Gayatri Spivak on An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization

I don’t believe literature as such can open
doors. I believe that literary reading is something that needs to be taught. And I believe that in the past, in different kinds of polities, cultural instruction of this sort perhaps was given not necessarily only through the university. But today, if it is taught as such, what you are taught is how to suspend yourself in another’s text– which is basically training for the
ethical impulse. You know, An Aesthetic Education is a book that’s been sort of growing on me. I feel more and more–since I’m not a technophobe– I think we ought to be able to use the resources of the digital and so on for advancing humanity’s education. But I do feel that in order to
be able to use those resources, we need exceedingly well-trained minds, minds that are trained
in the interests of the humanities, which are not always identical with some of the issues associated with the digital, like speed, like distant learning, and so on. And so therefore
I felt that, strangely enough, in order to be ready to use our resources for the world
as we find it now, we should also focus on training the imagination in a way that could
help the world remain ready for, also for ethical interventions, and so on. So I have
been thinking about this for some time, and I felt that the resources that were developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe should be used in a way that I now call “affirmative
sabotage.” That is to say, you know, the idea of sabotage is that you make an instrument, you can’t use it anymore if you sabotage it. My sense is that you should actually turn
it around, so that you can use it for something else. Why throw away beautifully developed
tools? And so, and I’m a Europeanist after all. So, what I do in the text is use Schiller’s
aesthetic education, which tried to do something comparable, that is to say train minds so
that they would be able to use what were the beginnings of capitalism, resources in the
interest of the humanities. I try to bring them forward, and turn them around a bit,
so that they can use the resources that are available now in globalization. This is, as I
said, it’s been growing on me, so it’s kind of work in progress, presented now. I have a feeling that the ways of looking at literature that we had, we thought were new ways, you
know, the postcolonial for example, or cultural studies, critique of Eurocentrism, expansion
of the canon, I felt that in what we now call globalization, those ways of thinking, they’re very important, they should be used, surely we don’t reject them, but they’re not exactly what we need anymore, because there is a certain kind of simultaneity or contemporaneity to
today’s world which asks for something else. Rather than the tradition/modernity opposition, we really need to think of everything as modern, and so that, you know, there is a certain
kind of level playing field idea, which is fine, that’s what’s happening. But on the
other hand, if you begin to look at it carefully, you see that at the same time, this level
playing field is also up and down like a relief map. And that’s where the challenge comes.
So, I feel that these ways of thinking, not just shared by me, but shared by many people on sort of the radical fringes of literary criticism, need to be rethought, retooled,
relocated, and this book is an attempt to see if that can be done.

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