The APRA Foundation Berlin Multi-Disciplinary Fellow 2019

APRA Foundation Berlin Fellow 2019: Anna Giustina

Project Proposal: What is it like to be me?

This project lies between contemporary dance and analytic philosophy. It aims to explore the interaction between self-experiencing, self-shaping, and self-communicating, along three main threads: First, only I can know what it’s like to be me. Second, knowing what it’s like to be me shapes who I am. Third, is there any way you can understand what it’s like to be me?

You have to explain what pain feels like to someone who has never had any pain sensation. Hard task, isn’t it? What is there to say about pain except that it’s, well, painful? Yet your interlocutor won’t understand. You had better give up trying to explain it with words: you deal them a good blow, then they’ll know. One can only know what pain feels like if one experiences it firsthand.

This applies to all kinds of experience: tasting sushi, having an orgasm, bungee-jumping; but also having a child, losing a loved one, being raped, being black. If you don’t experience it, you cannot know what it’s like. I cannot explain that to you in words. Only I can know what it’s like to be me.

Change in epistemic standing as the result of having a new experience yields self-transformation, as L.A. Paul has argued. After having a child, or after being raped, you’re no longer the same person and this partly because of what you learn upon having those experiences. Coming to know what it’s like to have a certain experience shapes your self; it defines or redefines who you are.

Could others ever understand what it’s like to be me? If I cannot tell them, how will they know? Even if the epistemic gap cannot be fully filled, perhaps it can be partially filled. Perhaps imagination can help, as Amy Kind suggests. Perhaps art can help. Perhaps dance can help. Let’s give it a chance.

Anna Giustina

Anna is a contemporary dancer and a philosopher. She did her undergraduate studies in philosophy at the University of Udine, Italy, and her Ph.D. in philosophy at the Institut Jean Nicod/École Normale Supérieure/PSL Research University. She has trained in ballet, modern, jazz, and contemporary dance since the age of four. Although her studies in dance and in philosophy have mostly cohabited in separate rooms, they have always shared a common thread: the metaphysics, epistemology, and existential condition of the self. Her dance solo Mestruativo explores women’s struggle for identity definition between being, appearing, and others’ expectations. Her solo reRality investigates the disintegration of the self in the current social-virtual environment. In philosophy, her research has focused on perception, the unity of consciousness, introspection and self-knowledge. Her Ph.D. dissertation, “Primitive Introspection,” explores the nature and epistemology of a non-conceptual and non-propositional (and thus judgment-free) kind of self-knowledge. Her fourth article, “Introspection without Judgment,” is forthcoming in Erkenntnis.
Combined Philosophy and Dance Curriculum Vitae