01 September 2006

practical theory

i met up with my auc friends dalia and sean this summer. it was like a few stolen moments, or, as i told dalia, as though i was still in transit (which, in some ways, i was). regardless, at dinner that first night, we inevitably and so very naturally ended up discussing postcolonial theory and its implications for everyday life.

my issues with foucault, derrida, spivak et al rise from their lack of practical value. their ideas do not help me in dealing with everyday human rights violations. they say nothing that i can repeat to those suffering gross abuses.

this critique is directed not only towards postcolonial theory, but all theory. theories of ipe for instance, are unable to effectively address the cause and effect of female migration. i recall my frustrations at being unable to use the ipe theories to explain the numerous exceptions i was faced with for my final paper at auc. at that time, exceptions were seen as just that --exceptions, not the norm.

my experience over the past three years has taught me differently. in this time i have dealt with nothing but exceptions. which, in the course of time, have become the norm. is it that i am not grasping the theories in their entirety, or, as noted by carl jung,

Since self-knowledge is a matter of getting to know the individual facts, theories help very little in this respect. For the more a theory lays claim to universal validity, the less capable it is of doing justice to the individual facts. Any theory based on experience is necessarily statistical; that is to say, it formulates an ideal average which abolishes all exceptions at either end of the scale and replaces them by an abstract mean. This mean is quite valid, though it need not necessarily occur in reality. Despite this it figures in the theory as an unassailable fundamental fact. The exceptions at either extreme, though equally factual, do not appear in the final result at all, since they cancel each other out. If, for instance, I determine the weight of each stone in a bed of pebbles and get an average weight of 145 grams, this tells me very little about the real nature of the pebbles. Anyone who thought, on the basis of these findings, that he could pick up a pebble of 145 grams at the first try would be in for a serious disappointment. Indeed, it might well happen that however long he searched he would not find a single pebble weighing exactly 145 grams. The statistical method shows the facts in the light of the ideal average but does not give us a picture of their empirical reality. While reflecting an indisputable aspect of reality, it can falsify the actual truth in a most misleading way. This is particularly true of theories which are based on statistics. The distinctive thing about real facts, however, is their individuality. Not to put too fine a point on it, one could say that the real picture consists of nothing but exceptions to the rule, and that, in consequence, absolute reality has predominantly the character of irregularity (The undiscovered self, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1958).

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