Reading: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak — An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (2nd Attempt)

I started reading this a couple of years ago, which might have already been my second attempt. It’s been giving me disappointed looks from my ‘currently reading’ pile ever since. But, having successfully reminded myself how to read dense theory again, while spending months on Edward Said’s Orientalism earlier this year, I thought it was time to suck it up and get back into Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. The problem is, she’s so fucking brilliant, I’ll read a sentence and spend half an hour just thinking it through.

On that, then, I decided to just quote some of these bangers. Ending the Preface, on page xvi:

Gender is the last word. Figure out the double binds there, simple and forbidding.

Starting the Introduction, page 1:

Globalization takes place only in capital and data. Everything else is damage control.

Next on page 2:

The most pernicious presupposition today is that globalization has happily happened in every aspect of our lives. Globalization can never happen to the sensory equipment of the experiencing being, except insofar as it always was implicit in its vanishing outlines. Only an aesthetic education can continue to prepare us for this […]

Quoting Hanna Arendt on page 3:

“The general future of mankind has nothing to offer individual life, whose only certain future is death.”

Page 4:

We want the public sphere gains and the private sphere constraints of the Enlightenment; yet we must also find something relating to “our own history” to counteract the fact that the Enlightenment came, to colonizer and colonized alike, through colonialism, to support a destructive “free trade,” and that top-down policy breaches of Enlightenment principles are more the rule than exception.

I spent most of breakfast on that page 1 Introduction quote, swearing at its magnificence, meme-ing Where is the lie? tru dat, and that’s the T, and realising it’s gonna take me about 2 years to read this at this pace.

Reading: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak — An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization

Around the time I started dancing, living in Auckland, shortly before moving to Australia, I fell in with a rough crowd of philosophers and academics. Or rather, I skirted the edges of their world in Auckland and then in Melbourne as they en masse crossed the ditch; and then they were students, working their way through Masters and Phds. As with almost everyone, I lost contact, lives diverging, names hazily remembered.

Perhaps I’m inventing a fictional history, perhaps also the bright memories I have are of the enthusiasm of first discoveries rather than any significant shift in paradigms, nonetheless there was a raw thrill for new philosophy and theory. There were names that have stuck with me: Deleuze, Butler. I tried on Serres, Derrida, Kristeva, Iragaray; newer names still, like offspring of those first names, Rosi Braidotti, Keith Ansell-Pearson, Slavoj Žižek; felt like a fifth columnist going to lectures on Habermas and Lyotard. Perhaps it was because Deleuze and Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus had only recently been translated into English — by recently I mean this mob were the first generation of university students to be exposed to it, and it was certainly far outside the mainstream of university curricula; and Butler’s Gender Trouble was similarly new and far out.

Anyway, I found myself in Sydney one summer, in Gleebooks, and there on the shelves were both 1000 Plateaus and Gender Trouble. I bought both without a second thought. I read them over and over. (There was another book there, I forget the name, but it was about trans identities, I remember the rush of finding that, reading possibilities for living. I mention that so as not to compartmentalise these interwoven moments, one side joy, the other, shame.)

As with seeing Frankfurt Ballet and knowing my life belonged in dance (I still trust that decision however precarious my life has been because of it), Bridget telling me to read Deleuze and Butler is one of those monumental instances in my life. I’d call it an epiphany, but like the word ‘genius’ she’d probably hate it. Sitting in Black Cat Café in Fitzroy one day she also said, “You’re lucky. You get to live what we only theorise about.” So now I’m doubly lucky ’cos I live and theorise this shit.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to other words and names from then: Subaltern, Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak. Perhaps it was only these couple of people from this small group who were really into all this, and a proper history of ’90s New Zealand and Australian academic life would barely rate them a footnote. For me though, I got booted onto a course I’m still riding the momentum of. Curiously, I never read Spivak then, or never the way I did Butler and Deleuze. Spivak seemed and seems to be everywhere, when I see her name it’s like an old friend, or a friend of a friend I’ve heard so much about.

I wonder how common this is, to be able to trace vast paths and directions through a life back to single moments. Seeing Frankfurt Ballet, Bridget telling me to read Butler and Deleuze; more recently maybe, Erik telling me to read Caroline Walker Bynum. I’m sure there are others, though those moments on the cusp of teens and twenties have determined much of my life.

So I’ve returned to that name: Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak. I’ve been reading around migration, human rights, Islam, colonialism, these subjects in Europe, Seyla Benhabib, Kathryn Babayan, Afsaneh Najmabadi, Ruth Mandel, Katherine Pratt Ewing, and more recently with the current precarious state of democracy and human rights in Europe having a need to focus on this. I’m not sure why Spivak’s name occurred to me, maybe I read about her somewhere, or just decided she was the right choice for now.

I went through all her published works before deciding on An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. There’s other works that are probably more essential Spivak, ones that I remember from student days, but this was published in 2012 and I thought reading her newer stuff would be a pertinent choice.

What’s it like then? It’s a well proper slab of a book. Almost 600 pages (about 100 of which are notes) with wide spaces for marginalia, and a small typeface that’s making my eyes apprehensive. I started reading it a week ago, then went off to read some fiction, so I might have to start it again. I’ve read the preface, where she describes each essay in the collection as “looking for a distracted theory of the double bind.” She finishes with, “Gender is the last word. Figure out the double binds there, simple and forbidding.”

I think it’s common when reading philosophy or critical theory to read people without having actually read them. Quotes, lengthy discussions, analyses, criticisms, notes, all these over time can result in a feeling for an author, a familiarity, at the very least enough to know if I actually want to read them or not. I can’t think of another writer who’s been as large in my consciousness as Spivak without me actually reading them. I’m also desperate for direction at the moment. Spivak, writing on post-colonialism, globalisation, and most importantly aesthetics (I’m reminded of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory here), somehow it feels right to be reading Spivak now. As an artist making political work (like there’s any art possible without being political?) maybe to quote the back cover: “aesthetic education is the last available instrument for implementing global justice.”

… and death

Emile sent me possibly the most perfect condolences card after I told him about Jean Baudrillard dying yesterday. It made me laugh, it seems so perfect.

CTheory carried an obituary for him today also, I’d forgotten he was on their editorial board along with Paul Virilio, who I guess I’m going to have to start reading again.

I read Symbolic Exchange and Death until I wore out two copies, and I mean I was embarrassed about how poorly I treated these books, soaked in food and drink, shoved in bags and satchels until dog-eared and furry soft, my take-everywhere always-ready-for-a-good-time book, slept with and fell asleep in, I have had a love affair I feel guilty about only because it has never been boring. So here is, amongst pages I know so well I can close my eyes and see the crenelated outlines of paragraphs, a quote that was the heart of hell.

Like so many others, the mad, children and the old, have only become ‘categories’ under the sign of the successive segregations that have marked the development of culture. The poor, the under-developed, those with sub-normal IQs, perverts, transsexuals, intellectuals and women all form the basis of an increasingly racist definition of the ‘normal human’. It is not normal to be dead.

— Jean Baudrillard – Symbolic Exchange and Death

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jean baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard died.

I’m so utterly devastated. He has been the single most important thinker, writer, philosopher for me, in my work, in my life for almost a decade … I can’t say any more.

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard dies

PARIS: Jean Baudrillard, a French philosopher and social theorist known for his provocative commentaries on consumerism, excess and what he said was the disappearance of reality, died Tuesday, his publishing house said. He was 77.

Baudrillard died at his home in Paris after a long illness, said Michel Delorme, of the Galilee publishing house.

The two men had worked together since 1977, when “Oublier Foucault” (Forget Foucault) was published, one of about 30 books by Baudrillard, Delorme said by telephone.

Among his last published books was “Cool Memories V,” in 2005.

Baudrillard, a sociologist by training, is perhaps best known for his concepts of “hyperreality” and “simulation.”

Baudrillard advocated the idea that spectacle is crucial in creating our view of events — what he termed “hyperreality.” Things do not happen if they are not seen to happen.

He gained fame, and notoriety, in the English-speaking world for his 1991 book “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place.” In the first Gulf War, he claimed, nothing was as it appeared.

The public’s — and even the military’s — view of the conflict came largely through television images; Saddam Hussein was not defeated; the U.S.-led coalition scarcely battled the Iraqi military and did not really win, since little was changed politically in Iraq after all the carnage. All the sound and fury signified little, he argued.

The Sept. 11 attacks, in contrast, were the hyper-real event par excellence — a fusion of history, symbolism and dark fantasy, “the mother of all events.”

His views on the attacks sparked controversy. While terrorists had committed the atrocity, he wrote, “It is we who have wanted it. . . . Terrorism is immoral, and it responds to a globalization that is itself immoral.”

Although many Americans were puzzled by his views, Baudrillard was a tireless enthusiast for the United States — though he once called it “the only remaining primitive society.”

“Santa Barbara is a paradise; Disneyland is a paradise; the U.S. is a paradise,” he wrote. “Paradise is just paradise. Mournful, monotonous, and superficial though it may be, it is paradise. There is no other.”

French Education Minister Gilles de Robien said “We lose a great creator.”

“Jean Baudrillard was one of the great figures of French sociological thought.”

Born west of Paris in Reims on June 20, 1929, Baudrillard, the son of civil servants, began a long teaching career instructing high school students in German. After receiving a doctorate in sociology, he taught at the University of Paris in Nanterre.

— International Herald Tribune