March 27, 2008

What Lara Thinks Things Are

I just came home from meeting with my dissertation advisers about the chapter I just finished (a great meeting, by the way - they are very happy with me). Professionally, as a specialist in 19th century literature, what I basically do is find patterns. The works I study have already been created, and since I am not a historian, I am unlikely to unearth new primary information about them; so in order to have original ideas, I have to look at unlike objects/ideas/styles/aesthetics and find some kind of novel connection. "It has not occurred to anyone until now," each of my essays says, "but when you look at these three disparate books, they exhibit a curious similarity - one which I will now demonstrate and explain." The most difficult part of this work is to break through the standard associations that have been burned into my brain's pathways by habit, custom, common knowledge, and other dulling and unquestioned routines.

I have been thinking a lot about this kind of intentional search for connections, because it is exactly what Lara does when trying to understand new things in her world. It is so fascinating to watch her quickly try to categorize the new and place it into her ever-expanding, but still fairly small knowledge inventory. I love seeing this process, and I am proud of how confidently, how bravely she sets out to explain what she sees to herself. She is undaunted by any suggestions from us that differ from her own perception, arguing with conviction that, for instance, Mickey Mouse is a bear, or that unlike the rest of the dogs, Tramp is actually a kangaroo:

Often, there is an element of fun puzzle-solving in figuring out Lara's leaps of analogy. We passed a guy dressed like this in the street:

Yorkshire Men
Originally uploaded by Lesley A Jones

and she called out, "That's a fahmer! That man's a fahmer!" Why a farmer? Oh, of course - because her only knowledge of farmers comes from Babe, where the farmer looks like this:

We no longer correct her. There will be plenty of time for her to be conditioned into conformity. For now it is far more interesting for us to be shown the world anew, to gasp with delight at the connections only someone without the burden of mental habits can see. How else would we realize that the way the storks drop the baby animals in Dumbo looks exactly like jellyfish swimming, if not for Lara pointing at the parachutes and yelling, "the dellfish are coming! the dellfish are coming!" See for yourselves:

There are many more examples of course, and there is nothing quite like watching her mind at work. I marvel daily, hourly, minute by minute.


mwg said...

First of all - congratulations on the well received chapter, and secondly, I loved the "fahmer" story and your observations...

Julie said...

LOL! I so understand this. We need to decipher my youngest's thought process often. FTR, he'd call the "fahmer" grandpa cause he wears such hats.

Lasagna said...

HAHA! Oh that's magnificent! Thanks for the laugh =)


P.S. I found you via SewMamaSew, and am subscribing to your blog - I hope you don't mind.

Anna said...

I don't mind at all, Alli! In fact, I'm quite flattered :)