Michelle Kassorla, “A Chair”

ChairClearly, this is a picture of a chair. I took it today, in my dining room. If I showed this picture to anyone in the world, they would probably be able to identify it in whatever language they speak. It is one of the most fundamental images we can imagine.

But it is much more than a chair.

This picture also represents a point of view.

As I took the picture, I stood in a particular place, in a particular time, and took this particular picture of this particular chair. If you took the picture, because of your height, the way you hold the camera, the time that you took it, the settings on the camera, and the way you see the chair—your picture would be different than mine. It would never be the same. My picture of this chair is unique. It is as unique as I am, and that moment of uniqueness, no matter how hard one were to try, could never be repeated.

In my picture, you can see all four legs of the chair, the seat of the chair, the arms of the chair. But you cannot see all of the chair. That is impossible.

You can’t see this chair, simultaneously, from different angles, from different heights, from different perspectives. You can’t see the chair from the bottom, or from the back. You can’t fully see the back legs. You can’t see under the arms of this chair.

You cannot see how this chair would look from 1,000 miles in space. You cannot see how it would look from the inside out. You have no clue how this chair would appear at 1000X magnification.

If you wanted to see those things, you would have to turn to others who might see the chair in another way. They might record it in different light. They may change the angle. They may look at different aspects of this chair.

If I wanted to see the chair from another perspective from mine—I would need to experience it through the photographs of others. I would need to see it through the writing of others. Maybe others might paint it, or record it, or make a song in tribute to it.

And through those different ways of knowing, maybe I would, for a fleeting moment, understand the world through the eyes and ears and experience of others. With each new image, sound, description, analysis, or inquiry of this chair, I would learn more about it—and I would learn more about me. I would become greater than myself.

Through the recording of this chair by others, I would have the ability to go beyond myself. In doing so, I would build empathy for others ideas and perspectives, I would learn about my own limitations, and I would understand, in much greater detail, the significance of this chair.

Now, imagine that the chair is a historical event, a famous novel, a painting or a sculpture. Imagine that my chair is a song, or a poem.

By understanding one thing, I understand myself, others, and the world. I learn about what it is to share a perspective, to understand, and to be part of this great humanity.

Humanities is connection, empathy, understanding, perspective.

And, sometimes, it is only:

A Chair

Chair

Michelle Kassorla, Ph.D. is a Lecturer at Clark Atlanta University, a part-time blogger, and a digital humanist. She lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia.

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