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experience & interpretation

et502's picture

"My constant contact with the street through the scraping of my cane provides me with a direct, uninfluenced connection to visual information" (Carmen Papalia)

After talking about "direct, uninfluenced" experiences in class today, I feel more and more convinced that it is not possible to experience something without its being mediated by a prior experience, a facilitator, a lens, a memory, an expectation. It's quite possible that I've been brainwashed by Dewey and my Critical Issues in Education course, but I keep going back to the idea that every exprience leads to further experiences: “there is some kind of continuity in any case since every experience affects for better or worse the attitudes which help decide the quality of further experiences, by setting up certain preference and aversion, and making it easier or harder to act for this or that end” (Dewey, Experience & Education). In terms of the classroom experience, I do believe that students should have more authority/choice in how they can frame their experiences, but again, I think there will always be a frame of some sort that helps decide what kind of information we take in. 

I think this relates to interpretation - so I thought of a statement from Frank Kermode: "Yet the world is full of interpreters... So the question arises why would we would rather interpret than not?" Still thinking about this... looking forward to continuing this discussion in class on Monday.  

- Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy (50)



sarahj's picture

I too have been stuck on this

I too have been stuck on this part of Papalia's writing, however, I think that we aren't paying close enough attention to that fact that he is talking about access to visual information and not experiences in general.  I don't think it's possible to have a general experience without some sort of influence or mediation from a prior expierence.  However, could a blind person have an uninfluenced experience with visual information? I think so, if they have never been able to see before.  If that is the case, then Papalia does not have any visual memories or experiences from which to call upon.  The image of the city that he creates through his contact with the street through his cane is not the same image that people who have access to sight come up with.  I think that his image of the city might be more bodily.  He knows what a curb feels like and sounds like as opposed to what it actually looks like. 

Interpreting this sentence as such actually makes me feel more confused than anything else. What does he mean by a direct access to visual information? 

Another thing I'm wondering about is whether or not we should reevaluate our word choice in regards to this issue.  "Unmediated" is different than "uninfluenced".  A mediated experience can have an influence on someone, but I'm not certain that an influence is always something that mediates.  To find out more about this, I went to the OED to look up the definitions of the two words.

The definition of the adjective "mediate" came up with several definitions that all described the word to mean something along the lines of "between".  So something that mediates is between two parties and it can also be "intervening" or "interposed". The definition of the verb "to influence"  basically meant to have an affect on something.  Papalia is saying that he has a connection to visual information that is has not been affected by something else.  I might say that Papalia has had a mediated experience with visual information due to his cane and other senses, but I don't think I can say that he has had an influenced connection to visual information since he doesn't have access to visual information in the way that the sighted do.

However, it is said that he has a degenerative eye disease and he also mentions in his article being able to conjure up images based on what his guide is telling him.  Both of these things suggest that he may have been able to see at one point in which case, I would say that he does have an influenced and mediated connection with visual information.