The APRA Foundation Berlin Multi-Disciplinary Fellow 2019
Project Proposal: What is it like to be me?
This project lies between contemporary dance and analytic philosophy. It aims to explore the interaction between self-experiencing, self-shaping, and self-communicating, along three main threads: First, only I can know what it’s like to be me. Second, knowing what it’s like to be me shapes who I am. Third, is there any way you can understand what it’s like to be me?
You have to explain what pain feels like to someone who has never had any pain sensation. Hard task, isn’t it? What is there to say about pain except that it’s, well, painful? Yet your interlocutor won’t understand. You had better give up trying to explain it with words: you deal them a good blow, then they’ll know. One can only know what pain feels like if one experiences it firsthand.
This applies to all kinds of experience: tasting sushi, having an orgasm, bungee-jumping; but also having a child, losing a loved one, being raped, being black. If you don’t experience it, you cannot know what it’s like. I cannot explain that to you in words. Only I can know what it’s like to be me.
Change in epistemic standing as the result of having a new experience yields self-transformation, as L.A. Paul has argued. After having a child, or after being raped, you’re no longer the same person and this partly because of what you learn upon having those experiences. Coming to know what it’s like to have a certain experience shapes your self; it defines or redefines who you are.
Could others ever understand what it’s like to be me? If I cannot tell them, how will they know? Even if the epistemic gap cannot be fully filled, perhaps it can be partially filled. Perhaps imagination can help, as Amy Kind suggests. Perhaps art can help. Perhaps dance can help. Let’s give it a chance.