Date: 30-08-2012


: A Response on “Can The Subaltern Speak?” :

The article begins with Spivak writing about Foucault and Deleuze conversing on the entity of ‘subjectivity’. What Spivak clings to in this entire article is her criticism of the intellectual west’s keen desire for discovering the clichés associated with this term. Thus actually, we’re talking about white men speaking to white men about coloured subjects. She then brings in colonialism and states that all knowledge about the third world was always moulded in the framework of the political and economic interests of the colonisers. Therefore, any sort of research involved in the colonial project has always been biased towards the western academia; the western scholar wrote and produced the ‘other’ as his object of desire in order to gain currency in his land. It is here that Spivak actually puts up the ambiguity of the west to write about the occidental by neglecting the entire paraphernalia of colonial discourse. Spivak points to the fact that research has been in a way always colonial - in trying to define the “over there” subject as the object of study and as some sort of commodity that knowledge should be extracted from and brought back home. Gayatri Spivak claims the west to be obsessed with preserving its own ideologies as subject, and any discourse that finds place in this scenario eventually ends up being the discoursing agents themselves. Its like importing the raw materials from the east, manufacturing goods out of them and then again exporting them back to where they came from in want of economic sustenance. Thus, while examining the validity of the western

representation of the other, she proposes that this body of thought which shows keen interest in writing about ‘the other’ is secluding itself entirely from postcolonial or feminist scrutiny. Here, what relates Subaltern Studies to subjectivity is the equivocal tone that Spivak acquires while speaking about Ranajit Guha’s project. She acknowledges the fact that the Indian subalterns have been subjected to ‘epistemic violence’ by their colonial superiors and that the editorial team has tried to voice out their identity by re-appropriating Gramsci’s concept of the subaltern, yet she remains sceptic about the fact that it does not completely erase the dependence upon western intellectuals to “speak for” the subaltern condition rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. Spivak further argues that by voicing their identity and reclaiming a collective cultural entity, subalterns will in fact re-inscribe and re-appropriate their subordinate position in the society. She states that this marginalised, peripheral mass is composed of heterogeneous ethnicities that have separate identities and the academic assumption of a ‘subaltern’ thus, doesn’t account for this heterogeneity of the colonized body politic. She gives the example of Satipratha where a woman was deemed to sacrifice herself alive on the funeral pyre of her husband in order to attain spiritual salvation. This particular ritual occupied a much more religious significance in the lives of the Hindus that was later deemed criminal offence by the colonizers and abolished. Here Spivak aims to demonstrate that the entire viewpoint from which a particular trait constituting the subaltern identity is scrutinized by the occidental is clearly different from that of the oriental. Thus, she exemplifies the failure of the white man to speak for the ‘subaltern’ where the latter ends up entering the intellectual discourse mostly through the lens of the prominent ideologies. Lastly she concludes that the subaltern is not privileged within the dominant discourse, and will never succeed in establishing its identity in the conventional institutions of power. If the problematic is understood in this sense, it is quite obvious that that subaltern would not be able to speak for themselves ever. ——————

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