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An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization

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During the past twenty years, the world’s most renowned critical theorist—the scholar who defined the field of postcolonial studies—has experienced a radical reorientation in her thinking. Finding the neat polarities of tradition and modernity, colonial and postcolonial, no longer sufficient for interpreting the globalized present, she turns elsewhere to make her central a During the past twenty years, the world’s most renowned critical theorist—the scholar who defined the field of postcolonial studies—has experienced a radical reorientation in her thinking. Finding the neat polarities of tradition and modernity, colonial and postcolonial, no longer sufficient for interpreting the globalized present, she turns elsewhere to make her central argument: that aesthetic education is the last available instrument for implementing global justice and democracy. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s unwillingness to sacrifice the ethical in the name of the aesthetic, or to sacrifice the aesthetic in grappling with the political, makes her task formidable. As she wrestles with these fraught relationships, she rewrites Friedrich Schiller’s concept of play as double bind, reading Gregory Bateson with Gramsci as she negotiates Immanuel Kant, while in dialogue with her teacher Paul de Man. Among the concerns Spivak addresses is this: Are we ready to forfeit the wealth of the world’s languages in the name of global communication? “Even a good globalization (the failed dream of socialism) requires the uniformity which the diversity of mother-tongues must challenge,” Spivak writes. “The tower of Babel is our refuge.” In essays on theory, translation, Marxism, gender, and world literature, and on writers such as Assia Djebar, J. M. Coetzee, and Rabindranath Tagore, Spivak argues for the social urgency of the humanities and renews the case for literary studies, imprisoned in the corporate university. “Perhaps,” she writes, “the literary can still do something.”


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During the past twenty years, the world’s most renowned critical theorist—the scholar who defined the field of postcolonial studies—has experienced a radical reorientation in her thinking. Finding the neat polarities of tradition and modernity, colonial and postcolonial, no longer sufficient for interpreting the globalized present, she turns elsewhere to make her central a During the past twenty years, the world’s most renowned critical theorist—the scholar who defined the field of postcolonial studies—has experienced a radical reorientation in her thinking. Finding the neat polarities of tradition and modernity, colonial and postcolonial, no longer sufficient for interpreting the globalized present, she turns elsewhere to make her central argument: that aesthetic education is the last available instrument for implementing global justice and democracy. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s unwillingness to sacrifice the ethical in the name of the aesthetic, or to sacrifice the aesthetic in grappling with the political, makes her task formidable. As she wrestles with these fraught relationships, she rewrites Friedrich Schiller’s concept of play as double bind, reading Gregory Bateson with Gramsci as she negotiates Immanuel Kant, while in dialogue with her teacher Paul de Man. Among the concerns Spivak addresses is this: Are we ready to forfeit the wealth of the world’s languages in the name of global communication? “Even a good globalization (the failed dream of socialism) requires the uniformity which the diversity of mother-tongues must challenge,” Spivak writes. “The tower of Babel is our refuge.” In essays on theory, translation, Marxism, gender, and world literature, and on writers such as Assia Djebar, J. M. Coetzee, and Rabindranath Tagore, Spivak argues for the social urgency of the humanities and renews the case for literary studies, imprisoned in the corporate university. “Perhaps,” she writes, “the literary can still do something.”

30 review for An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jape

    AN AESTHETIC EDUCATION IN THE ERA OF GLOBALIZATION contains twenty-five essays written by the great scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak from the early 1990s until approximately 2010, though the collection has been revised and supplemented up until the 2013 presentation of the edition brought to us by Harvard University Press. Thanks largely to her groundbreaking essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” first published in in 1985, Spivak is commonly placed alongside Edward Said respective of the instanti AN AESTHETIC EDUCATION IN THE ERA OF GLOBALIZATION contains twenty-five essays written by the great scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak from the early 1990s until approximately 2010, though the collection has been revised and supplemented up until the 2013 presentation of the edition brought to us by Harvard University Press. Thanks largely to her groundbreaking essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” first published in in 1985, Spivak is commonly placed alongside Edward Said respective of the instantiation of the field of postcolonial studies. A distinguished instructor at Columbia University since 1991, she has largely become something close to an institution in her own right (which is not a knock). This large and involved collection begins with a short Preface, providing something like orientation with respect to thematic overlay and chronology. The Preface is followed by a thirty-four page Introduction that might well be the most absolutely critical piece in the whole book. I took a lot of notes whilst reading it, and I suppose I paused to mull various matters over here and there, but I read this not-terribly-lengthy Introduction…in just over four hours. Yes, this is work that asks you to do some work yourself, as Spivak would be the first to insist. I have read the entire collection in seventeen days, which is longer than it would normally take me to read a text of this size, but which strikes me as a pretty impressive accomplishment nonetheless, this being an undertaking liable to swallow a person whole or else preemptively reject them altogether (in the manner of an incompatible organ). Whatever else globalization is—electronic capital, spectralization of the third world, one-size-fits-all would-be homogeneity—it is first and foremost for Spivak a crisis of education and therefore of epistemology. Opening sentences of the Introduction: “Globalization takes place only in capital and data. Everything else is damage control. Information command has ruined knowing and reading. Therefore we don’t really know what to do with information.” An instructor who has worked both within the dominant and alongside the most peripheral, marginalized, and subalternized, the first course of action for which Spivak would like to make the case would be one that sets out to pursue a “productive undoing” of the territory or territories of aesthetics, turning back on the legacy of the European Enlightenment “without accusation, without excuse, with a view to use.” Here enters a favourite prefix of the author’s, the Latin “ab,” and hence an “ab-use,” not at all to be confused with abuse or any kind of guerrilla violence, but rather a subaltern or marginal intervention that even as it can be conceptualized as coming from below is simultaneously understood to not necessarily emerge from any topological or quantifiable “below.” What is it that is needed? “The world needs an epistemological change that will rearrange desires.” As such: the world needs teacher and creditable institutional (or para-institutional) tactics in the field of pedagogy. How might ab-use of the European Enlightenment (and beyond) serve? It is already there in Spivak’s title. If it is not exactly a matter of violence or guerrilla tactics, Spivak will allow herself to conceptualize a space open (or made to be open) for “sabotaging Schiller,” this being Friedrich Schiller, German Idealist and author of 1794’s LETTERS UPON THE AESTHETIC EDUCATION OF MAN. Whatever weight me may or may not be inclined to apply to the prefix ab (filtered now through the word “sabotaging”), there is no denying that Spivak is intent on making genuine use of Schiller…her largely borrowing his title not being snark; if it is ironic, it might very well not be the sort of irony you imagine. Kant passes through Schiller and Schiller will come to pass through Antonio Gramsci, the early 20th century Italian post-Marxist who believed not only in the intellectual-epistemological upraising of the man of the people, but in actively setting out to work to that end, putting his labour where his mouth was. Of course, problems will immediately begin to present themselves respective of such undertakings, one of these covered a little later in the essay “Who Claims Alterity?” when Spivak comes to grapple with how the colonial subject becomes the national bourgeoisie who serves as intermediary between the dominant colonial power and the subaltern. But we are already getting slightly ahead of ourselves. Again, before Gramsci and Schiller there is Kant, of whom we can and should make use. Pure reason, practical reason, transcendental deduction. The aesthetic education in which Spivak believes or would like to believe (she repeatedly throughout the collection frames it as her “false hope”) would outsource the transcendental, the would-be legislative, to the work of the imagination. Knowledge only goes so far. We negotiate limits. Our transcendental-legislative grounding operations are instrumental, they lack a higher legitimation. Mistakes will not only be acceptable but instrumentally necessary: “we must know what mistake to make with a specific text and must also know how to defend our mistake as the one that will allow us to live.” To allow us to live? Precisely. That is the case to be made for why we learn and why we teach. It is what the disciplines of the imagination make possible. Literary texts (and the aesthetic more generally) may already begin to show us how to “figure forth” a way. From the essay “Acting Bits/Identity Talk”: “Our lesson is to act in the fractures of identities in struggle.” In the later essay “Harlem,” Spivak will address how the imagination can produce filiation within rather than in spite of difference, such as by way of a “teleiopoiesis” that “wishes to touch a past that is historically ‘not one’s own,’” or in terms of “Synoikismos,” explained in an endnote as Edward Soja’s term for “that sort of living together that is the motor of history.” In the Introduction, Spivak places her work in terms of the absolute centrality of heterogenous difference not only between cultures but within them. It is a matter of “the diachronic heterogeneity of our globe.” Our commonalities should not be understood as a situation where we are alike within our own segmented grouping of coded difference, rational abstractions that would seek to limit us and our possibilities of relation or interrelation. If sexual difference as gender codification becomes the first abstract separator in almost all cultures, as such the one from which all others will follow (relating to class, caste, ethnicity, et cetera), it is immediately an indication of reason’s tendency toward the unreasonable (the transcendental deductive faculty that sets the ground in performing its grounding independent of any higher decree). Comparative literature and the comparative imaginative faculty become tools for breaking the segmentation of difference from within and in fidelity to difference. Note an example in the essay “Rethinking Comparativism”: “Think of all languages as having the mechanism to prepare an infant for the world, therefore equivalent…” The “false hope” becomes one of an epistemico-epistemological transformation through pedagogy (epistemico following from Foucault and the epsiteme, the underlying prejudice behind the setting-out-to-frame or setting-out-to-ground within any given socio-historical framework of transcendental governmentality), and the field of this work belongs to the immediate “future anterior,” which is not yet the praxis of a new institutionalized way, but the work that would have to happen to mobilize its viability. Spivak writes in her Introduction, written after the essays collected in the volume, that her pessimism has only increased, the “false hope” having only grown increasingly dubious as time has gone on. Later we are provided with a strictly editorial-type endnote in which Spivak says that in revising one of the more optimistic essays she realized that her increased pessimism is attributable above all else to what has ultimately become (that earlier essay’s actual future anterior) the nearly complete corporatization of the 21st century post-secondary institution. That the difficulty of maintaining hope, fundamentally false to begin with, is not a major handicap for AN AESTHETIC EDUCATION IN THE ERA OF GLOBALIZATION is itself attributable to the fact that Spivak has been from the outset an exhaustive taxonomist of problems as opposed to a solver of them. If the prefix “ab” is already an invitation to consider deconstruction and Jacques Derrida, the thinker to whom Spivak has always been most fundamentally linked (if largely on account of her famous translation into English of his OF GRAMMATOLOGY), the genealogy of the critical thinking through of problems in this collection also stretches back to Derrida, for whom the impossibility (especially the central impossibility of ethics) is always the true starting point. In the famous, highly-regarded essay “Echo,” Spivak notes that “it is the Freud who acknowledges dilemmas with whom I am in sympathy.” Repeatedly, in this essay and elsewhere, we are presented with fastidious considerations of how an ethical quandary is both the impossible of the ethical and the impossibility of the instantiation of the quandary. In “Translating into English”: “Translation is as much a problem as a solution.” For Sivak, AN AESTHETIC EDUCATION has become most centrally a book about the double bind (or double binds). It is already there in the Preface, presented in no uncertain terms. The author is already a double bind: Calcuttan New Yorker, professor inside the dominant, intimately connected to the colonial subject, seeking to have the subaltern speak without coercion or discursive ventriloquism. “On the one hand a ‘diasporic’ teacher of English at a university and on the other hand an upper-class, caste-Hindu, radical-minded Indian citizen, both a dime a dozen, so to speak.” The double bind is in a sense just the instantiating problem. Think of a teacher who specializes in the composition of marketable screenplays throwing a screenplay at the student who wrote it and shouting “where is the conflict? There’s no conflict!” The double bind is any place within discourse or its ab-use where the conflict presents itself in its irreducible effulgence. Whereas the teacher of palatable screenplay composition would expect you to establish the conflict in order to resolve it, Spivak is careful to delineate with the utmost rigour precisely why and how any given double bind short-circuits satisfactory resolution. In the essay “The Double Bind Starts to Kick In,” Spivak considers “the problem of thinking ethics for the other woman” and subsequently arrives at the precept that the condition of deciding or being made to decide is itself the impossible. Still, in fidelity to her métier and the passion which drives it, she continues to look within the impossible for an ab-use that makes productive use. “In the field of political culture, to engage in a strategy-driven globalization, to step into a modernity not forever marked by the West and contrasted to tradition necessarily defined as static, it is to the past as the call of the unburied dead that the postcolonial must strain to gain access." Wisdom from the canon: Percy Shelley advocates for an imaginative defamiliarization that shakes up the condition and the possibilities endemic to relating or interrelating. “The literary imagination is programmed to fail but it can figure the impossible.” Spivak writes about “playing” the double bind, a phrasing which may cause us to think of a plucked string stretched and vibrating between two nodal points, though this strikes me as somewhat infelicitous, suggesting as it does a limited dialectical frame rather than what we really have here: dynamism, multiple simultaneous dialogues with myriad disputants, multiplicities negotiating multiply (which is what we really talk about when we talk about systems and structures). However we might wish to metonymize the model here, there can be no denying that this is what Spivak is doing: penetrating the negotiations, advocating for imaginative work from within the fray. The “Indo-Anglian” example of R. K. Narayan’s novel THE GUIDE, which predates the “hyperreal” postcolonial “scramble for identity on the move” (or “neocolonial displacement”), Jamaica Kincaid’s LUCY and its paratactic rhetoric (plus ab-use of Wordsworth), so on and so forth. A teleiopoiesis opens up worlds, nothing is fixed exclusively any longer in its miserly contexts. “Yet, if what happens in the literary text is the singularity of its language and that singularity is in its figuration, that figuration can point to the depth of the content by signalling that the content cannot be contained by the text as receptacle. To note this is not to say that the text has failed. It is to say that the text has succeeded in signalling beyond itself. It is high praise for the book, not dispraise. It may also be, if repeated with many texts, training for an activism with an eye to the future anterior, exceeding one’s grasp.” In her Preface, Spivak makes a point that leaps out at me. “Today I locate the double bind as between the uselessness of human life (planetarity) and the push to be useful (worldliness).” This is certainly where I find myself living in my personal 21st century. Spivak later reminds us that the very distant gaze belonging to the standpoint of planetarity is already available to us in Hannah Arendt’s assertion that the human being dies and as such will not be around for the future, perhaps not even terribly much of the future's anterior. I tend to remind myself—as an extension of purely meditative practices—that there is nothing at stake in this world, nobody gets out alive…so relax. This is a holistic precept. Spivak herself sees the aesthetic education as holistic and as such informed by the double bind of Plato’s concept of pharmakon, the medicine that is also or at any moment can become the poison. This is the danger of any homeopathy: the harm it may later do or may already be doing unbeknownst. It is dangerous—if not always already actively poisonous—to remain comfortably fixed in our convictions, inert and self-satisfied. To “play” the double bind ultimately means to stay in motion, to remain at play in the ludic sense. I believe it testament to this fact above all that I am so gratified to see the the final two essays here, those relating to the trace, spin planetarity and open it up anew. The ludic Derrida returns, suggesting a way out of another impasse, in a citation from MARGINS OF PHILOSOPHY: "‘the trace,’ which is no more an effect than it has a cause, but which cannot suffice by itself, outside the text, to operate the necessary transgression.” So inside the text, then. Go after the trace there. It can be a life.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    This book is indeed ingenious. The introduction is the most difficult to get through, and to my mind, requires a fairly basic understanding of both Kant and Schiller (which some readers might not have). The main focus here is how Spivak handles her heritage as an Indian scholar who enjoys reading literature from all cultures, and who has enough sympathy with the broad aims of the Enlightenment to feel post-colonial discomfort! She proposes that we learn to "play the double bind", which, to her, This book is indeed ingenious. The introduction is the most difficult to get through, and to my mind, requires a fairly basic understanding of both Kant and Schiller (which some readers might not have). The main focus here is how Spivak handles her heritage as an Indian scholar who enjoys reading literature from all cultures, and who has enough sympathy with the broad aims of the Enlightenment to feel post-colonial discomfort! She proposes that we learn to "play the double bind", which, to her, means "living with contradictory instructions". There are various double-binds in the essays that follow, and in the introduction itself, and the reader would be advised to think about how these are "played" in each essay. I am impressed by her intellect and her feeling. That said, I am not sure how far we can go, in instrumentalising the intellectual -- I do think that this ethical need -- to push the intellectual in service of certain (worthy imo) causes -- leads to some unhappiness (or what she calls autoimmunity). For Spivak knows, as I do, as Blanchot et al do, that literature comes with no guarantees and can do good and ill (as she says). And it is this double-bind that causes pain (we must put ourselves in line with the text, commit to 'alienating assent', accept that there are no guarantees, and yet work with no guarantees to push certain ethical aims). I am not sure how far I agree with this -- I'm still thinking about it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    Learn from below "Literature buys your assent in an almost clandestine way and therefore it is an excellent instrument for a slow transformation of the mind" (38) Learn from below "Literature buys your assent in an almost clandestine way and therefore it is an excellent instrument for a slow transformation of the mind" (38)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Pauline McGonagle

    I will be revisiting this forever.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    If ours is an age that privileges information command above the sustained practices of reading and knowing, and surely it is just such an age, then Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's book is an important one. Against the audacity of hopeful, or hopeless, sentimental nationalisms and an equally sentimental postnational globalism, Spivak offers a different and difficult vision; to productively undo the legacy of the aesthetic, an inheritance of the European Enlightenment. To productively undo, suggests, If ours is an age that privileges information command above the sustained practices of reading and knowing, and surely it is just such an age, then Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's book is an important one. Against the audacity of hopeful, or hopeless, sentimental nationalisms and an equally sentimental postnational globalism, Spivak offers a different and difficult vision; to productively undo the legacy of the aesthetic, an inheritance of the European Enlightenment. To productively undo, suggests, Spivak, is to look at the fault lines of what was done without excuse or accusation; "with a view to use."(1)This is not an exercise in hope because of the false hope that looms large in the figure of globalized, and therefore, homogenized knowledge. Spivak marshalls the resources of nearly a quarter-century of writing into a kind of continuous self-criticism. The book is a collection of essays, spanning from various times and contexts within her career. Into each of the essays she weaves her present voice, as self-reflection, discovery,and critique. The purpose of these interjections is to elucidate, in form as well as content, a "distracted theory of the double bind." (ix) The phrase double bind is taken from Gregory Bateson's "Steps To an Ecology of Mind." On the one hand the need for a cure, and on the other the need to recognize the healer. At the heart of democracy, says Spivak, there is the double bind of the "universalizability of the singular" and it is here that aesthetic education can take its proper place. She envisages aesthetic education as an epistemological preparation, a training marked by regional characteristics that both cohabits and resists the legacy of the Enlightenment. The Babel Tower of mother-tongues provide a refuge against the onslaught of the top-down knowledge management. Here the double-bind is read as a salvaging, or in her words sabotaging, of Schiller's concept of play, itself a displacement of Kant's critical philosophy. Schiller represents an obsession with balance, an attempt to resolve the double bind, especially around the concept of beauty, and to fill in the forbidden gap between transcendental and empirical deduction. Against Schiller's basically idealizing aesthetical education, Spivak proposes a more open ended preservation of double-binds, maintaining tension and difference, through a reading of Bateson together with Gramsci. It is perhaps Gramsci's vision of the instrumentalized intellectual, more than anything else, that spurs her writing. She may not believe in his hope, but she quotes it, and so will I: The mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence...but in active participation in practical life,...superior to the abstract mathematical spirit; from technique-as-work one proceeds to technique-as-science and to the humanistic conception of history, without which one remains "specialised" and does not become "directive" (specialised and political.)(10) Configuring aesthetics together with ethics and politics, without conflating or sacrificing one of them, is the difficult task Spivak sets for herself. It is carried across issues of theory, translation, Marxism, world literature, and gender. An unapologetically difficult read,Spivak provides considerable ground-work in the art of "learning to parse the desires of collective examples of subalternity." Of course, to consume the examples of subalternity, still from the perspective of the dominant, is precisely not to learn this lesson. What I can say, definitively, is that I have not learned all the lessons this difficult book has to offer. Should it be said, as Spivak does, that it is her "false hope" that any reader would "waste their time" in learning this art? A question arises as to how much force borrowed hope can have, and whether it can arouse the unflagging commitment required to pursue the kind of open-ended and difficult aesthetic education that, undoubtedly, can still do something.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    111.8507 S7616 2013

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emile Bojesen

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cole Jack

  9. 4 out of 5

    Noreen O'Connor

  10. 5 out of 5

    Zach

  11. 4 out of 5

    Robert J.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Hannes

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chontaduro

  14. 4 out of 5

    ٩(๑`^´๑)۶

  15. 4 out of 5

    Middlethought

  16. 4 out of 5

    Masood Ashraf Raja

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Smith

  18. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joe Philip

  20. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christina Mitchell

  22. 4 out of 5

    Laurence Kirmayer

  23. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Baker

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elephant Abroad

  25. 4 out of 5

    Florian Tatschner

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gloria Imanda

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Aylsworth

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mari Lewis

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maya Novi

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