Identification I just got back


I just got back from an hour-long chat with my English teacher, Ms. Lord. We're reading Ellison's Invisible Man in class, which I've mentioned (and quoted) before, but we just started talking about it today. The reason I came in to talk with her was because I was having a big problem with identification. As a white teenage male, could I identify with the invisibility felt by the narrator in this novel? In class, I've talked about how I have sometimes felt invisible because people have prejudices about teenagers and can't see past those to see the real me. In a sense, I could never identify with this novel because it is about being a black male in the 1940's. But in another sense everyone should relate to this novel because Ellison is trying to touch on a something common to all humans.

But I got really hung up on this, and took it to an extreme. As an aside, I think that taking ideas and arguments to the (logical, if there is such a thing) extreme is an excellent way to judge their validity. So, as my extreme, either everyone relates or no one relates, I said, because anything in between would be arbitrary. Do I need to be a black to relate? Male? Educated? Living in the 1940's? Exactly what qualities must one have to relate to this novel? Other people disagreed that it was arbitrary and felt that I was carrying the idea to an unnecessary extreme. "Just because we can sympathize doesn't mean we can empathize," Adele said. But I disagreed with the idea of empathy, for the quasi-bullshit reason that no one ever has the exact same experience so it's pointless to differentiate between people who have had the exact same experience and can thus empathize, and people who merely have had similar experiences and can only sympathize.

After 2 periods (an hour and a half) of talking about this issue in class, and
another hour when I came in to see her later that day, I still don't get it.

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