The Literary Hinterland Between Fiction and Nonfiction

Harrison Solow 2Pushcart Prize winner, Harrison Solow’s powers of thought and prowess in writing are laudable to the degree that bringing her essay to you today is an honor and an adventure, both thrilling and expansive. The piece you are about to read was not digested immediately by me – only occasionally does the veil lift for me to glimpse Solow’s sensitivity toward liminality, but it is something that I am determined to catch hold of for myself, even bits of it, one illuminating rendition at a time. Now take your turns, as writers, to coax its significance into your worlds.

 Harrison’s latest book, Felicity & Barbara Pym, about writing, reading and what it means to be truly educated (http://felicityandbarbarapym.wordpress.com) has just been released in the UK with stellar reviews and is available to those outside the UK from The Book Depository (http://tinyurl.com/fbpbd ) which offers free international shipping.

 Liminality

In a letter to a friend, not long ago, I wrote this sentence: “I’d like to be in Wales – my Wales, where the leaves on the ground lift in response to a wind that isn’t there and uncover for a millisecond, small vibrant worlds.”

 Before I comment on this sentiment, which was neither deliberately constructed, nor designed, but sprang from my hand, fully formed before I got a chance to see it, I would like to very briefly discuss the concept of liminality, which is a very new area in literary studies – or rather a very old phenomenon that has recently captured the attention of those in literary studies and thus, been named an “area.”

 Gwyn Thomas of the University of Wales, Bangor wrote an article in A Place That is Not a Place: Essays in Liminality and Text, called “Your Margin is My Centre” in which he invokes Arthurian narratives, specifically Vita Merlini (The Life of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth) to illustrate the idea, as I see it, that people live in different Matters within the same space/time continuum. The literary idea of ‘matter’ originated from a medieval conviction that certain romance writing could be divided into separate spheres which were both physical and thematic, not unlike the “parallel universes” of science fiction in which disparate beings and cultures co-exist and (and occasionally overlap) in the same place and at same time but in different dimensions. These dimensions are similar, in literary imagination, to Matters and although they seem more metaphysical than physical, are actually verifiable by theoretical physics.

 In the Prologue of my first book, Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation (manuscript edition) there is a passage that illustrates what I mean:

 ”There is a sense in which time is always present as space. Quantum physicists and astronomers describe the time/space differential as the result of space travel at (or near) light speed. And yet the point at which space becomes time (and the reverse) exists as a constant in everyday life as the verb “to be.” 

“Where are you?” carries within it the word, “now.”

 ”What time is it?” implies both “now” and “here, in this space.”

 Among the many unanswerable questions I have pondered over the years was one posed by my son when he was about six years old. When asked: “What time is it?” he replied, “What time is what?”

This is the very heart of the spiralled and unending quest of science fiction:  “What does it mean to be ? In this time, in this space, who are we?” Its struggle to answer those questions is a tale of time slippage and alternate space; a delicate and determined unravelling of current quantum theory – physics to metaphysics and back again.

  Quantum theory gives rise to the postulation that the universe consists of several linear, simultaneously active dimensions which coexist as interweaving patterns of timespace that are not relative to each other except at “weak points” where they meet. It indicates that several worlds may cohabit the same space at the same time, and remain unperceived because the “fabric” of one dimension is atomically dissimilar to the pattern of another. Only at random points of exceedingly low probability, could the non time non space between these dimensions ever be traversed. The quest of science fiction is to somehow leap over that chasm called “between” - to discover the random, the serendipitous, the luminous light shining through the tight woven cloth of our timespace reality; to break through, as it were, and leave our swaddling clothes behind. ”

This is also akin to the notion of “tzimtzum” in ancient Jewish mysticism, wherein it is thought that there was originally one Matter, but that it was fragmented into many. The notion is this: When God withdrew into Himself (tzimtzum – the great withdrawal) in order to leave space for the world to be created, a vacuum was illuminated by a thin veil of light. When God attempted to re-enter this space, the delicate process went awry (for God is too large to be contained solely by His own creation and the vacuum, since it exists, is a creation) – the light of God was shattered throughout all creation (a cosmic calamity known as Shevirat Keilim – the breaking of the vessels) and was trapped in fragments, by isolated shells (people, nature, etc.). It is the duty of human beings to release this light from their shells. When all the light is again gathered together by much care and tikkun olam (repairing the world through good deeds and the monitoring of one’s own soul) only then, it is thought, will the Messiah come. Of course this symbolism can easily be applied to Christianity, whereupon when the gathering of the light is fulfilled, the Second Coming will take place.”

 The allegory of these fragmentary “lights of God” in their cracked and faulty vessels corresponds to secular chronicles of what is – records of perceptions of reality, or realms of knowledge, or imaginative narratives that attempt a cohesive answer to the questions of who are we and why are we here.

 I am writing such a narrative in my forthcoming book, Bendithion, (an extension of the essay of the same name that was awarded a 2008 Pushcart Prize http://tinyurl.com/solow-bendithion) to create a network, a wholeness, a vessel out of some very mysterious Matter – both the one in which I lived in Wales, and the one I came from, each of them barely perceivable through the membranes and thresholds that both bound us to one another for that short time and divided us forever: A matrix of stories and tales, poems and legends about the thoughts and powers and deeds that illuminate a land and a people and the silence behind them. And therein lies liminality.

 Perhaps this is best explained by the answer I gave in another interview (http://tinyurl.com/solow-americymru), in which I explored my own perception of liminality as the “hinterland between fiction and nonfiction.”

 “[Jan Morris, the inimitable Welsh writer, describes Welsh literature as] ‘the indistinguishable blend of fact and fantasy.’ But that blend is not only emblematic of Welsh storytelling – it is at the heart of my writing.

 My literary life began as the Western World’s did – with oral stories and fables, and then moved on to tales of daily life and very quickly thereafter to Lives of the Saints and the rigours of the Baltimore Catechism, as I have said, at a very young age, all of which inculcated a deep affinity with imaginary heavens and hells and the rich portent with which earthly life was endowed: Biblical parables, medieval pedagogy, Arthurian quests, Bunyanesque allegory, Chaucerian pilgrimages and Apologias of all kinds. This literature comes naturally to me. Or rather, as it was clearly imposed on me, it was not a resisted imposition and comes naturally to me now. I’m not fond of overly academic approaches to it – “overly” meaning the triumph of theory over art. And all of these literatures are both fiction and non-fiction; depending on which side of belief you live. The Welsh, with their Mabinogion and highly allegorical literary history, have no problem with this apparent dichotomy.

 I’ve spent a lot of time in what can appear to others to be fictive worlds, “closed-to-the-public” worlds: convents, Hassidic communities, the very tightly guarded world(s) of Hollywood, NASA and JPL. Monasteries, astronauts associations, the clans and tribes from which my families came, lonely insular communities in the backwoods of Canada, girls’ schools, private clubs and green rooms, the hermetic enclosures of the famous. Even our house in Malibu was closed off from the world by ten foot high walls with locked gates, no windows on the side of the house that faced those gates (the opposite side of the house was all glass – 20 feet high and overlooking the Pacific Ocean) – and then, of course, Welsh-speaking Wales. All closed worlds. Nothing significant within these worlds can be adequately portrayed by an outsider. These are cultures to which you have to belong in order to understand, in order to verify the messages you think you are being given – and because the codes and secrets, values and rituals, attitudes and assessments of these enclosures are not available to the outsider, when outsiders write about them, they inevitably get them wrong. 

 To return to the sentence that opened this short commentary, “small vibrant worlds” are actually what I see.  In Wales, where I physically lived and metaphysically live, the gathering of light is a routine task for the oft hidden indigenous inhabitants. Wales is put together for others to see, but not to occupy, by the shedding of light on a hidden dimension of itself that is only briefly uncovered at times by what the outsider might call “wind” and the inhabitants of that particular Matter, might call the breath of God.

 Liminality, in this sense, is both stance (perspective) and perception (“seeing” as opposed to “looking at.”) It is the uncertain entryway through which the writer enters into such a world – either the one he is creating, or the one that he sees, that others do not.

 There is no possibility of studying these worlds from outside their own Matter, as a scholar does. Not for a writer. A writer must stand on thresholds that are not revealed until she has reached – or created – them, and enter worlds that he has never seen until he gets there. A writer must live liminally, in a chasm called “between” because he can’t do what he has to do if he is looking at it.

~~~

© Harrison Solow, July 2010

About the Author 

Pushcart Prize winning American writer and one of the two best selling UC Press authors of all time (at time of publication) Harrison Solow has received many awards for her literary fiction, nonfiction, cross-genre writing, poetry and professional writing. Her most recent award is First Prize for Short Fiction in the Carpe Articulum Literary Review International Competition for 2010.

Harrison has lectured at a number of universities, colleges, arts and cultural institutions in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. A former faculty member at UC Berkeley, she accepted a lectureship in the English Department of the University of Wales in 2004 and was appointed Writer in Residence in 2008.

 She is a strong proponent of the traditional Liberal Arts, the Fine Arts and the Utilitarian Arts as separate and equally respectable entities, an advocate for Wales and a patron of literary endeavours.

 Harrison speaks various varieties of English as well as intermediate Welsh and rusty French. She is a member of The Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers, The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, The National Association of Scholars, The Women’s Faculty Club of the University of California, Berkeley, The Association of Welsh Writers in English, The Claremont Institute, The Association for Core Texts and Courses, The Red Room, The Association of Writing Programs, The Welsh Academy, and The National Coalition of Independent Scholars, where she served on the Board in 2009 and 2010.

 Harrison lives in the United States and Wales with her husband, Herbert F. Solow, the former Head of MGM, Paramount and Desilu Studios in Hollywood. She has two incomparable sons.

 You can find out more about Harrison at:

 http://redroom.com/author/harrison-solow

http://lamp.academia.edu/HarrisonSolow

http://tinyurl.com/amcyreview

http://tinyurl.com/harrisonsolowww

Review comment 7-2-10:

“Simply majesterial. As you know, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. (And something I’ll hopefully write about in the near future, as soon as I have a house and a desk. :) Thrilled to know I’ll be able to allude to this brilliant essay.” ~  Elizabeth Eslami, author of Bone Worship.

Reply by Harrison: 

“Elizabeth, among of the happiest gifts in life, for me, is the exceptional bond that occurs between kindred spirits who are working in the same field with intellectual passion and creative limerance. Although we have only recently met, I have no doubt that this shared interest, among the others we have discussed, will lead to an invaluable association, a fruitful interchange and a lasting  friendship. I truly value your review of this essay. Thank you.”  ~Harrison

Comments

  1. Mara Buck says:

    Slogging through cyber-space with my antiquated server, I stumbled upon several postings of this piece and like an idiot, I just read them all as a serendipitous exercise furthering the interesting questions raised by this very blog itself; are the posts truly the same when read in different venues, at different times, under different lighting effects, read as I grow steadily older? Hmmm. A little quantum joke. Enjoyed them all, of course. Fascinating juxtaposition of the photographs as well; is the high-contrast photograph of Harrison the real, the imagined, or the nictitating membrane between? I do love that! Wonderful choice.

    I too inhabit a closed world here behind my gate, yet I must be expansive enough to create my own perception of whatever other worlds I visit whether closed or open, else what kind of artist would I be? I personally relish straddling that liminal threshold which I find is the freedom, the thrill of creating. In my novel Highway To Oblivion many of the adventures are true, yet I have chosen to present them as fiction rather than as memoir to make them more credible to a wider audience. Again, it seems we are in tangential agreement.

    I assume this relates to your argument for your thesis? And Harrison, I’m still looking forward to delving into The Mabinogion. Thanks for being thought-provoking as always. ~Mara

  2. admin says:

    The comment and reply function is not working well, so the following is Harrison’s response to Mara. —

    Thank you, Mara. I appreciate your commenting. Your current isolation is akin to, though not in the same category as the “insular communities in the backwoods of Canada” portion of my life, as the point I am making in this essay is the entry into enclosed “societies” not hermetic isolation. Although the latter can produce a liminal experience of another kind as is evidenced by my propensity at infrequent intervals to go on retreat in completely isolated monasteries – with no society of any kind, for the duration. Still, quite a different thing.

    Your observation on the photo was interesting, though I’m afraid the decision to use this photo has a very pedestrian origin. I just got tired of looking at my face in the four reasonable photos I have, and since I have had no decent photos done since those headshots were taken ( they are all between two and three years old) I just started to fiddle with the ones I had. In the overexposure of this one, I was reminded of those posters of the sixties that were so popular at one time and so, out of nostalgia more than anything else, I just left it as is. Still, it does seem emblematic of a liminal state – neither fully manifest nor completely evanesced into another dimension or alternate reality. Your artistic eye lit upon what could have easily been an intentional visual symbol, had I thought of it. But, alas, I did not!

    You are correct in your assumption that liminality is the focus of my PhD dissertation, though it forms neither the questions nor the argument. My critical commentary is centred around the *literary* questions of fiction and nonfiction (as opposed to those in common parlance) while the creative work is grounded in the both the form of liminal writing and the content which explores the liminality of a land, a people and one enigmatic tenor in particular. Thank you again for your reflections on my work. ~ Harrison

  3. admin says:

    Review comment 7-2-10:

    “Simply majesterial. As you know, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. (And something I’ll hopefully write about in the near future, as soon as I have a house and a desk. Thrilled to know I’ll be able to allude to this brilliant essay.” ~ Elizabeth Eslami, author of Bone Worship.

  4. Mara Buck says:

    What a thoughtful commentary to my commentary, Harrison! I must beg to disagree with your first paragraph which reiterates your theme that the rarified air of insular communities may only be accurately interpreted by the ‘insider.’ Perhaps my point was a bit too metaphorical, focusing as it did on expansion beyond rather than contraction into my insular community of one, postulating that the truly liminal gaze can see outside and simultaneously delves through the gates of those insular communities with a lifting of the nictitating eyelid to offer fresh perspective. Fact or fiction? Is it live or is it Memorex? Ah, the thrill of academic debate…but enough for the (always quantumly suspect) here and now.
    Still love your Warholian portrait!
    Best, ~ Mara

  5. admin says:

    Harrison’s reply to Elizabeth’s review:
    “Elizabeth, among of the happiest gifts in life, for me, is the exceptional bond that occurs between kindred spirits who are working in the same field with intellectual passion and creative limerance. Although we have only recently met, I have no doubt that this shared interest, among the others we have discussed, will lead to an invaluable association, a fruitful interchange and a lasting friendship. I truly value your review of this essay. Thank you.” ~Harrison

  6. admin says:

    Harrison’ reply to Mara (It seems I have a new role as moderator between literary women, it fits…)—

    “Thanks for your response, Mara. Interpretation, however is not the same as accuracy. It is a portrait, not a photograph – an opinion, not a fact – an imaginative response to an entity outside the interpreter’s experience and not, therefore a legitimate recounting of factual information. From the same interview to which I referred above:

    “I can say that without exception, every single time a journalist or a writer from outside [Hollywood] has written about my husband, my friends, me or an event in which any of us were involved, it has been wrong. Either something in it was erroneous, or it was largely erroneous. A case in point: A couple of years ago two academics approached my husband with an article they had written about the inception and origin of one of his television shows. They asked if he would look it over for them and correct any errors. Now this article was ready to go to press – to Oxford University Press, to be specific. They had done their “research” as they called it.

    My husband was stunned when he read it. Not only did their research consist of talking to people who were never involved in any aspect of the inception or origin of what they were writing about (my husband is the only person left on planet earth who was not only there but absolutely fundamental to and absolutely in charge of the entire show) but the books they read were nonsense books written by other people who weren’t there. There were not just a few mistakes in the article – it was a horrendous parade of misinformation from beginning to end. Herb worked on it for days- and not only did they never thank him, never send him a copy of the finished article or even acknowledge that the last draft bore little resemblance to the first (he has all their correspondence and all their “work”) but they argued with him about the facts as he was correcting it! These are people who teach other people, who perpetuate myths without calling them myths and consider themselves not only non-fiction but also responsible scholarly writers!

    Just recently, the New York Times (of all publications) attached an absolutely bizarre authoritative weight to two people in yet another article on Star Trek in a matter of authenticating a particular prop on the show. One of them was my husband, the Head of the Desilu Studios and Executive in Charge of Production of Star Trek who hired the person who built that particular prop and supervised the building of it. The other of the “authorities” quoted was a person who was a gas station attendant – just out of high school at the time – where Herb filled up his car. One day, when Herb pulled into the gas station on the way home from the studio, he started talking to the young man and discovered that he was looking for work. Herb thought he was a nice kid, he looked good (for the screen) and kindly gave him the opportunity to be an extra on the show. Decades later, The NYT quotes this extra (who was pumping gas when the prop was built) – and they quote Herb – in juxtaposition – as equal voices in authenticating the origin, materials, builder and location of this piece of memorabilia. How insane is that? This is what happens when people get infected by the Star Trek virus. I really feel like drowning them all. (In the case of the NYT it was the editor not the writer who should have known better, but it’s always, always somebody.)

    [This happens over and over and over - and it is entirely predictable by those inside this world, who know the truth but it is extremely irritating all the same. The good thing is that the people who do know what they are talking about don't tend to deal more than once with people who don't so the cycle isn't perpetuated for long - at least on an individual level.]

    Hence the necessity to go “inside”. Hence the necessity of the lexicon, the terminology, the language of cultural discourse. Carol Trosset makes this point exceptionally clear in her extraordinary (and actual non-fiction) book, Welshness Performed. You cannot learn a culture from the outside. You can learn some things about it. But you run the danger of not knowing who or what is genuine or significant and looking like (if not being) an idiot. Anyone who is interested in Wales and Welshness would find this book a treasure.

    Dorian Llywelyn, a Welsh-born, Welsh-speaking Welshman, and a Cambridge-educated Jesuit priest who teaches at Loyola in California, wrote a stunning book which elucidates the perception of Welsh writers from the sixth to the twentieth century that Wales is a holy place; and states that the connection of language to culture, politics, nationality, religion and literature cannot be underestimated. Dr./Fr. Llywelyn’s book is called Sacred Space, Chosen People and is a text to which I have the most profound affinity. [ because I know that he is right: there is absolutely no way that anyone who does not speak Welsh can accurately portray Welsh-Speaking Wales. ]

    Likewise, no one who is not a Hollywood insider can possibly know what Hollywood really is. Here is an excerpt from Felicity and Barbara Pym:

    “…Felicity, I don’t think you know what you are
    describing by the use of the word ‘Hollywood.’ Yours is an
    outsider’s perception of a very complex world, based on
    that small segment of it upon which its so-called reputation
    unfortunately rests. And yes, of course I know it is odd to
    be attached to both the literary and the entertainment
    worlds. But that is in fact my situation, and I am delighted
    with it. I too despise vulgarity, split-second emotions,
    crassness, and the urge to trample which you describe in
    other words as being characteristic of a society you have
    never experienced, in a business in which you have never
    worked, in a city to which you have never been. This is one
    of those ‘assumptions’ that we have discussed…

    There is no ‘Hollywood’ such as you describe.
    Most of the people who actually do the work in films are
    remarkably fine, extremely interesting, very talented and in
    some ways very ordinary people.

    Hollywood’s public reputation, was created by a media
    focussed on a small proportion of our more visible and illbehaved
    actors, not by the writers, directors, producers, film
    editors, production designers, special effects people, camera
    people, costume designers, prop makers, caterers, drivers,
    stand-ins, extras, makeup artists, composers, arrangers,
    production managers, sound editors, stunt people, etc ?
    95% of whom are highly dedicated and talented people.

    They are family people, our friends and neighbours and
    colleagues, who go to PTA meetings and Little League
    games and dance recitals. True, they go in Malibu or Beverly
    Hills or Santa Monica or Brentwood or Pacific Palisades,
    but they go like any parent in Iowa or Wisconsin, because
    they love their sons and daughters like everyone else.

    This is the real Hollywood and, if I thought you were interested, I
    would tell you all about it. I suspect, though, that what you
    would like to hear about are the actors. But since nothing is
    more boring than talking about actors, except talking to
    them, let us proceed with our studies.”

    Mara, believe me, this kind of insistence on knowing something one cannot possibly know is what drives irreparable chasms between people. For one of a thousand examples I (or any of our director, producer, writer, actor, etc. friends and colleagues) could give you, please see: http://www.redroom.com/blog/harrison-solow/out-town-visitor

    People can “interpret” all they want, but if they get it right, unless they are part of whatever it is they are interpreting, it’s a lucky guess. Painting or writing portraits, interpretations, is lovely, culturally valuable and at times profound, but it is not equivalent to accuracy. And occasionally, it is equivalent to lunacy.

    Thank you again for your engagement with my work.”

    ~Harrison

  7. Will Meecham says:

    What an interesting time I’ve had reading this piece and the commentary. Although I plan to remark on liminality, I must begin by stating that I grew up in Pacific Palisades and hence went to high school with many children of entertainment industry types. Even so, I remained ‘outside’. My father, a professor of fluid dynamics at UCLA, had no friends in show business. Our family had neither the money, the style, nor the connections to allow me to step inside the circle. What I saw, as a nearby outsider, was a group of self-inflated and overly-materialistic teenagers who aside from having famous parents were not exceptional. I find it hard to believe there could be much mystique to this group that a diligent external investigator couldn’t fathom. Although I obviously harbor residual bitterness despite the many intervening years, it seems to me that those inside as well as outside may overestimate the mysteriousness of the Hollywood sanctum.

    Which brings me to liminality, and the question of straddling two worlds. The good writer opens the gates to an otherwise hidden realm, so that even outsiders can begin to appreciate the experience of those who dwell within. If a writer is an inhabitant, he or she may find it easier to capture the essence of the culture or place. But familiarity and acculturation also lead to blind spots, and sometimes outsiders detect what the privileged cannot or will not see. Perhaps the humble gas station attendant noticed aspects of the Star Trek scene that the more powerful producer could not. In the same way, often the scholar’s view of a place or society falls short, but sometimes it is exactly what’s needed.

    Fundamentally, the world we must discover, inhabit, and convey is not a physical place. The astute Hollywood outsider may have much of value to say about those inside, but only if he or she comprehends the human experience and can detect its tidal forces from afar. A writer must become intimate with his or her interior mental universe, and then use that familiarity to convey the salient features of external scenes.

    In a very real sense, we each live in a space permanently closed to everyone else. My friends in the house across the street have no direct experience of my interiority, despite our proximity, conversation, and shared culture. It is the job of the communicator to break down the barriers. Recognizing the value of knowing a world firsthand is important, but so is keeping in mind the impressive power of the imagination to travel beyond direct experience. All the mind needs is competent guidance, with which it can visit even the most rarefied realms.

    Clearly, I can’t write with any authority about liminality, having never heard the term used this way before now. But it makes me uncomfortable when people suggest there are things that some can understand and others can’t. Chasms between people result quite often from those in the know assuming others can’t share their knowledge, and only rarely from sincere efforts of intelligent observers to learn about another’s world.

  8. admin says:

    Here I am again, now with Harrison’s reply to Will.
    “Thank you for your comments, Will. Just fyi, I agree that people *who are actually there* may see something that others cannot, producer, or janitor – it doesn’t matter at all – which is exactly the point I make in Felicity and Barbara Pym: “Sometimes, for a true education, you have to turn to your local butcher….”

    But someone who was not *there* when a prop was being built, cannot *authenticate* the prop. An authentication is a legal document, and it isn’t a matter of power or humility, although I know many powerful people who are humble and as many people without power (or many other positive attributes) who are collossally arrogant. (Case in point: Out of Town Visitor mentioned above). An authentication is a matter of legal authority and it is a matter of fact. “Did you commission this prop to be built by John Doe and did you witness this prop being built by John Doe? Please sign your name.”

    That’s it.

    I know a lot of brats too. They are generally the sons and daughters of actors rather than cameramen or women pr the other people I mentioned. Generally, though not always. I know a lot of professors’ kids who are also brats. I’m speaking of a specific world that I lived in and that world contained the people that I said it did – and the kinds of people that I said it did and no one can claim that they know just as much about my experience of this world as I do. Well they can claim all they want, but they don’t.

    Neither do I know what your experience is – and yes, of course – you are right, it is the job of the writer to illuminate hidden worlds. That is what I was awarded the Pushcart Prize for – illuminating a hidden world. But I absolutely know there are all sorts of things that some people can understand that others don’t, no matter how much illumination is attempted. Fluid dynamics, the Welsh language, why anyone would like wrestling or hunting. What it is like to give birth, if you haven’t. Judaism. Being male. Having cancer. All sorts of things. I think it is more arrogant to assume that one knows things that one has not experienced than it is to claim that some experience is beyond understanding for others until they enter it.

    I am a complete dunce at a good many things and I will happily, and without bitterness, say, “I honestly don’t know anything about that.” I would not have the chutzpah to claim understanding of a field or a world to which I had no significant internal exposure. Some of my students *literally* said they “knew all about Americans”, whom they disliked and to whom they attributed every manner of crudeness, because they watched The Simpsons. Truly, seriously.

    However, I doubt if you and I will agree on most of these issues, so I will just thank you for your observations and say that I really enjoyed both reading them – and the way they were written, particularly the comments about interiority – the inner space we each carry within. It’s an acute observation and something I will continue think about. Thank you, Will.”

  9. Will Meecham says:

    Harrison–

    Thank you for the reasoned response. You deserve the last word, but I want to carry this just a little further. I don’t disagree with your basic thesis, only with what looks to me like an emphasis on human separateness.

    For the record, not only am I sure there are professor’s kids who are brats, I probably was such myself. The kids from show business families thought themselves more important than me, but I believed myself smarter than them. What adolescent silliness! The fact is we are all more similar than we are different, and trying to find ways to feel privileged simply fosters conflict.

    You make an excellent point that I have no direct experience with childbirth and never will, and yet I’ve seen enough births in real life and on film to believe that a mother’s experience is not completely beyond my understanding. So it is simultaneously true that I can know something of what it’s like and yet be utterly clueless.

    So which should we emphasize: our ability to understand one another or our unbridgeable separation?

    If we choose the former, we work to come together, to figure each other out, to explain ourselves. If we choose the latter, we concentrate on our differences and our inability to understand each other. I choose to highlight the human capacity for communication, projection, and empathy, but I would never deny that we are each special and mysterious. In the world today I think a path of recognizing similarity is more likely to solve our many crises than one of focusing on differences, but I also value diversity and the remarkable uniqueness of every human life.

    So again, I don’t disagree with your take on liminality and the necessity for faithfulness to direct experience. I would choose to emphasize the imagination’s ability to mirror another’s reality, but then, we’re different.

    –Will

  10. admin says:

    Thanks for your comments – greatly appreciated! And keep on keeping spirits alive.

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