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Thoughts on Fires in the Mirror and A Journey to Speech

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

In the introduction to Fires in the Mirror, it was hard for me to understand and, from what I did understand, agree with Smith.  On page XXIX, she writes, “If only a man can speak for a man, a woman for a woman, a black person for all black people, then, we once again inhibit the spirit of the theater, which lives in the bridge that makes unlikely aspects connected.” I can agree to some extent people with different identities can sympathize, and perhaps even empathize, with each other. However, for instance, in the case of race, I cannot imagine a latino or a white man depicting the character of a black individual and vice versa. Sure, one can depict simple commonalities like hobbies, basic expressions, etc; but a latino/white male will never know how it feels to be black in America and to carry that “burden.” With that said, I don’t think Smith effectively acknowledges how people can overlook huge differences like sex, race, etc to see commonalities. These “isms” are so ingrained in our society that I think they will always be an issue—one that is hard to overlook. Perhaps the “spirit of the theatre” is only doable in theatres but seems highly unlikely in reality.

In A Journey to Speech, what I understood is that there is a hierarchy of language in all countries that have a history of colonization and that Jamaica is a clear example of this issue. As a result, there is a “correct” way to write even when communicating about one’s own culture. Thus, I am reminded of the remnants of neocolonialism and how even when the oppressor is not directly present, subtly, his/her power remains in the form of language—making it difficult for individuals like Cliff to claim native identities because the medium through which identity is claimed is Eurocentric.

Here are some questions that came up as I read both texts:

Is there value in knowing appropriate forms of literacies for certain contexts or does it not matter because one form of language/literacy will always be superior? Does a person, like Cliff, assume some agency in knowing how to navigate between literacies/languages?




sara.gladwin's picture

Smith and feeling uncomfortable

I am actually really glad other people brought up feeling uncomfortable with Smith's encouragement toward depicting another person. As I was reading I noticed I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with some of her ideas and I decided I needed to explore my own uneasiness. I wasn't just uncomfortable with the thought of potentially infringing upon or offending someone else, but the very concept of "traveling" from one identity to another made me distressed. My own distress is confusing for me because I tend to think of identity as fluid, especially my own. I do not like to think my identity is tied down by a particular time or environment; I like to imagine I have more possibilities then that. However, the idea of adopting the identity of another person, for myself, seemed impossible. I finally felt a little more at ease when Smith began to establish the difference between Mimicry and Character. She writes, “Mimicry is not character. Character lives in the obvious gap between the real person and my attempt to seem like them. I try to close the gap between us, but I applaud the gap between us. I am willing to display my own unlikeness” (xxxvii) I understood this as willingness to be exposed, to admit that ultimately the adaption will never be as true as the real identity. In attempting to be another character, Smith realizes to actually replicate another’s identity is impossible. She celebrates this as a necessary revelation in both understanding the identity of another and identity of one’s self. Therefore for her, the experience of imitating another is also necessary. In rereading her article I found she addressed this as well: “My overall goal was to show that no one acts like anyone else. No one speaks like anyone else. Identity, in face, lives in the unique way that a person departs form the English language in a perfect state to create something that is individual” (xxx). For me, understanding that her motivation for becoming someone else was not to speak for another but to recognize that we cannot possibly do so helped me feel significantly more comfortable with what she is proposing.

 Like HSBurke said though, I am still not entirely of how to effectively use any of this in the way I live my life. I do not think that empathy is entirely lost though if it manages to change the way you treat others, the choices you make, or even in the judgments you feel about others.

HSBurke's picture

What is voice?

Hi emaitre! Thank you for your insightful questions. I would like to take some time to respond to them. When I first began thinking about what I would be learning in our 360 Education course entitled "Voice" my mind immediately went to the type of innate voice that encompasses your desires and opinions and really goes hand in hand with making change. I hadn't given much thought (if any) to your actual voice and way of speaking. The reading Fires in the Mirror opened up this possibility to me. It is interesting to me that your physical voice can be just as important in establishing your individuality as your inner voice. As a society that continues to struggle to recognize the importance of traditionally oppressed languages/cultures I think it is extremely valuable to know different forms of literacies. Smith claims that "the spirit of acting is the travel from the self to the other". Only in this journey does it become possible to see the individuality, and thus importance of languages different from your own. 

However, it is clear that this journey will be fraught with difficulties. Due to the importance we place on being "PC" it can be almost impossible to feel "allowed" or comfortable travelling between literacies/languages and reaching a greater understanding. Cliff's liminal position between white and black, Jamaican and English perhaps makes her more adept at writing through both lenses. In the end, I guess I don't know how effectively I could approach the "other". People may feel more comfortable empathizing with other groups internally, without feeling pressure to display a perfect understanding of something that is not their own. But then, does that just render the empathy useless if it isn't shared?