Mimesis and Violence

Meta-argument? I has one.
February 18, 2008, 10:36 pm
Filed under: Friends, Rants

In my freshman year of college I took a class called “the Race Debate in the Modern United States.” There was a black girl in the class, lets call her Cheryl, who insisted that because I was a white boy I could never hope to understand the narrative of black Americans. This was a recurring theme with Cheryl: every time I tried to compare some element of American history that impinged on black Americans she’d pull this card. For a while I took issue with her projection of whiteness onto me; it’s a distinction I’m uncomfortable with because it implies that I, by way of my ancestors, am culpable for the exploitation of various minority peoples (which, as an aside, is preposterous: my ancestors were rockin’ the Talmud, eating chulent, and surviving pogroms in the shtetls of Poland during most of period in question).

Later on in the semester it came out that Cheryl had gone to a good public school in a nice suburban neighborhood in New Jersey, which is pretty similar to my background and not at all similar to the image of inner-city blackness that she’d been projecting throughout the semester. I got pretty mad at Cheryl. Mad enough to raise my voice in a seminar that I’d only spoken in sparingly. In short I told Cheryl that it was the ultimate in defeatism to tell people that they couldn’t possibly relate to the situation of another, that this is essentially what she’d been telling me all semester, that there was no point to having an interracial discussion of race if there was nothing anyone could do to understand each other, that we might as well just cancel the seminar altogether.

My college roommate tells me that there is a small cannon of short stories that comprise the narrative of Avi. They’re quickies, mostly pithy and sometimes humorous. Over the last few years I’ve been canonizing the above story because it helps me relate one of the things I find most infuriating in the world: when people tell me there is a conversation that I can’t participate in not because I don’t have the training or because it’s a sensitive subject, but because no one of my background/upbringing/orientation could possibly relate to the topic. Makes me want to eviscerate bunnies and strangle puppies it does.

I wonder sometimes if my habit of trying to relate to the joys and difficulties of others (especially my friends and family) is annoying, disrespectful, futile, or selfish. Maybe my experience a straight boy gives me no basis to understand my gay friends’ experience of coming out. Perhaps there are no handy metaphors that really capture the experience and perhaps any that I might find would be hopelessly reductive. I doubt that my privileged suburban upbringing and cloistered Ivy League education lend me any means of relating to my grandmother’s time as a partisan in the Polish forests during the Holocaust. But does that mean that I shouldn’t try to relate?

No, it’s not rhetorical; I’m really asking.


Congrats Dude
February 7, 2008, 10:28 am
Filed under: Friends, Google, Internet, Technology

Kudos to AndyBons on releasing forms on Google Spreadsheets. Andy put a ton of time and effort into making forms and It’s a great feature that really takes cloud computing office tools to a new place.

See also: TechCrunch, LifeHacker.