On the other

A philosophical essay I read a while back from Luce Irigaray in her Key Writings called “Beyond All Judgement You Are” that talks about the other and our perceptions.  Thought parts of it apply quite nicely to my approach towards listening something of the other.

And also maybe to the fact how visual perception can sometimes be misleading or pre-imposing ideas of the other, which means a blind person might actually “skip” that initial judgement.

She’s got a very bloomy style of writing and the essay deals more with the relationship between the female and the male but still there’s something in it that can be seen as universal.

What I know about you is not or cannot be what you are. To approach you presupposed the suspension of all judgement in a silence where I listen to you in your irreducible difference. The suspension of all discourse and of all truth which has already been articulated is necessary if I am to hear something of and by you. The perception of your subjectivity goes beyond the scope of my hearing and understanding.

My senses perhaps put me better on the path towards your mystery, as long as they do not reduce you to an object. Thus the invisibleness of your spirit, of your breath or of your soul… must not disappear in the visual perception that I have of you. Seeing you, I must line your body with an interiority which evades my gaze, at least partially. Similarly, your words will have meaning only against a backdrop of an unsayable which preserves the source and present utterance of this meaning.  The dialogue between us begins before any word has been uttered, and it can never be reduced merely to language. The existence of the two subjects must be preserved by a framework, and a relationship of indirection must guarantee respect of the irreducibility of each of them.

My truth will never be yours. It is only when the pertinence of these judgements on your truth has been suspended that this truth will begin to be open to approaches by me. I will be attracted and drawn towards the mystery of your being, which wakes me and touches me without me ever being able to articulate its speaking, to unveil its source, to exhaust its contents. It is by listening to this other and not by judging that I will initiate myself to that which, left to myself, I will never know. But what I learn this will never become mine unless it becomes reduced to something other than its own reality or truth.

What I can say about the other does not correspond to what the other may say about himself or herself. A difference seperates my external perception from their internal perception of themselves. My judgements on their will most often be only my evaluations, reducing their I to a he or she for me. The relationship between I and you, between my subjectivity and his or her subjectivity, is anulled by the truth that I predicate about him or her. If you are this or that for me, I am already no longer free to dialogue with you.

(Irigaray, L., 2004, Key Writings, p.74pp)


In terms of my approach it also made me think about the fact that it is really quite impossible to understand someone else’s reality, therefore it is also impossible to create a real image of it. One can only attempt and in the way an “objective” documentary might be shot this will become visible. The filmmaker is always present, the decisions made “invade” the real image and in the end nothing is really objective.

This is why I feel interpretation plays an important role, how do we interpret someone else’s reality? We can only interpret what the person tells us about their reality but it means it merges with our reality as we try to make sense of it and we can only do so through our perceptions. When I studied the Inclusive Text at the museum I became aware of how the interpretations of things can really change our understanding of it, even if this interpretation only lies in the voice, intonation etc. But of course also the choice of words, emotions and such give the object a different meaning when describing it. A blind person often has to ask others to interpret things for them which they can’t see and this is why I feel a reverse approach is interesting, me trying to interpret what Paul tells and describes to me.

Because I can never know how it is like to be blind I am only left with my imagination and interpretation of it and this is why I don’t aim or attempt to create a (totally) real image.


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