What world do you live in? Is it the same as the one I inhabit? What about your friends, family, each and every person you pass by in the street, and all those billions you will never meet? In one sense, we all inhabit the same world – our one and only pale blue dot, also known as the planet Earth. In this sense, if (when?) we ever travel to another planet, we can consider ourselves world-travellers. However, while still here, on Earth, we can all benefit from developing ‘world’-travelling skills in a different but essential sense. In fact, this might just be a lot harder than travelling to a distant planet.
In 1987, the U.S.-based feminist philosopher from Argentina, María Lugones, published an article, “Playfulness, “World”-Travelling, and Loving Perception”. Its ripple effect is still ongoing, and the essay was included in the recent collection of contributions to the emerging field of study of the same name – “Feminist Philosophy of Mind”, published in 2022.
I read Lugones’s essay a couple of days ago, and it was like no other philosophy paper I have encountered. She tells a personal story intertwined with illuminating philosophical insights about the broader structures shaping our individual lives. Unwilling to sacrifice depth of meaning for clarity of definitions (an approach professional philosophy could use more, in my opinion), she offers a conceptual framework for understanding and treating each other better – as interdependent individuals with plurality in each of us.
In the remainder of this post, I share with you some quotes from Lugones’s paper. Among them, there is her idea of the ‘worlds’ and ‘world’-travelling.
“This chapter describes the experience of “outsiders” to the mainstream of, for example, white/Anglo organization of life in the United States and stresses a particular feature of the outsider’s existence: the outsider has necessarily acquired flexibility in shifting from the mainstream construction of life where she is constructed as an outsider to other constructions of life where she is more or less “at home”. This flexibility is necessary for the outsider. It is requored by the logic of oppression. But it can also be exercised resistantly by the outsider or by those who are at ease in the mainstream. I recommen this resistant exercise that I call “‘world’-travelling” and I also recommend that the exercise be animated by an attitude that I describe as playful.”Lugones (1987, in 2022)
“I recommend that we affirm this travelling across “worlds” as partly constitutive of cross-cultural and cross-racial loving.”Lugones (1987, in 2022)
“According to Marilyn Frye, to perceive arrogantly is to perceive that others are for oneself and to proceed to arrogate their substance to oneself (Frye 1983, 66). Here, I make a connection between “arrogant perception” and the failure to identify with persons that one views arrogantly or has come to see as products of arrogant perception. A further connection is made between this failure of identification and a failure of love, and thus between loving and identifying with another person… The identification of which I speak is constituted by what I come to characterize as playful “‘world’-travelling”. To the extent that we learn to perceive others arrogantly or come to see them only as products of arrogant perception and continue to perceive them that way, we fail to identify with them – fail to love them – in this particular way.”Lugones (1987, in 2022)
“When I came to the United States I learned that part of racism is the internalization of the propriety of abuse without identification. I learned that I could be seen as a being to be used by white/Anglo men and women without the possibility of identification (that is, without their act of attempting to graft my substance onto theirs rubbing off on them at all). They could remain untouched, without any sense of loss… 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.”Lugones (1987, in 2022)
“[Their logical independence from me] does not help me understand why the racist or ethnocentric failure of love of white/Angla women – in particular of those white/Angla women who are not pained by their failure – should leave me not quite substantive among them… The more independent I am, the more independent I am left to be. Their “world” and their integrity do not require me at all. There is no sense of self-loss in them for my own lack of solidity. But they rob me of my solidity through indifference, an indifference they can afford…”Lugones (1987, in 2022)
“White/Angla women are independent from me, I am independent from them; I am independent from my mother, she is independent from me; and none of us loves each other in this independence. I am incomplete and unreal without other women. I am profoundly dependent on others without having to be their subordinate, their slave, their servant.”Lugones (1987, in 2022)
“It was impossible for me to love my mother while I retained a sense that it was fine for me and others to see her arrogantly. Loving my mother also required that I see with her eyes, that I go into my mother’s “world”, that I see both of us as we are constructed in her “world”, that I witness her own sense of herself from within her “world”. Only through this travelling to her “world” could I identify with her because only then could I cease to ignore her and to be excluded and separate from her. Only then could I see her as a subject, even if one subjected, and only then could I see how meaning could arise fully between us.”Lugones (1987, in 2022)
“A “world” in my sense may be an actual society, given its dominant culture’s description and construction of life… But a “world” can also be such a society given a nondominant, a resistant construction… [I]t is problematic to say that these are all constructions of the same society. But they are different “worlds”. A “world” need not be a construction of a whole society… It may be inhabited by just a few people… A “world” may be incomplete. Things in it may not be altogether constructed or some things may be constructed negatively (they are not what “they” are in some other “world”)... In a “world”, some inhabitants may not understand or hold particular construction of them… So, there may be “worlds” that construct me in ways that I do not even understand. Or, it may be that I understand the construction, but do not hold it of myself. I may not accept it as an account of myself, a construction of myself. And yet, I may be animating such a construction. One can “travel” between these “worlds” and one can inhabit more than one of these “worlds” at the same time.”Lugones (1987, in 2022), my emphasis
“Those of us who are “world”-travellers have the distinct experience of being different in different “worlds” and of having the capacity to remember other “worlds” and ourselves in them… The shift from being one person to being a different person is what I call “travelling”. This shift may not be willful or even conscious, and one may be completely unaware of being different in a different “world”, and may not recognize that one is in a different “world”. Even though the shift can be done willfully, it is not a matter of acting… Rather, one is someone who has that personality or character or uses space and language in that particular way.”Lugones (1987, in 2022), my emphasis
“[T]he experience of “outsiders” to the mainstream [is seen] as ontologically problematic because the “I” is identified in some sense as one and in some sense as a plurality. I identify myself through memory and I retain myself as different in memory.”Lugones (1987, in 2022)
“I suggest that I can understand my confusion about whether I am or am not playful by saying that I am both and that I am different persons in different “worlds” and can remember myself in both as I am in the other. I am a plurality of selves.”Lugones (1987, in 2022)
“[T]he playful attitude involves openness to surprise, openness to being a fool, openness to self-construction or reconstruction and to construction or reconstruction of the “worlds” we inhabit playfully, and thus openness to risk the ground that constructs us as oppressors or as oppressed or as collaborating or colluding with oppression.”Lugones (1987, in 2022), my emphasis
“The reason I think that travelling to someone’s “world” is a way of identifying with them is that by travelling to their “world” we can understand what it is to be them and what it is to be ourselves in their eyes. Only when we have travelled to each other’s “worlds” are we fully subjects to each other… Without knowing the other’s “world”, one does not know the other, and without knowing the other, one is really alone in the other’s presence because the other is only dimly present to one.”Lugones (1987, in 2022)