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Sleeplessness in St. Louie

Dear Kim:

I think we need to play catch up on some questions that have been raised or statements that have been made.

A while back you asked if I agreed with Jennifer Holzer's assertion that only people of the same sex can understand each other. But maybe that was a paraphrase. And it seems like a significant enough question to revisit.

Why do you ask it?

(Kim: Because I have a secret theory that we can only understand that which is like ourselves and that lesbians have the right idea in this regard. But actually I feel more understood by women . . . but I grew up with more woman.)

Do you feel that our different genders—yours and mine—are making it difficult of us to understand each other?

(Kim: no)

Is gender an obstacle for you and Linda to understand each other?

(Kim: no)

You have managed to stay in the understanding game with each other for a long time, Kim. What is it, 36 years?

(Kim: I don't like the word "managed" . . . sounds too much like a job rather than a treat.)

Let's regroup . . .

What did Jennifer Holzer actually say and where did you read it?

(Kim: "you can understand someone of your sex only" http://mfx.dasburo.com/art/truisms.html)

How do you feel about it?

(Kim: I think it is more courageous to try to understand things different than yourself.)

I don't think that people of the same gender have the wrap on understanding. Look at Pseudonym and me. Or my mother and me. Or, many, many women and me who don't understand other at a deep level.

There are things that people of the same gender can only understand in the sense of shared experience. You will never know what it is like to menstruate or give birth or have breast cancer. I will never know what it is like to get an erection or to have a penis for that matter.

(Kim: we can use our imaginations to understand all kinds of things. But it is hard to know some things if you haven't been there.)

Interesting how the first examples that are coming to mind as I write, after another difficult sleep night, are all based in the body. So let's expand to the social, keeping in mind that any examples are really culturally based and would vary depending upon the place from where one speaks.

Can most men ever know—"most American men" in an urban setting know what it is like to wear fear like a shield as you walk down the street, simply in pursuit of one's destination?

(Kim: I don't see how fear can be a shield. I've certainly felt fear walking down the street (in Chicago as a kid in seedy neighborhoods.)

Can a man know what it is like to feel the sting of often not being taken seriously in a work environment?

(Kim: Yes, I think so. Sensitivity can help us feel all kinds of things.)

Or the economic disparities in many situations.

Or to feel the personal power of a certain kind of feminine flirtation? The kind I can pull out when really needed and that works on men from 7 to 70?

(Kim: Sure. There is a similar power (sometimes) in being a dean.)

These are old examples. And in some ways cliched except they are based in my experience of reality. And that of many other women that I know.

Let's go back further.

What does it mean to understand?

(Kim: To take ownership. To be able to recreate.)

What do you mean by understanding?

(Kim: The act of becoming one with the object/subject.)

What do you think Jennifer Holzer meant?

(Kim: I'm not sure she meant it. It is a truism—something most people believe.)

Surely there are points of commonality based on various shared realties. But I refuse to accept that we cannot understand each other, whether male and female or any other groupings.And as an artist, if I believe I can't really understand the other, whoever that other may be, I have no palette or vocabulary but myself.

I am the starting point. But not the ending point.

Otherwise, it is narcissism.

Later,

xJoan

Monday, Nov 21, 2005

10:13 a.m.

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