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Can the Subaltern Speak?

" (1988) by Gayatri Spivak relates to the manner in which western cultures investigate other cultures. Spivak uses the example of the Indian Sati practice of widow suicide, however the main significance of "Can the Subaltern Speak?" is in its first part which presents the ethical problems of investigating a different culture base on "universal" concepts and frameworks. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" critically deals with an array of western writers starting from Marx to Foucault, Deleuze and Derrida. The basic claim and opening statement of "Can the Subaltern Speak?" is that western academic thinking is produced in order to support western economical interests. Spivak holds that knowledge is never innocent and that it expresses the interests of its producers. For Spivak knowledge is like any other commodity that is exported from the west to the third world for financial and other types of gain. Spivak is wondering how can the third world subject be studied without cooperation with the colonial project. Spivak points to the fact that research is in a way always colonial, in defining the "other", the "over there" subject as the object of study and as something that knowledge should be extracted from and brought back "here". Basically we're talking about white men speaking to white men about colored men/women. When Spivak examines the validity of the western representation of the other, she proposes that the discursive institutions which regulate writing about the other are shut off to postcolonial or feminist scrutiny. This limitation, Spivak holds, is sue to the fact that critical thinking about the "other" tends to articulate its relation to the other with the hegemonic vocabulary. This is similar to feminist writers which abide by the patriarchic rules for academic writing. In the following parts of "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Spivak is criticizing different critical writers and then moves on to the example of the Indian "Sati" practice. pivak achieved a certain degree of misplaced notoriety for her 1985 article ―Can the Subaltern Speak?: Speculations on Widow Sacrifice‖ (Wedge 7/8 [Winter/Spring 1985]: 120-130). In it, she describes the circumstances surrounding the suicide of a young Bengali woman that indicates a failed attempt at selfrepresentation. Because her attempt at ―speaking‖ outside normal patriarchal channels was n ot understood or supported, Spivak concluded that ―the subaltern cannot speak.‖ Her extremely nuanced argument, admittedly confounded by her sometimes opaque style, led some incautious readers to accuse her of phallocentric complicity, of not recognizing or even not letting the subaltern speak. Some critics, missing the point, buttressed their arguments with anecdotal evidence of messages cried out by burning widows. Her point was not that the subaltern does not cry out in various ways, but that speaking is ―a transaction between speaker and listener‖ (Landry and MacLean interview). Subaltern talk, in other words, does not achieve the dialogic level of utterance. Beyond this specific misunderstanding (proof perhaps that Gayatri Spivak cannot speak?) Spivak also objects to the sloppy use of the term and its appropriation by other marginalized, but not specifically ―subaltern‖ groups. ―Subaltern,‖ Spivak insists, is not ―just a classy word for oppressed, for Other, for somebody who‘s not getting a piece of the pie.‖ She points out that in Gramsci‗s original covert usage (being obliged to encrypt his writing to get it past prison censors), it signified ―proletarian,‖ whose voice could not be heard, being structurally written out of the capitalist bourgeois narrative. In postcolonial

terms, ―everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern — a space of difference. Now who would say that‘s just the oppressed? The working class is oppressed. It‘s not subaltern‖ (de Kock interview). Another misreading of the concept is that, since the subaltern cannot speak, she needs an advocate to speak for her, affirmative action or special regulatory p rotection. Spivak objects, ―Who the hell wants to protect subalternity? Only extremely reactionary, dubious anthropologistic museumizers. No activist wants to keep the subaltern in the space of difference … You don‘t give the subaltern voice. You work for the bloody subaltern, you work against subalternity‖ (ibid). She cites the work of the Subaltern Studies group as an example of how this critical work can be practiced, not to give the subaltern voice, but to clear the space to allow it to speak. Spivak is particularly leery of the misappropriation of the term by those who simply want to claim disenfranchisement within the system of hegemonic discourse, i.e. those who can speak, but feel they are not being given their turn. ―Many people want to claim subalt ernity. They are the least interesting and the most dangerous. I mean, just by being a discriminated-against minority on the university campus, they don‘t need the word ‗subaltern‘ … They should see what the mechanics of the discrimination are. They‘re within the hegemonic discourse wanting a piece of the pie and not being allowed, so let them speak, use the hegemonic discourse. They should not call themselves subaltern‖ (ibid). Unlearning one’s privilege as one’s loss Privilege is also a kind of insularity which cuts off the privileged from certain kinds of ―other‖ knowledge. One should strive to recognize these limitations and overcome them, not as a magnanimous gesture of inclusion, but simply for the increase of knowledge. The way to do this is by working critically through one‘s beliefs, prejudices and assumptions and understanding how they arose and became naturalized. Any Zen master, chiropractor, or guitar teacher will tell you that real learning can only begin once years of mental habit, bad posture, and learning riffs the wrong way are undone, or unlearned. What we are asking is that the holders of the hegemonic discourse should de-hegemonize their position and themselves learn how to occupy the subject position of the other rather than simply say, ― OK, sorry, we are just very good white people, therefore we do not speak for the blacks‖

Read more: Spivak's essay is concerned with the subaltern; for our discussion, let us define the subaltern as someone within the realm of the hegemonic umbrella, who has no means of access to upward mobility (or the hegemonic discourse)--the subaltern figure could be historically understood as those under the control of colonial powers or a victim of slavery; they can be understood as the completely powerless. Spivak argues that while thinkers like Foucault and Derrida recognized and deconstructed political power structures, they were unaware ofideology, and so erroneously believed that the subaltern could "speak for themselves"; essentially, this is a problem of subject formation or representation--for Foucault the

subject is knowable and for Derrida the subject is always a subject of the West. For Spivak, this is a problem of assumed transparency in Western intellectualism, which dismisses the problem of representation without acknowledging that ideologies are often delineated through what remains unsaid. Hopefully I can make this clearer with Spivak's primary historical example representing the problem that silences the subaltern. Spivak describes an obscure tradition in parts of India, Sati, where when a husband dies, the wife may choose to burn herself on the husband's funeral pyre; often it was expected of a 'good wife'--it is important to note that at this time, widows could inherit the husbands property, so it makes sense from a patriarchal perspective to encourage this behavior so that sons could directly inherit--this is taking place under Britain's colonial rule. The British at once are appalled by this tradition, and yet misunderstand many aspects of it (much is lost in translation for lack of a better phrase--they even literally misspell the Sati as Suttee); they have a rescuing impulse, and consult local Hindu leaders (they had promised to not infringe upon local law) yet they had an apparent ethical dilemma; eventually this practice is in outlawed. Spivak, while understandably recognizing that this was a good act by the British, and not a violent imperial imposition (like so many other they performed) insists that it still reflects the problem of representation and transparency. The British give their account of the phenomenon (representation); the Hindu leaders are likewise able to give account (representation), however, the women who were performing Sati were never heard from. This leads Spivak to conclude that, in fact, the subaltern cannot speak. In Hindu religion, there are four stages of life individuals are expected to go through: "Student (celibacy and preparation for life) [...] Householder (marriage and family; it is acceptable to accumulate material things and establish yourself in society); Hermit (retirement and meditation; one withdraws from the material world, renounces possessions and social identity) [and] Wanderer (complete renunciation of the material world, including all possessions, family and personal identity[...]) (Aboul-Hosn, 2009, p. 254) Spivak asserts that women are restricted to being the subject of men because they are only included in the student and marriage life stages, since this aspect of the problem with Sati (and the larger problem with the lack of gender parity) was never articulated by either the British or the Hindu leaders, it becomes apparent that ideology is at play and that the subaltern position (as oppressed woman) is effectively silenced. I found this essay fairly convincing; it is painfully clear to me that the voices of the oppressed are marginalized and silenced in the hegemonic discourse. I cannot adequately reflect the voice of the subaltern figure because I am part of the hegemonic discourse (we all are, we are absolutely wealthy, recall Singer; moreover, we are Western intellectuals; our voices reside within the hegemonic discourse). I cannot adequately assume transparency; we should not attempt to do so. What is the solution? How can the subaltern be empowered to speak? If the subaltern speaks, in Spivak, I assume that it is because the hegemony has sanctioned it, worse, that the hegemony is likely skewing this representation. The only qualm I have with the argument is that there have been instances in history where the deeply oppressed have spoken, and when the world has heard. I think of Ghandi, Spivak mentions him, but only briefly and says that this is a different topic; fine, what about Martin Luther King, Fredrick Douglass, surely these were deeply oppressed men who had a large impact? But is this because they learned the language of the oppressor? Or because they were men? What about Rosa Parks? Her act was surely not sanctioned at the time by the white hegemony. The subaltern is all too often silenced, it is true; swallowed

in ethnocentric representation, or muted outright by the interests of power--we cannot give voice to the subaltern without supplanting it; perhaps much of the problem lies in our ability to listen for the quiet voices; perhaps we need to listen for what the silence signifies; otherwise, we are complicit in maintaining it. Since I am painfully aware that I cannot do justice to Spivak's article, I urge my classmates to read it, it is worth the struggle (and rereading); also, I am including a couple of links here to videos of Spivak herself speaking on the subject in case anyone is interested in the subject. This first link is Spivak explaining her journey of thought regarding subaltern studies, it is lengthy, but fascinating:

Spivak's essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?"--originally published in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg's Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988)--perhaps best demonstrates her concern for the processes whereby postcolonial studies ironically reinscribe, co-opt, and rehearse neo-colonial imperatives of political domination, economic exploitation, and cultural erasure. In other words, is the postcolonial critic unknowingly complicit in the task of imperialism? Is "postcolonialism" a specifically first-world, male, privileged, academic, institutionalized discourse that classifies and surveys the East in the same measure as the actual modes of colonial dominance it seeks to dismantle? According to Spivak, postcolonial studies must encourage that "postcolonial intellectuals learn that their privilege is their loss" (Ashcroft. et al 28). In "Can the Subaltern Speak?", Spivak encourages but also criticizes the efforts of the subaltern studies group, a project led by Ranajit Guha that has reappropriated Gramsci's term "subaltern" (the economically dispossesed) in order to locate and re-establish a "voice" or collective locus of agency in postcolonial India. Although Spivak acknowledges the "epistemic violence" done upon Indian subalterns, she suggests that any attempt from the outside to ameliorate their condition by granting them collective speech invariably will encounter the following problems: 1) a logocentric assumption of cultural solidarity among a heterogeneous people, and 2) a dependence upon western intellectuals to "speak for" the subaltern condition rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. As Spivak argues, by speaking out and reclaiming a collective cultural identity, subalterns will in fact re-inscribe their subordinate position in society. The academic assumption of a subaltern collectivity becomes akin to an ethnocentric extension of Western logos--a totalizing, essentialist "mythology" as Derrida might describe it--that doesn't account for the heterSpivak‘s
essay ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ – originally published in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg‘s Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988)[3] – perhaps best demonstrates her concern for the processes whereby postcolonial studies ironically reinscribe, co-opt, and rehearse neo-colonial imperatives of political domination, economic exploitation, and cultural erasure. In other words, is the post-colonial critic unknowingly complicit in the task of imperialism? Is ―post-

privileged. and 2) a dependence upon western intellectuals to ―speak for‖ the subaltern condition rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. Thesis: ―My view is that radical practice should attend to this double session of representation rather than reintroduce the individual subject through totalizing concepts of power and desire. there‘s one listed below for you. Spivak‘s essay should be required reading for everyone.colonialism‖ a specifically first-world. Spivak encourages but also criticizes the efforts of the subaltern studies group. The academic assumption of a subaltern collectivity becomes akin to an ethnocentric extension of Western logos–a totalizing. she suggests that any attempt from the outside to ameliorate their condition by granting them collective speech invariably will encounter the following problems: 1) a logocentric assumption of cultural solidarity among a heterogeneous people. In ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖. subalterns will in fact re-inscribe their subordinate position in society. by speaking out and reclaiming a collective cultural identity. male. essentialist ―mythology‖ as Derrida might describe it–that doesn‘t account for the heterogeneity of the colonized body politic.[4] As Spivak argues. Problematize the Western subject and see how it is still operational in poststructuralist theory (Foucault and Deleuze) . academic. institutionalized discourse that classifies and surveys the East in the same measure as the actual modes of colonial dominance it seeks to dismantle? According to Spivak. But if you don‘t have the time or if you do have the time and want a critical companion. et al 28).‖ (279) Fourfold Argument of the Essay: 1. Although Spivak acknowledges the ―epistemic violence‖ done upon Indian subalterns. postcolonial studies must encourage that ―postcolonial intellectuals learn that their privilege is their loss‖ (Ashcroft. a project led by Ranajit Guha that has reappropriated Gramsci‘s term ―subaltern‖ (the economically dispossesed) in order to locate and reestablish a ―voice‖ or collective locus of agency in postcolonial India.

Re-read Marx to find a more radical de-centering of the subject that also leaves more room for the formation of class identifications that are non-essentialist (Derrida. from traditional subjects (273)  She criticizes Foucault for emphasizing the pervasiveness and heterogeneity of power while ignoring how power produces ideology. which address Spivak‘s theoretical framework and argument.e. while argument 4 is addressed in the second half of the essay. and instead filling the place of ideology with a generalized notion of ‗culture‘ (274)  Spivak finds a contradiction between Foucault and Deleuze‘s valorizing of the concrete experience of oppression while providing little explanation of the baggage of the . It makes the point that western intellectual production is complicit with Western international economic interests. but not in function. using the example of sati (widow sacrifice). which serves as an example of Spivak‘s argument and her conclusion. Spivak‘s article moves from a critique of current Western efforts to problematize the subject to a still more radical de-centering of the subject implicit in Marx and Derrida. Perform a close reading of sati to analyze the discourses of the West and the possibilities for speech that the subaltern woman has (or does not have) within that framework Arguments 1-3 are addressed in the first half of the essay. Argue that Western intellectual production reinforces the logic of Western economic expansion 4.‘ which differ in name. The juxtapositions brought into play over the course of the article emphasize how ‗benevolent‘ Western intellectuals can paradoxically silence the subaltern by claiming to speak for their experience (by asserting that the subaltern ‗knows‘) in the same way that ‗benevolent‘ colonialists silenced the voices of the women who ‗chose‘ to immolate themselves on their husbands‘ funeral pyres i.2. it is in the appropriation of the voice of the subaltern that s/he is silenced. Foucault and Deleuze (Guattari):  Spivak‘s criticism:  They [Foucault and Deleuze] short-circuit the radical implications of the ‗crisis of the subject‘ by introducing the concept of ‗subject effects. and finally raises the question of how the third-world subject is represented within Western discourse. also) 3.

intellectual in the conflation of the ideas of ‗representing‘ (as in politics/speaking for the interests of a group of people) and ‗re-presenting‘ (when what is presented becomes fused with its signified and takes on an immediacy of presence) (274-275)  Spivak‘s response:  While many of their contributions are useful. their political effectiveness is impaired by systematically ignoring the question of ideology and their own implication in intellectual and economic history  She objects to their use of ‗master words‘ such as ‗the workers‘. particularly when it comes to Foucault (primary motives of the essay and of Spivak‘s work generally)  ―I have tried to argue that the substantive concern for the politics of the oppressed which often accounts for Foucault‘s appeal can hide a privileging of the . class in a system Class consciousness Vertreten     Representation Rhetoric as persuasion Class as a transformative concept. her own use of the term ‗subaltern‘ is emphatically multiple  Beginning with Deleuze and Guattari‘s implementation of an undifferentiated ‗desire‘ supporting all kinds of revolutionary movements and acts. Spivak demonstrates how the unspoken and un-interrogated assumptions behind these totalizing theories end in reinforcing the subject positions of the theorists themselves (273-274)  To Spivak. the idea that desire and interest may work in opposition to one another under the effects of ideology seems to escape Deleuze and Foucault (273) Marx and Derrida:  Spivak refers to Marx to demonstrate how his concept of class formation clearly differentiates between darstellen (re-presentation) andvertreten(representation) (276-278)  Darstellen      Re-presentation Rhetoric as trope Class as a descriptive concept. which generalize the experience of a diverse range of people (272)  Conversely. through substitution/representation Transformation of consciousness  Spivak uses Derrida as a tool to deconstruct and de-center.

Then. or this volume. A final section situates "Can the Subaltern Speak?" within contemporary issues. and to suffer the burden of difference in a capitalist system that promises equality yet withholds it at every turn. ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ penned by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak some twenty years previously. something as infelicitously expansive as . particularly new international divisions of labor and the politics of silence among indigenous women of Guatemala and Mexico. I will discuss a few aspects of Derrida‘s work that retain a long-term usefulness for people outside the First World…yet he is less dangerous when understood than the first-world intellectual masquerading as an absent non-representer who lets the oppressed speak for themselves. voicing. Since its publication. at Columbia University. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" has been cited. hosted by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. imitated. Spivak herself considers her essay's past interpretations and future incarnations and the questions and histories that remain secreted in the original and revised versions of "Can the Subaltern Speak?"—both of which are reprinted in this book.intellectual and of the ―concrete‖ subject of oppression that. they rethink historical problems of subalternity. to be able to access the state. an the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea began as a conference. and death. marking the spot where. in fact. invoked.‖ (292)  Following up this passage. Spivak notes that: ―though it is not my intention here to counter the specific view of Derrida promoted by these influential writers [Anderson and Said]. The title was a seductive simplification. through the lens of Spivak's essay. They begin by contextualizing the piece within the development of subaltern and postcolonial studies and the quest for human rights. In an afterword. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's original essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?" transformed the analysis of colonialism through an eloquent and uncompromising argument that affirmed the contemporary relevance of Marxism while using deconstructionist methods to explore the international division of labor and capitalism's "worlding" of the world. It is a probing interrogation of what it means to have political subjectivity. compounds the appeal.‖ (292)  Spivak cites a chapter of Derrida‘s ―Of Grammatology As a Positive Science‖ (a book she famously translated and provide a critical introduction for in 1976)  For Spivak: Derrida = Deconstruction ogeneity of the colonized body politic. eight scholars take stock of the effects and response to Spivak's work. In these phenomenal essays. it was hoped. and critiqued. We might have subtitled the conference. Spivak's essay hones in on the historical and ideological factors that obstruct the possibility of being heard for those who inhabit the periphery. several debates and discourses might converge in the consciousness of their debt to an extraordinary essay.

summarized. Consider. gender. in an effort to grasp. deconstruction. rather. and theorizes. This doubleness of the question follows on the doubly shadowed status of the woman previously mentioned. which appears as a merely lexical matter. a sentence conceived as such. once again. Though the fulsome description would perhaps have provided a better index of the scope and ambition of the original essay. and misappropriated—in its original and its abridged forms. and capitalism‘s worlding of the world. but she understands it to be a matter distinct from the question of theorizing the impossibility of subaltern speech as audible and legible predication). when translated back into English. though the pathos of the diffe rend (the mutual untranslatability of discourse). in the ―spirit‖ of Freud. nonetheless. and critiqued.Reflections on the history of some ideas about the s/Subject of history. significantly. Our project was. rather. In the initial draft the translator rendered in Russian what. misread. a recent translation of the title into Russian (within a translation of a more recent essay on terror). and those. been revisited by Spivak herself. it too would have been a mere placeholder for the many difficult questions that unfold out of Spivak‘s essay. variously attributing to Spivak‘s own intervention an advocacy for one or the other (she emphatically rejects that binarity). thematizes. reviled.‖ Problems of translation are less analogues than metonyms for the problems of reading that ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ simultaneously performs. innocent of nostalgia. prompted by the felt need to respond to the more intellectually ambiguous demand of an institutional anniversary which simultaneously remarked 250 years of Columbia‘s University‘s operation and 20 years since women were admitted to Columbia College. for example. Europe. It has been revered. those that discern in the essay a constitutive opposition between practice and theory. Asia. but. as a grammatical form . but. in the expansive ―History‖ chapter of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present . But if we are stretched to the limits of our intellectual capacity in the act of reading Spivak‘s writing on reading the silences of history—there are some categorically untenable misreadings that need to be dispatched before anything further can be said. And it has. might have read ―Can Junior Officers Speak?‖ The ―woman. also reveals something about the particular difficulty of writing and reading gender into historical analysis. Among them: those that understand the silence of the subaltern as a simple absence in the record—to be supplemented and transcended by the work of information retrieval (Spivak endorses such retrieval.‖ The sentence appears. in the most egregious misreadings. ―White men are saving brown women from brown men. The conference was not occasioned by a retirement. I hope and believe. of course. that discern in the text a nativist apologia for widow burning on the grounds of its authentic ritual status! (it is a position that she herself terms a ―parody of the nostalgia for lost origins‖ [297/000]). It was. it marked no (anticipated) diminution in the pace or output of Spivak‘s continued writing. Spivak writes—and we note the plural: ―When confronted with the questions.‖ as Spivak tells us. Can the subaltern speak? And can the subaltern (as woman) speak? we will be doubly . Perhaps the most quoted and misquoted passage from the text. is that in which Spivak writes. It seemed appropriate to turn to Spivak‘s essay in this context—not out of any misplaced overidentification with third world women on the part of Western academic feminists. the contemporary relevance of Marxism. the international division of labor. inevitably ―is doubly in shadow. invoked. imitated. Neither of these possibilities occurred to me when organizing the event. analyzed. in English and in translation. Few interventions have retained with such tenacity the radicality or the relevance that Spivak‘s essay continues to possess today. the full implications of her insistent and uncompromising introduction of the questions of gender and sexual difference into the critique of radical discourse in the universities of the West and in subaltern studies in India and South Asia. those that claim she has rendered the Indian case representative of the third world (she insists on the choice of India as an accident of personal history and as a nonexemplary instance in which. It has been cited. global processes can be seen to generate their effects). One often encounters inadvertent testimonies to the revolutionary quality of the thought contained in ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ Occasionally. in answer to two questions. these run to the comic.

It enables an investigation of what conditions obtrude to mute the speech of the subaltern woman. One concedes that the pyromaniac metaphor may be in bad taste. that the difficulty of comprehending what might have occurred in the act of suicide confronts us. I say apparently because. to ―unlearn‖ with Spivak the normative ideals of piety and excess with which the third world woman has come to be associated in the interlaced ideological formations of both West and East. were endeavoring to produce a radical critique of the (presumptively) Western s/Subject: Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. The argument on subalternity takes place here. then. She reads them. have escaped ideology. By now. and that which lurks in the half-remembered tale of a woman. For Spivak. the nonuniversality of the Western position and. rather. took her own life. Perhaps most readers have wondered ―Are there other readings?‖ But if this intractable doubt refuses to leave us. remains somewhat oblique for the reader who has not systematically unlearned the suspicions that ideology attaches to almost any young woman‘s suicide. The woman. at the time of Spivak‘s first writing on subalternity. These utterances would not. forcing us to go back. to render her speech and her speech acts illegible to those who occupy the space produced by patriarchal complicity (whether of imperialism or globalization). who took her life in 1926. the question might not have been double. when a young woman. the constitutive place of gender in the formation of the subject—as the subject of language not only in the grammatical sense but in the sense of having a voice that can be heard. the place of the subaltern woman. Had Spivak conceived of the ideological question only in terms of an earlier Marxism. The one produces the narrative of the ―daughter‘s seduction‖ to explain a certain silence or muteness of the pathological woman. as she herself remarks. Nonetheless. Spivak does not finally decide the question of motivations. menstruating. But they would have made visible the unstable claims on truth that the ideology of masculine imperialism offered in its place. as one of capitalist imperialism and bourgeois nationalism or international socialism. to the dangers run by Freud‘s discourse. This. The importance of reading the statement as such and of thereby reflecting upon the act of reading lies in its displacement of the question of what a subaltern woman really said or wanted to say (and hence what could be said on her behalf) and its consequent emphasis on the question of audibility and legibility. It is. the subaltern as woman. they would not have been the truth of the women who uttered them. the other offers the ―monolithic ‗third world woman‘‖ as the tautological name of a need to be spoken for. but as the assemblages of utterances and interpretations that might have emerged from a different location. it is at least partly because the possibility of another reading has been forcefully opened to us by Spivak‘s text. the same ideological formation informs the desire to give a voice to the hysteric as that which would speak for the subaltern. precisely through Deleuze‘s and Foucault‘s double incapacity to recognize. It commences with a rigorous interrogation of those Western writers who. in Deleuze‘s and Foucault‘s otherwise brilliant claims to have decentered the subject of theory (and of history. Spivak discerns its secret reconsolidation. is a figure in whom the question of ideology—as the production of subjects in whom desire and interest are never entirely symmetrical or mutually reinforcing —splits wide open. apparently after losing heart in the task of political assassination to which she had promised herself. on the other. but the text of what happened that day. and nearly overwhelms all that has gone before. in the first version of the essay. in its Hegelian conception). It is not that the story stands as an example—to be emulated or repudiated. Spivak‘s text breaking away from . or more specifically.‖ What were those dangers? They were the dangers of a ―react ionformation to an initial and continuing desire to give the hysteric a voice‖ (296/000). in the process of Britain‘s abolition of widow sacrifice in India. at the end. This circuitry obstructs the alternative histories that might have been written — not as the disclosures of a final truth. In both cases the ―masculine-imperialist‖ ideology can be said to produce the need for a masculine-imperialist rescue mission. It is at the point where. And we remain transfixed by the enigma of Bhubaneswari. in this context. is the incitement to Spivak‘s explosive historical excavation of two impossible ―suicides‖—that which resides in the mutilated accounts of something called sati . the story of Bhubaneswari flares up at the end of the essay. on the one hand. the reading is widely familiar. Bhubaneswari Bhaduri.

but she repudiates the simple ideological reading. who decides against committing an act of political violence. no agency that is not excess.its earlier discourse on Western theory (a discourse shaped by the deconstructionist imperative to perform critique from within. reading as unraveling the weave of the dominant text). rule of the civil law. could not be got rid of. But. Marx had chastised Maine for an unforgivable naïveté when he had attributed to the Brahmin priests a ―purely professional dislike to her enjoyment of property. especially for women. which made her tenant for life . The prohibition on divorce. that the prevalence of sati was historically recent and theologically illegitimate. It would be easy to conclude. first through an interrogation of the historical record and then through the insertion of a fragmentary and speculative account of the suicide of Bhubaneswari Bhaduri. which would have made the woman a mere victim of false consciousness. Hence the rite that represented for colonial powers the most transparent evidence of an absolute negation of female agency was awkwardly situated at a place where a woman might. as Marx had done. There is no place for the woman outside her relation to the marriage contract. . . This imperial tradition legitimated itself as a rule of law and resignified a ritual—a performatively compulsive discourse—as a crime (and not merely as superstition). Scripture provides no basis for its normativization. to such an extraordinary degree. ―Widow sacrifice‖ is therefore. widow sacrifice. At the time. when practiced. have at least had some economic power (though her assets would have been managed for her). that only the Church had saved women from the deterioration of their status after the fall of the Roman Empire.‖ what she describes in such powerful shorthand in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason as ―effacement . while discerning in it the evidence of a retrograde patriarchy. As Spivak‘s tentative excavation of the scriptural treatises and philosophical commentaries onsati (good wife) and widow sacrifice in Bengal point out. this excess is the only form in which something like woman‘s agency can be apprehended—as a self-negating possibility. By Spivak‘s account. Moreover. Menstruation was proof of that. however. an agency (―unemphatic and ad hoc‖ in Spivak‘s idiom) that consists in resisting misreading . could hardly be construed as a protection of the woman‘s freedom. that the ideological justification for widow sacrifice rested in an economic jealousy of her rights to the deceased husband‘s property. whose proper duty is seen in that context as a static grieving commemoration of the husband. Bhubaneswari did nothing to reveal this membership. he generally approved of Maine‘s conclusion that ―the ancient . in a manner that reproduces precisely the logic of white men saving brown women from brown men (a logic Spivak writes into a sentence that she produces as a homology of Freud‘s statement). It would seem that one cannot retrieve anything but the image of excess and the impossibility of full subjectivity from the discourse on sati. The story of Bhubaneswari is heartbreakingly fascinating because it expresses. her membership in the struggle for independence was unknown. as have many commentators.‖ He was even more derisive when Maine attempted to argue. Her (young) woman‘s body offered the signs by which she could resist being reduced to the mere effect of the patriarchal discourse—but only from within the same system. Marx noted. This is why Spivak refers to the suicide in terms of a ―trace-structure. A schematic diagram of the argument‘s concluding movements might run as follows: An imperial tradition that rendered widow sacrifice as the sign of a cultural failure subsequently outlawed it and misidentified it as sati (while misspelling it assuttee ). Even contemporary commentators realized. a mark of excess. The entire ideological formation seems designed to foreclose the possibility of a woman acceding to the position from which she could actually speak—as a subject. the young woman. tended to be most prevalent in those areas where women could inherit their husband‘s property (in the absence of male heirs). by law. Her reading of the Dharma ? astra teaches her and us that suicide —a term that she shows does not mean self-knowing self-killing so much as it means the enactment of a recognition of nonidentity—is rarely sanctioned and only for men. but it was combated by the modern institution which made it her duty to devote herself to a frightful death.‖ Spivak confirms the economic analysis. in the schematic notations that filled his Ethnological Notebooks . kills herself to safeguard the group. Spivak insists. perhaps out of solidarity with her colleagues. in his reading of Henry Sumner Maine. but she at least foreclosed the interpretation that would have imagined her death to be an act of shame for an illegitimate pregnancy.

surplus value extraction. The hundreds of shelves of well-intentioned books claiming to speak for or give voice to the subaltern cannot ultimately escape the problem of translation in its full sense. Subalternity is not that which could. In reading this text. factories. the resurgence of masculinist religious ideologies as reaction formations to the desire for liberation from the false (because not realized) secularity of European capital. So it is with a certain bitterness that Spivak recounts the various interpretations to which Bhubaneswari‘s death has been subjected—interpretations that tend to presume a romantic crisis. as she must. indecipherable. Subalternity is less an identity than what we might call a predicament. This does not mean that we cannot want women. economic liberty. Among the most potent ideological weapons in the war on terror has been the claim that radical Islam. though not completely invisible. felt most intensely in the rural peripheries of the global South. is relatively oppressive to women. The emancipation of women once again becomes the legitimating discourse for imperial agendas. to be free of the constraints that inhibit their access to and capacity to speak from a position of subjectivity. that the middle-class woman seeking political independence is not in the same position as the unemployed subproletariat of the urban slums. we must admit. and others. or the child prostitute forced into sexual labor by a depleted environment and diminishing agricultural returns. And she has disclosure‖ (310). in Spivak‘s definition. In a world where the international division of labor is so often organized to permit the effective exploitation of women and girl children in the urban and rural peripheries (in sweatshops. Human rights have often provided the alibi for that process. Even in the aftermath of the Bush administration‘s ignominious departure from power and the rise of a new liberal agenda in the United States under President Obama in 2009. interpretations that even the most astute feminist reader must have allowed herself to ponder. and brothels). it was offered as a text—a very moving one—to be read. without ceding any admiration for Spivak‘s text. Sometime between the planning of the conference from which this volume issued and its publication. It is perhaps important to recognize that the story was not offered as a model or even as an example. if given a ventriloquist. So we can be as cautious now of the promise for women‘s salvation being proffered in the name of war and imperial domination as when Britain made the abolition ofsuttee the mask and means of its own imperialism. And Spivak‘s sentence returns to condense and expose the many acts and statements by which an ideology is operating. at least momentarily.S. ostensibly to pursue the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks in New York City—the scene of the conference. the war in and against Afghanistan has been construed as a morally necessary war. the United States commenced a war in Afghanistan and Iraq. the globalization of capital. which is to say. whether the absolute termination of Bhubaneswari‘s life doesn‘t provide too literal a form for the problematic of the general muting that occurs at the place where two mutually untranslatable discourses collide.‖ And it certainly does not mean that the task of progressive politics can be imagined as ―giving a voice‖ to subalterns. Spivak showed us how and to what extent historical circumstances and ideological structures conspire to efface the possibility of being heard (something related to but not identical to silence) for those who are variously located as the others of imperial masculinity. Within that system the ―suicide‖ remains enigmatic. the putative incubator of terror and the ideological center of opposition to the U. Why does this matter now? Much has changed since the initial formulation of ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ To name only the most obvious of the epochal transformations to which we have all been subject: the demise of state socialism in the Soviet Union. representation. Unlearning ideology is never an easy task. everywhere. one of whose critical motivating factors is the defense of Afghan women against local patriarchy. mainly interested in liberating women for labor. speak the truth of its oppression or disclose the plenitude of its being. it is the structured place from . For. if only in shame. Nor does it imply a relativist defense of the masculinist ideologies that operate everywhere under the cover of ―culture. One may wonder. but this is true in very odd sense. and political agency. But this may only prove the point that true subalternity remains in shadow. the sweatshop worker. the imperial project is. and the intensification of global ecological crisis.

in this context. Even so. in retrospect. following the essay‘s publication. There are.‖ And he remarked her call for the deployment of deconstructionist reading practices in the service of th is more reflective project. And who could disagree? There is neither authenticity nor virtue in the position of the oppressed. the echo of ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ which had already been delivered as a public lecture but not yet published in the Nelson and Grossberg volume. and in the disciplines adjacent to it.‖ One can hear. approvingly.‘ [Spivak‘s] paper showed this well. with prehistory. by now.which the capacity to predicate is radically obstructed. in the form of a definition with the force of a not yet realized norm: ―‗Subaltern Studies‘ [Spivak asserted] does not deal only with subaltern consciousness and action. Gandhi‘s book confirms Gyan Prakash‘s 1994 tracking of the arrival of subaltern studies into the field of South Asian historiography. is but the inverse of utopianism. In 1986. and hence of history. in this effort at a genealogy of future history. David Hardiman reported on the second subaltern studies conference in Calcutta for theEconomic and Political Weekly . In this context she notes. A quick survey of the contemporary social landscape demands the recognition that it is not. in a very schematic manner. We might begin. There is simply (or not so simply) oppression. We need to resist the narcissism implicit in this gesture—which ultimately demands a whole image as the mirror of ourselves. reclaimed. renarrated. This volume does not pretend to account for all of the social-theoretical itineraries enabled by ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ nor all those that sought to defend institutional knowledges against its provocations. in this sense. What kind of representation becomes available to the one who. invoking the date of her lecture (1985) rather than the publication of the essay. this nostalgia often bears a secret valorization and hypostatization of subalternity as an identity—to be recalled. it nonetheless tends to surrender utopianism only to embrace nostalgia. by assessing the changes in the ubaltern studies group and its theory. is nonetheless possessed by the consciousness of having been obstructed. or simply misread for so much of her life? Is there any alternative to either the positivist euphoria that would claim to have recovered the truth of her past or the conflation of historiography with therapeutic adaptation by which ideology finally makes the silence of subalternity seem normal? Today in the halls of the academy it is possible to discern a certain displacement of the critique of power and class. and as a critique of the teleologies implicit in so much Marxist theory. a utopianism without futurity. from Edward Said and Homi Bhabha to Partha Chatterjee and Dipesh Chakrabarty. not merely as the basis for misrecognition (and hence our own subject formation) but also as the alibi for a politics that imagines the project of emancipation to be over. Spivak says this is to be desired. There. the contours of its future history. what burden this places on memory work in the aftermath of education. are attended to in individual chapters. Leela Gandhi revealingly opens her capacious summary of postcolonial theory with Gayatri Spivak. and her argument for an ethical kind of reading attentive to the aporetic structure of ―knowing‖ in the encounter with the other. In general. in his account. numerous volumes in which her theorization of subalternity as gendered muting. by the cultural analysis of memory. There are. To a large degree the rest of her book is devoted to an unfolding of that response—thought it takes her through territory dominated by other postcolonial theorists. revealing how the body became a space of politics. Nostalgia. a few book-length studies of Spivak‘s work and thought. Hardiman continued by attributing to Spivak a rebuke to subaltern studies. the two most receptive fields to her work have been South Asian history and feminist studies. Spivak‘s argument that ―the colonial state often viewed the Indian people as an undifferentiated native ‗other. having partially escaped the silence of subalternity. it is just as important to see how the subaltern are fixed in their subalternity by the elites. in addition. and revalidated. at least in the . contained. despite the range and profundity of the questions emanating from ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ that the essay and its provocations solicited more response from postcolonial studies than any other field. The acuity of Hardiman‘s observation can be seen. he remarked. she ceases being a subaltern. Ironically. we are moved to wonder. To the extent that anyone escapes the muting of subalternity. If the latter offers itself as an alternative to the positivism of empiricist historiography. But it may be helpful to review.

To take but one example. the initial impetus was a methodological and philosophical one. and its meticulous recuperation of Antonio Gramsci‘s thought. of Spivak‘s particular intervention within the theorization of subalternity revolves around the question of gender. . for example. One of the effects of that collective‘s writings. Indeed. the crucial marker. and the orienting question. as I said earlier. Consider. cannot speak as ‗theory‘ within the knowledge procedures of the university even when these knowledge procedures acknowledge and ‗document‘ its existence. Uzbekistan and Uruguay. which will always ultimately privilege the modern. though it is not heavily citationally dependent on her essay.‖ He continues. he suggests. there are few readers in feminist studies that do not include and remark ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ as an episteme-changing text. his argument that the forms of knowledge production institutionalized in the university have been constitutively incapable of registering the antimodern except as the antecedent to a teleologically inevitable modernity: ―the antihistorical. Provincializing Europe. Mexico and Morocco. perched between traditional historiography and its failures. Provincializing Europe owes much to Spivak‘s formulation of the subaltern. which would be registered most visibly in the publication of the voluminous collection edited by Ileana Rodríguez. despite the contingent overlap in their objects of study. that generalization of the analysis of subalternity beyond the field of subaltern studies. This is why. whose book. Turkey and Thailand. Jacques Derrida—saturates the book at a methodological level. as a kind of model for postcolonial criticism (albeit as an ―ambivalent practice. ―Much like Spivak‘s subaltern .‖ The nonexclusivity of Chakrabarty‘s debt is related to the fact that it is sometimes difficult to discern the relative f orce of Spivak‘s interventions when read in relation to the influence of the group‘s other luminaries: Ranajit Guha and Partha Chatterjee foremost among them. The direction pursued by Butler nonetheless runs along a path that diverges considerably from that traveled by so many other feminist scholars under the influence of a revisionist historiography and a desire for the retrieval of . Nonetheless. This debt—which is exclusive of neither the debt owed to others in the collective nor that to the philosophical architect of deconstructionism. Zimbabwe and Zanzibar. finally. it is the epistemological and historiographic implications of Spivak‘s essay that inform Chakrabarty‘s disquisition. But one sees its elsewhere. a landmark in the necessary displacement of second-wave feminism and a still-to-be actualized call for the transformation of disciplinary feminism. That is to say. Bodies T hat Matter. one of the most receptive disciplines to ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ beyond South Asian history. As with the uptake of the essay in history outside of South Asian history. it can only be spoken for and spoken of in the transition narrative. The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader . Butler‘s enormously influential writings—addressed initially to a queer problematic (as seen from within feminism) and increasingly expanding to encompass the subject of politics in general and. A case in point would be the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty. with an epigraph from an interview of Spivak by Ellen Rooney and continues to invoke Spivak‘s program of reading (a deconstructionism that does not negate the utility of what it deconstructs) as the basis for her own effort to radically rethink the concept of sexual difference. This movement beyond the object-determined field of subaltern studies. antimodern subject. ‗Europe‘). was made possible partly by virtue of the rapprochement between Marxism and poststructuralism that it performed—largely under Spivak‘s influence. therefore. (that is. Florence Mallon‘s account of subaltern studies‘ impact upon Latin American studies illuminates the history of this impact. Indeed. there have been many others. Judith Butler opens her landmark text. the supplementation of politics by ethics—constitute a significant pathway for Spivak‘s writings‘ movement out of the regionalist container in which some of her more acerbic Eurocentric critics would like to have kept it.provides a useful aperture onto the mechanism of that infiltration. with accounts of oppressed communities in places as remote from each other (and as far from the Indian experience of British imperialism) as Algeria and Afghanistan. was gender studies. .United States. Of course. was the discernment and analysis of subalternity outside South Asia. within the folds of dominant discourse and seeking to articulate its pregnant silence‖).

the agency of the oppressed. of course. indeed all her writing. a new and powerful drive to discern and articulate something that was variously termed resistance. for whom the impossibility of analytic objectivity or critical exteriority to the operations of power was an axiom. This is not the place to examine the complexities and contradictions of a theory of agency as unconscious. and those interpretive social scientists less trained in the reading practices that guide literary criticism may be more susceptible to this kind of misreading. It was. not because representation is always already inadequate to the real that it seeks to inscribe. as some psychoanalytically inflected readings might have it. it expressed an exhaustion with or turning away from more overtly organized oppositional politics and the questions of class consciousness or class formation that had dominated the radical discourse of the previous two decades. a typically acute reader of Michel Foucault. Writing in Diacritics. and so forth. can be seen to comprise an intuition for critical politics. This drive expressed. though unconscious (of its interests or bases in the contradictions of economic organization).women‘s experience. an intuition of the collapse of Soviet socialism (which. that ―Significantly. but. ethical dispositions. under the growing influence of a Gramsci revival and spurred by what appeared to many to be a confluence between Gramsci‘s and Michel Foucault‘s thought. At no point does Spivak ever express a normative goal of transparency. temporalities of laboring. Guha.‖ They then continue with the following question. they describe their purpose as ―demonstrate[ing] just how crucial the concept of an ‗archive‘— perhaps even a ‗postcolonial archive‘—is for a more sympathetic understanding of Spivak‘s now notorious ‗silencing‘ of the subaltern woman. though he is not alone. though more insurgent than oppositional. and Spivak share a tendency to locate culture in a textual metaphor that smuggles an originary autonomy into the field of subaltern cultural production‖ or that all three are guilty of ―positing of an originary space of authentic insurgency and insurrectionary otherness. and. the period of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and thus of the near defeat of organized labor within both the U.S. the dispute with traffic controllers in the former and coal miners in the latter providing the ground for a statist attack against organized labor on behalf of capital. It was often coupled with statements of good intention and sympathetic if not identificatory sentiment and an avowed aim to ―give voice‖ to the previously silenced ―people without history. but misreading it is. habits of being. sometimes. but because the subaltern (as woman) describes a relation between subject and object status (under imperialism and then globalization) that is not one of silence—to be overcome by representational heroism—but aporia. testifies to the impossibility of such transparency. when it occurred. could nonetheless be read as evidence of something like nonconformism. then. which Spivak would term ―defective for capitalism. to recall that Spivak‘s essay entered the American academy at approximately the same time as there occurred. in this context. was nonetheless experienced as a crisis for left intellectuals). and the intentionalized nonconformity to dominant and/or normative structures that. It is well.‖ but often read those forms as traces of an agency that. It must suffice here to note that such analysis sometimes foundered on the incapacity to differentiate between the ontic realm‘s incommensurability with the conceptuality from within which it is represented. and Britain. One gets a sense of that other direction in Shetty‘s and Bellamy‘s response to ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ one that takes the essay as an incitement to rethink not only historiographical method but the archive per se. the abrasive but socially mediated presence that interrupts or obtrudes upon rationalism‘s ambitions. Scott. The one cannot be ―brought‖ into the other. more generally. derived from a reading of Spivak‘s essay: ―Can we approach the gendered subaltern more productively if our project is to recover not ‗lost voices‘ but rather lost texts?‖ If this very significant question tends to invite the reader to fantasize ―the text‖ as the satisfying substitute—an accessible and bound object behind which the speaking subject‘s disappearance loses its status as problem—it nonetheless offers an alternative to the kind of longing for authenticity that interpretive social science often sought in Spivak‘s essay. historians. in the interpretive social sciences. Nonetheless. In this milieu. .unconscious resistance. asserts in a recent essay.‖ Even Paul Rabinow. when alternative forms of political possibility and intellectuals‘ participation in it were being sought. on the one hand. Spivak‘s essay is somewhat incompatible with this latter ambition.‖ as Eric Wolf so named them. It is a willful misreading that permits Donald Moore to claim. her essay and. interpretive social scientists identified forms of practice. ―Spivak‘s plaintive query about whether the subaltern could ever speak reflected a normative goal of transparency: if only power relations were different.‖ It may be that anthropologists.

‖ Drucilla Cornell‘s essay then situates Spivak‘s essay in the broader context of European philosophical modernism and the . which Spivak shows to be an impossibility for the subaltern in ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ is nonetheless a demand made upon ―minoritized‖ persons (women. if ironically. and the subsequent essays in the volume help to map and to comprehend the space and the consequences of the distance traveled during the decades between the first and the revised publication. I mean to sketch the space within which their analyses might be productively read. Jean Rhys. to withhold from it the capacity to signify the general (a capacity it grants begrudgingly even to the ―women‘s literature‖ of Charlotte Brontë. including South Asian history. but also significant continuity. the latter by Spivak herself. Ritu Birla‘s essay performs a careful reading of the arguments and rhetorical gestures that structure the original essay. I have indicated an expansion of the sphere of influence for ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ over the past two decades. Nonetheless. sets the stage by describing the intellectual milieu into which the essay arrived in India. The essays in part 2 are concerned to situate and reflect upon the historic. while suggesting that the result of its movement was a set of profound transformations in the disciplines adjacent to subaltern studies. postcolonial studies. and gender studies. it is the resistance of dominance to its possible displacement from the exclusive claim on universality. Rather. she delivered a paper in which she read Brecht‘s ―Threepenny Opera‖ next to Mahasweta Devi‘s ―Stranadayini. This gesture constitutes the inverse and displacement of the desire that subalternity be given a voice. anthropology. Spivak has often reminded her audiences of her training as a Europeanist. The resistance here is not of or by the third world writer and/or her writings. This book is divided into four parts and has as its bookends an introduction and an afterward. ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ has moved less smoothly across those fields of literary critical study (including that dominated by the strands deconstructionism) that are not also specifically concerned with postcolonial literary production. in that second subaltern studies conference reported on by David Hardiman. between these ―versions‖ of the text. instead. let alone by the subaltern. The isomorphism between the subject and the object of knowledge. academy—especially. while providing us with a sense of how and in what ways its revision for A Critique of Postcolonial Reason reflected new emphases and conceptualizations of the problematic of ―speaking. It is not my intention to conclude or to supplant the work of the writers whose various contributions to this volume pursue many of the threads mentioned so briefly here. persons of alterior sexuality) within the identitarian formation of the U.Thus far. At the same time. precisely. the status of postcolonial criticism (and critical race theory) within the field of literary criticism was being solidified by the interventions not only of Spivak herself but many others. It then sketches for us the arguments ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ made possible within that country‘s tradition of radical social analysis. It nonetheless remained the case that deconstructionism most dominated those spaces of the literary critical establishment where the textual objects of reading could be recognized as cultural artifacts of the same philosophical system to which it turned its critical eye. and philosophical aspects of ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ Partha Chatterjee‘s essay. but it is not tendentious to note the degree to which deconstructionist (and other) literary criticism in the Anglo-American academy tends to attribute to the third world literary text an irreducible particularity. Readers will discern a vast movement. Gandhi‘s diagnosis of the containment to which the essay has been subject retains a measure of truth. people of color. written by an original member of the subaltern studies group and Spivak‘s constant interlocutor. in those domains that resist most vociferously the rise of identitarianism. rhetorical. that it signify itself as. it is for the reading of Devi more than of Brecht that her intervention is recalled.‖ Nonetheless. ―third world‖ literature. history of the global South. And one notes that.S. Part 1 comprises both the origin and the revised versions of ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ as they appeared. By the early 1980s Spivak‘s translation of Derrida‘s Of Grammatology had opened for English-speaking readers a broader aperture through which to receive deconstructionism than had previously existed. or Mary Shelley) and to demand. first in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg) and Spivak‘s own A Critique of Postcolonial Reason . It would be tendentious to adduce here the place of European literary productions in Spivak‘s analysis of subalternity.

asking once again how and what we can know about subalternity on the basis of this particular figure. asking not merely about the material deaths of those who are called subaltern in Spivak‘s writings but also about the constitutive place of death in the (often thwarted) claim to subjectivity that the subaltern makes. takes a contrary approach. From her we learn that. Abdul JanMohammed‘s essay on African American literatures of death in/and slavery revisits Hegelian dialectic and the labor of the negative in the context of what he perceives to be Spivak‘s demand for a measurement of silence and offers an ethically demanding alternative to the memory industry. Sunder Rajan both questions the ways in which the body is made to speak in these critics‘ analyses and reiterates Spivak‘s conclusion that the subaltern cannot speak.. By separating out the question of what preconditions structured the production of speech for deceased slaves. though ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ answered its own question in the negative. The volume closes with Gayatri Spivak‘s final reflection on the metamorphoses and interpretive readings to which the essay has been subject and on the questions that emerged in the context of the conference. Jean Franco‘s essay on women‘s writing in La tin America reframes the question of silence in terms of secrecy to introduce an agency that might function through strategies of illegibility and dissimulation rather than self-disclosure. How can we learn to listen? remains radically open. Pheng Cheah‘s essay moves us into the contemporary moment with a reconsideration of Spivak‘s debate with Foucault on the question of biopower and then exposes the operations of the new international division of labor in the Asian Pacific. recording. For more information. mobilizing Spivak‘s concept of ―erasure in disclosure.ethical turn in deconstructionism as part of an effort to understand what ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ made possible as a revised approach to the possibilities and pitfalls of human rights discourse.. accompanied and perhaps even possessed Spivak in her own effort to be accountable to and for history. Related Subjects . COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Copyright © 2010 Columbia University Press. Part 3 focuses specifically on the problematic of death in the theorization of subalternity. Her account of the subaltern soldiers in the British military campaign in Mesopotamia does not point in the direction of a re-presentable but occluded presence.‖ she traces the debates surrounding the memorialization of the subaltern solders as the scene of an effacement of Indian and other colonial combatants in British war memorials. please email us or visit the permissions page on our Web site. its corollary question. Reading Spivak against Guha and Bhubanswari against Chandra. if only in the enabling negation of her subalternity. All rights reserved. JanMohammed offers the strongest argument in the collection for the project of recuperation. . or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher. Michèle Barrett. Bhubaneswari Bhaduri returns there as the haunting figure of a continually misread woman whose impossible story has. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying. Part 4 offers readings of the contemporary geopolitical scene with reference to the insight and questions that ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ posed for an analysis of the international division of labor as well as for the relations between analysis and the political of resistance. in so many ways. To conclude. similarly plumbing the archive. from the issue of what kinds of audition can be learned now in the service of ―hearing‖ the fugitive call of slavery‘s deathbound-subjects. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan‘s essay brings to bear new reflections on the case of Bhubaneswari Bhaduri and the question of suicide in the analysis of subalternity. reading deconstructionism as a labor of the negative in a neo-Hegelian mode. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. Rather. except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web.

Spivak is hardly impressed with western efforts to speak for the other or try to “present his own voice”. to be produced and sold for the benefit of the western readers and especially the western writer. She believes that the west is obsessed with preserving itself as .Spivak is wondering how can the third world subject be studied without cooperation with the colonial project. is sue to the fact that critical thinking about the “other” tends to articulate its relation to the other with the hegemonic vocabulary. and scientific. Spibak claims that “research” or “knowledge” have served as a prime justification for the conquest of other cultures and their enslavement. This is. Spivak points to the fact that research is in a way always colonial.for example) is harvested in the third world country and taken back to the west. This limitation. Spivak holds. ethical and accurate. Spivak points to the fact that the west is talking to itself. in defining the “other”. for Spivak. Basically we’re talking about white men speaking to white men about colored men/women. and in its own language. Spivak wonders if under these conditions it can be possible for the west to speak about the non-west without sustaining the colonial discourse. as part of the European colonial project. This is similar to feminist writers which abide by the patriarchic rules for academic writing. very much not the real case for the opening statement of “Can the Subaltern Speak?” is that knowledge about the third world was always tainted with the political and economical interests of the west. In the following parts of “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak is criticizing different critical writers [Marx. she proposes that the discursive institutions which regulate writing about the other are shut off to postcolonial or feminist scrutiny. the “over there” subject as the object of study and as something that knowledge should be extracted from and brought back “here”. data or raw material (ethnographical . Foucault. In “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Gayatri Spivak is criticizing the intellectual west’s “desire for subjectivity”. Derrida] and then moves on to the example of the Indian “Sati” practice. When Spivak examines the validity of the western representation of the other. about the other. Like other commodities. He presented himself is without interests. Delueze. The western scholar authoritatively presented himself and his produced knowledge about the other culture as objective.

their hidden history. Since there is no way to get out of this cycle. institutionalized discourse that classifies and surveys the East in the same measure as the actual modes of colonial dominance it seeks to dismantle? According to Spivak. meaning under. Spivak’s answer to “Can the Subaltern Speak?” is no. Another summary points out the dangers of Western intellectuals trying to ―give a voice‖ to formerly colonized peoples: Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?”–originally published in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg’s Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988)–perhaps best demonstrates her concern for the processes whereby postcolonial studies ironically reinscribe. In “Can the Subaltern Speak?”. et al 28). economic exploitation. Spivak has concluded that the subaltern is a silent position. She discussed about the definition of the subaltern. a project led by Ranajit Guha that has reappropriated Gramsci’s term “subaltern” (the economically dispossesed) in order to locate and re establish a “voice” or collective locus of agency in postcolonial India. essentialist “mythology” as Derrida might describe it–that doesn’t account for the heterogeneity of the colonized body politic. and 2) a dependence upon western intellectuals to “speak for” the subaltern condition rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. postcolonial studies must encourage that “postcolonial intellectuals learn that their privilege is their loss” (Ashcroft. academic. According to her ―Subaltern‖ refers to the people who have been as equally instrumental in history as the Europeans. Spivak‘s main argument concerning the subaltern is that there is no way the subaltern can ever be heard. which also means that they are no longer speaking from that position. she suggests that any attempt from the outside to ameliorate their condition by granting them collective speech invariably will encounter the following problems: 1) a logocentric assumption of cultural solidarity among a heterogeneous people. Although Spivak acknowledges the “epistemic violence” done upon Indian subalterns. meaning alternative or marginalized. and rehearse neo-colonial imperatives of political domination. but have been under-represented. is no. is the post-colonial critic unknowingly complicit in the task of imperialism? Is “post-colonialism” a specifically first-world. The academic assumption of a subaltern collectivity becomes akin to an ethnocentric extension of Western logos–a totalizing. Therefore.subject. according to Spivak. and repressed females in Asia. subalterns will in fact re-inscribe their subordinate position in society. they must move into the dominant discourse to be understood. As Spivak argues. not when the western academic field is unable to relate to the other with anything other than its own paradigm. male. Spivak‘s main concern is with the people of India. and altern. and cultural erasure. privileged. they must remove themselves from the subaltern position. and that any discourse is eventually about the discoursing agents themselves. Subaltern can be broken up into sub. She addresses this problem in one of her most influential essays. Can the Subaltern Speak?. Spivak encourages but also criticizes the efforts of the subaltern studies group. The answer. co-opt. Spivak is opposed to the western attempt to situate itself as investigating subject that is opposed to the investigated non-western object. and to the historiographers who study them. In other words. by speaking out and reclaiming a collective cultural identity. . To do so Spivak gave some of the examples regarding to the studies of subaltern. they cannot. As soon as the subaltern tries to acquire a voice.

" Spivak argues against essentialism because the subaltern cannot be easily or neatly categories. to ask how such a question functions and what are its practical effects. lapsed into essentialism. and in subject-prediction. which for others we have refused the myth of the originary subject. Yet the struggles of the colonial people are "played out in the context of global capitalism and imperialism. This problem is also seen in the trendy "claiming" of Chairman Mao by the perennially "new" Left: to use the term Maoist in the European context is to cause Asia to be transparent. Spivak seeks to drive a Derridean wedge between the two thinkers. Marx. rather than examinations of. They are vertreten. for example. Foucault cannot "see" the intellectual continuity of history. her question." She focused on the Foucault and Deleuze. Looking at the larger concentrations of power--an approach almost antithetical to Foucault's whole project--would expose the oppressive nature of colonialism in a way that Foucauldian histories cannot.. Additionally. ." However." She does argue for a "difference . or ideology." These terms are confused (in translations) when Marx writes: "The small peasant proprietors cannot represent themselves." There is no way. in other languages both terms are characterized generally as represent. . on Spivak's account. Few have ventured to question the question itself. Spivak questions the notion of the colonial (and Western) "subject. on Spivak's account. a function of its place in a system of differences. which means for some that we have silenced the oppressed. in which case according to one's perspective we have either brought agency back in or. Spivak proposes the antidote of a single question: can the subaltern speak? It is a testimony to the power of Spivak's essay that this question has come to dominate an entire theoretical field to such an extent that the vast majority of responses have consisted of answers to. on the one hand. the microlevel histories of Foucault glorify only the personal nature of resistance. According to their conversation First World intellectuals." Spivak notes that Deleuze's focus on the "workers' struggle" is characteristic of his Eurocentrism. they must be represented. on die other--are related but irreducibly discontinuous. Spivak wants to expose the complicit nature of literature and the intellectual elite. in contrast. can speak and know their conditions. which means something like "to fill in for" or "to stand in the place of.. which implies a "re-presentation.essentialize the subaltern and thus replicate the colonialist discourses they purport to critique.In this essay." and darstellan. Spivak analyzes Marx's notion of "representation. culture. share with the subaltern studies group is the notion no less dangerous for being naive that "the oppressed . It is a "genuflection. he sees only the disjuncture. It is as if there exists a simple dilemma before us: either we argue that the subaltern can indeed speak." She argues that European intellectuals have assumed that they know the "other" and can place it in the context of the narrative of the oppressed: "Intellectuals must attempt to disclose and know the discourse of society's Other. which often appears innocent in the political realm of oppression To scrutinize Marxism's relation to the subaltern. uses two German terms for the verb to represent." And thus to the general plague of essentialism which in truly internationalist fashion circulates freely between the First and Third Worlds. in which Deleuze can account for ideas. or we argue with Spivak that the subaltern cannot speak. "Leftist intellectuals who romanticize the oppressed." This "usable Marx" cannot be based on antediluvian notions of representation. Yet "[t]hese two senses of representation--within state formation and the law." "A person's or group's identity is relational. These histories ignore the macrohistorical trends that might place the subaltern as a key player.

working for. etc. crude political generalizations. The widow's act is never considered a form of martyrdom. even while one retained an awareness that those claims were. as a voluntary act." Vertreten implies a total understanding of the subject being "represented." It was just considered a crime. "cannot speak.feminism" "which stresses alliances among women across their differences. "What did Sati say?" Can the subaltern be understood? Or is it always a "speaking for?" Sati was understood either. as the slaughter of innocent women or." Hence. she emphasized how deconstructions interest in the 'violence' of traditional hierarchical binary oppositions (between male and female." She introduces the concept of "strategic essentialism": "In some instances. have no voice: In fact. Thus the amalgamation of the two notions of representation establishes a silencing of the subaltern. Using "Marxist" terms. through the male Hindus who spoke for the female Indians." In other words." It is almost as if the representative has the total "agency" of the subject--a complete "filling in. the Marxists silence the subaltern by representing them in discourse in which they have no speaking role." In other words. Spivak writes that "the banality of leftist intellectuals' lists of self-knowing. "with the defunct husband standing in for the transcendental One." or as the civilized British versus the primitive dark-skins. is so insightful it is appropriate to quote her at length: Almost from the start. the representation of the other destroys the subjectivity of the subaltern. dartelling is about representing a "constituency. using Frederick Jameson as an intellectual backdrop. politically canny subalterns stands revealed. Hence. the West and the rest." In contrast. through the English. Both strategies silence the subaltern because they ignore the positional relations of the dominant to the subaltern. They can never speak because they are both being "stood in for" and "embodied" by others in the dominant discourse.) . Spivak argues that one can rarely tell the time period of a Third World film. The nationalist Indians accepted the British reading of sati. she argued. Applying this mode of deconstruction. the subaltern. Spivak points out that the British ignored that sati was often motivated by widows' inheritance of property. She asks. the marginalized group. at best. the relationship between global capitalism and national alliance cannot explain the "textures of power. Spivak argues that the case of Indian sati is illustrative of how the subaltern cannot speak. "Caught in the relay between 'benevolent' colonial interventions and national liberation struggles that both construct her will for her. it was important to strategically make essentialist claims. and made it a point to reclaim the practice. Spivak's language. the intellectuals represent themselves as transparent. representing them. the Western approach to the subaltern is either to speak for or to silently let them speak for themselves. the subaltern in this instance." Spivak suggests." "[I]t is not about giving voice but is concerned with constituting. yet the temporal details of a "period piece" set in the West are almost always readily evident on the celluloid. sati was understood as the "noble Hindus" versus the "bad Hindus. representing for and with. In other words." Spivak elaborates on this concept in her excellent discussion of the Western films portraying the Third World versus movies with a "native" location. the Indian women.

scapegoat. and Majority / Minority. crude political generalizations. a function of its place in a system of differences.  Psychoanalysis: psychological teachings of Sigmund Freud." Spicak turns to Frued's analysis of colonialism. Post-Colonial theory is a sustained attention to the imperial process in colonial and neo-colonial societies. she argued. savior." She does argue for a "difference feminism" "which stresses alliances among women across their differences. Self / the other. it was important to strategically make essentialist claims. Spivak can explicitly manipulate cultural discourses in terms of deconstruction. : The-third-world background intellectuals. there are some identifiable characteristics of Post-Col theory." Spivak argues against essentialism because the subaltern cannot be easily or neatly categories. "She remains leery of any attempt to fix and celebrate the subaltern's distinctive voice by claims that the subaltern occupies the position of victim. the Occident / the Orient.. Center / Marginal." "A person's or group's identity is relational. "Leftist intellectuals who romanticize the oppressed. at best. It begins from the very first moment of colonial contact." Deconstruction: The influence of Deconstruction: Subvert the binary opposition between Subjects / object. -Rejection on master-narrative of Western imperialism." Spivak notes that her analysis offers an acknowledgement of the the dangers of "interpreting and representing the other. In this section Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak use theexample considering a text by two great practitioners of the critique: „Intellectuals and power: a conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze‟. and an examination of the strategies to subvert the actual material and discursive effects of the process. The subaltern enters the official and intellectual discourse only rarely and usually through mediating commentary of someone more at home in those discourses.afforded a passage from literary theory to radical politics. Spivak's central motif is always very deconstructive . and so on. and is the discourse of oppositionality which colonialism brings into being.. 'difference'." She introduces the concept of "strategic essentialism": "In some instances.Much more influenced by Derrida's 'the trace'. -Concern with the formation (within Western discursive practices) of the colonial and postcolonial “subject”. If the problematic is understood in this way. even while one retained an awareness that those claims were.  . Searching for individual. Although it is almost hopelessly diverse." "The subaltern is not privileged (within the dominant discourse). 'under erasure'.essentialize the subaltern and thus replicate the colonialist discourses they purport to critique. method for treating mental illness by studying unconscious mental processes. abjected other. and national identity. post-colonial theories." She sees postcolonial studies as a new instance of this attempt to liberate the other and to enable that other to experience and articulate those parts of itself that fall outside what the dominant discourse has constituted as its subject hood." Spivak herself writes that "the intellectual is complicit in the persistent constitution of the Other as the Self's Shadow. cultural. and does not speak in a vocabulary that will get a hearing in institutional locations of power. it is hard to see how the subaltern can be capable of speaking.

she emphasized how deconstructions interest in the 'violence' of traditional hierarchical binary oppositions (between male and female. I came away from the event with some very useful responses to my 'subalterns at war' talk.. Some of the speakers at the symposium took up the issue of death directly." Spivak argues against essentialism because the subaltern cannot be easily or neatly categories. silenced. Spivak's description of the Third World becoming a "signifier that allows us to forget that 'worlding'" resembles in many ways Marx's notion of the commodity fetish that he describes in volume one of Kapital. subalterns will in fact reinscribe their subordinate position in society. The academic assumption of a subaltern collectivity becomes akin to an ethnocentric extension of Western logos--a totalizing. thus making Western dominance appear somehow given or natural. and 2) a dependence upon western intellectuals to "speak for" the subaltern condition rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. she argued. a function of its place in a system of differences.essentialize the subaltern and thus replicate the colonialist discourses they purport to critique. In Spivak's paper. of the young woman Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri (revealed at this event as a member of her own family). Spivak's essay tackles the complex politics of widow self-immolation (sati) and the less familiar suicide in 1926. "almost from the start. and the current state of 'post-colonial theory'. In "The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret.) afforded a passage from literary theory to radical politics." Marx suggests that commodity products become part of an obfuscating network of signs that obscure the history of labour that went into their production. the subaltern appears as a woman of some resource. Spivak suggests that the Third World. becomes a sign that obscures its mode of production. in some ways. it was important to . on the Indian Army and the First World War. Although Spivak acknowledges the "epistemic violence" done upon Indian subalterns. she suggests that any attempt from the outside to ameliorate their condition by granting them collective speech invariably will encounter the following problems: 1) a logocentric assumption of cultural solidarity among a heterogeneous people." She does argue for a "difference feminism" "which stresses alliances among women across their differences. but whose specific situation in British-colonized India results in her being.. "Leftist intellectuals who romanticize the oppressed." She introduces the concept of "strategic essentialism": "In some instances. like the commodity fetish. the West and the rest. a project led by Ranajit Guha that has reappropriated Gramsci's term "subaltern" (the economically dispossesed) in order to locate and re-establish a "voice" or collective locus of agency in postcolonial India. I Think by speaking out and reclaiming a collective cultural identity. essentialist "mythology" as Derrida might describe it--that doesn't account for the heterogeneity of the colonized body politic." "A person's or group's identity is relational. for political reasons. etc. others addressed more general issues of indigenous political movements." Spivak herself writes that "the intellectual is complicit in the persistent constitution of the Other as the Self's Shadow.Spivak encourages but also criticizes the efforts of the subaltern studies group.

in the context of colonial production."In other words. A pressing problem. abjected other. but can also be used as a term when discussing feminism. active speaking. The Derridean/Spivakian self is--to a certain extent--a "new universal structure of subjectivity-as-difference. the subaltern has no history and cannot speak. even while one retained an awareness that those claims were. scapegoat. crude political generalizations. who. about the consciousness of the subaltern. and it is often limited by its subordinate position to a notion of the centered self. it is important to remember that this does not only apply to racial groups. becomes quite pertinent when set against Bhaba's definition." Spivak notes that her analysis offers an acknowledgement of the the dangers of "interpreting and representing the other. The search for the subaltern voice pretends that there is a "true" subaltern into which the careful Western can tap. Homi Bhaba provides this definition in 'Unsatisfied: Notes on Vernacular Cosmopolitanism': Oppressed. He notes that few thinkers will embrace the term themselves:  There are several difficulties to the traditional approach to Spivak. at best. savior. necessarily transform the subaltern's consciousness into. minority groups whose presence was crucial to the self-definition of the majority group: subaltern social groups were also in a position to subvert the authority of those who had hegemonic power. Rather than just being a term for the oppressed class. at least. the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow. and so on. 'serv[ing] as a counterpossibility for the narrative sanctions granted to the colonial subject in the dominant groups.' Another criticism coming regarding to the famoys article are describing below  In fact. is the Spivakian bias toward "action" or. "She remains leery of any attempt to fix and celebrate the subaltern's distinctive voice by claims that the subaltern occupies the position of victim. implying that is a sham marketing tool that enables lazy scholarship.' Whilst discussing the subaltern. at best. Kant is creeping around every corner." Spivak explores the relationship between the "S/subject" and the other and the subaltern's identity in terms power and discourse.strategically make essentialist claims." Spicak turns to Frued's analysis of colonialism. he questions the whole notion of postcolonial criticism. Spivak says that '[i]f. Yet the decentered self has a trace of the universal subject. . The problem comes to a head when we consider that whatever we read of the subaltern is usually set through the prism of an "intellectual" historian. The poverty of this position is revealed by Spivak's own analysis. Spivak's question. therefore. despite their best efforts. The subaltern subject is unable to "know and speak itself" because it exists only within imperialist histories and is characterized by its unconsciousness of its conditions of existence It may be worth first defining what Spivak mean by "subaltern". which used the (de)centered Derridean self as a (non)starting point. as implied above.

 This article is often described as one of the seminal pieces in a rather distinguished career.  The most obvious example of oppression comes when considering nineteenth-century territorial imperialism. By confronting this issue we are not representing them. as an authority over them. can help consolidate the international division of labour. and raw material was transferred to the colonizing country. though. that the idea of representation and re-presentation (the difference between a proxy and a portrait) is insufficient as it does not allow a place for the 'oppressed subject to speak. This is where the problem arises. This leads to a continuing cycle where '[c]lass consciousness remains with the feeling of community that belongs to national links'. For once. Terry Eagleton. but ourselves. The problem. Groups without a voice are therefore given a voice by those above them. generally first-world. and this is what I've gleaned from it. that their reduction to a coherent narrative is counterproductive--a persistent critique is needed. these theorists are actually contributing to the artificial formation of different classes. are actually just "reporting" it. and begins by asserting what she considers the most important contributions of French Postructuralist theory:First. it highlights an important aspect of women as subaltern: the white men are "saving" brown women without assent from a single woman. This is problematic. has said that Spivak attempts to be 'as obscurantist as you can decently get away with'. Their representative must appear simultaneously as their master. another group. In practice. Spivak notes that: The small peasant proprietors 'cannot represent themselves. the postcolonial intellectual has to undergo a process of 'unlearning'. and second. as unrestricted governmental power that protects them from the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. In order for the subaltern to speak. as Spivak contends. especially. they must be represented. so I don't feel too inadequate. purporting to critique this system. This is problematic when considering that the intellectuals. law and standardized education systems were developed--even as local industries were destroyed.' Put another way. What seems to the West to be a heathen practice is actually shown to be 'one diagnosis of female free will substituted for another. however. Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. In her essay. Spivak contends. generally third-world. land distribution was rearranged. Spivak relates the Indian nativist argument: 'The women actually wanted to die. schools etc. provide the field for investment In the interest of maintaining the circulation and growth of industrial capital transportation.). brandishing concrete experience. By arguing for this concrete experience (in factories. I found it incredibly difficult to decipher. that intellectuals must attempt to disclose and know the discourse of society's Other. are in the position of investing capital. Spivak begins by considering two other critics. Hindu women had a free choice in the matter (Spivak does concede that they were often talked into it by their family). that the networks of power/desire/interest are so heterogeneous. Luckily my favourite critic (if it's not too nerdy to have one of those). act and know for themselves'. I've tried. Quoting Marx. this is Spivak's arguing against an "essentialist" . Spivak's own words explain this in the clearest manner: A group of countries. is that we produce a 'homogeneous Other' which reflects our Self.  Neither Deleuze nor Foucault seems aware that the intellectual within socialized capital.' Whether this is true or not.

we might add. we must be aware of the extent to which her deconstructive feminism has been prematurely and unfairly associated with the supposed political shortcomings of Derridean deconstruction. as Foucault's concept of the archive reminds us." One way of rephrasing Gayatri Spivak's highly resonant question might be. Can we approach the gendered subaltern more productively if our project is to recover not "lost voices" but rather lost texts? In the process of unpacking the textual complexities underlying Britain's 1829 abolition of sati(the widow's self-immolation on her husband's funeral pyre). It is only heard when one of the dominating classes speaks for it. the prince regent's court. However. Spivak pushes us further back in time when she observes intriguingly that "the archival . consisting of the "correspondence among the police stations. Despite these risks. the archive of subaltern historiography). Can there be such a thing as a "postcolonial archive"? The purpose of our essay is to demonstrate just how crucial the concept of an "archive"--perhaps even a "postcolonial archive"--is for a more sympathetic understanding of Spivak's now notorious "silencing" of the subaltern woman. She hones in on Freud's use of women 'as a scapegoat'. after a lengthy discussion of the idea of the subaltern through the practice of sati (the widow throwing herself on her husband's funeral pyre. race or gender. transforming her into the voice and 'subject of hysteria. they present the subaltern's situation through the discourse of their society." but can also be conceptualized more abstractly as the "law of what can be said. our emphasis]. the system that governs the . revisitations to well-known essays can often seem more regressive than innovative. that is. judge that "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (now over ten years old) has had its theoretical "moment" and should now give way to more current efforts to locate nonelite. Our essay will argue that "Can the Subaltern Speak?" deserves a foundational or canonical status within postcolonial theory and should experience a "staying power" on the current critical scene as far-reaching and significant as Edward Said'sOrientalism. work involved here is indeed a task of 'measuring silences'" [286. the regrettable result being an almost reflex aversion to her deconstructive theory within both feminism and postcolonialism. subaltern subjectivity within a politics of resistance. however. discussed briefly above). we hope that our use of the archive as the governing principle for our return to Spivak's essay can pave the way for a more sympathetic reading of Spivak's "silent" subaltern.reading of the subaltern class. The underread and scarcely commented-on third and fourth sections of Spivak's essay raise the question.'  Finally. and as her examples show. We are well aware that we may have to overcome a certain indifference on the part of readers who. Spivak's essay at one point refers quite literally to the concept of an archive. the archive is not just "that whole mass of texts that belong to a single discursive [in this case. We contend that her choice of the term "archival" is highly motivated and can serve as the long-overdue occasion for a return to the largely unread sections of "Can the Subaltern Speak?" We can think of at least two risks involved in our undertaking. Spivak reaches the conclusion to her essay: 'The subaltern cannot speak'. and recounting a young woman's suicide. . . no discursive space can emerge from which she could formulate an "utterance. Many readers of "Can the Subaltern Speak?" have been disturbed by Spivak's controversial answer to her own question. feeling confident that they know it well." and so on [298]--all the documents instrumental in British law's recodification of sati from "ritual" to "crime" (also. legal] formation. which is that "no scene of speaking" can arise for the subaltern woman. the lower and higher courts. For one thing. the colonial "archive" of the East India Company. the courts of directors. A second concern is that because our project of reading the subaltern woman "archivally" must necessarily reexamine and justify Spivak's career-long engagement with Derrida and with deconstruction.

.‖ (71) Subjectivity. in turn. She. class warfare.‖ they actually represent those images of subalterns which they created themselves. speaking for oppressed groups without changing meanings of their message. If economic conditions form a class as a socio-economic category. in the way that they participated in taking away the original forms of speaking from colonized nations. but it does not exist as a political-cultural category. education and similar forms of discipline and control.‖ (74) She claims that intellectuals. Spivak then looks at the ways the British codified Hindu law in order to ask a question: the international division of labor created a situation when Third World territories don‘t have socialized capital operated by intellectuals (such as Foucault). She sees the problem of this ―blindness‖ in the fact that European (and a priori American) philosophers belong to ―the exploiters‘ side of the international division of labor‖ (75) and their intellectual baggage is part of European production of the Other. 129]. etc. and. focuses on the fact that when intellectuals take the task of representing ―subalterns. if not selfidentical. economic exploitation: are there possibilities for the subaltern to speak? Spivak addresses the problem of ―epistemological violence‖: how imperialist powers created . Thus. power structures and intellectuals come in and act to ―represent‖ the class. which had been subordinated through political violence. they stood on the side of West as a kind of oppressor of the rest of the world.. political organization). remind us of Spivak's own "sentence" (her term) summarizing British law's abolition of widow sacrifice: "White men. this operation fails to create any kind of unity (a feeling of community. is misleading. most importantly. arguing that their inattentiveness to their own intellectual position and stance made them at certain points blind to the role of ideology in reproducing of oppressive and hegemonic social relations of production between West and the rest of the world. have deep roots in socialized and institutionalized capital and their emphasis on discourses and ignoring of the role of economics.‖ that is. Foucault's reference to "the appearance of statements as unique events" within the archive can. so their writing only reinforces ―the constitution of the Subject as Europe‖ (ibid). Spivak then explores how Marx speaks of a Subject: it not a canny individual with undivided personality. failing to acknowledge that this class still doesn‘t have its own interests. Spivak starts with a critique of Foucault and Deleuze. but rather ―a divided and dislocated subjects whose parts are not continuous or coherent with each other. In this process. neither it is collective: while capital/power imposes on oppressed classes interests which actually do not belong to them. not only is not individual. in particular.appearance of statements as unique events" [126. subject of the oppressed. thus. Spivak attacks an implicitly promoted in contemporary critical theory distinction between a totalizing Subject of desire and power and ―the self-proximate. falsely pretending to be ―transparent. even such critical as Foucault and Deleuze.

women are subordinated through cultural patterns of patriarchal social relations. Analysis of 19th-century ideological debate over sati as an example of situation when two ―male‖ visions were involved in a conflict where women remained silent subalterns. Foucault is. Analysis of jauhar as another phenomenon by which men reinforce their rule and possession of women. ―The question is how to keep the ethnocentric Subject from establishing itself by selectively defining an Other‖ (87). consequently. Thus. cohere with the work of imperialist subject-constitution. also pretty closely tied to a specific time and place (modern First world). class mobility is almost non-existent. which makes his analysis of power flawed in terms that he doesn‘t draw parallels between modern power and structures of colonial exploitation. mingling epistemic violence with the advantage of learning and civilization. in the long run. criticized for not making a difference between exploitation and domination. in particular. Spivak suggests that Derrida‘s approach to textual analysis should be rehabilitated. but simply changed modes and models of male domination. But British abolition of sati was imposed in such terms and cultural categories that it didn‘t liberate them. she argues. Contemporary situation is not principally different. to look for silences which serve the oppression and to identify meanings which reinforce intellectual and cultural trends (western intellectuals as playing on the part of the oppressor) she had described above. .‖ ―riots‖) and imposed their meanings which facilitated colonial exploitation. objectify them: patriotic stories of mass self-immolation serve to impose these gender categories from early childhood in a very effective way. it is more useless elsewhere. Derrida gives tools and insights into criticism of European ethnocentric tradition of constituting Others. Exploited classes in colonial countries are not ―trained‖ in the ideology of consumerism. To overcome the pro-Western bias in contemporary scholarship. his research also provides an understanding that historical and geographic position of European intellectuals doesn‘t allow them for ―transparent‖ representation of the Others. so while its analytical potential is pretty high in the field of European studies. And there are people outside of the international division of labor who are in an even deeper silence (Third World farmers or unemployed). no matter by what benevolent desires this representation is driven.‖ (90) Spivak takes an artificially constructed sentence ―White men are saving brown women from brown men‖ to deconstruct possible meanings related to hegemony and oppression underlying it. ―Yet the assumption and construction of a consciousness or subject sustains such work and will. His concept of subject and subjectivity is. Spivak mostly accuses Foucault and Deleuze for ignoring ―the epistemic violence of imperialism and the international division of labor‖ (84).structures of knowledge which silenced actual experience of colonized people. reinterpreted it in case of open confrontation (―mutinies. only that direct colonial exploitation is replaced with international division of labor.

Spivak holds that knowledge is never innocent and that it expresses the interests of its producers. Antonio Gramsci. For Spivak knowledge is like any other commodity that is exported from the west to the third world for financial and other types of gain. . When Spivak examines the validity of the western representation of the other. The basic claim and opening statement of “Can the Subaltern Speak?” is that western academic thinking is produced in order to support western economical interests. The Italian Marxist thinker. This limitation. felt that the Subaltern Studies Group privileged the male as the primary agent of change and she believed that the word should have a more flexible definition so as to include the lives of women and their histories.1942) was born in India and educated at both Indian and American universities. Spivak holds. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" she is primarily concerned with the issue of whether people who have been historically dispossessed or exploited by European colonialism are able to achieve a voice. She is well-known for her translation of and preface to Derrida's/Of Grammatology and her influential essay. the “over there” subject as the object of study and as something that knowledge should be extracted from and brought back “here”. in defining the “other”. she proposes that the discursive institutions which regulate writing about the other are shut off to postcolonial or feminist scrutiny. however the main significance of “Can the Subaltern Speak?” is in its first part which presents the ethical problems of investigating a different culture base on “universal” concepts and frameworks. specifically the unorganized groups of rural peasants based in Southern Italy. Spivak uses the example of the Indian Sati practice of widow suicide. The term subaltern conventionally refers to a junior ranking officer in the British army. working class and the untouchables in post-independenceIndia. Spivak points to the fact that research is in a way always colonial. In the following parts of “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak is criticizing different critical writers and then moves on to the example of the Indian “Sati” practice. Spivak is wondering how can the third world subject be studied without cooperation with the colonial project. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (b. is sue to the fact that critical thinking about the “other” tends to articulate its relation to the other with the hegemonic vocabulary. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” critically deals with an array of western writers starting from Marx to Foucault. This is similar to feminist writers which abide by the patriarchic rules for academic writing. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" In the essay. Basically we’re talking about white men speaking to white men about colored men/women. Deleuze and Derrida. however. The Subaltern Studies Collective developed the term further to include the subordinates in South Asian society. Their use of the tern 'subaltern' encompassed the continued oppression of rural peasantry.Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1988) by Gayatri Spivak relates to the manner in which western cultures investigate other cultures. Spivak. used the term interchangeably to mean subordinate or non-hegemonic groups or classes.

' She then proceeds to question their use of two master terms. using nuanced arguments. it is counterproductive to reduce the networks of power/desire/interest because they are so heterogeneous and b. it is only possible to represent another through one's own value system.Spivak. Spivak uses the example of sati in colonial Indiaand the story of Bhubaneshwari Bhaduri to affirm that the woman is assigned no position of articulation. She begins the final part of her essay by asking what the elite must do in order to avoid continuing to construct the subaltern. Spivak explains the notion of epistemic violence with the example of the British reformulation of the Hindu legal system and reveals that such epistemic violence is kept alive by the establishment of one explanation and narrative of reality as the normative one. Everyone else speaks for her. Both these critics. Spivak. Constituting the colonial subject as the other is an example of what Foucault terms ‗epistemic violence‘. speak?‘ Gayatri Spivak also considers the works of The Subaltern Studies Collective which studies the colonized subject. As mentioned earlier. While she understands and supports the aims of the group. suppressed the heterogeneity of the subaltern itself when they attempted to describe ‗subaltern consciousness‘ by talking about it as one single homogenous entity. However. 'ignore the question of ideology and their own implication in intellectual and economic history. she points out that The Subaltern Studies Collective. Additionally. namely. moves the essay from a critique of current Western efforts to problematize the subject to the question of the representation of the third world subject within the Western discourse. narrativising or othering the East. the oppressed if given a chance can speak out or revolt. According the Foucault and Deleuze. Spivak points out. like Foucault and Deleuze. Foucault locates an epistemic overhaul in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century and Spivak proposes that the epistemic violence carried out in the nations that were colonized byEurope was a consequence of this epistemic overhaul. Spivak broadens the definition of the subaltern to include women and their histories. Spivak formulates the sentence ‗White men are saving brown women from brown men‘ and . Spivak goes on to indicate that on ‗the margins of the circuit marked out by epistemic violence are men and women among the illiterate peasantry. the third world. She refers to critics like Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze who emphasize that a. in other words. the tribals‘. intellectuals must attempt to disclose and know the discourse of the Other. She likens this to what Foucault and Deleuze do when they speak about oppressed groups like the workers or Maoists. she expresses concern over the fact that the voice of the subaltern is being heard through them – a group of intellectuals. which is the imposition of a given set of beliefs over another. ‗A Maoist' and ' the worker's struggle'. while pointing out that in the discourse of the First World or Europe the subaltern can ‗speak and know their conditions‘ asks ‗can the subaltern on the other side. The use of essentialist terms such as the ones mentioned above assumes a cultural solidarity for a group that is heterogeneous in nature and the use of these terms by intellectuals such as Foucault and Deleuze casts the intellectual in the role of a medium who represents the voice of the oppressed. She begins by stating that some of the most radical criticism coming from the West is a result of the West conserving itself as the Subject by talking about.

She is continuously written as the object of either patriarchy or of imperialism. the difficulty of the essay cannot be reduced to a matter of tactics alone.states that the sentence discloses her politics. She also reveals that another Bengali woman. to resort to philosophies apparently foreign to the endeavor "as so many intimidating witnesses thrown in the faces of the audience to retain the respect. which appears in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture) displays a dazzling array of tactical devices designed to ward off or pre-emptively neutralize the attacks of critics. Spivak also narrates the story of Bhubaneshwari Bhaduri. and perhaps the most important. Spivak observes that the girl committed suicide at the time of her menstruation to discourage people from assuming that she killed herself because of an illicit pregnancy. tactics are dictated by the features of the concrete situation. above all. Of course. is her intervention in the debates surrounding the field of Subaltern Studies as it existed in India in the . . Thus even intellectuals are complicit in silencing the voice of the subaltern. Her essay "can the Subaltern Speak?" (which exists in several forms--I'll be examining the longest version. ad hoc subaltern rewriting of the social test of sati-suicide. In conclusion we can say that Spivak in her essay does not ask whether the subaltern does speak. However. a philosopher and Sanskritist also responded to her question about Bhubaneshwari‘s suicide by asking her why she wished to dwell on the ―hapless Bhubaneshwari‖ when her two sisters led such full and wonderful lives. 3. a young girl who committed suicide in 1926 because she was unable to go through with a political assassination that was assigned to her. It is the woman who becomes sati. she asks if the subaltern has the agency to speak. Not that Gayatri Spivak needs to be told any of this. yet no on e comes across the ‗testimony of the women‘s voice consciousness‘. At no point is the voice of the ‗brown woman‘ heard. Spivak shows us that it is either the white man explaining why Sati is a barbaric custom and must be abolished or the brown man insisting that it is a ritual that renders the woman sacred." To acknowledge this does not automatically imply a criticism of Spivak (which is precisely why I cited the case of Lacan the importance of whose work for me at least is unquestionable): after all. She concludes her essay by emphatically stating that the subaltern cannot speak as long as the subaltern continues to be represented. to feign a response to them before they are delivered" and. Applying this sentence to the example of the practice and subsequent abolishment of the practice of sati. in other words. when Spivak herself spoke to the girl‘s nieces they seemed to believe it to be a case of ―illicit love‖ thus continuing the process of silencing her voice. what she asks is if it is possible for her to speak. . the first. She sees the girl‘s suicide as an ‗unemphatic. We might say of Spivak what Althusser said of Lacan--that the legendary difficulty of the essay is less a consequence of the profundity of its subject matter than its tactical objectives: "to forestall the blows of critics . Its difficulty is also a consequence of the fact that Spivak carries on several struggles simultaneously.

A third figure. such a procedure . Spivak must turn to what she calls "the unguarded practice of conversation. an author. she invokes "the labor of the negative" to sustain her accusation. one might be tempted to argue that it is not only possible but inevitable that Foucault would contradict himself not only in interviews but in his most important works. only by suppressing the heterogeneity and non-contemporaneity of the subaltern itself. The subaltern studies movement did so. she objects to the notion that Subaltern studies seeks to allow the previously ignored voice of the subaltern finally to be heard and that its objective can be to "establish true knowledge of the subaltern and its consciousness. Spivak. Spivak seeks to point out a discrepancy between its research and the way its practitioners theorized that research. she seeks to lay to rest the "received idea" that "Foucault deals with real history. The other major objective of the essay is to intervene in a quarrel not so much between Foucault and Derrida (who did engage in a philosophical debate which Spivak curiously neglects to mention) as between their champions." While this may seem a surprising charge to lay at the feet of Foucault. allowed the movement to differentiate between the subaltern and the representation of the subaltern by imperialism. And according to Spivak they found themselves in some very distinguished company in that Abyss. also comes to play a part. acknowledged and unacknowledged. however. that "Derrida is less dangerous" than Foucault. if a minor one. suggests that what Foucault utters in apparently "unguarded" moments can only reveal a truth kept carefully hidden under a veil of appearance. an actor. in this scene as Foucault's accomplice. Accordingly. that is. Deleuze. In particular. however. real politics and real social problems. after all. the classical subject." The notion that the subaltern is a kind of collective individual." She will show.S. in contrast. who not only privileges "the 'concrete' subject of oppression" but even more dangerously conceals the privilege he thus grants himself by "masquerading as the absent nonrepresented who lets the oppressed speak for themselves. asked the famous question. Derrida is inaccessible.e. despite the appearance of contradiction .. Of course. unless that is. Foucault's critique of the subject is itself a ruse of subjectivity. by assigning it an essence and therefore falling into a metaphysical abyss from which Spivak seeks to rescue it. in the U. and thus to call attention to the blank spaces imperialist discourse. As a critical supporter of Subaltern Studies as a project. conscious of itself. who." i. 4. we assign to Foucault the position of Absolute subject.early eighties. particularly as represented by the work of Ranajit Guha. whose writing. esoteric and textualistic. in short. The ruse is so clever that its work cannot be glimpsed in any of Foucault's major texts where it labors to dissemble the negation of the subject that it will finally itself negate. In particular. possesses total coherence and homogeneity. "What is an Author?" and in doing so had a few things to say about Derrida that Spivak might profitably have consulted. an interview to discover Foucault's thought.

landless peasants. the idea of international alliances between the working classes East and West is for Spivak only a relic of so-called orthodox Marxism.of reading resolves the apparent contradiction to restore Foucault's work to the bad totality that it has always been. It is as if there exists a simple dilemma before us: either we argue that the subaltern can indeed speak. Few have ventured to question the question itself. rural laborers." And thus to the general plague of essentialism which in truly internationalist fashion circulates freely between the First and Third Worlds. First World intellectuals. it is even more menacingly a component of the strategy to maintain the domination of First World over Third World by subordinating the interests of the subaltern to those of their privileged counterparts. it has a long history in the socialist and communist movements. In fact. in contrast. as if the working classes in the West (and it appears that only the West has working classes--from the essay one would think that India was a primarily peasant society rather than one of the largest manufacturing economies in the world) is structurally allied more closely to its own bourgeoisie than to those forces traditionally regarded as its allies in the nations outside of Europe. Chakrabarti and Chaudhury have criticized Spivak's use of the term as suppressing class antagonisms. to ask how such a question functions and what are its practical effects. . or we argue with Spivak that the subaltern cannot speak. her question. Spivak proposes the antidote of a single question: can the subaltern speak? It is a testimony to the power of Spivak's essay that this question has come to dominate an entire theoretical field to such an extent that the vast majority of responses have consisted of answers to. which for others we have refused the myth of the originary subject. It is worth remarking that this is hardly a new position: on the contrary. in which case according to one's perspective we have either brought agency back in or. Thus. North American and Japan: workers. rather than examinations of. Lenin flirted with it in his attempts to explain the capitulation of European social democracy in the First World War. 6. 5. . can speak and know their conditions. lapsed into essentialism. A recent exception has focused on the putative subject or non-subject of speech: the subaltern. if we examine the essay closely we can go even further to say that Spivak has elevated the contradiction between the First World and Third World as opposing blocs to a position of strategic and political dominance. etc. Stalin embraced it and its very language derives from the period of the Sino-Soviet split and the consolidation of Maoism as an international . which means for some that we have silenced the oppressed. not simply essentialistic or reductive ways of understanding these antagonisms. share with the subaltern studies group is the notion no less dangerous for being naive that "the oppressed . What Foucault and Deleuze. but class contradictions per se.

we are left only with the fact that there is no pure. that is.current. if our theory deems it impossible for them to speak. 8. that no one has thought to ask whether Derrida's argument's (especially in Grammatology. it would appear that Derrida's argument leads in precisely the opposite direction. Who better than the translator of Of Grammatology to remind us of the relevance of Derrida's critique of Western logocentrism and phonocentrism to political life and to show the utter folly. even the very chants that accompany spontaneous and organized protests all over the world. is impossible then it must be declared no longer to be what is and a second real reality substituted for it. My objective. lead to such conclusions). the people. against all appearances. For if we accept Derrida's arguments against the speaking subject as ideal origin of speech. that speech is always already a kind of writing. akin to Kant's famous question: what can I know? That is. those who hold this position might want to draw their own balance sheet of its real political effects. present to its utterances as a guarantee of their truth and authenticity. of Foucault's call to publish the writings of prisoners as an integral part of the movement against the prisons. there is speaking and writing always and everywhere and even more where there is resistance to exploitation and oppression. of course. material and irreducible. Of course the subaltern speak and write. And she has called forth some very intimidating witnesses on her behalf. the work in which such questions are most extensively examined. that the subaltern cannot speak. the archives of the world are filled not only with the political tracts of their parties and organizations. To all appearances. Accordingly." which even if we replace the subaltern with another noun of our choice (the working class[es]. original working class . is to question the question itself. represented both discursively and politically by those who can speak. but there are literary texts. "Can the Subaltern Speak. Even more curious than this transcendental turn itself is the argumentation Spivak musters to support her declaration. But here we must be very careful. Is there anything in Derrida's critique of logocentrism that would allow us to say the subaltern cannot speak but must be spoken for. that is. Her question is a question of possibility which as such functions as a transcendental question. songs. leaflets. newspapers. 7. however. Spivak does not ask whether the subaltern does speak but whether it is possible for them to speak. films. etc. recordings. Such transcendental questions thus necessarily produce a distinction between appearance and reality: if what is. the primary one. what we take to be the subaltern speaking may in fact be determined to be only the appearance of their speaking. however.) rests on an obvious paradox. being Derrida. the oppressed. if not the disingenuousness. those who are real subjects of speech? In fact. or the attempt to set up and archive for the workers' voices as part of the project of proletarian self-emancipation (a project which Spivak has already criticized in categorical terms)? It appears.

and most importantly an actual subsitution of the subject. She accurately brings out F and Ds oversight of not correctly acknowledging the role of ideology within social relations. Spivak suggests. "Neither D nor F seems aware that the intellectual within socialized capital. she has even more importantly substituted speech for action. they are equally obliged to produce a mechanically schematic opposition between interest and desire. her essay would have been far less effective. ideology. Spivak questions the notion of class consciousness. It is precisely in and through the struggles that traverse these fields of practice that collectivities are constituted. or to use the Leninist term. first portion of her text pivots around F and Ds focus on interest. Thus they align themselves with bourgeois sociologists who fill the place of ideology with a continuistic "unconscious" or a parasubjective 'culture'" And so. Primarily. To recognize this is to recognize that Spivak has carried out a double displacement: not only has she replaced the question of whether the subaltern does speak at a given moment with the question of whether it is possible for them to speak at all. The question of whether or not the subaltern. steering away from any monolithic solid notion and suggesting that though heterogenitically made up. 9. Had she not carried out this substitution. This invovles a complex understanding of the relationship of colonialism. Here we must draw a line of demarcation: on the one side. There is speech and writing (although these are only modalities of action which are in no way privileged) always and everywhere. for the subaltern or the masses never cease to resist and rebel even as they are constituted by these actions as the masses. the transcendental questions that declare what exists impossible so as to declare necessary and inevitable the representation of the masses by others. on the other a materialism that recognizes the irreducibility of what exists. again.or subaltern (or ruling class). there exist opposing worlds of language (in which we are trapped) and being (which remains inaccessible to us). as if. and power: specifically looking at the (S)ubject from the view of the western intellectual. can help consolidate the international division of labor" Spivak fills out this point with a look at the difference and utility of "representation" (vertreten) and "representation" (darstellen). desire. This large. the masses can speak cannot be posed transcendentally but only conjuncturally by the disposition of opposing forces that characterizes a given historical moment. it might be possible to group peoples. The act of representation inherently involves Marx's notion of class consciousness. including the voices and actions of the masses as they wage their struggles for self-emancipation with or without intellectuals of the Third and First World at their side. possessing a consciousness expressed in its speech or for that matter its acts. The first sense of representation brings out the political and economical impacts of the western intellect. brandishing concrete experience. and labor structures: "Because these philosophers seem obliged to reject all arguments naming the concept of ideology as onlyschematic rather than textual. yet inherently problematic: "The gravity of the problem is apparent if one . Spivak offers a sharp critique of Foucault (F) and Deleuze (D).

The very idea of the subaltern calls into question relational issues with other class. Spivak enters into the conversation concerning re-presentation. Her account of the subaltern as a woman is a calculated step: meaning that she accurately brings out the distinct otherness of a woman in Indian hindu society. upon the S/subject and object. interest. Spivak wishes to push the notion of class consciousness away from the patriarchal notion of the family. "as produced in necessary and surplus labor. She spends time delving into Hindu mythology and the societal structures that result because of this. Here the idea of representation is inherently related to values. cultures. Continuing. . which is inherently influenced through representation and ideology. Constrasting his continuing critiques of F and D. power. or the philosophical concept of representation. she asserts that the intellectuals position through this sort of representation is textual as well and has lead to a continuation of the patriarchal. indian response/question of what if the brown woman wants to die. about 20 pages in) that deals with class consciousness. or impact. notion of class consciousness: "The absence of the nonfamilian artificial collective proper name is supplied by the only proper name "historical tradition" can offer--the patronymic itself--the Name of the Father.. she introduces the influences of ideology. It is the Law of the Father (the Napoleonic Code) that paradoxically prohibits the search for the natural father. The idea that white men and saving brown women from brown men. She focuses on the impacts of global capitalism. Spivak continues to look at Derrida and intends to uphold his more tedious. furthermore she introduces the flip side of the issue by the native.agrees that the development of a transformative class "consciousness" from a descriptive class "position" is not in Marx a task engaging the ground level of consciousness. yet nonetheless effective deconstruction. societies. Class consciousness remains with the feeling of community that belongs to national links and political organizations. All of her critique on past authors works well in the fact that. it is according to a strict observance of the historical Law of the father that the formed yet unformed class's faith in the natural father is gainsaid. Thus. (colonialism) and power issues as well (colonial issues again). its Darstellung--dissimulates the choice of and need for 'heroes' paternal proxies and agents of power-Vertretung. [it] is computer as the representation sign of objectified labor. desire. and the influence of ideology and finally she asserts that theorists who uphold Marxist accounts of capitalism and ideology cannot avoid looking at representation with a dual meaning. she is addressing an issue (when she finally gets to it. not to that other feeling of community whose structural model is the family" Here. . The proposes the question of can the subaltern speak while concomitantly proposing a sentence that can be problematized and scrutinized to support her answer. "They must not how the staging of the world in representation--its scene of writing.. Again. ideological. she underscores her point on the notion of class consciousness as inherently influenced by ideology and textual." Further. Furthermore.

but English in taste…” Refrain from having Lowest classes understand capitalistic system Separation and further disillusionment of worker = less chance of servile insurrection (Marxist) . colonialists often thought of themselves as well-intentioned. events. She writes against the "epistemic violence" done by discourses of knowledge that carve up the world and condemn to oblivion the pieces that do not easily fit. Postcolonial critics. I felt that she was long winded at times. colonial. She addresses the various names that a woman may be called. rather. She has describes herself as a ―practical deconstructionist feminist Marxist‖ and as a ―gadfly‖." in which deconstruction acts as a "safeguard" against the repression or exclusion of "alterities"-that is. One of the difficulties was the differentiation between subject and object. she self-consciously explores structures of violence without assuming a final. ( The "Subjects" Dominant colonial power Can be representative/metaphorical The "Subaltern" A synonym for lover class "Conserve the Subject of The West" "Subaltern Studies Group" Create a 4-part caste system (India) Macaulay‟s quote: "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern. She uses deconstruction to examine "how truth is constructed" and to deploy the assertions of one intellectual and political position (such as Marxism) to "interrupt" or "bring into crisis" another (feminism. spending time covering her explaining things that are extra and only applicable to those who operate in the high minded intellectual world. Characteristically. et cetera. She explains how the british government. a class of persons. Indian in blood and color. the Hindu practice of burning a widow on her husband's funeral pyre. like many feminists. and finally she uses a personal example to elucidate the point taht the subaltern cannot speak. children. While this intervention saved some lives and may have given women a modicum In essence: a critical review of works and publications ranging from Marx to Foucault. and is not heard." (p. anthropological studies.She begins by introducing the history of British colonialism in India through education (and she includes a passage from an essay we read). pedantic approach to eastern. -Alright. this is where I'll just talk and try to sound as intelligent as I can. or ideas that are radically "other" to the dominant worldview. it is certainly her most controversial. people. for example). Her continual interrogation of assumptions can make Spivak difficult to read. want to give silenced others a voice. "[We] must conserve the subject of the west. But her restless critiques connect directly to her ethical aspiration for a "politics of the open end. Next she explicates the act that she plans to address: the suicide of women upon their husbands funeral pyres. opposed the act through constitutional law. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is an unsettling voice in literary theory and especially. and the poor by the privileged West with a persistent questioning of the grounds on which radical critique takes its stand. she combines passionate denunciations of the harm done to women. Deleuze and Derrida. But Spivak worries that even the most benevolent effort merely repeats the very silencing it aims to combat. Can the Subaltern Speak? "Can the Subaltern Speak?" may be Spivak's best-known essay. After all. Spivak points to the British outlawing of sati. she does not claim to avoid such violence herself. non-Europeans. In her work.68) Pedantic and often condescending overtures regarding the colonial dominance of the "Other(s)" by the "Subject(s')" acquisition of knowledge The "Others" The dominated group: could be an entire nationality or a sub-demographic such as women. which criticize the Western. postcolonial studies. settled position.

her work still manages to reach a diverse global activist audience. Although she currently holds a teaching position at Columbia University. Such circumstances arguably arise out of a powerful capitalist narrative which writes into the margins all those who do not fit its story. the rural landscape of the Global South has become a site of intensified globalization — much to the detriment of the local peoples and land. Some of Spivak's other well-known ideas include "transnational literacy" and "strategic essentialism. is a more sensitive and attuned way of understanding the materiality of the world and our collective place and responsibility as humans within it. Spivak means that those individuals in the most extreme positions of marginalization have no way of having their voices heard." This fieldwork includes training teachers in different parts of rural India and Bangladesh as part of a larger campaign for rural literacy. genetic engineering. Spivak argues that the popular conception of globalization as the financialization and computerization of the globe leads to a vicious system of exploitation. Spivak spends a good deal of her time travelling. Benita Parry argues that Spivak assigns too much power to the hegemonic discourse in constituting and disarticulating the native woman. She believes that ―the subaltern cannot speak‖ is derived from general statements in which the subaltern woman is conceived as a single and homogeneous category. and representation as „re-presentation‟. being a Pakistani. She also speaks to farmers in these areas about issues of ecological injustice and about the "sacredness" of Nature. whereby it is assumed that the globe (as a kind of imaginary terrain that exists only on our computers) can and should be controlled to produce capitalist gains. and the patenting of indigenous knowledge. In response. engaging in what she calls "fieldwork. Spivak identifies the rural (as opposed to the urban) as the real front of globalization." By this phrase. Planetarity. she argues that through such mechanisms as seed and fertilizer control. the theoretician does not represent (speak for) the oppressed group" "Their representative must appear simultaneously as their master… as unrestricted governmental power" "Conserve the Subject of The West" Representation/Re-presentation Underlying Concepts Western ideals regarding verdantly used for system of control Knowledge is exportable like other commodities (Marx) Can the Subaltern speak? Do even virtuous attempts at propagating knowledge become inherently racists or inadvertently discriminatory? Dues true altruism exist? Spivak is perhaps best known for her landmark essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (1985) in which she comes to the controversial and often misunderstood conclusion that "the subaltern cannot speak. or seen. published in the book Imaginary Maps (1994). Spivak offers the counter concept "planetarity. Also notable is Spivak's work as a translator. meaning that colonised wo men experience a double subjection due to their race and gender. Despite the fact that Spivak is sometimes criticized for her obscure. as in politics. This is problematic because if the subaltern cannot be heard.e. (The ―subaltern‖ means an oppressed subject). The first is ―Can the Subaltern Speak?‖ (1988). inaccessible writing style. inhabiting a planet that is merely "on loan" to us. read." to which she devotes a chapter of her book Death of a Discipline (2003). As a way of addressing what she sees as the destructive realities of globalization. and are therefore silenced. she is effectively barred from realizing any kind of meaningful selfhood or agency. Spivak suggests that rather than being global agents we should instead imagine ourselves as planetary subjects. which includes a translation of French philosopher Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology (1976) as well as three short stories by the Indian writer Mahasweta Devi." the latter being when oppressed groups may temporarily assume an identity based on a single dimension (i. being a lesbian) in order to achieve certain political goals. This essay argues that ―there is no space from where the subaltern (sexed) subject can speak‖. then she also cannot claim personal or political autonomy. and of becoming visible through any process of self-representation. being a woman. on the other hand. as in art or philosophy Since the theory is also only „action‟.. In particular. and that there are ways that these women have articulated their .Representation/Re-presentation Flaws of Focault & Deleuze: "Two sides of representation are being run together: representation as „speaking for‟.

out of dire poverty and into political invisibility. the subaltern is barred from access to all public resources that would allow for upward movement. (SeeA Critique of Post-Colonial Reason for more on infrastructural followup. And it's not because the subaltern cannot pronounce words or produce sentences. political speech. postcolonial studies and feminist theory. Too much gets in the way of her message's being heard. because her speech falls short of fully authorized. or gender may prevent us from gaining a certain kind of Other knowledge: not simply information that we have not yet received. The subaltern cannot speak. as she has had a profound influence on multicultural studies.) But just to make sure you've all got it into your heads this time. nationality. We also need what I call "infrastructural followup. like Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze—didn't get this memo." instead. (Check out the "Buzzwords" section for more on what I mean by subaltern. gendered female in my work… because women the world over are still structurally subordinated to men. too. She places this as indicative of feminism's lack of engagement with the Third World.) Lots of European theorists—smart ones. — From "Can the Subaltern Speak?" This pithy answer to the question posed in my essay's title has gotten me into some serious trouble over the years. Spivak's style can be impenetrable and off-putting for those initially coming to her work. However. I define the subaltern as the person "removed from all lines of social mobility. The subaltern "cannot speak. socially and politically. She states that our privileges." This followup. When reading Spivak. One of her most important arguments is about ―unlearning‖ racism and privilege. where she argues that Jane Eyre's progress throughout the novel is predicated upon the violent effacement of the Creole woman Bertha Mason. but the knowledge that we are not equipped to understand by reason of our social positions. It is worth persevering with Spivak even if she can be difficult. Spivak seeks social change through her work. If she were heard. This essay contains a critique ofCharlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. humanitarian efforts (wouldbe quick fixes) won't cut it. and very badly misunderstood. It's been read out of context. though not quite always." That is. as I believe she must be. will do long-term good by manifesting our commitment to improving the material conditions of far-away lives and honing the mental skills of far-away young people. often taking the form of public schools. whatever they may be in terms of race. . The second often quoted essay is ―Three women's texts and a critique of imperialism‖ (1985). My essay tries to show why this project is doomed to fail. treated like a sound bite. Spivak explained that ―the subaltern cannot speak‖ means the subaltern cannot be heard by the privileged of either the First or Third Worlds. she would cease to be subaltern.) My whole point in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" is that you can't simply makethe subaltern visible or lend her a voice. (Heads up: the subaltern is very often. To ―unlearn‖ one's privilege is a vital step that marks the beginning of an ethical relation to the Other. They thought they could access the subaltern's voice directly. As I explain yet again in An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. I'll say it again: there's no quick fix for inequality. in a later interview. it can be useful to also read what other scholars have said about her work and how they have interpreted it. class. And if the subaltern is to be taught to speak.presence.

This is because the privileged male theorists in this example are. and to get them to ask of future civilizing missions: is this really about saving women? Or is it about a superpower further consolidating its power. I may be shaking up some of what you came to this page believing: certain ideas about what happened when. I argued that this happened again in the post-9/11 American "war on terror. you ask? Well. in a way. natives were defined as barbaric. and the British intervened to "save" Indian women from their fathers. So the quote highlights how European and American academics are often quick to try to save Third World women. – From "Can the Subaltern Speak?" "Wait." Gross. Not everyone grows up knowing how to write and talk like a scholar. claiming to know how Third World women think and feel. Later. confused. I've got truckloads (bookloads?) to say on this topic. "Sit down. I don't deny that women are oppressed the world over." a war that I believe aims not only to redeem the nation but also to "save" women oppressed by Islam. What I do deny is the right of "civilizing" or colonizing projects to claim to rescue and free women from this oppression. when I read the classics. because he knows what's good for her. Sometimes. brothers. Yep. when their idea of "saving" might not be what these women want at all. what gender oppression looks like. you! You look oppressed! Why don't you come live in our super progressive (but still sexist. Yeah. but I needed people to snap their imperialist heads up from their desks and listen here. This kind of thinking makes me squirm. But. This sentence aims to convey how certain brands of feminism—and cultural gender norms more generally—become an excuse for colonial and neo-colonial forms of violence. right? Then there's the European theorist's sense that he knows what the subaltern will say when she goes to speak. and denying others speech? . so just go read some of my other work if you want to know more about what stands between a subaltern and her true "voice. So. what they desire. when white men are all like. and so on. you! Yeah. husbands.What gets in the way. Anyway. So I composed my firecracker of a sentence—"White men are saving brown women from brown men"— to put people on their guard. Of course. (I've never been one to shy away from controversy. first there's the subaltern's lack of access to institutionally validated language. and sons. this little sentence has gotten me in a lot of trouble as well. you're doing something right. In "Can the Subaltern Speak?" I show how white men attempted to save brown women from brown men in colonial India. and let the big boys talk business. I feel like their authors are saying. little girl. what?" is the common reaction to this quote. or scared. and what wars are about. These seeming acts of benevolence are actually acts of violence. heyo) First World countries and be free from harm? Why don't you come marry us and be free from harm?" they're actually further silencing the subaltern. in my opinion. this is heavy stuff. At the time." White men are saving brown women from brown men.) Maybe I should have been more moderate in my wording here. if you're feeling uncomfortable. you Third World Women. "Hey.

and I've spilled a lotta ink in my later work clearing up that unfortunate misunderstanding. in 2000. that's true democracy after all. people. We know that the figure can and will be literalized in yet other ways. the subaltern is excluded from all kinds of institutions. I state explicitly that we do need to "teach the subaltern. That wasn't what I was saying at all. one school. I am continuing my discussion of the subaltern two decades after writing "Can the Subaltern Speak?" But here. I might add! In any case. they'd be sharper thinkers for it—and better. we're just lecturing. This destroys the force of literature as a cultural good. Keeping the subaltern in her place is no solution. and that's just crazy talk IMO. and we want her to have a role in the governance of herself and others. we want everyone to be able to govern." Lots of people misread my earlier essay as a demand that the subaltern be allowed to stay in her place. And to learn to read is to learn to dis-figure the undecidable figure into a responsible literality. Learn to learn. . the demand for not clarity but immediate comprehensibility by the ideological average. we need to unlearn our intellectual prejudices in the encounter with the subaltern. All around us is the clamor for the rational destruction of the figure. But the joke's on those fools in the end. Nuh-uh. Because if they learned to learn the patience to read me. On the contrary.The impossible solution is the infinite unguaranteed patience to learn to learn from below how to teach the subaltern. more ethical." you may be tempted to throw the book across the room. I've seen it all before: you're afraid you'll never decide what on earth I'm talking about. again and again. in this quote. In fact. – From "What's Left of Theory?" now in An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization Now you know why people call me impossible… and sometimes even have the nerve to ridicule my hard-to-read writing style. — From Death of a Discipline When I start with a word like "undecidable. don't hold forth. not as I do. So a desire to keep the subaltern in her place would be antidemocratic. Remember. If there weren't any hope for it. and eventually govern. European Scholar Tells Third World Brown Woman What To Do-style. read the logic of the metaphor. I know. Anyone who believes that a literary education should still be sponsored by universities must allow that one must learn to read. What we need to do is figure out how to best teach the subaltern so that she can become literate. including democratic ones. real revolution happens slowly. and yet we must attempt to dis-figure it. I say that because "learning to learn" ain't easy. I wouldn't be prescribing this medication for all that ails ye ole subaltern. And even if I've been known to get up on my soapbox from time to time. at a time. The meaning of the figure is undecidable. I call this solution to the problems of global capitalism "impossible" not because I think it really can't be done. You see. Otherwise we're not "learning to learn to teach" her. if you ask me. But we can't teach her in a top-down way. but my work is all about encouraging a shift in this way of thinking. I know. okay? When you teach. do as I say. We're used to imagining solutions as quick fixes. and even one student.

global capital has conquered all. Now. is the repository or container for figures. learning to read. Doubt is good. who uses it to name the uncertainty behind any decision. But. Once you deconstruct the classics of great literature and social theory. It sounds a sad note. period. what's all this business about the figure and dis-figuring? Can't make head or tails of the above prose.But bear with me. Literature. 100%. even. Impossible. An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. they'll reward you. — From the introduction to An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization This sentence ends the hefty introduction to my latest collection of essays. as this passage both shows (with how it's written) and tells (with what it's written about). science. you know? And this goodness of doubt explains why it's crucial to invest in literature. If you spend a bit of time—okay. maybe a whole lot of time—with my texts. the seed of activism lies not in knowing. and I borrow the word "undecidable" from Derrida. what privileged white people in air-conditioned offices think are the needs of the global poor. I'm no Jacques Lacan. Literature teaches us to live with the undecidable. it can be pretty hard to find anything to believe in. and other sectors that can't accommodate the "undecidable" as this is figured in literature. Ideology is all about "I am X (woman. Indian. ." I do this because so much humanitarian work thinks the job is done when it has met. I'm continuing to draw attention to the subaltern. hear me roar!" But as us dedicated deconstructionists have said before. We cannot imagine a future that is different and better than the present if we cannot imagine. in the above passage. mainstream politics. as I have since the beginning. and Marx's dream of world equality has come to seem ever more remote. Notice that I'm still fighting the good fight. Keep up with me now and ya might learn something. deconstructionism teaches us that there will always be undecidability lurking in every choice. Oh. in the passage above. A bit of background: I am a staunch defender of the social good of literature and a firm believer that education in the humanities is crucial to the building of a better world. See. but only to a degree. philanthropy. because I've become more and more hopeless as the years have passed. this time. or begun to meet. which itself looks dis-figured to you? My heart goes out to you. …). The demand for "immediate comprehensibility by the ideological average" comes from business. but in not knowing. But I do value difficulty in writing. And we cannot imagine unless our imaginations are trained by what I call. reader. without a doubt. finance. rather than ignore it in the rush to do something certain. be something certain. That any reader will waste the time to parse the desires (not the needs) of collective examples of subalternity is my false hope. I'm trying to shift the focus from the "needs" of subaltern groups to their "desires.

. Your desire has to be rearranged. . Hall) color is useless in the context of third world. By forgetting that everyone has desires. (Here is where I get completely confused)..This kind of humanitarianism acts as though the subaltern can't even have desires—they have only people interested in postcolonial societies) and a method of inquiry for post-colonial feminist studies.) This so-called protection of woman is then somehow considered as a sign of good society (equity of legal policy). she approaches the problem from a literary criticism point. She discusses the role of colonization in discourse formation (without actually calling it a discourse formation). to look closely at how these groups imagine the world. just like hers. Summary quote: I remain generally sympathetic in aligning feminism with the critique of positivism and the defetishization of the concrete.. You have to learn from the subaltern even as you're bringing her into democracy through education.. Moreover "the post-colonial intellectual systematically unlearns female privilige" (p. She starts comparing theory with positivism/essentialism. She first gives the example of 'poor.e. She gives the example of Hindu women and how some practices were abolished by colonists (White men saving brown women from brown men.549 3rd edition) So. she speaks!" No.I tactically confronted the immense problem of the consciousness of the woman as subaltern." To "parse the desires" of subaltern groups is. The author looks at whether subaltern can speak or not through the example of women in post colonial world. Spivak refuses this understanding. then what can we do to unmute subaltern women? Culler talks about producing difference by differing or appealing to a sexual identity defined as essential and privilege experiences associated with that identity." But it's not enough to ooh and aah and say.female' (as an example of expression). which I define elsewhere as the "rearrangement of desire..The analogy here is between the ideological victimization of a Freud and the positionality of the postcolonial intellectual as investigating subject. therefore.. his is a short discussion on 'subaltern' studies (i. First World Humanitarianism forgets the whole question of education. "Isn't that subaltern beautiful?" Or: "Look. He then underlines (pretty much like S. valuing their differences from Euro-American and capitalist ways of "worlding. how cute. In short.