Educated, Tara Westover
In her compelling memoir “Educated,” Tara Westover transports us to a world that is seemingly removed from the pinnacles of civilization. This world exists not on a distant continent but within the heart of the United States, a nation synonymous with progress and enlightenment. Westover’s childhood tale, characterized by ignorance and estrangement, proffers a vivid illustration of a life lived at the fringe of modernity. This unique portrayal incites a profound examination of our understanding of modern civilization, its outreach, and the psychological and philosophical repercussions of existing within its periphery. To dissect these complex dimensions, we shall lean on the theoretical frameworks provided by prominent thinkers Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida.
Lacanian Analysis: The Imaginary Order and Westover’s Isolation
One of the most intriguing aspects of Westover’s tale is the psychological underpinnings of her isolation, which, when examined through Lacanian psychoanalysis, is represented as an existence within the Imaginary Order.
This realm, according to Lacan, is a pre-linguistic and pre-social domain characterized by immediate gratification and dual relationships. For Tara, her father’s intense paranoia of state interference, his strict enforcement of isolation, and his unwavering commitment to his religious beliefs, created a self-referential, self-perpetuating system. This system, barricaded from outside influences, resists the intrusion of the Symbolic Order.
The Symbolic Order, as conceptualized by Lacan, represents the sphere of law, language, and societal norms. It encompasses the realm beyond the confines of the Westover family farm – the world laden with education, state regulations, and societal rules that Tara’s father painstakingly evades. His vehement opposition to Tara’s pursuit of education emanates from the fear of her transition from the Imaginary to the Symbolic. This transition is marked by the loss of instant gratification and the illusion of completeness, replacing it with a newfound sense of alienation and lack.
The Unavoidable Influence: Derrida’s ‘Différance’ and Westover’s Awakening
Yet, as Derrida would argue, no system, however secluded, can entirely escape the influence of another. This notion finds embodiment in Derrida’s concept of ‘différance,’ the perpetual deferral and modification of meaning. Tara’s quest for education and the escalating tension within her family dynamics are indicative of the creeping infiltration of the Symbolic into her insulated Imaginary world. These changes bear testament to the relentless force of ‘différance,’ underscoring that every system, even one as sequestered as the Westover family, is vulnerable to change and disruption.
Tara’s trajectory towards a broader awareness of the world and self draws parallels with Derrida’s concept of deconstruction, a process that involves the dismantling of binary oppositions such as ignorance/knowledge, seclusion/participation, and naivety/worldliness. It is through the crossing of these metaphorical boundaries that Westover unearths the true nature of the violence and abuse that marred her upbringing. Actions and behaviors previously normalized within her family’s closed system begin to appear as severe transgressions in the larger societal context.
Through the act of challenging and critiquing her family’s narrative, Westover performs a philosophical act akin to Derrida’s deconstruction. She bravely challenges the structures that once seemed impregnable, dismantling them to pave the way for a more nuanced, informed understanding of her reality. In this way, Tara Westover’s “Educated” serves as a profound exploration of alienation, awareness, and the relentless pursuit of personal truth in a world characterized by stark binary oppositions.
Reconciliation and Resistance: Baudrillard’s Hyperreality and Westover’s Self-Actualization
Another critical lens through which we can scrutinize Westover’s experiences is through Jean Baudrillard’s concept of ‘hyperreality.’ According to Baudrillard, hyperreality describes a situation where the line between the real and the simulated blurs, creating a condition where individuals lose the capacity to distinguish reality from a constructed representation of it.
For much of her life, Westover lived in a hyperreal world constructed by her father. This world was based on an extremist interpretation of Mormonism, conspiracy theories, and deep-seated paranoia about government interference. Westover’s father’s doctrine was so pervasive that it simulated a reality that replaced actual reality in her mind, a classic example of Baudrillard’s hyperreality. This hyperreality, in turn, served as an instrument of control, maintaining Tara and her siblings within the bounds of the family’s extremist worldview.
Westover’s path towards education and self-awareness is marked by her constant struggle against this hyperreal environment. Her pursuit of education can be viewed as a resistance against her father’s simulated reality, a deconstruction of the world in which she had been entwined. Every textbook she read, every lecture she attended, and every interaction she had outside her family served as a breach in the wall of this hyperreality, introducing her to the world as it was, not as her father projected it to be.
However, this path was not linear. The influence of hyperreality was so deeply ingrained that Tara often found herself questioning the new truths she was discovering, revealing the unsettling power of a hyperreal world. Even as she continued to acquire knowledge and gain broader perspectives, there were moments of self-doubt, illustrating the potent effects of long-term immersion in a hyperreal environment.
Through her indomitable will, she persistently resisted this simulated reality, carving out her unique path to self-actualization. She embraced the alienation she felt as she transitioned from her hyperreal world into the realm of societal norms, treating it not as a deterrent but as a reaffirmation of her efforts to transcend the boundaries imposed upon her.
Tara Westover’s memoir, “Educated,” unveils a captivating narrative of alienation and awareness, inviting readers to question the boundaries and systems that shape our understanding of the world. Through the theoretical frameworks of Lacan, Derrida, and Baudrillard, Westover’s journey of transcendence emerges as a testament to the human spirit’s indomitable capacity for growth and self-actualization. By challenging the self-perpetuating system of the Imaginary Order and resisting the allure of hyperreality, Westover embarks on a transformative path, dismantling oppressive structures and embracing the discomfort of alienation. Her courageous pursuit of education and the relentless pursuit of personal truth illuminate the power of knowledge, reflection, and the pursuit of individual liberation in a complex and interconnected world.