Response 2 – In the Eyes of Another (2.2)

Through My Eyes
by Cleve Weise

The title of “In the Eyes of Another” explicitly invites us to engage in perspective taking: to empathize with three very different, dramatically realized characters by directly participating in their lived experience, entering their most personal spaces (mental, emotional, and physical), and seeing not just through their eyes, but also through the media that structure their worlds. Or does it? From another angle, this project uses its own form and the mediated nature of its fictionalized subjects to deconstruct the very empathic experiences it seems to make possible.

Either way, I accept the invitation. In this response, I take a trip through the website and the eyes of its subjects, mediating my own “felt” experience in travelogue-form. I report my feelings,my interpretations, my experiences, using the first-person form to avoid universalizing from my side. But in the process, I dramatize my struggle with what I perceive to be the potentially universalizing tendencies of the journey itself: Is what I experience of these fictionalized characters “authentic”? Does it illuminate or occlude the “real” experience of “real” others, the actual owners of the eyes I see (but do not, after all, see through)? Finally – since this assignment is a multimediaargument – how ethical is it for the travel agent to send me on an expertly guided trip through others’ eyes for the sake of her own rhetorical purpose?

Looking back on earlier trips, my sense (to start with the homecoming) is that this site makes deft use of procedural rhetoric to foreground its own multimedia form and turn its empathy-inducing images, videos, and narratives into a sort of magic looking-glass: I do move through them, and I am moved in the process. But, in the end, I am forced to realize that what I see and the way I see it is a reflection of myself and my own hypermediated position in the world. My empathic experiences of these juxtaposed narratives, with all their fascinating information and skillfully rendered points of view, turn out to be, as Freud puts it, mere “daydreams,” beneath which I finally recognize “His Majesty the Ego, the hero alike of every daydream and of every story” (486). Except in this story, my Ego and the shared space of Media are difficult to tell apart.

But I put the cart before the horse. Ride shotgun now, and drive on the next trip (that’s what the comments section is for).

First stop: main page. I’m confronted with three stacked faces in three individual boxes on the left side of the screen. Opposite, on the right, a larger, single-box slide show with alternating images of mountains, slums, sleek city skylines, all occupying the same space in turn. Distinct visual markers – fur-lined hat, veil, hair gel – make clear the disparate cultural contexts of the faces on the left, while the vistas, cityscapes, and shantytowns on the right indicate their equally disparate geographical locations. But the overall arrangement I take as a striking visual argument for unity, common ground: Despite difference and distance, all three people fit in the same box, make sense from the same point-of-view. But who, I wonder, has the right to bethat point-of-view? Who can put them in that digital box? I move on.

Second stop: I meet the face in the fur-lined cap. My first encounter, a mouse-click on the image itself, takes me to a waystation where name and country finally come to light. Clicking again, I meet Tsakhia, from Mongolia. A first-person narrative describes the culturally stable but physically extreme lifestyle of this isolated village craftsman. Moving through his story, I detour through a series of hyperlinks: stunning images of the Mongolian landscape, a BBC video about the effects of climate change, a grainy vintage video of Stalin that situates the politics of the recent revolution. I experience that revolution via another hyperlink and more vintage footage of the communist era, this time juxtaposed with images of Democratic reform. A few lines down, an unnarrated video teaches me, first hand, about the felt-making process and I learn Taskhia’s trade. On my final hyperlink side trip, I see videos showing recent political upheaval through the eyes of the Western TV broadcast, remediated through the Internet and filtered through the lens of Tsakhia’s opposition political views, which I learned about in his narrative. I keep moving.

Third stop: Tsakhia’s home. Views from within and without. On the larger, interior image on the left, image-anchored hyperlinks symbolize the media to which Takhia and his family have access. First TV: broken, unnecessary, a red herring . Radio: less essential that I would have expected. News, it seems (in distinction to the videos and images I have just experienced) comes to Tsakhia mostly through word-of-mouth exchange.

Fourth stop: Connection. Two imageless columns of text. I hit the brakes hard. Meta-discourse about the world I’ve just seen. The language is still Tsakhia’s, still in the first person, still recognizably his ethos, voice, perspective. But the mask slips: He speaks about cultural plurality and multiculturalism from a position where, by his own account, these values aren’t necessary and hardly exist. He describes his unified community and limited media access through the medium of a website. My very experience of him, via his narrative, and his context, via all the previously described hyperlinks, depends on media hedoesn’t have.

With the naming way station, the engrossing narrative, and the series of hyperlinks, the site has subtly maximized the distance from face-in-fur-lined-cap, nameless initial meeting to this surprising moment of revelation. Along the way I’ve gotten to know, to identify, even to understand Tsakia. Or so I thought. In a flash, this final stop calls that exchange into question. The message contradicts the medium; rather, the message is the medium. Tsakhia – the only Tsakhia I can know through a computer – is the media that makes him visible. That is the argument the procedural rhetoric of the site finally brings crashing into my empathic daydreams of Tsakia, Amina, Ryan. By the end of my trip, I’m persuaded.

Freud, Sigmund. “Creative Writers and Daydreaming.” The Critical Tradition. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Beford/St. Martins, 1998. Print.