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Not Knowing Sucks But is Exclusion Necessary Sometimes?

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

Doris Sommer’s reading was not the most accessible text. It was quite difficult for me to understand the implications that arise when secrets are used in texts to distance the reader and to understand her thinking around why authors, like Rigoberta, would choose to withhold information. But I will admit that, similar to thoughts I shared in class, my dislike for the focus of this reading dominated my thoughts and ultimately distracted me from what the author was trying to prove. So,  as I read,  I kept thinking, “Okay, so she used secrets in the book, why does her reasoning for doing that matter? What satisfaction will the reader and Sommer get by knowing? Who cares if we don’t know if her story is completely factual, why should that take away from the genocide? Hello! Remember the genocide?” Even as I write this post, I can see how my thoughts were  a bit close-minded.  Although I am reluctant to acknowledge that there is some value in knowing the answers to the questions raised about Riogberta’s book, I now feel—I can’t fully articulate it—why the urge to know is so strong.

A passage that provided some clarity was on page 122, which described how Rigoberta had opened an address in her native language despite knowing that her audience would not understand. Furthermore, she did not translate her words when asked and did not feel like she had to. Immediately, I was reminded of our last silent activity where we had to “read”and “make meaning” from Chinese text wihtout knowing the language. I remember feeling fine about doing this activity because I was under the impression that Erin, who provided the text, would translate it in English for me to understand.  I remember that after we discussed our innacurate interpretations of the Chinese text, Erin dismissed translating it in English when we asked and read it in Chinese. That was cool because I then thought, “Now she’s going to translate it in English” and when she didn’t, even after explaining it would sound sillly in English, I was upset. I still wanted her to translate it even if it did sound stupid in English. I don’t exactly know why I felt this way but I did feel like I deserved to know the English translation, the same way Erin derserved to access English. I felt slighted, as if I did not have a right to access Erin in that way. It did not feel good to feel like a foreigner in a space of my own discourse –one that is predominately American and English did that mean it was okay if Erin did because she is not from America and therefore, should not deny me? AH:(! That's not a thought I am comfortable with at all.

 So now, I do see some value in having a discussion about the truth and lies in Rigoberta’s story because not knowing does feel alienating...and very confusing. However, I do agree with Sommer’s idea that before we know everything about the text and author, if ever, we must first question why there is a need to know and what does that say about our identities and power? When it comes to Erin’s silent activity, was I unintentionally excersising power over her by requesting that I have access to her language? By doing this, was I pressuring her, just like the student did to Rigoberta, to say yes and translate? By giving me that satisfaction, what would I have gained and what would she have lost? And by her saying no,  what did that mean? As for the text, when Riogberta chose silence in her book and in her story, did she anticipate that it might spark retaliation against her people through questioning of her story, attacks on her culture and attention off of the seriousness of the genocide? Therefore, what good is keeping quiet and can it truly protect her people? And on the flipside, what good is knowing and does it truly make a difference in how we relate?



Owl's picture

Alienation and Fear

I think that the distinction you raise between feeling alienating and the feeling that comes from needing to know, is an interesting one. In terms of Rigoberta Menchu's story, you discuss how the uncertainty of knowing whether the story is true or not makes a person feel alienated from the text as you did with the silence exercise in class, because you were, for lack of better words, kept in the dark. But, then, in an interesting twist you discuss how it is that you felt that you "deserved to know the English translation" of the chinese characters we had to interpret in our silence exercise. Per your post, you talk about how power plays a critical role in how we position oursleves in relation to a text and to others. This very much reminds me of Delpit and the question of who has the "right" to teach what and speak to certain topics in a classroom. I think one of the underlying issues that Delpit's question raises, is this issue of fear; fear that we are not being told the truth as students in a classroom, or fear that we are being kept in the dark because we somehow do not merit the rights to know. I think something worth looking into is why this fear exists and how does it exist differently for different people. I think that once you understand the latter, it can help you better understand what "you gain and lose" from a heirarchical interaction with a text or person. 

PS. Please feel free to ask me questions, I have a strong feeling this post is one of my most unclear.