In contrast to the legal and economic, an aesthetic education attends to subjectivity, or the formation of the subject. More specifically, Spivak defined an aesthetic education as an uncoercive means by which to train the imagination and rearrange desire. Without this attention to the imagination, all attempts to empower women reenact a harmful, self-congratulatory act of colonial benevolence emblematized by Spivak’s infamous sentence “White men saving brown women from brown men.” Spivak, however, made clear that this oft-quoted sentence from “Can the Subaltern Speak?” not only sensationalized a simplified version of transnational feminist politics, but also underestimates the current relevancy of what was explored in the 1988 essay. Taking the laws passed against Indian widow self-immolation as her example, Spivak rearticulated her earlier critique of nineteenth century Indian nationalism to remind us that despite the good intentions of legal reform, neither a postcolonial, anti-capitalist, or pro-capitalist politics has been able to provide the governmental infrastructure necessary for democracy. Each of these views the needy, or those most in need of democracy’s promise of justice and equality, as subjects who do not exceed the categories of poor or woman. Spivak reminded us, then, that an aesthetic education, and its attention to subjectivity, places the imagination and desires of those with and without democracy in our purview.
I missed Michele Bachelet, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Malalai Joya, the Dalai Lama, and Spivak — all in the last one and a half years at Cal. Although I would likely feed myself to a furnace than have to face reading “Can the Subaltern Speak” ever again.