Aporia: a- without, –poros passage
Anyone else out there feeling a little lost these last few months? I have been experiencing an uncomfortable feeling of not knowing which way to turn, or maybe like the map I have isn’t available or that the terrain has changed too much for it to be useful anymore. I am uncertain, discombobulated, unsure.
While it is distinctly unpleasant right now, I wonder if, in the end, these feelings might actually be a good thing.
Hear me out: maybe this moment is a chance to reimagine. A chance to eliminate the old habits we are so accustomed to but that are not actually benefiting us. In his chapter in Teaching Social Justice through Shakespeare (Eklund and Hyman, 2020), Jeffrey Osborne explores the Socratic approach to discuss the concept of aporia or, in his words: “Getting Lost”—also the title of a course he teaches at Murray State University in Kentucky (287). He suggests that in order to learn, we must first realize that we have something to learn, that being, or even desiring to be, “lost” is the first step in education. What if this lost moment is actually a chance for us to start fresh and embrace what we have to learn in order to move forward?
I think it has to be.
The first chapter of White Fragility (Diangleo, 2018) turned my thinking about myself upside down. And, at the same time, it started to turn me right side up for the first time ever. My team and I started reading the to prepare for the coming season, one in which we would stage Othello. We had heard the research conducted on audiences attending The Merchant of Venice, which showed that, rather than decreasing ant-Semitic sympathies, the production increased them (Feiler 2005-2006). We wanted to prepare ourselves to prepare our audiences to see the racism in Othello with horror rather than acceptance—or, even worse, an embrace. We knew that thousands of high school students would be attending the play, and while many would stay for a talkback, not all would get the contextualization that those conversations can offer. We began reading and studying and acknowledging our failures and shortfalls and trying to imagine a program that could extend the same lessons, the same learning, to the legions of kids who would watch the production. We got lost. Together.
And then, COVID-19. And then, George Floyd (and countless others).
And then: Now.
We are in a moment of absolute necessity. The needs have been in front of us for decades, millennia. But we have been comfortably in our zone. Doing the routine. Going through the motions.
But now, we are lost (we actually always were).
Now we see that we are lost.
The only people who can draw the new maps, who can set the path, are those who take it upon themselves. Those who take responsibility, those who look at the world as it is and accept that it is not what it needs to be.
Othello, and all tragedy, is a lens into that seeing. “The point of tragedy is not that we cannot know ourselves. Tragedy says to us instead that knowing ourselves is a self-reflective process that must also consider the profound unconscious social forces within which we are embedded and that conspire to produce us.” (Osborne, 298) When we watch a play like Othello it shows us a bit of ourselves. An ugly, terrifying bit of ourselves. From the first racist slur (fewer that 40 lines into the first act) to the tragic hero’s own desperate, and final, action just 20 lines before the plays end, the audience is subjected to a portrait, a mirror, of ourselves. We see how words destroy a noble character, we witness how mere language tears apart a loving relationship, we attend to the change that people not so different from ourselves—a little careless in speech and attitude, does it really matter if “they” (the other) didn’t hear it?—can evoke.
Some scholars have recently said that theatres should no longer produce Othello (and Merchant and The Taming of the Shrew). That opinion, spoken with such certainty, leaves little room for us to get lost. For us to find why it is that we need these stories, still. Now. I long for the time that we need them no more. I am eager for the moment when the stories are so far-fetched and beyond comprehension that they would have to be presented as farce. But, we are not there. I don’t think we will be until our country and our world puts away the sense that we have done enough, that we have learned enough, that we are found. The only way for us to move forward, to find our way through this and into a truly equitable and righteous society, is for us, all of us, to savor our lost-ness. To acknowledge our discomfort and, even, despair. To take steps to address that feeling, not just for self, but for all. Because, if this time has revealed anything, we are all in this together and we all need one another to grow out of it. “That our endless and impossible journey toward home, is in fact our home.”(Osborne 289)
Looking forward to the journey, and being lost, with you, our audience and friends.