About halfway through Katherine’s essay, she relates the story of the madwoman who maltreats her boys, locking away the sugar, feeding them raw food until they are sick, denying them access to medical care. Thedemands, some small, some rather large, of the mother amount to something unconscionable—an awful abuse of human dignity. Katherine, though, finds it in her to understand, finding this woman’s sociopathic actions to be an example of something thatwe all do:
These minor acts of tyranny, I think. We perform them first on ourselves, and then, as a way of softening the blow, of normalizing the appearance, on the people around us. And as the receivers of these acts, we acclimate ourselves to them, don’t mind them even.
For me, this is the crux of the essay, the fulcrum upon which it pivots. It is at this moment when the essay opens beyond Katherine’s fascinating experience, beyond even our generation’snot uncommon experience of working in a commercial relationship billed as experiential. Through this passage, it ventures into the very significance of how one lives, how one can live.
At this moment, Katherine shines the light on our current day and reveals the shadows of Hegel, Sartre, Foucault—those theoreticians of power. Though the terms these thinkers use are abstract and overblown, relics foreign to our aggressively pleasant world—a strugglebetween master and slave? a war between the self and the other?—in her piece, Katherine demonstrates the thinker’s truths in narratives of the quotidian. Katherine’s anxiety about her stomach—which she otherizes—is Foucault’s maxim in flesh. Katherine’s host mother’s attempts to mold her are Sartrian power plays. Through Katherine, we see what we all face: the politics of control that undergird our world, one human interaction at a time.