When Keith Norris was preparing his notes for his upcoming lecture “Face to Face: Engaging the Other as Equal,” he almost titled it “Please Don’t Understand Me.”
Why would an English professor do that? The reason is both simple and complicated, says Norris, an associate professor of English at Pellissippi State Community College. The simple answer is, none of us wants others to assume they’ve totally figured us out at first glance.
The idea of how people pigeonhole one other based on first impressions has concerned Norris for years, and along the way he has discovered that some pretty heavyweight philosophers have waded into the subject.
Norris discusses the idea of the self and preconceived notions of “the other” at a Gnosis Club meeting Oct. 5. The community is invited to join faculty, staff and students at the free event. It takes place in the Goins Building Auditorium on the Pellissippi Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road, 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Gnosis is a student service learning club that takes its name from the Greek word meaning “the highest form of knowledge.” The club is dedicated to inspiring and mentoring students with a love of learning, says Annie Gray, associate professor of English and club co-sponsor.
When we run into someone of another race or religion, Norris believes, we try to immediately define that person, and in the process we steal some of their identity.
He also finds the modern notion of tolerance troublesome: “Tolerance implies that we put up with people instead of accepting them.”
Norris’ lecture will include discussion of Will Eisner, famed creator of the comic book character “The Spirit.” Eisner also is credited with a much more serious work: the graphic novel anthology “The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue.”
The story is set in a New York City tenement building filled with people of different races and religions.
“It’s a tenement filled with ‘others,’” said Norris.
Norris also will talk about Emmanuel Levinas, the French Jewish philosopher and author of “Totality and Infinity.” Levinas saw the face-to-face encounter with another person as a privilege to feel both the person’s closeness and distance at the same time.
“We try to understand people as a totality,” Norris said. “Levinas says they’re an infinity.
“What drove me to read these philosophers is the idea of inclusion. I believe we should discover and accept others, not ‘understand’ them.”
Norris will engage the audience in a question-and-answer session at the conclusion of the presentation.
For more information about the lecture, contact Annie Gray at (865) 694-6492. To request accommodations for a disability, contact the executive director of Human Resources and Affirmative Action at (865) 694-6607 or firstname.lastname@example.org.