alexis nexus

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Enemy Mine - Translations

I was discussing race and gender with some students the other day, and asked the question of (five black female students): "Could I ever really (added the "ever" and "really" for emphasis) understand what it is like being a black woman in America?"

They were in general more optimistic than me about it, suggesting that I do some reading, and talking with black women. "What if suddenly, I were to look like a black woman, and people treated me that way. Would I then understand better?" Again, they were more optimistic than me. When we talked about early life experiences and such, they mostly became less confident. They all agreed it would be absurd for anyone to want to undergo such a transformation.

One student (my favorite this year I think) was dismissive of any real differences between us, and imagined that anyone who was interested, introspective, and sincere could learn pretty much all there was to know.

I am torn. On one hand I am willing to take a Wittgensteinian approach and say our communication is necessarily public and straightforward, that there are no 'private' experiences incapable of expression. On the other, sometimes it seems like we are engaged in this lasting project to learn a common language.