We nullify the consciousness of others. We make their experiences unreal. (William H. Gass)

You can measure the reality of an act, a man, an institution, custom, work of art in many ways: by the constancy and quality of its effects, the depth of the response which it demands, the kinds and range of values it possesses, the actuality of its presence in space and time, the multiplicity and reliability of the sensations it provides, its particularity and uniqueness on the one hand, its abstract generality on the other—I have no desire to legislate concerning these conditions, insist on them all.

We can rob these men, these acts and objects, of their reality by refusing to acknowledge them. We pass them on the street but do not see or speak. We have no Negro problem in our small Midwestern towns. If someone has the experience of such a problem, he is mistaken. What happened to him did not happen; what he felt he did not feel; the urges he has are not the urges he has; what he wants he does not want. Automatically I reply to my son, who has expressed his desire for bubble gum: Oh, Peppy, you don’t want that. Number one, then: we deny. We nullify the consciousness of others. We make their experiences unreal.

–From William H. Gass’s essay “The Artist and Society” (1968). Collected in Fiction and the Figures of Life.

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