Unlearning and Relearning the Self and Other: The Pedagogical Potential of Stories in the Classroom

Esmae Heveron

All politics are politics of storytelling. Stories shape our sense of self: who we believe we are, our sense of our own inherited privileges and misfortunes, our affinities, identifications, and allegiances. Stories also shape what we wish or hope to do in order to give our existence meaning: whom we want to stand or fight with, whom or what we want to help or rescue in order to uphold what we think is ethical or just. This is a basic truth when thinking about the ethical and the political in relation to ‘global politics.’ It allows us to see ‘global politics’ as deriving its meanings, affects, and effects from the circulation and retellings of stories across borders.

– Richa Nagar, Hungry Translations, 2019, page 205.

Each one of us has a unique way of making sense of our life experiences. The exchange of stories, in many different forms, allows us to develop and negotiate how we perceive ours and others’ identities, what we come to know as right and wrong, ethical and just. The way we think of power and privilege, oppression and freedom, and our wants and desires, are shaped through our individual interpretation of the stories we have received throughout our lives and continue to receive daily. Far too often, global politics over land, borders, and identities are shaped by the stories told, retold, and translated by those holding positions of privilege, often overpowering the narratives and memories that are marginalized and violated in the global registers. What this unjust landscape of tellings and retellings of stories causes is violence: epistemic violence, emotional violence, physical violence, and ecological violence. While the mainstream narrative has us believe that we, as a society and world, are moving towards a more progressive, inclusive, and nonviolent society, this linear thinking and conceptualization relies on the erasure of stories of those who have been consistently violated, displaced, and lynched by the prevailing regimes of power. How can we look towards lands, places, people, and knowledges that are often not taken into account when answering the questions of “who gets what, when, and how” (Laswell 1950) in order to continue on the journey of “ethically co-creating a more just world” (Nagar 2019)?

My senior project is an exploration of these questions, which we are grappling with in Richa Nagar’s course, Stories, Bodies, Movements at the University of Minnesota in the fall semester of 2017. During this semester, I, along with fourteen others, have embarked on a journey that explores the shifting ground on which solidarity is made, and the difficulties of building a collectivity when the participants are coming from violent histories and geographies that we have inherited. The class includes undergraduate students and graduate students who have taken the class for credit, as well as international writers and practitioners who are auditing the course to gain a different kind of learning experience than is often possible in a university classroom.

The class calls for a praxis of situated solidarities: it asks that we immerse our stories (which can be expressed through discussion, remembrance, poems, and personal accounts of events or experiences), bodies (which feel and carry our experiences, traumas, geographical, social, and economic contexts), and movements (which can be physical motions, emotions, as well as social and political movements). We created a “we”; or rather, a wounded “we”, which may seem contradictory but is a crucial truth of making collectivity and being in solidarity. This course provides the basis for my grounded research and the place from which I will embark on the story of my personal and collective journey of exploring the complexities of self and other—a journey in which I come to know others’ struggles and stories in a way that builds a deep relationality between people across time, class, age, positionality, and sociopolitical borders.

Stories, Bodies, Movements attempts to transform the classroom into a nonhierarchical space, and, even though there is the inevitability of unequal power relations among the participants because of the grade-giver/grade-earner structure, as well as due to identities such as race, class, sexuality, etc., this condition is a reminder of power hierarchies that are always present in the “real” world. Much of the literature I have reviewed in this paper is feminist fieldwork and research because it is the essential place where one attempts to build an ethical relationship with that which they have encountered as Other; however, this is only one site where that relationship manifests itself. Using the classroom as an extension of the field, or simply a different manifestation of it, provides the students and the instructor in the role of facilitator—along with visiting actors, artists, writers, and performers—with the chance to navigate the complex terrain that makes up the collective work through processual learning. Processual learning is unique from other forms of pedagogy because it does not limit or define the lessons which are to be taught through any given experience. The resonances which find their home in students cannot be replicated; they are individual and dependent on the time, place, and people involved.

The transformative moments that come out of such learning are serendipitous. They emerge spontaneously from certain conversations, practices, embodiments, and performances that continue to shape the pedagogical labor and potential for all who inhabit the space of the classroom. Lessons learned are infinite, because the interactions and conversations triggered by the same texts also become unique each semester depending on what the individuals bring to the course. In the intimate realm of the classroom students struggle with this labor of revealing and delving into the (dis)connections forged from grappling with difference. Through engaging with one another, the people in the course come to know fragments of each other’s otherness, bringing the intimate questions of self and other into the space of the university. This class approaches the classroom as a space that subjects to serious questioning the various ways in which we consume the other—not only thinking about engaging across difference, but also by addressing the politics surrounding the perception of separation between the “us” and “them.” The potentialities of situated solidarity, both in and outside of the classroom, allow people from “varied locations to draw upon and scrutinize their co-evolving and even conflicting experiences, truths, and selves while exploring how these interconnect with expert knowledges produced in the professional realms” (Nagar, 2014, 12). Moreover, by becoming aware of the epistemic violence that people inhabiting the classroom might commit to one another, the group as a whole gets an opportunity to learn in an embodied and empathetic way how easily academic research and representations can commit epistemic violence against the people and places we hope to stand with and do justice to in and through our scholarship.

Reimagining, Reprocessing, Relearning

There were multiple moments which held personal pedagogical meanings for me, and in which I realized some of the complex politics of storytelling and solidarity-making in the space of the classroom. I learned how the classroom can become a space for processual learning—a space which complicates the binary of the university and research field, where learning, unlearning, and relearning take place without a premeditated or planned outcome—as essentially serendipitous moments of encountering, embracing, and co-learning with an other.

On the first day of class, as we entered the University of Minnesota classroom in which Stories, Bodies, Movements was to take place, I encountered a space filled with tangible kindness, openness, and potential for growth—both individually and collectively. Our course was designed in the format of a “syllabus in fifteen acts,” resisting the neat university-style format. The journey on which we all embarked upon once we stepped into Peik Gymnasium was reliant on collective movement and effort toward radical vulnerability. The reliance on and constant use of these two tools—movement and vulnerability—would result in both unforeseen blessings and difficulties. While our journeys were enabled by trust and distrust, hope and hopelessness, border-crossings and sometimes the sheer inability to cross borders of language, time, age, location, and positionality, they were also enabled by a collective commitment to ceaselessly engage with the fluidity and ever-incompleteness in wherever we were to travel during the course of the semester, all the way to the end. Throughout the struggles that arose during the course, we were held together by a commitment to refuse comfort and perfection. Each member shared stories in the form of opinions, personal anecdotes, poems, songs, voices, languages, movements and more. Everything that was shared in the space of Stories, Bodies, Movements rested on the principle of reciprocity—I could only hope to get from others something that more or less matched the pieces of myself that I was able to offer.

The first transformative moment for me took place during a rehearsal for a play that had emerged from the Stories, Bodies, Movements class from the previous semester (spring 2017), titled “Retelling Dis/appearing Tales.” The collective from spring 2017 semester was scheduled to (re)perform their play for the CLA Arts Quarter event in October. While I had not taken part in the collective creation of this play in spring, I was invited to join the rehearsals and (re)performance of “Retelling Dis/appearing Tales” in fall 2017. I chose to accept this opportunity and immersed myself into this project as much as possible.

This is the beginning
Not the original start, but a new one
Of a transformative journey
Embraced by others who love,
Without knowing my story,
Or me.

Open, generous, kind, patient.

Sharing more than the sun and tomatoes
In the healing garden we open wounds
Which have not been compiled or acknowledged.

Scattered
within us
Difficult
to locate
Absent
from those remembered
Vulnerable
only to the ears of corn,
and those in our circle.
Safe.
Interwoven webs
Interbraided threads
Form an intricate tapestry with layers, stitches, vibrancy
Created by our journey, ever-incomplete.

During a rehearsal of “Retelling Dis/Appearing Tales,” Sara Musaifer, a co-actor who is now a friend and classmate, bestowed upon me the honor of (re)performing with her and others one of her poems that had become part of the play. The poem was her deeply intimate and political engagement with Nina Simone’s song, Mississippi Goddam. Her poem, titled Ramallah Goddam! included several Arabic words, unfamiliar to my inherited english-speaking mouth. In Ramallah Goddam!, Sara creatively reveals some of what it means to her to grapple with this world which renders some others as distant and Other, a world haunted by massacres and unimaginable hardships, a world in which those who have been Othered must rely on themselves for grounding.

Some of the nuanced meanings within Ramallah Goddam! became apparent only after I was invited to play the part of Maria and, by extension, to recite the lines that my counterpart in the previous semester recited when Sara’s poem was enacted on stage. The four Arabic words that were unknown to me were ghareebah, ghorbah, gharb, and Ramallah, respectively meaning stranger, strange lands, West, and the city called Ramallah, which in Arabic is a combination of “height” (Ram) and “God” (Allah). I had trouble getting my mouth to form around these syllables in a way that did justice to the meanings of the words, to the Arabic language, and to Sara who had penned these words and for whom each of these words held within them intense resonances, emotion, and glimpses of her reality.

Practicing how to pronounce these four words was a process of laborious repetition, of unlearning and relearning the movement of my own mouth, its sounds, and linguistic flow so as to enact a less violent reperformance. A conversation began during a rehearsal regarding the meaning of “Ramallah.” In this conversation, Richa remarked that coming from an India that was torn by the politics of Hindutva or right wing Hinduism, her first encounter with the name, Ramallah, created hope within her that “Ram,” in whose name much violence has been incited by right wing Hindu extremist factions against Muslims could become inseparable with “Allah.” Through this interaction, which included serendipitous acts of vulnerability, humility, hungering, and articulation came the realization that the very name “Ramallah” brought together gods, languages, places, and people to imagine a different possibility of solidarity. From this unplanned and spontaneous exercise in which Sara, Richa, and I traveled together for a few minutes, I learned that there must be labor put into translation and performance. Working on pronunciation and understanding throughout the process of that work was a shared responsibility. Once I was able to understand the four words as well as their pronunciations, I was better able to embody and convey their meanings. I learned that the words were not only poetic, but that they gained multiple meanings through the intention of the poet and through the (re)performance of the reciter; the words and all that they carried were chosen and shared through an act of radical vulnerability.

Performance of “Ramallah Goddam!” for CLA Arts Quarter, October 11th, 2017. Left to Right—Sara Musaifer, Jada Brown, Alaina  Szostkowski, Nithya Rajan and Esmae Heveron. Photo taken by Arvind Menon.

After the performance of “Retelling Dis/appearing Tales,” I came to notice that the words not only gained their meanings through the poet and the reciter, but also through the audience, reader, or listener, who, if they are not or cannot empathetically listen or understand, might miss the entire meaning(s) of the words. This experience made me ask: what does it mean to not know the exact meaning of another’s use of words because they are in another language or context? What does it mean to trouble the comfort of only-Anglophonic individuals in the context of our globalized world? What does it mean to use a language, knowing that some members of the audience might not understand? What does it mean to make members of the audience who come with specific privileges (in this case, linguistic privileges that emanate from histories of colonialism) recognize that they may actually not have access to all the information and stories that they might wish to access, and to make them grapple with what it might feel to be the outsider who cannot understand all the layers of what is being communicated? How might we think of the audience not as a homogenous entity but one that is also fractured and wounded? Throughout the process of grappling with these questions, I became connected to places, languages, people, sounds, and political questions that were previously unfamiliar to me.

The cast of “Retelling Dis/appearing Tales” after the performance at CLA Arts Quarter, October 11th, 2017. Left to Right—Siddharth Bharath, Jada Brown, Alaina Szostkowski, Esmae Heveron, Nithya Rajan, Maria Schwedhelm, Valentina Schwedhelm, Sara Musaifer, Richa Nagar, Devleena Chatterjee. Photo taken by Arvind Menon.

There were various moments over the course of the semester which pushed me to think about radical acts of vulnerability. These moments came in the form of refusals, and often, revelations. One such incident happened on a day when we purposefully took time in class to address the needs and desires of the class and how to organize our time together. A couple of us were thirsty for intimacy and wanted to dig under the roots of whatever vulnerable content was trapped inside us. Because myself and a few others expressed this desire for more personal, tangible stitches between the tapestry that was being sewed between us all, the group decided to stop what we were doing and share personal accounts in which we acted as both protagonists and antagonists, recognizing the humanity and inhumanity within ourselves.

I volunteered to share something intimate before anyone else. I said to myself, I’m not taking advantage of the moment’s opportunity if I do not share something truly vulnerable. I stepped into the middle of the circle that the class had formed, and revealed my feelings of being both antagonistic and protagonistic in the deterioration of my relationship with my mother. Richa shared next, and I was grateful for her vulnerable addition. The contributions continued around the circle, and while there were many things I learned through that experience, the one lesson I would like to share in this essay is that solidarities are always situated. There are always gaps in people’s understanding of one another’s stories and experiences. The (hi)stories and backgrounds of experiences in the room encouraged us to build a different narrative of solidarity that marked the gaps and wounds in the making of collectivity. Solidarity cannot be created merely from a desire to create one—it has to contend with the threads of the webs that connect us at some points and not at others. Situated solidarities are also provisional: we come together for specific purposes that connect us and where we may learn to trust one another, but beyond that specific purpose, we may not be able to assume solidarity. In our class, then, we have treaded through the complex landscape in which we were unable to create a completely unified “we.” We moved in ways which allowed our group to maintain a somewhat wounded, or “fractured we.” The concept of a “blended but fractured we” comes from Playing With Fire (Sangtin Writers and Nagar, 2006, xxxiv). It is a book which follows the journey of seven activist women in India, the Sangtin Yatra, that sought to analyze and transform the politics of  NGOization and feminist empowerment. The sangtins’ praxis of creating situated solidarities forged bonds with many contradictions, and, like the Sangtin Yatra, our class, too, learned to work with feelings of trust and distrust, commitment and lack thereof, as well as other contradictory but entirely human characteristics, where the traits of a protagonist and an antagonist were enacted by each one of us. This meant that in times of resistance and refusals, we learned how to work with them instead of against them, to utilize them without reducing the meanings they symbolized. At times the physical landscape of our classroom posed problems, but in those difficulties we created possibilities. The classroom space provided the context of this laborious process; however, the lesson went deeper: I learned that finding ways to not only function, but thrive, in the face of difference is vital for the work of feminist research and activism. 

Through experiences such as the ones I have just described, we embodied the lesson which we learned in our course reading by W.E.B Du Bois (1903): some gaps are insurmountable. The labor that must be done to understand and navigate these gaps can never cease. For the building, managing, and grappling with solidarity is never a means to an end, but rather an ongoing labor and everlasting process which must continue in order to stitch various stories together. 

As the semester advanced, we labored more intensely on the script which was in process way before many of us realized. Through the rehearsals, I have come to appreciate the immense possibilities of collective work using theater in the classroom. Specifically, this learning is based on: theater as a mode of inquiry, creating collective expression through movement, and approaching embodiment as a political tool. Toward the end of the semester, I found myself immersed in profound reflection and meditation on what I had gained and lost, what I had unlearned and relearned, what I came to know, and what I came to understand that I could not have known through the readings, discussions, and traditional interactions in the classroom. In particular, the laborious production of the play, “Fractured Threads,” which took place in the context of our course often strayed away from our one “classroom,” extending what is commonly thought of as a class or classroom, with much work occurring outside of university hours and locations. Infinite lessons may have resonated with each individual who participated in Stories, Bodies, Movements, and these may vary depending on each person’s understandings and journey of giving and taking in the class. Indeed, the “lessons” that I share below are ones that I am still processing in my mind. While I have not explicitly written much about the production of our play, the next few paragraphs are a nod toward the significance of political theater as a tool of learning in the classroom.

The first lesson came to me through a difficult realization: that I was becoming flustered with stepping into and out of different characters, instead of being designated specific people and scenes which I was to be accountable for. It seemed pesky, uncomfortable, and quite frustrating at first. I wanted the script and allotment of characters and lines to be finalized right away so that I could practice and refine exactly where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to say, and I wanted the same to happen for others. However, through embodying different characters, I was able to become more intimate with each scene as well as the ways in which it came to life through stories that each character brought to that scene. From this, I learned to expect the unexpected and to not have set expectations, because each character, scene, and the entire play at large were ever-incomplete, always unperfect, and constantly on shifting ground.

Second, I learned that improvisation is a major tool. Although it was daunting, stepping away from the script and free-styling lines and movements forced me to think about truly embodying the characters created in our play. Improvising meant learning through the process of continuous revision and refining of my understanding of a situation or character in relation to other situations and characters rather than already pretending to have a clear and fixed sense of how I should act. This process allowed me to embody the message I was attempting to convey and the character whose stories I was attempting to translate. In these moments, improvising scenes seemed to be more generative, creative, and real. It also became essential to really listen to others because that was the only way we could respond logically when veering away from the script. Moving my own body and creating dialogue in response to others’ movements and words proved to create a deeper relationality between one another as well as more powerful embodied scenes which better reflected the reality we were attempting to reveal.

One of the most significant lessons I learned arose out of the dynamics of co-authorship: co-authorship is often contentious, but very rewarding. There were many valuable contributions from all members of our group in terms of stories, brainwork, and manual labor put into the creation of our script. While we could have done more initial communication as a collective about the politics we aimed at conveying, the times in which members of our group did work closely together on evolving themes, movements, and lines created very powerful moments in our script. Letting go of my own ego and connection to words that I wrote seemed to be something I could have improved on; however, I am proud of myself for the steps I took in the right direction. Letting go of one’s own stake in an agenda or contribution to a collective creates more open and generative discussion and dialogue.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that issues of translation are not always because of human error. Chatting on google hangout, organizing scripts through a shared google document, and keeping in touch by email were all barriers and blessings at the same time. These forms of technology allowed us to communicate and work at the same time from different locations. However, ideas were not as well articulated or translated through the use of a screen (and sometimes poor internet connection) as they might have been through face to face dialogue. On the contrary, taking into account the varying schedules of those in our class, our complete script could not have come together as it did without these technologies.

These pedagogical moments which occurred in the context or our class setting and theater work sharpened our ability as a group and as individuals to attune to the expectations and interactions, needs and wants, and theoretical and social positions of the members of our collective. We learned to negotiate the desires which arose from the individuals who comprised our collective and all of this shaped the lessons I internalized. While much of the work surrounding solidarity-making and storytelling revolves around a politics of ethics, I came to understand how the meanings of ethics are always contextual and shifting; they are delicate and fluid depending on the time, place, struggles, and priorities that define our lives at a given juncture. 

Focusing on the situated solidarities during the winding journey of the “I” and the “we”, I came to know that such a journey is full of contradictions. The possibilities for alliances are held within commitments to critique ourselves and others through open dialogue. Often, these critiques must come in the form of criticism toward the work we are doing or the very goals we are working toward. Contradictions also accompany any interrogation of the self and other, the global and the intimate, even when it happens in a not-so-distant classroom in a state and city in which I have lived for many years. Lastly, attempting to forge a collective movement with situated solidarities in the context of a university classroom skews the authenticity and ingenuity of the emerging collective, as we are all benefiting academically (and in other ways) from doing the work required in this classroom. Even so, the effort can teach us a lot: while we are working toward a goal which is not a social movement, we are still able to grasp critical understandings of the labor and commitment which such movement building requires.

In the End

This senior paper is guided by insights and arguments that authors and thinkers have brought to the table surrounding a range of topics, including the politics of storytelling and solidarity, the complicated relationships between academia and activism, social justice work and feminist knowledge production, and stories and knowledge production. A reflection and meditation on selected pedagogical moments allows us to internalize invaluable lessons—for instance, the ways in which we sometimes silence people even through our desires to stand with them. This truth must be acknowledged and confronted if feminist work, collective labor, and knowledge production are to continue ethically. The creation of “expert” knowledge and the rigid terms of knowledge making upheld by the academic and other professional institutions often produce violent relationships between people, despite good intentions. They also stifle less recognized or less legible (read: less white, less Western, less academic) forms of knowledge in their myriad forms. 

While the epitome of this violence is often manifested in the dynamics of feminist fieldwork or research, the classroom, as an extension of the “field,” is another site in which we learn about the stories (of suffering) of others. By exploring the intricate tapestry of the self and other in the context of Stories, Bodies, Movements, the participants confront the consumption of an other in a different form. Laboring through unanswerable questions and hungering to understand (dis)connections allow students to be immersed in the journey of coming to know the complex and challenging dynamics of the I/we/you/they. This class approaches the classroom as a place within (and from where) to seriously interrogate the objectification and violence produced every time we consume the other by not only thinking about engaging across difference, but also the separation between us and them, there and here, past and present. It pushes us to rethink the ways in which we position ourselves and others in relation to ourselves and the ways in which we act (or not) as complete beings (socioeconomic, political, psychological) in the context of the university. By reimagining the ways we think and know and by grappling with the processes of enacting and embodying situated solidarity, Stories, Bodies, Movements has allowed us to expand the space of the classroom into a site of active research, unlearning and relearning, and of serendipitous pedagogy that is at once singular (speaking to each participant’s individual journeys) and deeply plural (speaking to the specific journey of the collective). 

In traditional parlance of the academy, one limitation of this project may lie in the fact that the findings, which came in the form of lessons or resonances, will never be able to be reproduced by or be known to others in the same way as me; they are subjective findings, fluid, continuous, and shifting. There are no answers or any “how-to”s in this writing, and this is because there is no end point at which we reach a completely ethical collective. This project was not about arriving at any specific point, rather it was to become aware that while we succeed in doing justice to one thing we simultaneously fail in doing justice to another. There is no point at which we have “arrived” at doing justice entirely to any story, history, person, or event, nor is there a mountaintop where we finally reach which allows us to wear the badge of ethicality. The work of solidarity making is incessant and ongoing, and quite unromantic. It is something we must work towards constantly and without ever becoming complacent about. At some points, working in a collective can be discouraging, but I believe that it was these challenging moments that offered the greatest potential for transformation and growth individually and collectively. The labor that must be spent in our attempts to do justice to all can never cease. 

Lastly, I would like to recognize that I am writing in an academic format and space, and for the goal of receiving my own award and benefits from the university in the form of a diploma, while maintaining that certain points in my paper raise questions about such intentionality. At the same time, I wish to complicate the rigid expectations about form and clarity in the making of academic knowledges by concluding this thesis with a poem that embraces the spirit of radical vulnerability. This poem is informed and shaped by my own identities, histories, locations, and stories. This is where many feminist researchers would begin their writing by stating their positionality. However, I want to challenge the normative manner in which feminist knowledge is relayed and consumed. This idea stems from this quotation in Nagar’s text Muddying the Waters: “We want to challenge and resist this demand to uncover ourselves in specific ways for academic consumption, because uncovering ourselves on these terms contradicts the purpose of problematizing the essentialist nature of social categories, which are, in reality, created, enacted, and transformed” (Nagar, 2014, 84). While interpreting this poem, many aspects of myself and my identities are revealed—another “proof” that stories hold within them articulations of the self and other, a journey in search of justice that must always remain in (e)motion.

 

I am a part of a violent history 
          on the side of the oppressor 
I have erased, 
          silenced, hurt, 
                                violated,
                                               invaded.

I am erasing, 
          silencing,
                      hurting,
                                    violating,
                                                  invading. 

And just like my curly hair and eating habits 
                          I’ve inherited these characteristics.

Invasion is a structure 
           not an event, 
An ongoing process 
          which does not cease. 
How does one grapple with these realizations? 
         Learn from others,        Embody others (however inadequately),           Listen to others, 
While making oneself the other? 

To know “home” is foreign to me 
          for I am never not home, 
          Whiteness means that “I” am home everywhere 
          While always being in an other’s home 
                    An(O)ther’s land 
                    An(O)ther’s livelihood 
          But 
Where is mine? 
Where is theirs? 
Is there an ours? 
How can I get in touch with my culture? 

A culture of destruction, 
          How to change a culture? 
                        Can I step away from a history that has violated over and over again? 
                       No, I must 
                       stay there. 
                       stay here. 
                       . S T A Y . 
          in the discomfort of knowing in the silence 

                   which is a result of violence 
                              on the land of others, 
                                                                                violently (dis)possessed 

Stay 
       in the space of trauma my body does not hold, 
       in the trauma my body inflicts 

Stay 
       in the mental space others share from their experiences 
                   because my mind might imagine, 
                                                                               but my body will never know. 

I have a hard time, 
Sharing my stories, 
When there are so many others to be heard, 
When my stories feel empty 
                                 traceable 
My stories that have already dominated the pages of History books 

How to dispel my stories from my body, 
From the deepest points, 
          I can’t collect them all. 
Making sense of others’ stories, bodies, movements 
In relation to my own, my ancestors’ 
           Is the task that lies ahead and behind 

How do I responsibly listen, translate 

When, in order to stay afloat, 
I must keep my head above my (em)body, 
Not sink into myself, my story, 

I must continue to suppress, 
Until my work is (un)done 
(this work that shall have no deadline, no completion date) 
For if I unravel, so too will my project. 
          Disconnect.           Disembody.           Dispose.           Dispossess. 
Can I take in these stories, 
When I’m unable to touch my own, 
                                            or remember? 
                                           current events confuse the past, 
                                                  stories change over time, 
                                             bodies change over boundaries. 
                                                constant movement my savior. 
                                                   my body used to be moved, 

                                                  and now I move my body. 

Acknowledgements 

This semester was a journey in all senses of the word: academically, emotionally, personally, intellectually, physically. In many ways, I feel I have undergone an entire transformation throughout the last semester of my undergraduate degree. There have been unexpected obstacles, ones which carried with them some of my pains from the past, worries about the future, and struggles in the now; and for these I am thankful. Stories of struggle are something that we all carry with us. They range from here to there, which are outlier locations unknown to me. However, the stories of struggle that my mind and body do carry have brought me to this point in time and space, and I am, well, proud of myself. 

The thing about Stories, Bodies, Movements was that it was not merely a semester-long university course, it truly was a journey, an adventure without end. It involved looking into myself and my own stories in order to connect deeply with other’s experiences. The process was/is not always fun; 

it is difficult 
          and painful 
                    and unpredictable 
                              and terrifying. 
                                        And worth it. 

Honing in on mine and others’ stories of struggle was particularly laborious, however rewarding. The labor that occurred in the classroom and work spaces of Stories, Bodies, Movements could not have existed if it weren’t for Richa Nagar, whose dedication to her work is unbelievable. The space in the university for a course such as this was earned by her and the intense purpose with which the course syllabus was created is astonishing. I appreciate her specifically for making this course possible. I’d also like to extend my gratefulness to her as my faculty mentor. Her help with editing and revising made this paper into what it has become. Caitlin Gunn was also along for the ride this semester as the instructor for the course GWSS 4108 Senior Writing Seminar. I can’t thank her enough for answering my frantic emails and being a source of knowledge and patience when it came to the writing process. I’ll be forever grateful to Richa and Caitlin for seeing that I had the resources and skills to produce this senior research paper. 

On another note, I’d like to thank my co-learners from Stories, Bodies, Movements Fall 2017. 

This is the cast of “Fractured Threads” after our performance on December 18th, 2017. From left to right: Sara Musaifer, Richa Nagar, (not seen) Valentina Schwedhelm, Maria Schwedhelm, Laura Seithers, Keavy McFadden, Kriti Budhiraja, Julie Santella, Jason Noer, Veronica Quillen, Tarun Kumar, Colin Wingate, Esmae Heveron, Veera Vasandani, Devan Dupree, Beaudelaine Pierre. Each one of these individuals uniquely shared themselves, their stories, and their time with our collective and added to the unique experience of this course. I appreciate the particular contributions from each one of you and I value the connections we forged. Being together this semester has brought out some of the best in me. I don’t quite know what to say to acknowledge what you’ve all given me, and I foresee that it’ll take more time and meditation to really reflect on what our collective has provided. 

A special thanks to Tarun Kumar for assisting with the theatrical aspects of the course. Without your guidance I would have never been able to increase my ability to embody multiple characters, and in turn, learn from the experience of doing so. Your comedic energy brightened our class space. I’ll always remember the first one-on-one practice when you helped me with some of Maria’s lines in “Retelling Dis/appearing Tales.” After our session, we had a conversation in which you said something like: “Time is one of the most valuable things you can give to a person.” After the time we’ve spent working, growing, and learning together, I realize that your use of the word “time” means much more than simple clock movements. This quotation and your practice of it resonated with me and I want to extend my thanks for how much time, effort, energy, and mixed nuts you dedicated to the journey of Stories, Bodies, Movements

Apart from the people involved in the making of “Fractured Threads”, I want to extend my gratitude to Mel Boman and Jess Lourey for being pillars in my support system. The process of writing this paper was strenuous at certain points, however, having these two as anchors allowed me to continue my academic, intellectual, and personal progress. Conversations with you two kept me sane throughout this process and guided my mind to articulate connections in ways legible to others. This paper would’ve never been completed without you both. Thank you. 


References: 

Du Bois, W. E. B. “Of the Sorrow Songs”. The Souls of Black Folk; Essays and Sketches. Chicago, A. G. McClurg, 1903. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1968. Print. 

Nagar, Richa in Journeys with Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan & Parakh Theatre. Hungry Translations: Relearning the World Through Radical Vulnerability (University of Illinois Press, 2019). 

Nagar, Richa. Muddying the Waters: Coauthoring Feminisms across Scholarship and Activism. Chicago: U of Illinois, 2014. Print. Dissident Feminisms. 

Sangtin Writers and Nagar, Richa. Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota, 2006. Web. 


Suggested citation:
Heveron, E. 2021. “Unlearning and Relearning the Self and Other: The Pedagogical Potential of Stories in the Classroom.” AGITATE! 3: https://agitatejournal.org/article/unlearning-and-relearning-the-self-and-other-the-pedagogical-potential-of-stories-in-the-classroom/.

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