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  • lgracewebb

"What World Will You Give Me?": Worldmaking and Encounter, Part 1

During an interlude (a section in between, a world apart from the time of the novel) in The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin describes by omission the science fiction world that she has created, listing the many things about it that her human characters fail to take note of. “The number of things that they do not notice are literally astronomical,” she writes; “no one speaks of celestial objects, though the skies are as crowded and busy here as anywhere else in the universe”. Jemisin ties this inability to notice directly to the limits of a worldview: “Who misses what they have never, ever even imagined? That would not be human nature. How fortunate, then, that there are more people in this world than just humankind”.

Consensus reality is a shared experience of the world, a reality “we’ve” all agreed upon in order to navigate living together. No one lives fully in this world, but consensus reality is the parts of our experience that get validated, recognized, acknowledged. Taxes. Landlords. Gender binaries. Language. Survival tends to depend on agreeing with consensus reality and being able to navigate it.

Consensus reality, in Jemisin’s terms, is a framework for making sense of the world.

Artist David Wojnarowicz had a similar concept called the “pre-invented world. In Close to the Knives, he describes it as the “brought-up world; the owned world. The world of coded sounds: the world of language, the world of lies. The packaged world; the world of speed in metallic motion. The Other World where I’ve always felt like an alien”.

While none of us fully exits in consensus reality, some people find it much easier than others to inhabit. A non-exhaustive list of people who might have trouble inhabiting consensus reality:

-people having spiritual experiences or a spiritual worldview outside the mainstream

-queer and gender nonconforming people

-neurodivergent people

-people belonging to oppressed or marginalized communities, who clearly see that consensus reality is based upon this oppression

People whose experience is outside of consensus reality- marginalized people, people with different neurological experiences, or spiritual worldviews - are often further marginalized because of the way their experiences suggest that consensus reality is not all that there is.

Things that people are called when they are existing outside of consensus reality: mad, crazy, naïve, out of touch, dramatic. All dangerous words, all designed to isolate, all designed to make someone question the truth of their experience, to undermine someone’s experience.

If you are someone who holds a different experience of the world- if your noticed or felt experience is not validated by the people directly around you- what do you do?

When the world around you isn’t reflecting or matching the world inside of you, what do you do?

Do you shut down your own experience, bury it deep inside and shame yourself and seal your jaw so that you never speak about it?

Do you build yourself a world tight around yourself for your experience to exist in private, and make sure there are never any cracks in your bubble, that nothing ever shows?

When does it feel safe enough to speak your world into the world? To dissolve the bubble?

[Part 1 of a 3-part series breaking down my Master's thesis into something more digestible]

Works mentioned:

Jemisin, N.K. The Fifth Season. New York: Hachette, 2015.

Wojnarowicz, David. Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration. New York: Random House, 1991.

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