- The Phase of the Global (Wo)man:Gayatri Spivak’s Hope in Aesthetic Education1
“I may not hope from outward forms to win The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.”—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Dejection: An Ode” (1802)
In a comprehensive collection and reassessment of her work spanning more than two decades, Gayatri Spivak argues for an aesthetic education in our contemporary global culture. Spivak has reconceptualized and refined these essays into a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. Selections from the 1970s are now in direct communication with her more current work, and the text becomes a critically self-reflective echo-chamber. Many times, the reader has the sensation of sitting down and listening to Spivak as she works her way through temporal layers of reflections on authors ranging from Coetzee to Tagore to Schiller. Though dealing mostly with primary texts demarcated as “postcolonial,” the overall thrust of Spivak’s analyses centers on the theme of the double bind and how the humanities, in the modern era, still acts as a creative force in the global understanding of the nature of the double bind. Spivak uses the term, double bind, in such a way that it becomes malleable enough to use in a discussion on caste and class in her first essay, “The Burden of English” and then as a means of explaining in essay nineteen how Harlem is “the site of a major double-bind” (399), between development and disenfranchisement of subaltern spaces.
The double bind, for Spivak, is itself an experience, that is “the condition of possibility of deciding” where the burden of decision-making is also the “burden of responsibility” (104-05). But if this experience of the double bind is inevitable, so is globalization itself; “you cannot be against [it]” (105) but the experience of what drives you, the subject, is not wholly predetermined. The experience of globalization is the experience of the double bind, and this becomes for Spivak the fertile breeding ground for making a “potentially [End Page 469] right decision” (105). But how should we understand globalization? Most simply put, Spivak argues that “globalization is achieved by the imposition of the same system of exchange everywhere” (338). Globalization, then, is characterized by an overwhelming and inescapable pervasiveness. Thinking about it in these terms, we can begin to see the currency a phenomenon like globalization holds with something like an aesthetic education. If we are as obsessed with and immersed in the idea of the “global” as Spivak suggests we are, even if unconsciously, then the dissemination and imposition of an aesthetic education has a potential it never could have had before this era. What appears to be a speedy deadening of the humanities has the potential to take an opposite course: one that harnesses the inevitable infrastructure of globalization. Literature can get us to pay attention to “I”; it can bring us closer to assuming the role of reflective citizen [of the world]. However, it can only begin to do this once the “I” is activated. Spivak humbly points to her own original blind spots, reflecting on the difficulty, or rather, impossibility, in creating a global aesthetic education when the subject has not yet been activated. To show this, she does not completely overwrite her original pieces. Rather, she maintains much of the original content, with her renewed reflections slotted into the older pieces. She warns us that “as long as we take the literary as substantive source of good thinking alone, we will fail in the task of the aesthetic education we are proposing” (6). Simply reading literature is not enough; rather, it needs to be a deeper practice of reading, one that allows for and encourages the prying open of the imagination that can begin to access an “I” and by extension an Other. This is the beginning of understanding cultural abstractions outside of our own, realizing that, if we ever wish to truly operate and exist on a global level, there needs to be a break with our habits of thinking that we are the only custodians of culture (116). These modes of inquiry resurface in the most recent...