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Not always a bad thing

HSBurke's picture

At some point in our conversation last Thursday, we arrived at a discussion of whether or not texts should always be accessible to us. Now, I completely understand the frustration that comes with not understanding. I definitely felt shut out by Footfalls and Mark's comment that there really was no take away. Well then why are we watching it!? But, with that said, I can't help but think about how English departments around the country would be out of a job if students understood everything they read. So much of my learning, specifically in high school, revolved around making the inaccessible accessible, and our teachers provided the tools for us to do that. What is analysis if not breaking down a text and its literary elements to further your own understanding? And then you write an essay to share that understanding with others. As a writing center tutor, every day I come across people who struggle to understand their class texts. To work through this and try to find some meaning that is accessible and interesting to them, I see my tutees grasp on to a certain aspect of the text or a particular motif, whatever. Through further exploration of the little accessible piece that they pull out, the entire text starts to gain a deeper meaning for them. Rather than shutting down like I was tempted to, I also used this method during Mark and Catharine's performance. After it became painfully apparent to be that I wasn't going to "get it", I shifted my focus to something I could appreciate, which was Catharine's craft of her role through voice. I thought Catharine's voice change was just so striking and artful, so I chose to think about that instead of how much I didn't understand the piece as a whole. Thinking on it, I can't help but think how ingrained inaccessibility is into traditional academia. If we understood everything at face value, there wouldn't be much use for close readings or analytical essays or any of that. While it often makes us feel terrible, not understanding can act as a positive force as it pushes us to think deeper and in other directions. 



Uninhibited's picture


I also had a complex reaction to Footfalls feeling very much shut out by my lack of understanding. I think that this automatically brought me back to my first year at Bryn Mawr where I felt very behind and unprepared. Most times, I felt like I had to work twice as hard as everyone else just to catch up. I guess the difference this time was my reaction; I expected the play to be broken down in a way that I could understand it. My past few years at BMC I've come to learn that there are many ways of learning, and that sometimes "academic writing" is given too much weight compared to other experiences. Therefore, especially in this 360, I felt safe enough to say I didn't understand it, and to (honestly) complain about it.

Towards the end of the class though, I was very struck by how we began to talk about "gaps." What does it mean to recognize that there's a gap in understanding? I couldn't help but go back to our discussions of Rigoberta Menchu and Erin's silent exercise. These were gaps that we quickly acknowledged that we couldn't close, and we were ok with it. We didn’t complain about Erin not explain it or about Menchu keeping secrets. We understood that these gaps were important, and in fact part of our understanding of them.

I began to see gaps in two ways; one is a gap that can be closed, by further reading, research, and discussion. I think that this is the one HSBurke is talking about here. The others are gaps that exist but that can't be closed, I think of these as cultural gaps, those that are acknowledge respected and accepted such as those by Mench and Erin.

I've been thinking about gaps A LOT this weekend, and I'm glad that we had a conversation that allowed me to transform my previous frustration, by linking these gaps to my freshman year experience, to appreciation. However, I still wonder what of those that don't have access, time, or resources to close these gaps? How do academic writing, the theater, art museums etc. (these are spaces in which I've personally felt shut out from one time or the other) decide who their audience will be? What happens when gaps completely define our everyday lives? I think of this specifically in relation to my aunts, who moved to the US in their 30s and don't speak English. They recognize the gap, they know that without English they can't go to the doctor alone, can't attend parent-teacher conferences, or even order something at a restaurant. However, time and financial constraints make it impossible for them to close this gap. I'm not saying that the world needs to shift, but I do want to recognize that appreciating and working to close gaps is a privilege that we all enjoy as students in this college.