Our lives are determined by the arrival and actions of others. However, portraying another realistically and morally is a much more difficult task.
Martha C. Nussbaum’s Seven Ways to Treat a Person as a Thing
But how do you write an absolutely frank, clear image of a person without alienating the reader from your perspective?
How do you convince others of the existence of lives in your book?
I’m not sure I can provide any satisfactory answers to these questions, so I will let them marinate and move on.
Even the level of names can bring about this alienation of a person from their identity
From above video:
- My name is Mùge, but I go by Isabelle
- it just makes you feel literally unseen
- My name was the only part of me which represented this other part of my family
- There was a lot of anxiety and a lot of feelings of shame
- Sometimes people would avoid talking to me
- In 2nd grade I started using my middle name… it was my choice, but it also felt like I had a deep sense of loss that I couldn’t name or understand fully
Michelle Obama’s speech recently, where she refused to use Trump’s name, is indicative of the humanising power a name holds. By silencing his name, she silences any humanity he has and lets his actions rest alone.
You can see the power of names too when people draw attention to media’s silence around a subject which would otherwise have been overlooked.
The grossness of this week’s book (Love’s Executioner) aside, I actually find it intriguing when humans are treated as objects deliberately.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach discusses the pinnacle of this – medical science.
Also, this incredibly sordid (even for Buzzfeed) article with the winner of all subtitles:
No one knows much about Mary Lynch apart from the fact that her thighs are wrapped around three medical books in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Historical Medical Library.
Interestingly, I visited a Morbid Anatomy Library in Brooklyn this summer, full of such human/object curiosities:
I also took a lot of pictures of park-bench commemorations in Central Park – it was interesting to see the ones where a quote or comment allowed the human memory of the person to shine through, and I sort of like the idea of someone being “turned into a park bench” when they die: