These days, I often find myself frustrated with the people in the spaces I’m in. For example, yesterday in my creative writing class, we were discussing a really important story: Leonard Michaels’ “Nachman Burning.” I hate to spoil it for you, but it’s about a man who gropes his hairdresser. Because it is told from the first person, we get to see how he acted from a place of estrangement and impulse, and that he is apologetic about it. We also see that the woman is already desensitized, so the moment isn’t as painful as it could be. There is enough distance for us not to have to make value judgments because the parties involved don’t need our input. It is a private moment and we are silent observers. Everyone in my class agreed that the man wasn’t a predator, that this story itself wasn’t particularly misogynistic, but then, after we had discussed sexual harassment for a good minute, the conversation devolved into “but this wasn’t that!” I had to wonder: what if it was? What if we had to read a story where the protagonist unlike this Nachman and even Humbert Humbert in Lolita, didn’t realize that his sexually aggressive actions were wrong and harmful? Would we excuse the protagonist and his creator (the writer) because it’s only a story? I find that a lot of politically incorrect behavior is excused under the guise of art, and it confuses me. I am not able to compartmentalize. I can’t separate the aesthetics from the greater implications. And I don’t want to have to.
I think what frustrates me most is that I used to be able to compartmentalize. I used to be able to read literature and not be frustrated by the fact that the whiteness of the characters was treated as default, or by the erasure of LGBTQ folk, or by the way that fat characters were either non-existent or unsympathetic. After having taken several classes on the multiple identities that exist in this world and having joined the Tumblr culture that talks about these things, I cannot ignore these issues anymore. And now I can no longer just look at a work of art and see its aesthetic value. It is also harder for me to create apolitical stories. I don’t know if this overall change has been good or bad, but I do know that it is a significant change that was brought on by my education.
Knowledge is definitely power, and power does really scary things to you. How has the knowledge you’ve gained either from life experiences or school changed your perspective and your behavior?