Hili Razinsky is a researcher at LanCog, The Center of Philosophy, University of Lisbon
The author has produced a bold and fiercely independent account of ambivalence; an account which is rich, nuanced and detailed. Razinsky adopts a framework which, broadly speaking, is both Wittgensteinian and phenomenological. She turns to such diverse authors as Sartre, Freud, Bernard Williams and Philip Koch and with a little help from these friends devises her own notion of ambivalence.
We find ambivalence so unsettling, I think, because its presence starkly reminds that we can’t always get what we want. But this goes too far, and Razinsky’s Ambivalence helps us to see why. Ambivalence does not disclose just how incoherent and fractured we are as agents. Rather, as Razinsky shows, it illuminates a space in which there is room for autonomous self-expression. Compromised actions are not compromises of agency. They, instead, reveal a deep spring of human creativity: the people we make ourselves into emerge from our limitations.
Razinsky’s aim in Ambivalence is avowedly philosophical, and she hews closely to her course, though she embraces the psychological perspective that ambivalences arise organically through ordinary mental processes and depend on a whole psychical microcosm. Therefore, and given her convergence with the deepest psychological thinking on her subject, she might, with some loosening of the analytic straitjacket, find herself well positioned to advance both causes.
While Razinsky ‘does not aim at some folk psychology regarding ambivalence or other mental concepts’, the book is motivated by what I see as the ethnographically informed insight that people are regularly ambivalent, and that analytical philosophy usually ignores this. Its conceptual richness will be useful to an anthropological readership interested in extending philosophical and anthropological theorizing of ambivalence on the basis of ethnographic fieldwork.
Ambivalence by Hili Razinsky is a rather theoretical and conceptual exploration of the ways in which a person’s mind oscillates between two opposing desires, reasons or other elements of mental life. The book’s impact on philosophical practice will grow in time because it is a fairly difficult yet rewarding read that provokes the reader’s reflection after turning its final page.
By an impressive combination of acute analysis, rich phenomenological description and interpretation of narratives, Razinsky brings our propensity to possess ambivalent feelings, desires and beliefs about objects to the center of philosophical research on subjectivity. In this excellent study, she claims ambivalence is a capacity of rational creatures to simultaneously have two opposing attitudes, revealing the ineradicable plurality of their selves and prompting them to live with it in the right way, rather than an inability to fix one's mind and make it consistent.
Philosophers of essentially any tradition will be able to find something of interest in Razinsky’s exploration of ambivalence since it is so varied and wide ranging. Moreover, philosophers who are specifically interested in ambivalence will be interested in the account Razinsky advances since it not only diverges from traditional philosophical accounts of ambivalence, but also exceeds them in its ambitions.