College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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Hannah Arendt, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, political philosophy, feminism, worlding


“Arendt and Spivak: A Feminist Approach to Political Worlding and Appearing” offers the first systematic and comparative reading of Hannah Arendt and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Beginning with their mutual interests in political speech and appearance (the ability for individuals to represent themselves as individuals and not be reduced to their social identity) this dissertation argues two points. First, considering the political in terms of worlding (the fact that humans are both conditioned and conditioning beings) means taking a two-handed approach to the political: addressing the seemingly contradictory need for both political equality and an understanding of the impossibility of escaping those privileges that undercut equality. Second, framing political appearance in terms of Arendtian and Spivakian temporality offers a feminist model of political appearance that challenges the connection between politics and patronymic inheritance.

The dissertation begins by arguing that a feminist model of political equality must engage with “worlding,” a term adapted from Martin Heidegger. Engaging with worlding through a feminist lens requires engaging with the ways in which intersectional privileges (race, gender, class, etc.) shape models of political equality and mediate each individual’s access to the political. Gaining access to the political helps facilitate an individual’s ability (or inability) to appear and be heard as a unique political being. Furthermore, awareness of such intersectional conditioning facilitates a theorist’s own account of privilege, political access, and worlding itself. As a result, I argue that any account of political equality must continually engage with the impossibility of equal political appearance.

In order to challenge the problem of the transparency of the political philosopher—as opposed to generally marking the limitations of philosophy—and in order to locate philosophy within the world, the second and third chapters of this dissertation examine Arendt’s and Spivak’s respective understandings of the determining and determined effects of patronymic political inheritance and the temporality of thought. I argue that their understanding of the worlding of patronymic inheritance demonstrates the limitations of current models of political appearance and that their models of temporality offer a new feminist approach to theorizing political appearance. They challenge linear, patronymic models of political history and political theory, and their work can shift the way that we relate to the past, present, and future by emphasizing the tension and productive relationship between theory and world. Their models reframe political appearance and equality, challenging an additive model based on linear progress where failures are seen as passing obstacles and successes are seen as endemic to the political. For instance, an additive model of equal rights assumes that the United States has becomes more equal and that the inequalities of legal segregation, and restricted voting were temporary problems overcome as the United States has made linear progress toward its already inherent perfection. By contrast, the models of temporality developed by Arendt and Spivak, require continual redirection and self-critique while challenging political inequality.

In the final chapter, I argue that bringing together Arendtian plurality and the Spivakian double bind may yield a feminist model of political appearance. According to Arendt, plurality serves as the foundation for political appearance and is grounded in its twofold nature of equality and distinction. According to Spivak, double binds offer a model for dwelling within the boundaries of two contradictory laws. By reading equality and distinction in terms of a double bind, I attempt to posit plurality as a dynamic concept. I argue that plurality’s grounding in a dynamic double bind keeps difference and equality from becoming tropes posited as universals. The problem is that when working for equality, one begins to violate the call for difference, and when trying to acknowledge difference, one begins to violate equality. This “problem” offers feminism a new model for thinking through political appearance and worlding by focusing on the impossibility of deriving a formula for defining either concept without reference to the other. This model is inherently feminist because it challenges the assumed stability of linear, patronymic political progress. Despite the potential for this new model, I also argue that it must not be assumed to transcend the legacies of traditional political thought. Even within the double bind of equality and difference, plurality, as a concept, must always be understood as constructed within a determining or worlding context. Given the inevitability of worlding, the best tool for feminism becomes re-engagement both with those political ideals that enable a privileged perspective and with feminism’s own situated conditions and privileges.