An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Summer 2006

When the mind leaves the body... and returns

Carol Gilligan
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Carol Gilligan is University Professor at New York University and currently a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge. Best known for her landmark book “In a Different Voice” (1982), Gilligan has since published numerous other books, including “Meeting at the Crossroads” (with Lyn Mikel Brown, 1992), named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and “The Birth of Pleasure” (2002). Her adaptation of “The Scarlet Letter” was presented at the 2005 Women Center Stage Festival in New York and will be produced by The Culture Project next year.

I am sitting with a colleague on a platform at the front of a large university lecture hall. We are psychologists teaching in the same department, brought together on this occasion by students who want to hear how we converse. It is a Monday evening in the middle of the term, and the lecture hall is filled. We each speak briefly about our work and then begin the conversation. I notice that when I say “voice,” my colleague, who studies cognition and intelligence, responds by saying “the notion of voice” or “the metaphor of voice.” I move my chair away from his to signal the gap that has opened between us. The next morning, in class, my students want to talk about what happened. I write the word ‘voice’ on the blackboard, the sound sibilant in the still, morning air. One after another the students respond: “The notion of voice, the metaphor of voice.” We talk about what happens when the body drops out of the conversation.

I am sitting with Sundi at a small table in an empty classroom of her public school. She is eleven, in the sixth grade, and a member of the writing and theater club that meets on Tuesday afternoons, part of a three-year project designed to strengthen healthy resistance and courage in girls. It is spring in the second year of the project, and I am interviewing Sundi. I place a photograph on the table in front of her and ask her to tell a story about what is happening. She stares into the face of the girl in the picture and says the girl has just had a fight with her friend–she is angry and sad. “Where is the anger?” I ask. Sundi replies: “In the pit of her stomach and in her throat.” And the sadness? “The sadness is in her heart.”

At age nine, Judy says that she knows how her friend will feel because “I just feel it in my mind.” When she sees someone walking away from her best friend, leaving her alone “just talking into space,” she does not infer how her friend will feel or put herself in her friend’s place. Instead, she says, “You can just kind of see them walking away or getting sad or something, but you can’t tell right then and there she’s going to get hurt or anything–but you just feel it. It’s hard to explain.” There is little language for this emotional connectedness and the knowing to which it gives rise. . . .

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