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swati's picture

i did my citations in a way that read better as a doc so my paper is attached. hope it's okay! serendippanic as usual.. 

File Eng1_Shastry.docx20.82 KB


Anne Dalke's picture

It’s very exciting for me to see you developing a two-way conversation here, one that both uses a literary text to call out “the inadequacies of political philosophy,” and also uses political theory to recognize “the limits of a purely literary reading of Morrison’s text.” Yay for bi-directionality!

I actually laughed out loud @ your characterization of political philosophy as “the uncle who makes you uncomfortable @ family reunions,” in part because of all he doesn’t acknowledge (here: Black and Brown communities) in his abstract theorizing.

Where I end up, trailing your thinking in both directions, is with the conviction that the conventions of political philosophy traditionally assume the positionality of someone who is not enslaved; neither of Berlin’s “two concepts of liberty,” for instance, takes into account the role of those who are enslaved, whose experience of freedom can be neither positive (in controlling one’s own life) or negative (freed from external interference).

Arising for me now is the statue of Thomas Jefferson @ NMAAHC, backed by that stack of 609 bricks, each one representing a slave he owned, whose labor guaranteed his own personal liberty and wealth. Slavery haunted his “declaration of independence,” as it haunts your field of political philosophy, despite—or really because of--what you report as its “disregard of systematic oppression.”

I really appreciate your reframing the questions of political philosophers to encompass those who are enslaved; “obedience and coercion” take on a particular power when viewed from the position of enslavement. I agree that both “conscientious choice” and “choiceless choice” (a decision that is forced by a situation that was not chosen, by external circumstances that actually take away one’s freedom to choose) are good descriptions of Sethe’s dilemma, and the conditions of her decision-making. Asking whether that decision was “justified” assumes a level of freedom that she did not have. I also find very helpful your identifying the actions of white men as oppressive to others (TJ again!), asking them to recognize the conditions of their freedom, prodding them to consider, “Who am I coercing? What gives me the power? How am I infringing on others?”

Your description of the “loss of self that came with slavery” also put me in mind of one of bluish’s postings from early September, @
/oneworld/poetics-and-politics-race/something-extra-if-ppl-want , which includes some quotes from an essay by Frederick Douglas, “"Is it Right and Wise to Kill a Kidnapper?" This traces some of the ground you cover here, by highlighting the impossibility of “an object becoming a subject,” and foregrounding the paradox of what it means to “orient black virtue around white ethic.”

Two spots of confusion:
I don’t know what a “metaethical account of value pluralism” is or means.

And I’m not clear whether you believe that we can be our own masters if we are ‘’free from illusion,” or whether you are making the contrary claim: “that freedom is not granted to those who simply understand their limitations.”

Though I do understand, by the end, that you see political science (as Avery Gordon sees sociology) as failing to “consider the ghosts of the past,” which will always haunt us all.

I’ll be very curious to see what this doubled sight reveals to you in the future, both in this literature class and in your work in political science. Am looking forward to the reveal!


swati's picture

"...each one representing a slave he owned, whose labor guaranteed his own personal liberty and wealth..." that's a really interesting parallel! i agree!! we've been talking a lot about how anthropology is a racist study in monique's class and i've begun thinking that way about political science as well. 

value pluralism -- the notion that we have multiple values that are each correct and fundamental in their own right yet are in conflict with each other. i think theory has fact that values are indeed commensurable as they can be compared by their varying contributions towards the human good. for example, 'freedom' and 'equality' are not ends in themselves but valued for their consequences. in a modern context, we can't accept value pluralism when said values entail justifying the systemic murder of Black men at the hands of police for example.

hope that kind of clarifies.

Anne Dalke's picture

your explanation of "value pluralism" sounds very much like what a # of your classmates have been saying about intersectionality: that it can be understood as a contact zone, a place where our "identities intersect …moments/spaces of interaction/expression that can be violent, unsafe, and unpredictable." Such a reading, of “the conversation that our identities are constantly having with each other,” rejects the metaphor of “intertwining,”  which implies the “crossing” of “separate things,” and replaces it with the notion that each one of us is "everything that i am all the time… each individual nameable piece of my identity  a contact zone for all others…each facet of identity is both changing and being changed by every other small bit of identity.” what's curious to me here is that value pluralism (which i know now only through your explanation of the concept) seems begin from the assumption that each value is separate, separable, capable of being understood as contextless.