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First impressions (abduction)

To experience a person "abductively" is to make a first rough attempt to understand

that person based on early conflicting evidence — what we normally call "first

impressions." People are hard to figure out; we can live with a person for decades

and still be surprised by his or her actions several times a day. People are riddled

with contradictions; even first impressions are almost always mixed, vague,

uncertain. It is so rare to get a coherent or unified first impression of a person, in

fact, that we tend to remember the occasions when that happened:

"It was love at first sight."

"I don't know, there was just something about him, something evil, he gave me

the creeps."

"We hit it off instantly, as if we'd known each other all our lives."

"I don't know why, but I don't trust her."

(The complexities, the contradictions, the conflicts will arise later, inevitably; but

for the moment it feels as if the other person's heart is laid bare before you, and it

all fits together as in a jigsaw puzzle.)

Even so, despite the complex welter of different impressions that we get of a

person in our first encounter, we do make judgments — perhaps by jumping to

conclusions, a good description of what Peirce calls abduction. There are at least

three ways of doing this:

1 Typecasting, stereotyping. "I know her type, she promises you the world but never

follows through." "He's shy, unsure of himself, but seems very sweet." "She's

the kind of person who can get the job done." "S/he's not my type." "It's a

romance? Forget it, I hate romances." "Oh, it's one of those agencies, I know

the type you mean." We make sense of complexity by reducing it to fairly simple

patterns that we've built up from encounters with other people (or texts).

2 Postponing judgment along simplified (often dualistic) lines. "I think he could become

a good friend" or "I don't think I could ever be friends with someone like that."

"She might prove useful to us somewhere down the line" or "We'll never get

anything out of her." "Maybe I'll ask her/him out" or "S/he'd never go out with

me." "There's something interesting in here that I want to explore, so I'll read

on" or "This is so badly written it can't possibly be any good, so I'll quit now."

We sense a direction our connection with this person or text might potentially

take and explain that "hunch" to ourselves with simple yes/no grids: friend/

not-friend, lover/not-lover, interesting/uninteresting, etc.

3 Imitating, mimicking. This is often misunderstood as ridicule. Some mimicking

is intended to poke fun, certainly — but not all. Pretending to be a person, acting

like her or him, imitating her or his voice, facial expressions, gestures, other

bodily movements can be a powerful channel for coming to understand that

person more fully — from the "inside," as it were. Hence the saying, "Never

criticize a man till you've walked a mile in his shoes." Walking a mile in someone's

shoes is usually taken to mean actually being in that person's situation, being

forced to deal with some problem that s/he faces; but it applies equally well to

merely imagining yourself in that person's place, or to "staging" in your own

body that person's physical and verbal reactions to situations. It is astonishing

how much real understanding of another person can emerge out of this kind of

staging or acting — though this type of understanding can frequently not be

articulated, only felt.

This "acting out" is essential training for actors, comedians, clowns, mimes

— and translators and interpreters, who are also in the business of pretending

to be someone they're not. What else is a legal translator doing, after all, but

pretending to be a lawyer, writing as if s/he were a lawyer? What is a medical

translator doing but pretending to be a doctor or a nurse? Technical translators

pretend to be (and in some sense thereby become) technical writers. Verse

translators pretend to be (and sometimes do actually become) poets.