- An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization is a collection of twenty-five essays, many of which will be familiar to readers of her work; however, this book is not simply a collection of disparate essays. With an introduction and preface, as well as revisions, clarifications, and asides, Spivak has gracefully brought these pieces together to create a self-interrupting examination and demonstration of the need for and theory behind an aesthetic education. Interrupting her earlier sentimental hope with her more recent Enlightenment-style doubt, she promotes an aesthetic education through revisions of such essays and lectures as “Echo,” “Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching,” “Terror: A Speech after 9/11,” and “Scattered Speculations on the Subaltern and the Popular,” to name only a few. Throughout this book she both shows us how such an education might train the imagination and works to retrain our understanding of ethics, epistemology, and desire in order to challenge the notion that our work and education are ever complete.
The introduction to An Aesthetic Education argues for the ab-use or “productive undoing” of Enlightenment aesthetics in order to highlight the double binds that bind the era of globalization (1). This ab-use is the use of [End Page 207] something, in this case the Enlightenment, without remaining faithful to it, turning it into a model for training the imagination for “learning to live with contradictory instructions” (3). The first instance of ab-use appears in the title of the book: An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, evoking Friedrich Schiller’s “Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man.” If this nod to Schiller is perhaps less immediately apparent than Spivak’s allusion to Immanuel Kant in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, the fact that her ab-use of Schiller was already anticipated in this earlier text suggests its significance for her train of thought (1999, 13–14 and note 27, 212).
Spivak’s earlier “mistaken reading” of Kant’s foreclosure of the native informant in Critique of Postcolonial Reason was of interest to feminists working to think through the limits of Western philosophy’s legacy of casting the human as a particular white male of privilege. Those familiar with this reading will find that in An Aesthetic Education Spivak doubles her earlier reading of Kant with her ab-use of Schiller’s misreading of Kant. She takes Schiller’s ahistorical, humanist model of aesthetic education, and transforms it into a training tool for a particular instantiation of the human condition. Her ab-use of Schiller will be of interest to feminists thinking through questions of ethics, epistemology, and gendering from within this legacy. This new book both demonstrates the possibility of a potential shift in epistemological framework through attention to the binding of epistemology and ethics, while also training the reader to the potential dangers and limitations necessary to any framework.
To ab-use Enlightenment aesthetics for an education of the imagination for the double bind, Spivak calls on her usual team: de Man, Derrida, Marx, Gramsci, and adds Gregory Bateson to the docket. Using these thinkers she tackles the structure and aim of Schiller’s aesthetics in order to set it to use. She begins with Paul de Man’s “Kant and Schiller,” which presents Schiller’s revision and reframing of Kantian aesthetics and ethics into chiastic reversibility. Following de Man, she reads Schiller as using the aesthetic to shore up a system that promotes symmetrical balance and self-contained closure and thus constructs a tame model of the human. Spivak then takes this already compromised model—compromised, because as de Man points out, it is asymmetrical when it comes to the question of women as human—and performs an ab-usive reflection of Schiller: “repeating Schiller’s mistake [of psychologizing Kant] and transforming [Schiller’s] balance to an open series of double...