The Great Caliban

Do I have to convince you that Federici is brilliant and important? I will! Bring me your notes, and let’s discuss them.


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2 Responses to Federici

  1. Hey all – Here are my notes on The Great Caliban. Sorry I had to use a dropbox link, the way I formatted the notes wouldn’t translate to a blog comment.


  2. Silvia Federici’s “The Great Caliban: The Struggle Against the Rebel Body” was written and published as part of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation which was published in 2003.

    Federici’s “The Great Caliban” primarily focuses on the idea of the body during the seventeenth century. Federici brings in quotes from Hobbes, Mather, and Tobin in the beginning of her theoretical text. The quote from Hobbes stood out the most, which states “Life is but a motion of limbs… For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body.” If you break down this quote it basically breaks down what Federici discusses in her article. The part that states, “..and the joints but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body” relates to how bodies are used. Bodies being used for labor connects back to how humans become dehumanized within the system, which eventually leads to them acting like machines.

    Federici’s article discusses how the body is not respected, and how it’s only beneficial to others when you look at it in terms of capitalism. In Federici’s “The Great Caliban” the text states, “It was an attempt to form a new type of individual that the bourgeoisie engaged in that battle against the body..as a means for the satisfaction of our needs..” (135). It’s clear from this quote that Federici realizes that capitalism clearly took over the system, so much so, that it was now influencing physical bodies as it continued to dehumanize people. The body wasn’t seen as valuable, rather, the body being able to produce products is why it was seen as beneficial. That’s exactly why the body began to lose its value and labor then became the focus, labor literally became more important than the body itself. Federici’s does go on to explain how the increase of control over the natural world, also increase the control of the body, which eventually leads to its machine like qualities, allowing it to do tasks just as organizing, which then leads to it being viewed as a beast.

    Federici also briefly brings up the idea of magic and how those ideas were destroyed after rational ideas and capitalism came into play. In “The Great caliban” the text states, “Eradicating these practices was a necessary condition for the capitalist rationalization of work… (Federici 142). Ideas of what was natural in connection to magic no longer mattered, and instead, people could actually understand the human body which they connected to the idea of machines.

    A literary text which could relate to this theoretical text would be Beatty’s The Sellout, especially with the case of Homini. The idea of Homini wanting to willingly be a slave could represent the idea of capitalism, and how the body is such an important part of the system. The need to perform actions and have a master, could relate to the ideas of the proletariat and bourgeoisie, with which who has power and who is exploited for labor. This could relate to More’s Utopia, in which people are required to work as long as they are able to. You can relate the idea of bodies and capitalism to the people on the island being used as a commodity in order to carry out the work that has to be done.

    The ideas of having to conform or protesting against norms are present in Federici’s text and would relate to other literary texts like the Sellout, Hamlet, or Citizen.

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