Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Parable of the Circle

Several weeks ago, I incorporated some excerpts of this blog along with some new material into an essay for a class. One piece of feedback I got from several students was that they wanted the resulting piece to involve more of me and my personal presence. Why so much time on brothers, great-grandparents, the politics of distant lands when I was directly described only in a conversation with my soon-to-be daughter?

Maybe they're right. Maybe I should spend more time directly engaging the experiences I've had in my twenty-six years on earth. Maybe there's something to be said for the orienting effect of a strong autobiographical presence in this kind of cultural writing.

I couldn't help but wonder, though, if that also says something about our cultural obsession with the narrowly defined self. Do we expect personal writing to be about someone's direct personal lifetime experience because we live in a culture dominated by egoism? Is it entirely true that the events which most profoundly shape us happen within our lifetimes?

Maybe we should loosen the grip of our desire to want to "know" a person by looking directly at them and what they do. Maybe we should look more at what comes around them: how they interact with their ancestors, history, the world around them as it exists now. Maybe viewing people less as self-contained artifacts than within the webs of people, places, and stories that make up their natural context would help us be more thoughtful and ethical in the way we turn and see our lives and world.

If I draw a circle, after all, my pencil should never touch the center--does that make the center less clear, meaningful, relevant?

Can we change the way we read to access this different approach to the world?

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