Interview With Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in South Africa

L E O N DE KOCK

IS S E L D O M that a conference achieves a singular symbolic significance i n its own right, but this was true of the New N a t i o n Writers Conference h e l d i n Johannesburg, December 1991. In itself it represented so m u c h that its staging alone requires cultural a n d political decoding. T h e conference sought to enact, both symbolically a n d materially, a dialectical alternative to the supposedly vanishing w o r l d o f apartheid. Indeed, its theme was proclaimed as " M a k i n g Literature: Reconstruction i n South Afr i c a " (New Nation 5), a n d the conference organizers saw themselves as encouraging a "re-making of the w o r l d " (New Nation 6). T h e presupposition was that apartheid h a d been vanquished, and that the market of symbolic goods needed reorganization. B u t the ironies were there for those who cared to look: formerly exiled writers were back h o m e because the in-place neo-apartheid government h a d d r o p p e d the bans a n d relaxed restrictions as part of its own strategy to appropriate the rhetoric of liberal democracy. T h e cultural reconstruction a n d the "process towards a genuine people's culture" (New Nation 3) was, o n the evidence o f the conference alone, a fairly middle-class affair, while black South Africans c o n t i n u e d to die i n large numbers i n political violence all a r o u n d us. A n d the deep currents of apocalyptic feeling evident at the conference were not matched by anything i n the political w o r l d except promises a n d dubious g o o d intentions o n all sides. It was like a post-revolution conference before the revolution that w o u l d now never really occur. Nevertheless, it was something of a victory conference for those who h a d been banned, proscribed, suppressed, a n d m a i m e d by apartheid, a n d who were now back h o m e without
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ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, 23:3, July 1992

T h e sessions were entided: "Race & Ethnicity: Towards Cultural Diversity 8c Unity". the Congress of South African Writers a n d the African Writers Association. T h e governing party (and its slavish State television service) h a d begun freely to appropriate liberal language—"freedom. consolidated by four decades of explicit cultural a n d physical repression." "democracy." " h u m a n rights. "Race & Ethnicity: Images & Stereotypes i n Literature". the Pan African Congress.30 L E O N DE KOCK ever having repented. N o t for n o t h i n g d i d President F. Still. l o o k e d to be i n danger of being swallowed u p by the former demons of apartheid. T h e conference organizers w o u l d insist o n their own victory and their own oppositional language. T h e first day was devoted to discussing alternatives to race-talk. and wasted people. Senior Nationalist politicians were apologizing for apartheid. the many victims of apartheid were not to be outdone. indeed. So. d i vided. They were an amalgam of progressive organizations representing apartheid's Others: the New N a t i o n newspaper. a n d the South African C o m m u n i s t Party. a n d still was d o i n g these things by the implicit power of its surviving hegemonic forms." and so o n — s o that even the discourse of liberal humanism. an independent weekly supported by the Catholic Bishops Conference of South Africa. tortured. They w o u l d not allow the notorious amnesia w h i c h afflicts South Africa's frontier consciousness to efface the truth: apartheid h a d killed. many of the conference themes were perforce conceived i n opposition to the perceived dominant cultural tropes of the o l d apartheid which everyone knew a n d c o u l d recognize a n d which. W . a n d committed himself to a new government elected by universal suffrage. and other cultural activists. de K l e r k congratulate N a d i n e G o r d i m e r o n w i n n i n g the N o b e l prize for literature. had left deep imprints o n the cultural identity of South African people." "justice. maimed. more than three centuries of discursive violence by colonialism. . still survived i n the lives a n d experience of those who came to the gathering to testify to it a n d to sweep it away. w h i c h for so l o n g was the front line of cultural resistance a n d the preserve of the arts. Moreover. But the turnaround also threatened to p u l l the mat f r o m under oppositional feet. T h e State President h a d u n b a n n e d the African National Congress.

" H e w o u l d oppose the replacement of A f r i kaner power structures by "repressive pressure groups using mechanisms of control through censorship. selection. racism's sibling i n the apartheid world. operating i n the name of 'culture'" (Breytenbach 3). self-congratulatory academic formalism" (De K o c k 23) was decisively b r o k e n . as well as nonSouth Africans such as Kole Omotoso. and A r c h i e Weiler. Es'kia M p h a h l e l e . George L a m m i n g . the marginalized groups (black. a n d M b u l e l o Mzamane. foreign writers shared their experiences a n d helped to break down the cultural x e n o p h o b i a of the o l d order. Chenjerai Hove. Further." T h e conference organizers also sought to break out of the limitations of highbrow talk by r u n n i n g a week of regional writing workshops for less advantaged South Africans. South African Writers Speak. maimed) were joyously embraced. structured or unstructured. A l b i e Sachs. Breyten Breytenbach. a n d scholars. B u t for all this. A l l of South Africa was symbolically reconstituted under the single nationh o o d formerly denied them: the exiles a n d refugees were welcomed home by the internal activists. Sterling P l u m p p . female. Claribel Algeria. there were some misgivings. distribution.INTERVIEW WITH GAYATRI SPIVAK 31 "Race a n d Ethnicity: T h e Problems & Challenges of Racism i n Writing". T h e next day saw a frank discussion of sexism. pinko-liberalism a n d snuffling. Lewis N k o s i . while another trusted pair of interdependent opposites—freedom and responsibility. prescription. Language and Democracy" and "Orality a n d the Dissemination of Literature. T h e last two days were devoted to "Literature. Wasp. a n d the stranglehold of what I described elsewhere as "pompous." T h e speakers included some o f South Africa's most celebrated writer-exiles and former exiles: Dennis Brutus. T h e conference served as a healing g r o u n d . manipulation or fashions imposed by literati. Breyten Breytenbach clearly felt disturbed by the dangers of a new "alternative" consensus for culture and remarked that "the fringes must be kept alive. middle-class control of scholarly discourse" and "whiteism. and "Race & Ethnicity: Beyond the Legacy of Victims. banned. Gayatri Spivak identified the p r o b l e m of recursive debate when she remarked that "the o l d aesthetics2 . writers. i n c l u d i n g "universality a n d diversity"—was discussed o n the third day.

I'd like to ask you. as well as we d i d English. the system of education h a d not yet started its process of systematic decolonization. germane to a country as deeply postcolonial a n d as discursively-stratified as South Africa. I entered college i n 1955. universality a n d diversity. but a great literature. a n d race and gender stereotypes. . T h i s was by n o means a new . I was b o r n i n British India. She wrote down the sub-headings of the putative paper o n a blackboard a n d succeeded i n perplexing most of the audience. a n d she gave a talk entirely i n the subjunctive m o o d . T h e form-content debate is so E u r o p e a n . you could provide a brief autobiography ? Well." a n d litde evidence o f acquaintance with. L o o k i n g back now. T h e r e was a fair amount of hostility to "theory. She herself saw her visit i n h u m b l e terms: she came to listen a n d to learn." Gayatri Spivak was invited to grace the gathering as yet another very bright star i n the international firmament. We h a d the idea that we were going to do Bengali. W h e n I was g o i n g to school. " In an attempt to get her to say a little more. . theories of postcoloniality and discourse analysis. one of the first things that strike me is that we thought of studying English not as the great literature. T h e session i n w h i c h she participated was called "Women's E x i l e : Addressing the Marginalisation of W o m e n i n C u l t u r e . M y generation at college was a m o n g the first generations to really k i n d of feel that they were i n independent India. a n d advances u p o n . w h i c h are. . It was as if apartheid still had a g o o d many scholars a n d writers d o i n g a lot of k n e e j e r k i n g . " T o some extent. although she was the only international delegate invited as a scholar and not a writer. despite the conference's ostensible emphasis o n the "new. whether. possibly as an analogue of decolonization. after all. this interview was conducted o n the day following her talk. to start with. I d o n ' t know that we knew that's what we were d o i n g . explaining the paper she w o u l d have presented if she had given a paper a n d not a ten-minute talk. she was right: the conference was at times occupied with recirculating the clutter of o l d arguments about literature a n d politics.32 L E O N DE K O C K politics debate is 50 E u r o p e a n . w h i c h is the first language of the people i n the area where I was. that's what really stands out. L o o k i n g back.

I'm intellectually a very insecure person. How were you enabled to do this? You really want to hear that story? I d o n ' t know if I really want to talk about it. the story of how I managed to borrow the money. I d i d n ' t want to remain only i n India. M y father was dead. a n d I thought half of them were too g o o d for me. I must also say that this h a d come about because of sexism i n my surroundings. so I went. I think that idea of a great literature rather than the great literature was something that coloured all kinds of things later o n . those days were different f r o m n o w — a n d because multiculturalism was certainly not o n the agenda. so that's how I went. okay? Anyway. I h a d very littìe money a n d I knew nobody. And you felt the cringe? You didn't feelyou were good enough for places like Harvard and Yale? I have never. but I knew I d i d n ' t want to go to Britain. is extremely entertaining a n d also interesting. I h a d n o particular desire to go to Britain. so I came to the U n i t e d States. Y o u h a d to be as good as a native speaker.INTERVIEW WITH GAYATRI SPIVAK 33 idea within nationalism. which continued right f r o m the start. Yale. T h e story of borrowing the money is i n fact quite interesting i n that I was a very young middle-class girl w h o h a d started earning money two years before her departure by coaching E n g l i s h . . I knew the names of Harvard. (My father d i e d when I was thirteen. Well. a n d C o r n e l l . the moment I entered . with no money because the guy who h a d lent me the money also h a d said he w o u l d only give me the money monthly. . T h e n . and I was not i n a situation where I really knew anything about A m e r i c a n universities. A n d so i n fact that story. i n 19611 came to the U n i t e d States. but it seemed new to us. I h a d no particular plan of d o i n g one thing or another. This was perhaps a little more self-conscious. So I sent a telegram to C o r n e l l saying I was a very g o o d student and I d i d n ' t need financial aid because they wouldn't have given it to me because I wasn't a native speaker o f E n g l i s h — I mean. but I really d o n ' t think it's part of an interview.) So i n fact it was really something that I completely k i n d of d i d . let's put it this way: I borrowed the money.

If a woman is really serious. the fact of my d o i n g photo-finish exams had n o t h i n g to do with the fact that I really needed some k i n d of experience of what is best i n A m e r i c a n education. a n d this is not supposed to be. built o n the L o n d o n University system. dying u n d e r its own weight. even today. a n d even today. then a m o n g the women I quite often receive a reputation for arrogance. I came f r o m a different k i n d of a system. you know. rather than generally thoughtful. to f o r m a self-concept which I have not been able to shake off. A n d . I still feel that way. M y general reputation is that I ' m flashy rather than substantive. that I encounter paradoxically all the time is public talk f r o m w o m e n I respect about w o m e n grabbing power. A n d so i n fact that led. a n d some- . This was helped by the fact that I enjoyed being a young woman. rather than generally brilliant. I went to the U n i t e d States. that h e l p e d me. we've come f r o m a session ["Redefining Aesthetics: Universality a n d Diversity"] where I very m u c h wanted to intervene. but I kept myself quiet because I thought no one wants to hear me. O n c e I went there. See what I mean? So. a n d I still very m u c h think I ' m a playful person. A n d it was totally parochial. I was quite prepared to believe that I was not g o o d e n o u g h for the best institutions. O n e of the things. Y o u see. I was only a bright young foreign woman student. In fact. or they'd think I ' m arrogant. I know I'm now veering f r o m the autobiographical slighdy because it's not a narrative anymore. she was allowed to devise her own programme. especially without any help f r o m feminism o n the g r o u n d . to an extent. for example. that it makes y o u believe what is being told. Therefore. Yes. so that to an extent this h a d led to great intellectual insecurity. a n d the fact that I knew how to take exams—because that's what the education system was i n I n d i a — s t o o d i n my way because C o r n e l l then h a d a system where if a student got an A-plus average. A n d that's the worst thing about sexism. she has to deny all her so-called feminine qualities a n d become like a m a n . that I do not have the right to intervene.34 LEON DE KOCK college. geared to the A m e r i c a n system. or h i n d e r e d me really. A n d then when I use what little power I have been able to grab i n public to cope with masculine intervention. Y o u know. I was not particularly vetted for anything.

Y o u know what I mean. B u t as I say I wasn't g r o o m e d for anything. I took g o o d notes a n d slowly sort of understood. So there are all of these problems that I carried o n my shoulders without giving myself the right to think that these were problems. I was allowed to devise my own programme. was the only thing that offered me money.INTERVIEW WITH GAYATRI SPIVAK 35 times that is abused when students start to judge without any knowledge. H e was chairing C o m p . Lit. a n d she understands things about my life and my problems. a n d therefore I had to learn F r e n c h a n d G e r m a n i n classes where instruction was often given i n F r e n c h and G e r m a n . that one should not get exercised o n one's own behalf (I'm d o i n g it now because you kindly asked me this question why I thought I was not g o o d enough). D . But because I d i d my exams so well. M y mother is one of the most unusual women I have ever h a d the g o o d fortune to have met. A heavy weight of sexism kept me t h i n k i n g that these were my faults. So that's why my spoken F r e n c h is fluent but often not grammatical. We give each other advice. T h e blaming the victim syndrome turned inside. listen. I learnt f r o m h i m . D . that I cannot expect other female relatives to understand. was not allowed to take language courses. and therefore this again is h e l d as p r o o f that I couldn't possibly know anything about deconstruction. because a P h . be k i n d to me. I was just k i n d of taking courses that I felt w o u l d be nice. L i t . so i n fact my entire education-formation remains Indian. But for me it w o u l d have been wonderful to have tasted some of the invitation to j u d g e rather than to reproduce. work I d i d n ' t really learn m u c h . a n d so o n . D . I fell into comparative literature because C o m p . both intellectual a n d personal. L i t . rather than always to exercise oneself on one's own behalf—is my mother. I believe I was Paul de Man's first P h . . a n d we were given Baudelaire a n d Goethe. I must say at this point that the one strongest influence in my l i f e — t h a t one has to remain resilient. M y relationship with her is not just confined to the mother-daughter relationship. especially since I was a g o o d student. because i n those last three years of P h . There is intellectual respect o n both sides. student i n C o m p . So I w o u l d say that with this I came to the U n i t e d States. to remember that politics is other people. Therefore I c o u l d n ' t say.

white people. D . I can tell what stops are being p u l l e d out. A n d so it seemed very strange to be a m o n g whites. a n d at that point I really remained i n the U n i t e d States because I was c o m i n g f r o m a cultural p r o d u c t i o n where w o m e n stayed where their husbands were. that's what y o u were . since I d o n ' t know what stops are b e i n g p u l l e d out.36 L E O N DE K O C K So. because—although people find this h a r d to credit because I'm so international i n many ways—I d i d n ' t really know white people. It's almost like an exercise w h i c h has its e n d almost totally separated f r o m it. I mean my strongest influence i n Calcutta was second international c o m m u n i s m . for me it is a learning experience. where conditions of possibility for dealing with issues are laid down. I was i n a bit o f a shock. I go to many conferences. W i t h i n South Africa. [Interview was interrupted. I stayed. . It was the b e g i n n i n g of the civil rights struggle. But that is the nature of conferences. and you criticize people who talk about and for other people. a n d i n certain international contexts. T h e only persons that I'd come into contact with were the regional representatives of the British C o u n c i l . I was a g o o d wife. I got a j o b because it was the V i e t n a m years. A n d at the same time there were these incredibly artificial constructs of the A l l e n Ginsberg-/Timothy Leary-style India. at what seems to be a great waste of time a n d talk a n d energy. I then married. a n d I d i d n ' t look for ajob. w h i c h bore n o relationship. I h a d no particular plans about staying or not staying. . Conferences are a sort of staging. I mean those were the sixties. a n d they were just incredibly k i n d of stiff. a n d it was possible to get jobs without a P h . A n d so I see it as that k i n d of staging. for example. i n terms of these people. talking civil rights. So I never really got a chance of knowing what it was like to live as an adult. I c o u l d n ' t understand this. It's because I respect what conferences are . I respect the fact that conferences should not be j u d g e d i n terms of dealing with issues.] I know you have come here to learn. but how do you read this conference? How do you read the way they are dealing with issues here? First I must say that I don't. and interlocutors agreed not to proceed with the autobiographical because of its boundless narrative potential.

. but I think my basic impulse was to look at a completely different sense of aesthetic. It seems to me that a conference has a k i n d of trickle-down effect. it's not always g o o d . a n d oppose it to politics. " Wouldyou care to state what you wanted to say? Well. a n d I d o n ' t expect them to be a substitute for either activism or policy-making. the goal. i n fact. So. Should conferences had to activism or intervention ? N o . or. a n d i n some cases i n the past they have. a n d yet he said that there was n o t h i n g universalist i n it. a n d the conference. You said earlier that you were tempted to intervene in the aesthetics debat on "Universality andDiversity. so that it seemed to me that if one l o o k e d at it that way. things for w h i c h you cannot immediately find the actual object. This is why I said that the relationship between what the e n d . is simply what is allowed to be pleasurable. rather than relate it to the beautiful. but i n itself it can only enervate. you know. A s l o n g as you hang o u t — h a n g i n with the nature of conferences—it seems to me that y o u can learn i f you are i n my position.INTERVIEW WITH GAYATRI SPIVAJK 37 supposed to be. a n d it seems to me that the idea of taste. there was one participant who spoke of his taste. especially those conferences w h i c h divide parts of the globe after a war or something (but those are extreme cases). because aesthetics for me is also a transactional thing. A conference is not a restful thing. a n d can affect all kinds of things. then what we have to deal with is to allow different kinds of pleasure to be k n o w n as pleasure. I know that I am not supposed to give l o n g answers but can I give you an example? Please. I can't say everything I want to say because I haven't thought it through properly. sheer intellectual instruction. We can only feel pleasure at something if the cultural system acknowledges that it is pleasure. the hoped-for results w o u l d be. I always believe i n l o o k i n g at things as doings a n d I was t h i n k i n g of another o l d definition. that through the aesthetic you can get pleasure out of things that are representations. If they d i d lead to things. a n d must involve wastage. i n fact. are oblique.

Yes. English. willing suspension of disbelief. participants who listened to the singer were able—it's a very sophisticated reaction—were able to think o f the epic as true even as they knew that it was not factually true. but I'm just proposing that one look at the aesthetic not as a thing about which answers will be given in alternatives for universality terms. There can be no h u m a n act without some m o d i c u m of universalizing. without any g o l d e n age impulse. validation. because these things now exist a n d we . I think that would be a way i n which one w o u l d look for enlarging the concept of what pleasure can be. or all the African languages? See what I mean? This is p u l l i n g out a stop because this has been debated endlessly in this country. aesthetics as the possibility of a social act.LEON DE KOCK I feel that i n the oral-epic impulse. Let's look at it as a social act. I'm not a golden-ageist or a reverse-history person. book market et cetera. This is a very sophisticated p h e n o m e n o n . bourgeois culture perhaps. H u m a n i t y w o u l d be completely autistic if it were not always. a n d it would not involve museumizing or endorsing diversity. they really can offer us lessons. to see that this aesthetic i n f l u e n c e — t a k i n g pleasure i n something for w h i c h no actual object can be o f f e r e d — i s alive and well i n situations where one does not expect words like "taste" to be used. a n d if people actually bothered. N o w this is the thing for w h i c h Coleridge i n the nineteenth century h a d to devise a description. T h e power will be engaged in e x p a n d i n g the possibility o f pleasures. T h e o l d aesthetics-politics debate is so E u r o p e a n . universalizing: t h i n k i n g o f oneself as an example of being human. but I do look at these things because separated f r o m that golden age ethos. I also made some notes about certification. a n d it sounds more crude i n my telling of it. That's quite different f r o m universalism talk. however incompletely. but the thing is that if you put diversity against universality you still acknowledge the problem of the one a n d the many. as if there is a separation. T h e form-content debate is so E u r o p e a n . Here they seem to be grappling with the issue ofthat universalizing notion being appropriated by powerful formations. et cetera. but pardcipants i n all countries do this. I've not said everything.

so that action will always be resistant to the policies because neither universality. I don't think theory is actually being pushed away. a n d unable to solve a p r o b l e m by taking either side. nor diversity. Y o u must recognize by now that this is a classic deconstructive position. and then proceeded to give us definitions. out of touch with real life (whatever that might be). O n e of the participants talked about how he does not think these questions are settìed at conferences with theories. w h i c h i n itself is justified because theory is perceived only as a baggage of abstract learning. mechanisms of certification. There is by now a k i n d of international institutional culture. unthinkingly applauding the cultural g o o d of the white dominant. endorsed by institutions. and I think that's where activism should be devoted rather than seeing what the policy-makers decide. You hinted yesterday during your talk that you felt theory was being pushed away a little. and do you feel that this might be a danger in this kind of discussion ? Well. I think theory is being made i n the name of no-theory. white supremacist history. and marketing will be there to organize the expansion of the possibility of pleasures. Deconstructive imperatives always come out of situations. a n d the activists o n the other side. w h e n endorsed by policy. because they have the most powerful unacknowledged theory. but o n the other h a n d solving it situationally.INTERVIEW W I T H GAYATRI SPIVAK 39 must make use of them. but not o n either side. Did you feel that. So I remain i n the arena o f the persistent critic. and that you would desist from talking theory. and w i n n i n g away young minds f r o m the task of either activism. but they always come out of . and I for one cannot completely reject the critique of institutional elitism. talking about real life at a level o f abstraction. it's not situationally relative. will be uncriticizable. validation. So what you saw h a p p e n i n g yesterday was one of those solutions. It seems to me that therefore we have to acknowledge that however obliquely. or. i n the m i d d l e . by people who are incomprehensible. and not for ever. a n d i n the international institutional culture both the universalist reactionaries who don't have to let "theory" come i n . j o i n by being against so-called theory. So it is paradoxical for us that we are caught i n between these two ends.

O n the other h a n d . at such an advanced level of abstraction (as you say. I think the d e m a n d that one be comprehensible is a g o o d d e m a n d . w h i c h is that I cannot write clearly. Let us not give that some k i n d of a party-politics name. although I d i d n ' t succeed. O n the other h a n d I felt what I said needed to be said. a n d I w o u l d advise the people who make this objection to think again about where the objection is c o m i n g f r o m . I was trying to do a balancing act.40 L E O N DE KOCK situations. T h e trouble with theory is that to theorize is to make visible a great deal. I tried to keep the track of that impulse outside of what I was saying. I think those things are changing. you are describing so much) that you are recolonizing the margin from the centre of continental thought. and that you are somewhat inaccessible to a lot of people? Well. How do you answer to the charge that your own writing is so difficult. before . I do a lot of other writing a n d speaking and teaching. recognize what b r a n d o f theory by n a m i n g a vocabulary. that is the only voice that is heard by the readers who c o m p l a i n . I tell you many. I'm trying to work with it. But o n the other h a n d . I invite them. I w o u l d say that I have a p r o b l e m . So what I felt there was. That is for me to embrace an extremely dubious political position. keep the worst of the theoreticist impulses [inaudible]. I ' m not interested i n finding nativist alibis for where my thoughts come f r o m . T h e centre of E u r o p e a n thought. where I never see these critics. So. many of these objections are interesting objections. I was using those theoretical discourses w h i c h are recognized by many more. I believe that my writing now is clearer than it was before. I was using that. was. like Marx for example. a n d I also know that clear thought hides. I think that it is also that one doesn't speak i n the international scholarly situation with the endorsed voice of a female marginal. Unfortunately. wanting to write about fields where I d i d n ' t know enough. I also know that plain prose cheats. but nonetheless what I was trying to do. I think that what one saw before was a result of some intellectual insecurity. I d o n ' t think that I quite succeeded because it seemed to many that it was even yet too theoretical. O n e w o u l d like to know what the sources of o u r thoughts are if we do not name them.

In the teaching. the last bit I can't say because one of the principles that I dearly h o l d by is that imperatives are situational. but I unpack more. T h e U. N o w that area can be ideologically . People who know things p r o f o u n d l y can simplify them without cheating. a n d please remember I said it. are " g o o d . people like them d o n ' t generally bother to come. I ' m l o o k i n g at the U n i t e d States as i n a bit of a crisis right now. I ' m best as a classroom teacher. Now. a n d then they take all of my courses because I'm even better if my time span is not just 14 weeks. Whatever you cut off d o n ' t cut off this one. But I'm learning as I'm teaching. by the tempo. ." They've got the media. but I'm speaking out of the U n i t e d States context. so what has to be managed is the entire area released by the implosion of the Bolshevik experiment. plus Japan (so that it's not a national. . A l l of the apparent signs that have to be used to the hilt to prove that there is no crisis.S. T h e Communists have been d e f e a t e d — g o o d signs. I think I am i n fact best at classroom teaching. Do you find that your register is moderated quite significantly when you teach your students? I think it's moderated by the timing. They've got the President. so I can't always speak i n that k i n d of achieved simplicity. could you unpack for me something in your talk—I did not fully understand what you meant by multiculturalism as crisis management. i n the U n i t e d States. because I d o n ' t know things very profoundly. is the "only superpower. " T h e U.S. But i n fact what is happening is that unless the situation is managed it is just possible that the E u r o p e a n E c o n o m i c Community. In fact what happens to many of my students is that they take one course f r o m me.INTERVIEW WITH GAYATRI SPIVAK 41 they make these criticisms. has w o n the C o l d War. to come a n d hear me. or even international concept really) is g o i n g to consolidate the U n i t e d States of Europe. That's my p r o b l e m . I wonder in what sense it might be interesting for us here. Well. so I d o n ' t know if this applies i n South A f r i c a at all. but let's say two years. Well. not when I ' m teaching i n n o n formal situations a n d my students d o not have the same sort of academic preparation. a n d so o n . but teaching i n the U n i t e d States i n fact I use the same k i n d of terminology.

so that's divisive." See what I mean? So this whole thing. and I quote a young professor f r o m the University of Minnesota. but it's being managed i n this easy. W h e n I speak within my disciplinary position. it's a huge crisis. it allows us. my disciplinary predicament is to be teaching. O n top of that there is what I was saying yesterday. that is to say. the c o d i n g of capitalism as democracy can be helped by the in-place immigrant. And "transnational literacy"—what does that remedy? It doesn't remedy anything. as I was saying. T h i s will d e p e n d o n when I said it because I ' m constantly o n the move. I want to ask you about what you have called your "disciplinary predicament"—what to do with English studies. With this multiculturalism. what I say can be used because I ' m a m o n g the few . What can be done is that a real wedge can be driven between the African A m e r i c a n struggle. it becomes n o t h i n g but national-origin validation. a n d what looks like. often identified by the liberal multiculturalists. culture. ethnicity. and my disciplinary predicament has probably changed f r o m the time when I said it. i n E u r o p e a n d i n the north i n general. but what it allows is. In a situation whereas the migrants are taking over with the postcolonial African A m e r i c a n . Ideologically it can be managed by that extremely loose term. all of these groups that I've just mentioned. "Disneyland courses. our stake i n wandng to turn capitalism into ajuster m o d e l for our communities.42 L E O N DE K O C K m a n a g e d — a n d here only ideology will work because the crisissituation is political a n d economic. and they have n o t h i n g i n c o m m o n except wanting to be i n the U n i t e d States. So with this multiculturalism. with the new immigrants. o l d i m m i grant communities. i n the U n i t e d States this is a danger point. T h e best thing that can be done is to make them c o m p e t e — t h e o l d divide a n d rule thing. between the Latino-Chicano struggle. a n d an even looser term. repressively tolerant way. tokenized. to invent a unity out of what o n a level of abstraction we really share. Well. the concrete figures that i n fact the migrancy is g o i n g to be used immensely i n order to support a post-Fordist economy.

If you see them as national-origin validation. . my G o d . et cetera. They should not be seen as multicultural because then the person who is the centre is the white person who is allowing diversity. But in your situation ? M y situation? Well. It's only too easy. What kind of curricular choices or changes would you like to see. but I won't. as they come through the immigration. O n e cannot i n fact suggest that these things should not be the hegemony o f the English departments without giving support.. T h e thing is I could. what I'm suggesting is that o n the u n dergraduate level there should be national-origin validation courses. " This predicament was not what I was talking about. all kinds of cultures. given the decolonizing imperative. and I teach now at a very prestigious university. . you have o n the undergraduate curriculum national-origin validation courses. Well certainly.INTERVIEW WITH GAYATRI SPIVAK 43 senior women of colour i n the U n i t e d States. they take a very symbolically important A m e r i canization "course. or whatever you would like to call that? Within what situation? Remember I never say anything. . . I'm sure. I would have liked you to comment on the situation here. what does that say? I mean I don't like that book. . In T h e Post-Colonial Critic. only too easy. O h . and I see the the main pedagogic imperative there to change the established so-called opposition . naturalization services. . because there are many things one c o u l d say. but you can't. when you read me saying that.. so one cannot i n fact speak against multiculturalism without immediately being used by the reactionary lobby against political correctness. without p r o v i d i n g an alibi for the people who say "only teach the texts of E n g l i s h literature i n the English departments. But anyway. I won't." Okay. then it's the young people who are c o m i n g as new immigrants who are obliged. L o o k . . So i n that context. you don't want me to tell you anything more d o you. . you know.

A t the level of postgraduate studies. every accusation that G . Spivak is not letting the bloody subaltern speak is a p r o o f that the subaltern cannot speak. there has to be also educating the educators by supplementing the humanities with the social sciences a n d social sciences with the humanities. so that the nature of origin is seen within the transnational alphabet. it seems to me that you have to there begin transnational literacy. . What happened? In one generation. A n d then. so the question of a national identity is seen as no more than a k i n d of affective alibi against the fact that one wants to be within the changed U n i t e d States. a n d i n general I think we will get more help f r o m the person who's not f r o m that nation i n locating this. This is a proof that the subaltern cannot speak: nobody relates it to the d a m n e d suicide. so i n that situation o f extreme poignancy I say "a subaltern cannot speak. to the extent of m a k i n g her d a m n e d suicide into a message. one of the w o m e n in her own family said exacdy the opposite a n d c o n d e m n e d her. so we should realize that interdisciplinary teaching is something we have to learn rather than take for granted. among the teachers of these courses. and I speak as someone who is d o i n g this for herself. In fact. How do you respond to criticism against your position that "the subaltern cannot speak "? " C a n the Subaltern Speak?" comes out of the recounting of an incident. I cannot think of a situation where somebody really tries to communicate that is more urgent than this. since I see everything as an act. I'd like to change track a little now. see that's my grandmother's sister. educating the educators. . rather than the person who is f r o m that other nation state. because that's spoken i n rage a n d dissappointment by one woman hearing through the most nonmasculine n e t w o r k — m o t h e r to daughter. N o w the incident is a situation where a subaltern person h a d tried extremely hard to speak.44 L E O N DE K O C K groups i n the direction of understanding that the nationalorigin validation course is not against their interests a n d to change the o l d immigrants f r o m white identification into i m m i grant identification. M y mother said to me that my grandmother's 3 . not a person. . C . where I'm most involved." But every person has decided not t o .

w h o w o u l d say that's just the oppressed? T h e working class is oppressed. I'm supposed to take that seriously? I cannot take that seriously. the next point: everybody thinks the subaltern is just a classy w o r d for oppressed. her grandniece trying to make her speak has also failed because not one critic has related it to the example which proves for me that the subaltern cannot speak. T h e subalternist historians take it f r o m Gramsci a n d change it. the definition has a scholarly history. N o w let's move that one out. This you should p u b l i s h because I've never said this. Now. the indigenous elite. because of this incredible political situation. I quote the definition. Let us at least use the hegemonic discourse as well. so not only has she not been able to speak. It's . i n various kinds of situations: everything that has l i m i t e d or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern—a space of difference. A n d so then the w o r d "subaltern" became packed with meaning. We are scholars after all. a n d that is forgotten. O n e knows that Gramsci used it because Gramsci was obliged to censor himself i n prison. Now. sitting i n prison i n Italy.INTERVIEW WITH GAYATRI SPIVAK 45 sister h a d done this a n d left a message a n d waited u n t i l menstruad o n a n d all that stuff. H o w extraordinary "subaltern's" p r o v e n a n c e — a w o r d that comes out of censorship a n d therefore is a classic catachresis. It's the least phallocentric way of networking a n d it has failed. I give the definition. They define it as the people. to tell you the truth. for somebody who's not getting a piece of the pie. scholarly discourse. just class-formation questions were not g o i n g to solve anything. because he was talking about the southern question. a n d it has failed. a n d we r u n with it. a n d i n my generation the w o m e n have forgotten it. the w o r d "subaltern" as one knows is the description of a military thing. a n d he realized that if one was talking o n southern Italy. for Other. so that at both ends my critics are just k i n d of going to town. If they are networking i n the most non-phallocentric way. failing at both ends. the foreign elite. O n e also knows that the w o r d changed i n its use when Gramsci presciendy began to be able to see what we today call north-south problems. the subaltern cannot speak. T h e n . T h e definition of the w o r d "subaltern" that I use is given i n the essay. the upwardly mobile indigenes.

They are the least interesting and the most dangerous. just by being i n a discriminatedagainst minority on the university campus. A n d therefore today i n decolonized areas. the only way that that speech is p r o d u c e d is by inserting the subaltern into the circuit of hegemony. They shouldn't call themselves subaltern a n d their main purpose should not be to bloody Spivak. But the final one is. W h o the hell wants to museumize or protect subalternity? O n l y extremely reactionary.46 L E O N DE KOCK not subaltern. as they tell me—yes they can speak—I quite agree. which is the worst. it means that if speaking involves speaking a n d listening. that is. does not exist i n the subaltern's sphere. you d o n ' t give the subaltern voice. you see the work of the subalternist h i s t o r i a n s . do we understand metaphoric use of words that are like m i n i m a l l y metaphoric. it's having an impact o n decolonized India. precisely because the subaltern had no access to the culture of imperialism. then I'm talking Gramsci. the fact is that all of those alibis for decolonization are . T h e third thing. because what they have proved with meticulous care is that the nationalist narrative of decolonization is like a vaccine that d i d not take with the subaltern. which is what should happen. as subaltern. . a n d since they can speak. so let them speak. . W h e n you say cannot speak. dubious anthropologistic museumizers. . Y o u b r i n g out these so-called subalterns f r o m the woodwork. to that extent. I mean. many people want to claim subalternity. responsibility. It's i n capital logic. N o activist wants to keep the subaltern i n the space of difference. use the hegemonic discourse. you know what I mean? So. . to work for the subaltern. they're within the hegemonic discourse wanting a piece of the pie a n d not being allowed. this possibility of response. Y o u work for the bloody subaltern. you can o n l y . you work against subalternity. . I mean. a n d they d o n ' t need Spivak as a w h i p p i n g girl because she said out of that position that the subaltern cannot speak. They should see what the mechanics of the discrimination are. . T o do a thing. their work has i n fact. means to b r i n g it into speech. whether they do it themselves or not . T h e penultimate thing is (I want to say something about the work of the subalternist historians). they d o n ' t need the word subaltern.

NOTES 1 According to research statistics compiled by the Human Rights Commission and the Community Agency for Social Enquiry. of Illinois P. Gayatri Chakravorti. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. David. Oliphant. Independent Board of Inquiry.INTERVIEW WITH GAYATRI SPIVAK 47 absolutely useless. 3 See Spivak (1988). So. 1988. when the white referendum was held. used just less than fifty years ago. Leon.J. and Safoora Sadek. "Blood on the Tracks: A Special Report on Train Attacks by the Independent Board of Inquiry. O n e doesn't d o everything directly. they are not speaking for the subaltern. T h e people have n o particular vested interest or feeling of identificadon with those great alibis. those are the things that I w o u l d say about the whole spurious "the subaltern can speak" debate. Ed. In March 1992. 271-313. The dead in December included three people who were thrown off trains in the greater Johannesburg area. "Death to Pompous Wasp. D. Wits University (Conference Brochure). more than 200 people died in political violence (13). December 1991. Spivak. New Nation. according to the Independent Board of Inquiry into Informal Repression (Independent Board of Inquiry 12-13). WORKS CITED De Kock. Urbana: U . December 1991 (when the conference was held) was a relatively 'quiet' month with approximately 50 political killings (Everatt and Sadek 13). "Wars or Total Strategy?" Saturday Star (Johannesburg) 4 April 1992: 13. Everatt. 2 A book containing conference contributions is being prepared by the Congress of South African Writers (COSAW) under the editorship of Andries W. 1992. Braamfontein. subalternistwork. Middle-Class Control of Scholarly Discourse!" Vrye Y/eekblad (Johannesburg) 6-12 Dec. (Drawn from material prepared for the International Commission of Jurists which met in Johannesburg on 28 March 1992)." Independent Board of Inquiry into Informal Repression. but they're working for the subaltern i n that way. du Plessis Centre. N o w i n this interventionist. . 1991: 23. NewNation Writers Conference.

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