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Visceral Experience and Representation

While often considered a self-evident basis for meaning-production, particularly in the context of the historiography of minorities, the notion of «experience» was seldom submitted to scrutiny until it became a key component of more recent interventions made within various disciplines through the filter of gender studies. That experience requires translation in order to be related is precisely the argument made by historian Joan Scott in her much-debated critical assessment, «The Evidence of Experience.» According to the traditional notion of the manner in which experience is gained, «seeing is the origin of knowing. Writing is reproduction, transmission – the communication of knowledge gained through (visual, visceral) experience.« [14] Thus experience was traditionally conceived of as a process of selection but not one of interpretation. Such an approach both naturalizes identity and thus, by extension, difference as well. Further it decontextualizes resistance by locating its source within «the nature» of certain individuals and simultaneously disregards the manner in


which these identities have come into being. Thus, according to Scott, «The evidence of experience, whether conceived through a metaphor of visibility or in any other way that takes meaning as transparent, reproduces rather than contests given ideological systems – those that assume that the facts of history speak for themselves …« [15] Scott instead proposes that experience itself be conceived of as an interpretive process, which in turn requires interpretation in order to be transmitted or communicated to others. Recall that «visual, visceral» experience is the initial moment in this process with the precise relationship between these two types of experience remaining unclear, a feature of relevance to a consideration of the relationship between experience and its visual representation. How may we escape the apparent self-evidence of a visual representation of the body? Tracings several permutations of the term experience in historical and literary disciplinary contexts Scott herself finally arrives at the irreducible link between language and experience. She writes: «Experience is a subject’s history. Language is the site of history’s enactment.» [16] Scott therefore proposes that one

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