Sunday, August 7, 2022

Summary of Notable Works by Gayatri Spivak

Here are brief summaries of notables works, books and essays by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Here is a general brief introduction into Spivak's thought.   


Three Women as Texts and a Critique of Imperialism

In her essay Three Women as Texts and a Critique of Imperialism, Spivak examines three novels written by women, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. She shows that literature created in an imperialist social context does not undermine imperialism by being written by women. Thus the novels of Brontë and Rhys reflect the social mission of nineteenth-century women to domesticate and civilize the wild, animalistic males. In Frankenstein, however, this dualism is avoided; the binary construction of an English lady and a nameless monster is canceled here. The “Third World” (or what corresponded to it in the 19th century) was also a signifier in 19th-century literature written by women, which made us forget the “social mission” of the imperialist states, through which the Third World first came into being was made into what it has been ever since. There is a parallel to the capitalist commodity fetish , which allows the creation of the product to disappear in the labor process.


Can the Subaltern Speak

Spivak’s notable essay “Can the Subaltern speak?” deals with the situation of the Subalterns who are speechless in the face of the overpowering system of rule or who remain unheard and misunderstood. The knowledge production of western intellectuals prevents the subaltern from speaking. In this respect, Spivak also criticizes the eloquent representations of Western feminism and human rights, which have distanced themselves far from the underclasses of the Global South they protect, and counters this with a model of “subversive listening” that empowers reading and speaking. For her, narration is an important strategy in the fight against the injustice of the world, but the untold is not identical with the untold.


A Critique of Postcolonial Reason

The book A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (alluding to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason), which deals with many topics with recourse to Jacques Derrida's concept of différance. The book begins with a critical-ironic analysis of the thoughts of Kant (about the "savages" from the Critique of Judgment ), Hegel (on the "mindless creative talent" of Indian art in the lectures on aesthetics ) and Marx (on the Asian mode of production). She understands these concepts as an expression of a patriarchal-Eurocentric discourse that considers non-Europeans to be ignorant, who only enter the realm of history and spirit with the European conquest, and completely ignores women. According to Spivak, there is no place in the thought systems of these philosophers for cultural or gender differences, which capitalism does not level, as Marx predicted, but rather produces it again and again. Marx's concept of the Asian mode of production stands for the question, which he also did not answer, as to why the whole world did not develop linearly according to the European model. This problem lives on in Stalin's speeches on the non-simultaneity of development, the question of nationalities and multiculturalism. Mao Zedong radicalized the idea of ​​making the superstructure independent of the economy by calling for a cultural revolution of the superstructure. The telos of increasing the tribute directed oriental economies was not capitalism but the colonial exploitation to which these economies have fallen victim to this day. In Europe, on the other hand, capitalism probably only developed because of a temporary weakness in the European feudal systems, as well as in the neighboring non-European ones, which had lost important military resources as a result of the Crusades. Marx also failed to recognize that the increase in the proportion of women in the capitalist labor process that he perceived was still largely pre-industrial domestic work. The abolition of the differences between the various categories of labor power did not exist in the form he postulated. However, Spivak's book also contains warnings about the limits of Cultural Studies, from a naive enthusiasm towards the Third World and certain excesses of the globalized culture industry. The book contains an ironic examination of various streams of postcolonial and cultural theory, e.g. with cultural nativism , elitist poststructuralism , urban feminism, linguistic hybridism, and white postcolonialism.


Righting Wrongs

In Righting Wrongs, Spivak criticizes the way in which unjust conditions are established by the Global North through the assessment and allocation of human rights. Since the local human rights activists of the Global South are largely descendants of the colonial elite, it seems paradoxical when the human rights activists demand that the subalterns claim it is their duty to demand human rights.


An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization

Spivak made a notable turn in her collection of essays, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (2012). She assumes that pairs of terms such as traditionalism and modernity, colonialism and postcolonialism are no longer sufficient to describe the current conflict situation. Ethics shouldn't be played off against aesthetics, the multitude of languages ​​shouldn't be wiped out by the media of global communication. Based on her experiences with teacher training in India she sees in this theory of aesthetic education, in particular in the deepening of the literary education of African and Asian intellectuals, an instrument for the production of more justice and democracy.


 More about Postcolonialism.

Gayatri Spivak's Theory Reviewed and Explained Briefly

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is a highly notable and critical and feminist thinker. She is best known for her works in the field of Post-Colonialism, Subaltern Studies, Feminism and Critical Theory.


Overview of Spivak’s Theory

Spivak criticizes the negative image of colonized cultures portrayed by colonialists. She questions the functioning of colonial rule as well as rule over the underprivileged in general while seeking  ways to overcome it. A well-known quote by her is one arguing that western scholars must “unlearn their learning” which means “to unlearn their privilege as loss”. According to Spivak, the system of privileges can be overcome by critically questioning one's own positions, beliefs and prejudices. On the other hand, it defends forms of identity politics, which the underprivileged consider indispensable for asserting their interests. For them, this “strategic essentialism ” represents a politically motivated insistence on group-specific, “essential” traits that is linked to insight into the constructional character of cultural idiosyncrasies.

Like Homi K. Bhabha and Edward Said, and other notable post-colonialist thinkers Spivak does not conceive of the “post-” as an “end” of colonialism, but emphasizes its ongoing influence on contemporary identities and realities. Colonialism is not a thing of the past but rather a legacy which continues to shape our future. Although a proponent of the deconstructivist approach, which characterizes identities as constructed, Spivak sees the need for "strategic essentialism ". She stresses that it is politically necessary to think into identities - even if only temporarily and from a strategic point of view - in order to expose these identities as necessarily false.

Books and Essays by Gayatri Spivak

Spivak has an impressive list of publications, books and essays. Here you can find a summary of some of Spivak's main works. Here you can find a detailed summary of Spivak's Can the Subaltern Speak?.

More on Spivak

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Winnicott's "Good Enough Mother" Explained

As the influence of psychoanalysis expanded in the early 20th century, parents started to fell anxious. The ideas of thinkers like Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein or Alfred Adler about the crucial meaning early life has on our psychemade everything parents do (or do not) into a fateful. To alleviate some of this stress, child psychologist Donald Winnicott proposed the concept of a "good enough mother" (nowadays also refered to as "good enough parent").

The first and most important thing that a "good enough mother" isn't is perfect. Winnicott explains that there is no parent who does not make mistakes, and there is no parent who succeeds (or should) meet all the needs and desires of his child. What canand should be is a normal mother or father who, despite their shortcomings, manage to provide their children with a stable and healthy personal and family environment. They are not perfect, but they are good enough.

Winnicott's "good enough mother" idea is also intended to reduce the negative intervention of various experts in raising a family. There is no need to tell the mother that she is holding her child too much in her arms or too little. What is important is to give the mother and father the feeling that as long as they are doing their best, then they are also good enough parents.

Good Enough Mother and the Disillusionment

According to Winnicott, the main role of parents is not to preserve the child's illusion that reality will satisfy all his desires, but rather to allow him to sober up from it. The child's growth process involves acknowledging that both the parents and the world will sometimes disappoint him, but this without compromising his enjoyment, his appetite for life and his ability to accept reality. A good enough mother and a good enough father will be there to help the child shape healthy expectations of himself and those around him, none of these will ever be perfect. The parents are not perfect either, and any attempt to instill in the child this impression will lead to disappointment that will radiate into his adult life as well. The child needs to know how to trust his parents and know that they are there for him, but his emotional growth depends on forming a complex position in relation to himself and his life, such joy in them but also true to the challenges they will bring.

Life as Play: Short Introduction to Donald Winnicott's Thought

Donald Winnicott was a British pediatrician and one of the first psychoanalysts in the early 20th century. One of Winnicott's most important contributions to psychoanalysis, and to parents wherever they are, is his work on child-parent relationships in the early stages of life. Winnicott drew attention to the vulnerable and helpless nature of the earliest experiences of all of us, arguing that the way we dealt with those experiences would have a major impact on our lives later on.

At a time when psychoanalysis was emphasizing the various ways in which parents can complicate the minds of their children, Winnicott suggested the soothing notion of a "good enough mother" or parent. The good mother or father are not the ones who meet all the needs of the child and are free from mistakes, but the ones who provide him with a safe enough answer to allow him to deal with even what cannot be provided for him.

Winnicott, along with his wife Claire, developed the idea of ​​"holding" as an image of how the mother and parents in general create in the child a sense of security in reality and an illusion of control over it. They also linked the idea of ​​“holding” to psychological therapy and to how the therapist creates a “held” environment for the patient. Holding according to the Winnicotts is the foundation for the child and patient's sense of trust and confidence not only in the parent and caregiver, but in reality itself. They believed that anti-social behaviors could be the result of a child not enjoying a sense of security and attachment in childhood.

Winnicott also developed the idea of ​​the transitional object. Transitions include items such as blankets or toys. A transitional object can help a child feel safe and protected while adapting to independence. A transitional object not (only) allows the child to switch between situations with something safe and familiar, but allows him to switch between symbiosis with the mother and independence. The object of transition, with which the child identifies, is the transition between identification with the mother and with himself.

Winnicott also suggested the idea of ​​a “true self” versus a “false self” as related to the childish action of a game. He believed that the false self is a polite, orderly, external self that allows a person to integrate into society. The true self, on the other hand, is the one capable of creativity, and play helps a person to develop this true self. He even thought that play is a way of treatment that can benefit many adults as well.

Winnicott's ideas such as "good enough mother", "holdinh", "transitional object" and "real and false self" have profoundly influenced the language and psychological thinking to this day.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Meaning of Spivak's Strategic Essentialism Explained

Strategic essentialism is a key term in postcolonial theory, introduced by Indian thinker and literary critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in 1987.  The term deliberately subverts the meaning of traditional essentialism or "ontological essentialism".  

The meaning of Spivak’s Strategic Essentialism refers to a political tactic by which social groups that constitute minorities, nationalities or ethnic groups temporarily build a joint mobilization on the basis of a gender, cultural or political identity in order to self-represent themselves. It implicitly recognizes the inherent constructivism of society, but does not deny its power or the need for political solidarity of a group that is considered as such, even if it is an artificial exercise. While there may be differences between members of these communities that may not be agreed upon in certain debates, it makes it possible for the strategy to be temporarily imbued with a common "essential " feature". Strategic essentialism is thus utilized in order to promote their joint position and simplify the potential to achieve certain goals such as equal rights or anti-globalization positions. All this without  having to abandon the debate, or positions and differences of each.

An example of resolute solidarity using tactics of strategic essentialism could be the case of “Sati” : this was a funeral practice practiced by certain Hindu communities in which the widow of the deceased had to set fire to the funeral pyre. In her famous “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak holds that the history of this act has only been recorded from the hegemonic discourses of British imperialism and Hinduism, while the widow's testimony is nowhere to be found. Spivak explained this recorded lack of voice in the widespread absence of the voice of those she calls subordinates.

In later years Spivak became critical of her own concept of strategic essentialism, especially after it was used for nationalists goals. But still, the concept is also commonly used in the context of Queer Theory and feminism. 

Here you can find an introduction to spivak's thought and summaries of her main works.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Methodical Doubt: Descartes' Doubt Explained with Examples

Methodical Doubt (or Cartesian Doubt) is a philosophical method developed by the philosopher René Descartes. The question that preoccupied Descartes in his books Meditations and Discourse On Method was how to obtain secure knowledge and how to know whether what one has learned is correct. Methodical Doubt initially consists of doubting everything, or in other words that everything should be doubted. The purpose of Descartes' doubt is to arrive at something which cannot be doubted and which is therefore certain knowledge. The certain knowledge that Descartes initially arrives at is that he exists because he thinks: cogito, ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am").  Even when he doubts everything else, he can not doubt his own existence.

Rules of Methodical Doubt

Descartes was thorough in his search for a sure insight. He set out four methodological rules for systematically doubting:

1.To begin with, one must consider it only as true, which appears clearly and distinctly to the consciousness and to the senses. For example, it is clear that a triangle has only three sides and that a sphere has only one surface.

2. Each problem must be divided into as many sub-problems as possible. A sub-problem is easier to solve than the whole problem. For example, if you want to find out how a house is built, it does not help much if you stand outside and look at the whole house. You get a better understanding if you go into the house and examine each floor separately.

3. One should start with the elements which are the simplest. Then one has to gradually move on to the more complicated elements. For example, one should not start by examining whether the double of 32 is 64. One should start by examining whether the double of 1 is 2. Once one has found out that this is the case, one can join, that the double of 2 is 4 and so on...

4. One should make a count of all the conditions that are relevant to the problem one is investigating. Otherwise, our knowledge will not be secure and complete. On the other hand, you should only count the conditions that are relevant to the solution of the problem and do not include anything superfluous in your count. For example, if you want to examine whether the area of ​​a circle is larger than all other figures with the same circumference, then you do not need to examine all conceivable figures. One only needs to examine a limited number of figures. Then one can agree whether this rule applies to all other figures that have the same circumference as the circle.

Kierkegaard / Repetition - Summary

Repetition or On Repetition: A Psychological Experiment is a philosophical work by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, published under the pseudonym Constantin Constantius.

The work, through a love story and some reflections on the biblical story of Job , exposes the meaning of repetition, interpreted by many Greek philosophers. 

Repetition was written by Kierkegaard in Berlin and Copenhagen two years after the breakup of his engagement to Regine Olsen. The first part of the work is made up of two independent accounts, the account of unhappy love and that of the Danish philosopher and theologian's stay in Berlin. Constantius says that these stories are "both a failed attempt at repetition".

Another part of Kierkegaard's Repetition deals with the biblical figure of Job. According to some scholars, the ending of this part was "reworked" after the news that Regine Olsen had married someone else. 


Concept of Rpetition

Kierkegaard explains the title of his work which concerns the conscious repetition of situations he has already experienced. In his opinion, repetition «plays a very important role in modern philosophy, since repetition is a decisive term for what was 'reminiscence' among the Greeks. Just as they taught that all knowing is a remembering, so the new philosophy will teach that the whole of life is a repetition".  He distinguishes recollection and repetition. While the object of remembrance is repeated "backward" and makes one unhappy, the repetition remembers its object "forward", and if such repetition succeeds, it makes one happy.


Definition of Repetition

Kierkegaard defines repetition as follows: "The dialectic of repetition is simple: what is repeated in fact has been, otherwise it could not be repeated; but the very fact that this has been determines the novelty of the repetition. Saying that all knowing is remembering, the Greeks said: "the whole present existence has existed". By saying that life is a repetition, it is said: "the past existence comes to exist now". Without the category of reminiscence or repetition, the whole of life vanishes in an empty and insubstantial noise. "


The Unhappy Love

The account of unhappy love in Kierkegaard's Repetition holds again and again that 

"the only happy love is that of memory" that Constantin Constantius attributes to a writer " who, as far as I know, is sometimes a bit of a cheat". The story concerns a very handsome young man who confides to the author that he is in love. 

But at one point despite being proud and confident, the young confidant burst into tears, leaving the narrator confused  The author who had promised to be close to him in those melancholy moments took him, with his carriage, out of Copenhagen, among the woods and other landscapes, but there was nothing that could detach him from his deep melancholy. Kierkegaard concludes that his mistake  "was this, to stick to the end instead of the beginning. But such a mistake is the assured ruin of a man".


The lover slowly loses his faith in his future marriage until the author advises him to get rid of the girl without hurting her honor (like Kierkegaard tried to do with Regina). The young lover approved the plan but in the end does "not have the strength to carry out the plan [...] because he would hardly have endured the horrors of the adventure". The conclusion of this account of unhappy love is, according to Kierkegaard, this : «My young friend did not understand repetition, did not believe in it and did not want it strongly. The trouble with his fate was that he really loved the girl, but to really love her he would first have to get out of the poetic confusion into which he had fallen".



Journey to Berlin

The second part of Kierkegaard’s Repetition is the journey to Berlin (a real event from Kierkegaard's life). in this part the philosopher travels to Berlin "to ascertain how far a repetition was possible" by retracing a trip he already made. He rather quickly reaches the conclusion that no repetition is possible: "The only thing to repeat was the impossibility of a repetition". Angered, the philosopher decides to return home only to find the his servant did not foresee his early return, and everything is in disorder. 


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