Storytelling: Finding Humanity in Difference, and Difference as Humanity

Madison Pollack | November 6, 2017

Liana Finck 1

The cartoonist Liana Finck recently published an article online called “Love Song,” where she worked through the issue of whether or not to post sketches about her relationship publically. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Finck has garnered a following on Instagram by posting autobiographical cartoons of her interpretations of moments on the subway, in coffee shops, and, often, in love. In “Love Song,” Finck writes that her cartoons are her “way of taking my story back from strangers on the street—and men I’d met on dating apps—who saw me as a minor character, if they saw me at all.” Finck’s Instagram is not merely a view into the artist’s inner life: it is her desperate and universal plea to be recognized as having one at all. By giving her inner workings a public platform, Finck enables herself to reclaim subjecthood in a world that is constantly taking it away from her.

I, for one, am glad that Liana Finck makes her personal life so accessible: I live to tag my two saddest girlfriends in the comments sections of her posts with an emphatic “haha murder me!” I recognize myself in Finck: she, too, is a Jewish woman. She lives in New York City, my home. She pours over love and romantic encounters and analyzes what they mean in a context that extends beyond the personal and into the political. I approach her experiences as if they were my own, forgetting that they aren’t, and I deem her subject because she validates many of my own perspectives. In this assumption that humanity is whatever I recognize, I fail to account for what makes anyone who is not like me (white, female, straight, cis-gendered) a subject in their own rite.

This brings me to an argument that I keep returning to. I come from a lovely, liberal, and incredibly argumentative family. For over a year we have been fighting about why my father and my brother, two heterosexual white men, don’t watch or seek out movies or television about or written by anyone other than heterosexual white men. My argument often dissolves when I get called a “militant leftist” and start to cry; however, this past summer I all but wrestled my brother into reading Rebecca Solnit’s essay “Men Explain Things To Me.” In the essay, Solnit takes a story of a man at a party telling her about Solnit’s own book as if she hadn’t written it and then uses this as a lens through which to discuss societal tendencies towards silencing women in favor of male voices. My brother got halfway through; his response? “To be honest, it kind of sounds like she’s playing a victim.”

Liana Finck 2

If my brother’s take on Solnit was disappointing, it wasn’t surprising. There was no easy role for him in her story; nothing she had to say was familiar to his experience of the world, nothing fit comfortably. His inability to identify with Solnit made him unable to see legitimacy in her story; he had to put her back in a white, male framework in which she was “playing victim” to his subjecthood. To protect his worldview, he had to make something unfamiliar, something that wasn’t about him, about him.

Elin Diamond wrote a wonderful piece of criticism on the famously divisive plays of the surrealist African-American playwright Adrienne Kennedy called “Mimesis in Syncopated Time.” In her essay, Diamond proposed an alternate method of watching Kennedy’s plays that can be applied to any text or artistic form of storytelling: instead of analyzing a piece “mimetically,” or by looking for patterns or bodies that are recognizable, that are like the spectator’s own patterns or body, one should look for what is “syncopated,” for what is unfamiliar. One may “choose not to fill in the gaps in […] subjects,” or to “…see and hear the play as an address from a multiple and complex “I” whose truth, whose difference I can recognize but not fully know.” (134-135) Diamond advocates for allowing art to present one with perspectives other than one’s own, and for seeking out the unfamiliar without attempting to metaphorically colonize it.

Liana Finck Love Song

When I criticize my brother for not wanting to extend himself to alternate interpretations of the world, I am reminded of my own impulses to see myself in art like Liana Finck’s. I am reminded to revel in difference, and that as much as I want others to recognize the legitimacy of the experiences of women who are like me, it is also my responsibility to seek out stories unlike my own. It’s a muscle I have to work constantly, taking everything in syncopatedly to remind myself that every story belongs to its teller, that I don’t have a comfortable place in every one. The little extra work is worth it; once you start approaching every story from a position of difference, you realize that strangeness is, in fact, the thing that every person shares.

About Madison

Madison recently graduated from NYU and is currently working towards an MSc in Playwriting at the University of Edinburgh. She is particularly interested in the ways in which women are represented in popular culture and has been “almost finished” with season two of Fargo for half a year.

Article edited by Kiefer Holland and Maria Elena Torres-Quevedo.

Works Cited

Bryant-Jackson, Paul K., et al. “Mimesis in Syncopated Time: Reading Adrienne Kennedy.” Intersecting Boundaries: The Theatre of Adrienne Kennedy, University of Minnesota Press, 1992, pp. 131–141.

Finck, Liana. “Love Song.” Topic, 6 Sept. 2017.

Solnit, Rebecca. “Men Explain Things To Me.” Men Explain Things To Me, Haymarket Books, 2015, pp. 1–16.


All images uploaded as files

Images labeled Liana Finck 1 and Liana Finck 2 can be found on Liana Finck’s instagram.

Image labeled Liana Finck Love Song can be found here.

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