fine husband and good father.” I aim to do the same in my life.
Carolyn Finney, author of Black Faces, White Spaces and also one of the most influential authors I have read in college, said something similar. In part 2/3 of her PhD talk she says “my thinking always evolves,” pointing out that she is not static. Even once I leave this traditional learning environment, I am still going to be learning and my thinking will always be evolving. She also believes that all knowledge is subjective and we bring who we are to anything we try to understand anything. I can agree in thinking that my perspective on work, college, jobs, etc is not set in stone, and that I am inherently biased based off my life’s experiences. Some of the questions she brought up I have been grappling with for a while, especially as I am doing this Participatory Action Research in my CMJS capstone. She brings up questions like: who creates knowledge production? What is ownership and property? Who has economic and political power to make environmental decisions? As students in higher education, these are questions we need to be bringing up to each other, asking each other about all the time, and that I need to be asking myself. And as Obama and Finney both point out, our opinions and perspectives and grow and change as we challenge ourselves and learn more.
Just like our how our minds are not static, Abram points out that so is language. He says in this chapter “The Flesh of Language” that “language is not a fixed or ideal form, but an evolving medium we collectively inhabit, a vast topological matrix in which the speaking bodies are generative sites, vortices where the matrix itself is continually being spun out of the silence of sensorial experience” (p. 84). A lot of this chapter made me think of my time abroad in Morocco, surrounded by a language I did not know that was so drastically different from mine. It was one of the most challenging, intense, fulfilling and rewarding experiences I have ever had. I had never learned Arabic before and I lived with a host family that spoke no English. Every day I adapted to an environment/culture drastically different from my own, but every day I was also learning and changing. Being constantly out of my comfort zone was definitely exhausting, but extremely exciting. I remember the first day sitting silently with my legs crossed in the main room with my entire host family watching TV in a Darija (Moroccan dialect) thinking “what have I got myself into.” Getting to the stage where I felt content and happy was a process that took time, and compared to my first days, I spent my last days laughing with my host sister and chatting about which characters on the tv show were our favorite and helping my host mother make dinner.
Abram believes that there can be communication without necessarily having language, and after this experience I agree. He talks about listening as two people greeting each other “if one pays close enough attention, a tonal, melodic layer of communication beneath the explicit denotative meaning of the words—a rippling ride and fall of voices in sort of musical duet, rather like two birds singing to each other” (p. 80). In Morocco I quickly found that there is so much more to communication than just words. Communication could come in the form of looking at pictures and laughing together, or acting out how my day at school was. It also looked like offering help making food or having my host family quiz me on my pronunciation. Through I could not speak the same language as many people I encountered, there was ways to interpret meaning from each other, from tone, body language, etc. In the same way, Abram points out that as humans we should not think we are the only forms with languages. He says “our own languages are continuously nourished by these other voices—by the roar of waterfalls and the thrumming of crickets” (p. 82) and that “if our own language is truly dependent upon the existence of other, nonhuman voices, why do we now experience language as an exclusively human property or possession?” (p. 91). Considering how I much learned through experience in Morocco, I can only imagine how much I don’t know about communication with non-human forms. I hope to open up my perspectives through this class by trying new forms of communication because as Abram says “a living language is continually being made and remade, woven out of the silence by those who speak… “(p. 84). I also hope to let myself be open to constantly adapting, changing, growing through challenges and new experiences in this course and beyond.
Response to: Class Speaker: Kat Saladi, Video: Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005.
The phrase that resonated with me that Kat said was “we build the road by walking.” In this moment of transition that I feel unprepared for, I would like to be comforted knowing that it is okay to figure it out as I go, but that is way easier said than done. I looked up this quote to see who originally said it, and it turned out there is a book called We Make the Road By Walking by Paulo Freire and Myles Horton on conversations of social change and education. Myles Horton was a activist in the civil rights movement and founder of the Highlander Folk School, later the highlander Research and Education Center. Paulo Freire, wrote the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and established the Popular Culture Movement. Both of these people are foundational to my major, Community and Justice Studies and I have been reading their work for three years. Freire also was instrumental to the creation of Participartory Action Research that I have been engaging in my year long CMJS capstone project. PAR is a liberatory form of research that has an emphasis on collaboration between researchers and participants to identify/research a problematic situation and creates an action plan that is a form of personal, collective, or institutional change. It is context specific and conducted different in each community, the process is cyclical, an interactive cycle of research, analysis, and action. For my year long capstone project I am working with four other Guilford students, the Greensboro Housing Coalition, and members in the Cottage Grove housing community to conduct a year long needs and assets research assessment. It felt only fitting that this was the quote that stuck out to me, and was also rooted in some of the most influential people to the theories I have been studying.
The advice I most needed to hear by Kat, but that is going to be hard to implemented into my life is ridding myself of societies expectations and creating my own. Kat recommended a “constant evolution with reality,” creating your own timeline for relationships, moving, jobs, family, (etc) and all the expectations that fall on you when graduate college. This is challenging because my very nature is being a planner- I want to know what to expect and when, but this feels like a moment in time when I want to be working against this and letting those stresses go. As I watched the Steve Jobs commencement speech I couldn’t help but keep thinking about why I should take a less traditional route but then—“Well I am NOT Steve Jobs, things will not work out for me like they did for him.” But at the same time who could predict that? Who I am and what markers I have for success should be created by me.
I also liked when Kat said “ask yourself the questions you are deeply insecure about” What if you don’t get this certain job? What if you can’t find your vocation? What if __ __ __ . Entertain those ideas and see where it takes you. This is a difficult and intimidating thought process, but through it perhaps I can help discern what I want to be doing and why.
I thought Kat’s idea of a visual and intentional vision board was intriguing. When I got back to my room after class I amended, revised and re-wrote my new years resolutions. Here are a few excerpts:
- Engage fellow middle class white women who want to be a part of a resistance movement in a continuous learning process of checking our privilege. Be patient and diligent.
- Graduate college!
- Find a job/do something with my time that is working to challenge systematic oppression and injustice
- Run a marathon
- Identify my inspirations and their qualities and work to emulate them
- Stop saying “sorry” when I have nothing to apologize for
- Be more comfortable being flexible when I make (any type of) plans
Week 1 readings: Annie Dillard, “Seeing,” David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous (Chapters 1 and 2)
Although I generally dislike philosophy as a field, I am enjoying David Abram’s perspectives. Most of the time I feel as if philosophy is relatively inaccessible to non-academic groups and therefore exclusionary of (some) people who haven’t had access to higher education or experience with that type of academic work. But I do believe that Abram’s makes some unique points that should be discussed more.
I took the IDS Science, Sex and Nature last semester for my WGSS minor and a main focus of that course was reading foundational scientific philosophers and critiquing them, along with our modern Western science system. I felt a lot of similarities in these two chapters to that class. I appreciate that Abrams can bring history into his analysis, like “the oversight becomes still more comprehensible when we realize that many of the early earliest European interpreters of indigenous lifeways were Christian missionaries… What is remarkable is the extent to which contemporary anthropology still preserves the ethnocentric bias of these early interpreters.” (p. 8). Western science has been sculpted and created by white, heterosexual, Christian, cis-gender men and the identity of those who create knowledge has in turn shaped what knowledge our society deems as valid. Science is a field that claims to be rational and objective, but is actually inherently biased because it is based in systems of colonialism, racism, classism, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc.
It is crucial to understand how the origins of America laid the foundation for our current society, and how this has led to flaws in our institution of science. In our ethnocentric worldview, we value Western scientific findings as if they are inherent truths. We see the field of science as objective, unbiased, and rational; therefore the ‘truths’ they generate are a higher form of knowledge than any other research or world-view. As Vandana Shiva a predominant eco-feminist (1988) explains “modern science is projected as a universal, value-free system of knowledge, which has displaced all other belief and knowledge systems by its universality and value neutrality, and by the logic of its method to arrive at objective claims about nature” (p. 15). A philosopher Sandra Harding (1998) says that the universal science views claim to be so uniquely successful because they have eliminated “cultural fingerprints from their results of research” (p. 304).
Abram points out that science is supposedly rooted in valuing objectivity, he says that “Actually Galileo had already asserted that only those properties of matter that are directly amenable to mathematical measurement (such as size, shape, weight) are real; the other, more ‘subjective’ qualities such as sound, taste, and color are merely illusory impressions, since the ‘book of nature’ is written in the language of mathematics alone.” (p. 32)
One of the most important quotes, in my opinion, from the reading was “yet these sciences consistently overlook our ordinary, everyday experience of the world around us” (p. 32). I think that our personal life experiences should be deemed just as valid as the objectivity sought out by Western science. I agree with the foundation of phenomenology, that we should recognize the importance of “world as it is experienced in its felt immediacy” (p. 35.) The concept of the life world, “ the world as we organically experience it in its enigmatic multiplicity and open-endness…” (p. 40) also aims to place value on personalized experiences. I think by valuing different “life worlds” we could find a productive way to share knowledge, which would make our system less hierarchical and thus begin the process of taking Western science off a pedestal and recognizing that it is not the only inherent truth.
How do we practice this though? I don’t have an answer but while reading “Seeing” by Annie Dillard I aimed to change some of my everyday practices. Reading about blind people who learn to see but can’t identify objects easily without their other senses reminded me just of how subjective each and every one of our life-worlds are (p. 25). Those who are blind from birth have no conception of height or distance they have adapted to experience the world in a way that works for them. I tried to look at the world by pretending I was only seeing patches of color put together, but not compredenging what the objects were. It’s crucical to bring yourself out of your comfort zone by looking at the world in a different way in order to grow and change. “If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light” (Dillard, p. 22)
Other sources cited:
Harding, S. G. (1998). Is science multicultural?: Postcolonialisms, feminisms, and epistemologies. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Shiva, V. (1988). Staying alive: Women, ecology, and development. London: Zed Books.