Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sapere v. Capire

This is a reactionary post.

Yesterday, during down time in a class, out of the blue one of my friends asked me a series of personal questions: do you like anyone right now? Who have you liked before? Who’s your best friend? Who was your best friend in freshman year? Why aren’t you best friends with her now? What happened?

I stared at her for a minute, trying not to get angry at someone who is, after all, a good friend, an old friend - but not a close friend. I had a question for her:

Why do you want to know?

Her answer: No reason.

My next questions, which I did not verbalize: why do you think I would answer those questions when thrown at me like that? What benefit would having that information give you? Do you think that knowing the answers would help you understand me?


Maybe I’m just oversensitive. But my friend - none of my friends, no one who knows me - is entitled to the answers. With personal questions, my policy is - if I wanted you to know, I would have volunteered the information.

I was trying to excavate why my friend’s questions offended me so much. I mean, maybe she thought that after having known me for six years, that she was shirking her duties by not knowing these things? That’s a weak argument to me.

As I was writing in my journal (which I do in Italian, so that explains the title), I realized that her questions bothered me because she wanted to know about me, and had asked questions that would not lead her to understand me.

Which is the wrong way to go. I want to be understood, but I don’t want to be known.

I don’t know how generally applicable this is; however, this impulse might begin to explain why people make friends with Internet strangers, friendships that feel just as real and solid as those made IRL. On the Internet you get to choose what to present, so you create a version of yourself that lacks the details inescapable when meeting people face to face.

Does it sound as though I’m angling toward something specific? I am. IRL, the first things people notice about me are my race and gender, which bring with them all sorts of baggage. Here, I’m represented by my words only, and the choices I made in the aesthetics of the blog.

So people from school, who can see (as the readers of this blog cannot) that I’m an Asian girl, know more about me than someone who only reads this. But most people at school (wait a minute, I have to get my angsty teenager hat on) do not understand me.

I have to leave for fencing now, so apologies for a post that expresses only half a thought. I leave you with this poem:

The Unknown Citizen

by W. H. Auden

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.


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