"World"-Traveling and Loving Perception

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For this Direct engagement, I will explicate Chapter 4, "Playfulness, 'World'-Traveling and Loving Perception" in Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes by Maria Lugones. This is a rich and complex text, and I believe is needs a lot of analysis and explanation in order to be understood. I will use many quotes from the chapter and annotate them as I go along.

I. Introduction
At the beginning of this chapter, Lugones states

"... the outsider has necessarily acquired flexibility in shifting from the mainstream construction of life where she is constructed as an outsider to the other constructions of life where she is more or less "at home" (77).

Lugones states that while this flexibility is "required by the logic of oppression," it can also be "exercised resistantly." She calls this flexibility "world"-traveling, and states that she will argue that this should be done in a playful manner.

II. "Arrogant Perception."
An important part of Lugones' argument is the concept of "arrogant perception." To introduce this concept, Lugones quotes Marilyn Frye:

"to perceive arrogantly is to perceive that others are for oneself and to proceed to arrogate their substance to oneself" (78)

Lugones does not offer any interpretation of what this statement means. I will take the liberty to interpret it as best I can. What I believe it means is that to perceive a person arrogantly is to only see that person one-dimensionally. That is, to see someone as a stereotype or in such a way that ignores the complexity of a person and her/his experiences, and to deny the possibility of a multi-dimensional subject. It is a way of seeing or interpreting a person in a way that is understandable/intelligible to oneself. Or, perhaps, it is to see a person through the eyes of the oppressor.

Lugones states that she plans to make a connection between arrogant perception and "the failure to identify" with the person that one perceives arrogantly, or to view a person as being a production of arrogant perception. She argues that as we learn and continue to perceive others arrogantly or to think of them as merely passive subjects molded and shaped by arrogant perception, we are failing to identify with - and failing to love - that person (78).

Lugones continues, arguing that women have an injunction to "have our gazes fixed on the oppressor" along with another injunction "not to look to and connect with each other in resistance" to oppression. She writes, "It is part of veing taught to be a woman ... to be both the agent and the object of arrogant perception" (80).

To elaborate on this point, Lugones discusses her relationship with her mother. She explains that she struggled with how she ought to "love" her mother. She thought that by loving her mother - by being a "parasite" (a term she uses throughout the chapter, and which I took to mean being dependent on her mother for housing, feeding, etc.) - she was abusing/using her mother. She also had the sense that to love her mother meant that she had to identify with her mother, to see herself in her mother - "Thus, to love her was supposed to be of a piece with both my abusing her and with my being open to being abused" (80).

What Lugones is saying is that the way she was taught to "love" another meant that she had to identify with the other person - identifying with, in this case, meaning seeing oneself in the same position as the person with whom one is identifying. Lugones saw her mother being used/abused by those around her, therefore, if she identified with her mother - saw herself in the same position - that meant that Lugones herself was in a position to be similarly abused.

It is in this way, Lugones argues, that "women who are perceived arrogantly can, in turn, perceive other women arrogantly" (80). Lugones is perceived arrogantly by others in that she is stereotyped and oppressed as a woman, as a woman of color, and so on. However, she was also perceiving her mother arrogantly when she saw her mother as being only in a state of servitude to others - this perception, Lugones argues now, is an arrogant one, as it reduces the possible complexities of her mother's life and does not take into account how her mother might see herself outside of an arrogant/oppressive gaze.

The point of elaborating on arrogant perception is so that Lugones can make the argument that white/Anglo women (who are perceived arrogantly by white/Anglo men), arrogantly perceive women of color. What makes this article unique, I think, is the disclaimer Lugones gives after making this argument:

"I am not interested in assigning responsibility. I am interested in understanding the phenomenon so as to understand a loving way out of it. I am offering a way of taking responsibility, of exercising oneself as not doomed to oppress others" (81).

Lugones does not wish to condemn white/Anglo women, for indeed it is not only white/Anglo women who perceive others arrogantly: as she pointed out, women of color can do it to one another (shown in the example of Lugones and her mother).

Additionally, it is not necessarily a choice made consciously. As Lugones argued earlier, women are indeed compelled to perceive others arrogantly, while simultaneously being compelled to understand themselves as being perceived arrogantly by others. Instead, Lugones wishes to find a way to escape the seductive draw of arrogant perception, and instead find a way for women of all shapes and colors to perceive one another in a loving way.

Lugones continues by explaining why coalitional work between white/Anglo women and women of color has been difficult. She cites Audre Lorde and her argument that the formation of coalitions can have a problematic homogenizing aspect. Focusing on "differences" which are constructed by the "logic of domination" is part of the "divide and conquer" strategy used by oppressors to separate and diffuse the radical potential of different groups of women. Lugones argues that instead we need to focus neither on sameness nor on "difference" (insofar as these "differences" are constructed through the logic of oppression), but instead of "non-dominant differences" (84). What this means is that we need to understand ourselves as occupying interrelated "'worlds' of resistant meaning," - that is, to abandon arrogant perceptions and to instead "travel" to other people's "worlds" and to see and understand these "worlds" (85).
Lugones once again quotes Frye:

"the loving eye is 'the eye of one who knows that to know the seen, one must consult something other than one's own will and interests and fears and imagination'." (85).

What this means, I think, is that we have to abandon our arrogant perceptions and refuse to use our own preconceived notions and experiences to interpret the experiences and lives of other people. To do this, Lugones will argues, we need to "travel" to the "worlds" of other people.

III. "Worlds" and "World"-Traveling
Before we can go further, we need to explore the concept of Lugones' "worlds." Lugones stresses that a "world" is not a utopian theory. It cannot be an imagined place; rather, a "world" must be possible. However, Lugones clarifies, any possible "world" will not necessarily fit into her conception of "worlds." Rather, a "world" must be "inhabited at present by some flesh and blood people" (87). A "world" could be a society, a "dominant culture's description and construction of life" including its constructions of gender, race, class, etc. A "world" can also be a "nondominant, a resistant construction" by a minority of the dominant society. Indeed, she writes, a "world" "need not be a construction of a whole society. It may be a construction of a tiny portion of a particular society" (87). "Worlds" might also be incomplete (88). Furthermore, one does not have to participate in or consider oneself a member of a certain "world" in order to be constructed as a certain subject within that "world." For example, the "world" of patriarchy may construct me as a "woman" and with that construction come adjectives such as weak, emotional, irrational, feminine. I may not accept that construction of myself, yet the fact remains that that "world" of sense still exists and continues to view me in such a way regardless of how I may personally feel or think about it.

The next point Lugones makes is that one can move between different "worlds" and may even occupy multiple "worlds" at the same time. Lugones writes,

"Those of us who are 'world'-travelers have the distinct experience of being different in different 'worlds' and of having the capacity to remember other 'worlds' and ourselves in them." (89)

The peculiar trait of a "world"-traveler is that she knows herself to be a slightly different person while she occupies different "worlds," but still retains the memory of each different person while she moves between these "worlds." The best example I can think of is this:

I think many people probably behave differently around their - for example - grandparents than they do around - to take another example - their friends. Around my grandparents, I become a different person: I am law-abiding and mindful of rules, I focus on my studies rather than on my social life, and I always tell them that I am majoring in political science, which is only about 1/3rd true (since political science is, in fact only one of three parts of my individualized degree). There are various reasons for my animating this particular self, one of them being I don't wish to give my poor grandparents (who were born in the 1930s, and must have been the big scandal of the town when they got married - since my grandfather is Catholic and my grandmother is Lutheran) a heart attack by discussing with them the gritty details of my studies of Gays, Lesbians, and Trans-folk (oh my!) and because it makes them happy to see me as the angel of a granddaughter they have come to see me to be. However, the person I become around my friends is radically different from this self I present to my grandparents. I understand that I am different people within these different "worlds," and yet while I am in either "world," I can still fully recall who I am in the other.

This shifting from being one person to being a different one depending on the "world" that one is occupying at a specific time is what Lugones means by "traveling" in her conception of "world"-traveling. She clarifies that this traveling may or may not be done by choice or even consciously by an individual. While it may be that I choose to be a different person while around my grandparents, it may also be partly due to the fact that in the "world" of my grandparents, they have come to see me in a particular way, and I find myself unwittingly animating that construction of myself.

IV. Ease/Comfort in Different "Worlds"
An important part of this chapter is the degree to which one feels at home (or not at home) in different "worlds." Lugones discusses four different ways of feeling at ease in different worlds:

1. Ease via Fluency

"The first way of being at ease in a particular 'world' is by being a fluent speaker in that 'world.' I know all the norms that there are to be followed. I know all the words that there are to be spoken. I know all the moves. I am confident." (90).

An example would be the "world" of our classroom. I can say that I feel at ease in this "world" because I am fluent in the "language" we use inside of it. I know all the terms and lingo we use to discuss queer theory. I know the protocols for discussion and sharing our thoughts. Therefore, I am at ease in this "world" - I am confident. However, if I were to enter a different kind of classroom - say, a 4000-level chemistry class - I would not feel at ease at all. I would have no idea what vocabulary should be used, nor would I have any sense of how I should appropriately engage with my classmates or my instructor. I am not fluent in the language of that "world."

2. Ease via "Normative Happiness"

"Another way of being at ease is by being normatively happy. I agree with all the norms, I could not love any norms better. I am asked to do just what I want to do or what I think I should do. I am at ease." (90)

The example that immediately came to mind when I read this section was the "world" of a church or another religious institution. One who is in full agreement with the faith being practices within their religious institution would feel at ease. She/he understands and agrees with the doctrine of said establishment. She/he feels that the religion/faith is asking her/him to perform rituals that she/he wants to do or at least feels comfortable doing. I am not a religious person, and so in any religious institution, I feel uneasy. I am not at home in this "world," because I either do not understand or disagree with the norms of the institution.

3. Ease via Personal Bonds

"Another way of being at ease in a 'world' is by being humanly bonded. I am with those I love and they love me, too." (90).

This sense of ease seems fairly self-explanatory to me. An example could be the "world" of one's family. One may feel at east at home among family, whom one loves and feels comfortable with.

4. Ease via Common History

"Finally, one may be at ease because one has a history with other that is shared, especially daily history ..." (90).

Lugones gives an example for this type of ease, but - perhaps ironically - I think it is not as profound for most of us in this class, because it is slightly "dated." The example I will give is of "90s kids." What I mean by this is kids born in the 1990s. While a group of 90s kids may come together without knowing each other at all before hand, if one of them says, "Remember cartoons in the 90s? They were the best!" I can guarantee that a lively discussion will follow in which each member references her/his favorite show that aired in the '90s, and much reminiscing will be had. While a group of strangers would normally feel uncomfortable around one another, the fact that they share a common history (i.e., the golden age of cartoons), they are able to feel at ease with one another in this particular "world." Someone who was not born in the 90s would not feel at ease, because she/he would not have had the same experience of watching the best cartoons ever conceived of, much to their loss. (Forgive my biased-ness. I am being ~playful~ here.)

Lugones states that it is possible for one to feel all four of these types of ease in a certain "world," but she adds that this is often only the case in the "worlds" of the dominant/oppressors, and one who feels all these comforts within a given "world" is often not compelled to travel between "worlds," thus causing the negative effects of arrogant perception and so on (91). Still, the ease one feels in different "worlds" is important to pay attention to, because it can be helpful in examining who one is in a specific "world," and in explaining why one travels between "worlds" to begin with.
Lugones writes that one may experience "oneself as an agent in a fuller sense than one experiences oneself in other 'worlds,'" while at the same time one may dismiss another "world" because one has painful memories of oppression or degradation within it. In some "worlds," one may be compelled to act in certain ways by other people, and may be unable to act in the way one wishes for oneself, yet despite this lack of agency/choice, this is still a "world" in which one travels (91).

The important part of this argument is that the "world"-traveler retains a perfect memory of each different person she/he is in each different "world." Sometimes these persons embody characteristics that are contradictory to one another, which leads the "world"-traveler to have a "double image" of her-/himself. Lugones writes:

"I can have both images of myself and, to the extent that I can materialize or animate both images at the same time, I become an ambiguous being." (92).

This, I think, is where the resistant possibility of "world"-traveling comes in. If one chooses to animate two opposing selves within one particular "world," this will cause ambiguity, confusion, doubt, discomfort. This, I think, can reveal the constructedness of arrogant perception. Lugones uses the example of how she, being a Latin American woman, is constructed as being emotionally intense. She may animate this emotional intensity either unintentionally or by choice. However, the outsider watching her will only see her animating emotional intensity, without being able to access or understand Lugones' true intentions (92). However, the outsider may get the sense of some internal tension, which may cause her/him to wonder if the joke is actually on her/him, and not on Lugones, and she/he may have originally suspected. Here, I think, is a link to Butler's theory of using performativity as a form of resistance. While performing gender in a parodic way may reveal the construction of gender itself, animating multiple, contradictory selves within a specific "world" of sense may reveal the fact that "worlds" to indeed exist, and that some of these "worlds" construct certain people in an "arrogant" fashion.

V. Playfulness
Lugones has now explained "worlds" and "world"-traveling, but she still has an important part of her argument to cover. At the beginning, Lugones states that "world"-traveling must be done in a "playful" manner. In this section, she discusses two types of "playfulness."

1. "Agonistic playfulness."

This type of playfulness, Lugones explains, is a particularly Western and masculinist conception of playfulness. Central to it is competition. She says there is uncertainty involved in this kind of playfulness, but the uncertainty in this case is about who is going to win and who is going to lose. In this kind of playfulness, there are rules, and one is required to know them and to follow them. In this kind of playfulness, the playful attitude is the result of an activity being designated as "play." Lugones uses the example of role-playing, in which "the person who is a participant in the game has a / fixed conception of him- or herself" (94). There is no room for flexibility or interpretation within this type of playfulness.

If one travels between "worlds" using this kind of playfulness, that person is traveling in the same way as an imperialist. Lugones writes, "The agonistic traveler is a conqueror, an imperialist" (94). This type of travel will only ever do violence to other "worlds," as it will try to conquer them and make them assimilate or disappear. Lugones writes, "One cannot cross the boundaries with it [this agonistic type of playfulness]. One needs to give up such an attitude if one wants to travel" (95).

2. "Loving playfulness."

This type of playfulness could be considered the mirror image of agonistic playfulness. While in agonistic playfulness, the playful attitude follows from an activity that has been deemed "play," loving playfulness comes about in the opposite direction:

"Instead, the attitude that carries us through the activity, a playful attitude, turns the activity into play. Our activity has no rules, though it is certainly intentional activity, and we both understand what we are doing. The playfulness ... includes uncertainty, but in this case the uncertainty is an openness to surprise." (95).

In this type of playfulness, the rules are not nailed down, and the participants are not concerned with winning or losing, but rather concerned with the possibility of surprise - of changing the game. One plays in a way that "does not expect the 'world' to be neatly packaged, ruly," and the participants are not pre-packaged subjects, but rather are "open to self-construction" (96). It is this type of playfulness that one must use while traveling between "worlds."

Lugones ends this section with this statement:

"In attempting to take a hold of oneself and of one's relation to other in a particular 'world,' one may study, examine, and come to understand oneself. One may then see what the possibilities for play are for the being one is in that 'world.' One may even decide to inhabit that self fully to understand it better and find its creative possibilities." (96).
This is what I take that statement to mean: Choosing to animate a particular self in a particular "world" fully is not submitting to an outside construction - it is allowing one to fully understand that particular self and to find a potential within it for change, for play, or for creating resistance.

VI. Conclusion
The ultimate point Lugones is trying to make, is that we need to understand that people can move between "worlds" and can inhabit multiple "worlds" at one time. We must come to understand the plurality and multiplicity of selves that many of us occupy. We need to abandon arrogant perception and allow ourselves to travel to other people's "worlds" in order to see them in a full and complete way - a way that does justice to the beautiful complexities of each person's experience. Lugones writes, "Only when we have traveled to each other's 'worlds' are we fully subjects to each other" (97). To travel to another person's "world" is part of knowing them, and knowing them is part of loving them.

"By traveling to other people's 'worlds,' we discover that there are 'worlds' in which those who are the victims of arrogant perception are really subjects, lively beings, resisters, constructors of cisions even though in the mainstream construction they are animated only by the arrogant perceiver and are pliable, foldable, file-awayable, classifiable." (97).

This is, I think I beautiful chapter, full of hope and love. Lugones suggests "disloyalty to arrogant perceivers, including the arrogant perceivers in ourselves" (98). While there are "worlds" that we construct for ourselves, there are also "worlds" that are constructed outside of our control, and in them we are constructed by arrogant perceivers, and are compelled to arrogantly perceive others. However, Lugones shows us that we are not trapped in those "worlds." We can travel to our own various "worlds," and through that travel, we can come to understand ourselves as complex, beautiful, and reject the arrogant perceiver's construction of us as flat, ugly, one-dimensional beings. Also, once we learn to travel between our own "worlds," we can travel to the "worlds" of others. But, we must do this in a lovingly playful way - this is the only way we can enter the "worlds" of others without colonizing them, and without bringing our own preconceptions and our own internalized arrogant gaze into them. We can accept others into our "worlds," and we can lovingly and playfully enter the "worlds" of others. By doing this, we can come to know and understand each other. And through knowing each other, Lugones says, we can love one another.

1 Comment

Great job! Your post is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to know more about this important essay. Any critical questions that Lugones's theory of world-traveling raises for you?

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