We’ll do some work in breakout groups this week. To prepare, read Parts 1 and 2. Let me know if you have questions.
In There Was This Goat, Krog, Mpolweni, and Ratele go to great lengths—and take great care—to relate to and create mutual understanding, a with Mrs. Konile, a person they first encountered through her testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. For readers, they work to illuminate the contexts that surround her testimony and give it meaning.
In philosophical and pragmatic terms, we can never experience another person’s subjectivity—never feel what it’s like to be another person. But we have all kinds of ways of trying, of getting as close as we can (sometimes). Krog, Mpolweni, and Ratele use a wide variety of intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal tools to get to know Konile. This involves navigating all kinds of differences and potential barriers—linguistic, cultural, political, psychological, geographical, economic. I could go on.
A crucial part of the process is working together, across and with their own differences. They use their disciplinary tools, as journalist, anthropologist, and psychologist. They use their cultural tools as members of an intensely diverse and divided nation. They use their personal tools as people interested in respect and justice. They make it really clear that Mrs. Konile is not a representative for all poor, rural South Africans, for all Xhosa people, for all mothers, for all people who suffered under apartheid. They make it equally clear that all these categories of people and experience must be thoroughly examined if they’re going to do justice to the job of representing her with respect.
Complete empathy is impossible. Empathy doesn’t necessarily lead to action or change. Imagine if each of us could find the time, ingenuity, and dedication to get to know other people this way—say half a dozen people, or hundreds, or everybody in the world—if we could find the means to cultivate mutual understanding across the differences between us and all those people. Of course, this is not possible, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.
Keeping all this in mind, choose a moment or passage from the book that demonstrates an illuminating or surprising or wise means of seeking the kinds of empathy, respect, and justice the authors hope to find or make.
Take a look at the list below–of contexts for Mrs. Konile’s testimony about which Krog, Mpolweni, and Ratele conducted research. Choose one that changes their understanding. Be prepared to discuss a couple of pages where they discuss your chosen topic. NOTE: If you need help finding those pages, let me know. This is maybe my seventh reading of this book, so I should be ahle to help.
Geography (rural / urban; regionalism; resources)
Dreams (from psychological, cultural, and historical perspectives)
Identity (singular, communal, cultural, national, familial)
Communication (multilingual, verbal, nonverbal, gestural)
Theories of testimony