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Are the "culture wars" over? When did they begin? What is their relationship to gender struggle and the dynamics of class? In her first full treatment of postcolonial studies, a field that she helped define, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the world's foremost literary theorists, poses these questions from within the postcolonial enclave.
Dec 19, 2010 Yammerskooner rated it Consider what Spivak says about the two-handed engine of the colonialist palimpsest - the structure of the "Carceral", which underlies and predetermines the development of all social forms. As we begin fully to think through the various ways that colonial rule subjugated native populations: making certain indigenous bodies into "$ubjects" by educating them and training them for governmental service, while simply overtly oppressing the vast majority. If we can grasp the differ...more like · see review
Feb 11, 2008 Librarian rated it Shelves: adultnonfiction, feminista, philosophy-theory, postcolonial When I saw Spivak speak for the first time, she introduced herself as a hyphenated identitarian and I think I fell in love with her just for that. Most people know her for her essay "can the subaltern speak?" and this collection of essays builds on the same themes. She is at once a product of postcolonial studies and third world feminism but so so critical of it, which makes her ideas rigorous beyond belief. If you're not a fan of dense academic language, this is not the book for yo...more like · see review
Sep 08, 2007 Anne rated it
Here's the truth, though--like most academic books, I've skimmed this one more than really *read* it. Still, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" stands as one of the alltime great readings of Jane Eyre--one of those essays that makes it impossible for you to look back at a text in the same way as before. like · see review
Mar 25, 2008 Rukshana rated it Shelves: read-pieces-of Hella obtuse...I spent hours trying to decipher for a presentation. but apparently spivak is a superstar, so I guess she's worth deciphering? like · see review
Aug 08, 2008 Patti rated it seriously, what kind of book review website limits to 10,000 characters? like · see review
Jun 26, 2007 John Martin rated it Recommends it for: my worst enemy Shelves: booksihate This is what happens to bad grad students who drink too much beer... like · see review
A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present
This review is from: A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Paperback)
I was astonished by this book. The title 'A critique of post-colonial reason' leads us to expect something along the lines of Kant's critique of pure reason or Satre's critique of dialectical reason. Kant thought Newton's laws were true and needed to show how this could be and what the implications were for the project of being free. We now know better but still the Kantian project is an example of what philosophers should be doing. Hegel, also mentioned by Spivak, who knew virtually no history, believed Cuvier had said the last word on Biology. We know different, still Hegelian thinking is of historical interest because of its influence of Strauss, Fuerbach, Marx, Plekhanov, Satre etc. down to our own time. Satre's critique of dialectical reason- though badly written (he was strung out on amphetamines) nevertheless is thought provoking and full of drama. Moreover, ever since the Problem of Method, Satre had shown himself opening (a little) to breakthroughs in Psychology and the Natural Sciences. What then of Spivak? Has a crisis occurred, a radical aporia arisen, in 'post-colonial reason'? Of course it has. De-colonisation occurred at a time when the West had succumbed to the worst sort of fetishistic worship of the nation-state. Consider the following- Hello, Tibet calling, we're being invaded. Hello, Tibet, are you a nationstate? Of course we are! Really, then how come you don't have a seat at the U.N and embassies in Washington etc.? Clearly, you aren't really a state- you don't exist- your territory is a terra nullis. Incidentally, the same goes for Kurds, Darfur, Timor and so on. Western reason developed by chewing upon the independent and mutually conflicted origins and trajectories of state, church and commons. In the panic following the end of the second world war- the West's military exhaustion- a simpler mantra was devised. Draw some lines on the map and suddenly you are supposed to have sovereign Nation States with solid mutually reinforcing Estates created sui generis. These States are then supposed to be able negotiate their 'development' with appropriate super-powers and international organisations in an uproblematic way with the result that History ends and we can all go back to sleep. Things didn't pan out that way. The fact that post-colonial reason was not reason but sheer wishful thinking- self serving wishful thinking more often than not- was soon made blindingly obvious to 'the post-colonial subject'. The 'native informant' packed his bags for the West, only to resurrect his ethnic identity 'for export only'. For second or third generation diaspora Muslims, however, Islam is clearly superior to the West in politics because State, Church and Commons have a common origin, a common trajectory and involve every member of the Ummat. Islam has an international dimension which Hinduism and Confucianism have not. However, there are important liberation struggles among peoples all over the world which want to overturn the 'postcolonial state', repudiate their status as 'post colonial subjects' and emerge from the terror of being imaginary (imagined by an exhausted other) to being real people making real- as opposed to post-colonial- history. So, yes, there is a crisis of post-colonial reason coz everywhere we hear of failed states. Taliban Afghanistan- okay maybe, Iraq?- ok, I'll give you Iraq- but Pakistan? Iran? India? where do you stop? Spivak doesn't talk about any of this. Sure, she's suspicious of globalisation- coz that's like exploitation?- and she witters on about Derrida and anything else that comes into her magpie
head. Ludicrously, she tries playing the 'I'm Indian' card. Yet she says (about the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992) that she had thought 'it can't happen here.' Really? Which planet do you come from actually? At one moment she talks about the Gita, resurrecting Hegel on Antigone, and you think that maybe she has been doing a little swotting but then later on, towards the end of the book, she tells us in an irrelevant footnote that India is named after 'the younger stepbrother' of Lord Rama. This is extraordinarily ignorant. What's wrong with Spivak? Is she an intellectual bulimic? Did the cramming and regurgitation required of her at Calcutta Uni. condemn her to this horrible 'hunger artist' life on the catwalks of fashionable Academia? Is she dying of intellectual inanition, her vomiting reflex getting in the way of ever digesting information? There is a certain spurious intellectual clarity with which she creates a space for her multitudinous vomiting. There are moments when her grandiose selfcelebration must wear the mask of puckishness to recuperate its powers. Yet even such slender evidence as her tomes evince of clarity and wit are so swiftly effaced by a paranoid vomiting, a vomiting upon vomiting- to keep at bay the interlocutor misjuged to be a potential assailant. Why? Is it all the fault of Derrida? No coz Derrida could do reasonable lit crit on Joyce- anyway France and Germany are allies, so his style can be excused on those grounds alone. But if Derrida isn't the bad guy here, who is? Ivy League political correctness? Bengali bhadrolok clannishness? I don't know. Honestly. I give up. What a waste of time!
A Critique of Postcolonial Reason
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Pub. Date: June 1999 Publisher: Harvard University Press Format: Paperback , 464pp Sales Rank: 307,054 ISBN-13: 9780674177642 ISBN: 0674177649
Are the "culture wars" over? When did they begin? What is their relationship to gender struggle and the dynamics of class? In her first full treatment of postcolonial studies, a field that she helped define, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the world's foremost literary theorists, poses these questions from within the postcolonial enclave. "We cannot merely continue to act out the part of Caliban," Spivak writes; and her book is an attempt to understand and describe a more responsible role for the postcolonial critic. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason tracks the figure of the "native informant" through various cultural
practices—philosophy, history, literature—to suggest that it emerges as the metropolitan hybrid. The book addresses feminists, philosophers, critics, and interventionist intellectuals, as they unite and divide. It ranges from Kant's analytic of the sublime to child labor in Bangladesh. Throughout, the notion of a Third World interloper as the pure victim of a colonialist oppressor emerges as sharply suspect: the mud we sling at certain seemingly overbearing ancestors such as Marx and Kant may be the very ground we stand on. A major critical work, Spivak's book redefines and repositions the postcolonial critic, leading her through transnational cultural studies into considerations of globality.
David S. Gross - World Literature Today
A Critique of Postcolonial Reason is almost above all else self-conscious, self-aware, selfdeprecating. In 139 brilliant footnotes to "Culture," Spivak carries on a running engagement with the flotsam and jetsam (what Walter Benjamin called the "detritus" of culture or "Trash of History") of what passes for public life and the attendant information and culture industry in this global thing we live in: ad campaigns by clothing designers, articles and stories from the New York Times or "Good Morning America"...Spivak's tone makes the book a constant pleasure. A mocking smile seems always present, along with sincere engagement with important issues...From the first page of the preface to her footnote almost 400 pages later about the exchange with the World Bank official at the European Parliament, Spivak focuses on the ignorant, arrogant Eurocentric destruction of people and the environment and the enabling practices of culture that make it possible...This is a most important and significant book.
More Reviews and Recommendations Biography
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.
A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present
by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Are the "culture wars" over? When did they begin? What is their relationship to gender struggle and the dynamics of class? In her first full treatment of postcolonial studies, a field that she helped define, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the world's foremost literary theorists, poses these questions from within the postcolonial enclave."We cannot merely continue to act out the part of Caliban," Spivak writes; and her book is an attempt to understand and describe a more responsible role for the postcolonial critic. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason tracks the figure of the "native informant" through various cultural practices-philosophy, history, literature-to
suggest that it emerges as the metropolitan hybrid. The book addresses feminists, philosophers, critics, and interventionist intellectuals, as they unite and divide. It ranges from Kant's analytic of the sublime to child labor in Bangladesh. Throughout, the notion of a Third World interloper as the pure victim of a colonialist oppressor emerges as sharply suspect: the mud we sling at certain seemingly overbearing ancestors such as Marx and Kant may be the very ground we stand on.A major critical work, Spivak's book redefines and repositions the postcolonial critic, leading her through transnational cultural studies into considerations of globality.
Gayatri Spivak: A Critique of Postcolonial Reason
In A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present published 11 years after the publication of “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, Spivak’s primary concern is still focused on the problem of postcolonial subjectivity. The remarkable change in her subjects b/w these two writings is the transition from the subaltern to what she calls “native informant.” While the subaltern is referring to a site of intersection/concentration of various oppressions (from Indian nationalism, patriarchal social hierarchy, caste system, imperialism, etc.), native informant is defined by its being foreclosedness, or defined by its (im)possibility to be defined/identified. She borrows Lacan’s definition of foreclosure: “what has been foreclosed from the Symbolic reappears in the Real.(5)” Note that the Symbolic and the Real are neither ordered in sequence in Lacanian psychoanalysis nor does the “reappearance” mean the reappearance of the same. In other words, because the return of the repressed can be possible only after two (psychological) processes of repression and return in the unconscious realm, the marking of the return of the native informant is enabled only through a particular kind of reading which inevitably involves “mistakes (49).” One primary way of this kind of reading is related to “denegation (59)”. In order to read the traces of native informant, denegation takes a radically different stance from Hegelian dialectics. If, in Hegelian dialectics, every event is subsumed, through the process of sublation, by a teleological and thus developmental logic, in denegation, affirmation and negation are co-present without being synthesized because unconscious denial is always masked by conscious acceptance (or vice versa) and denegation is a kind of un-negation that affirms rather than negates negation. Therefore, reading from the (im)possible perspective of native informant is to recognize and (re)inscribe the foreclosed subject and the foreclosing moment. In other words, we (literary scholars) can only access to “the real” by reading the traumatic experiences of the native informant which arises from arising from holes of the Real. Why is, then, the native informant given a privileged position in Spivak’s theory? According to her hypothesis, native informant functions as an expelled (foreclosed) subject in western modern philosophy whose erasure surreptitiously facilitates (self-)identification of western modern subject. Spivak’s implication is that, just as ethnographic studies has been haunted by dilemmatic relationship b/w observer-native informant (subject vs. non-subject/ enlightened vs. not-yetenlightened) in order to produce any kind of meaningful explanation, not only European but also third world nationalists’ ways of recording history have been contaminated by (complicitous with) a tendency (Anlarge) arising from this foreclosure, which in turn drives philosophical, historical, cultural domination of west over east (which later evolved to north over south). Spivak’s reading of Kant, Hegel, Marx shows how the seemingly “innocent” texts conspire with imperial desire. Her reading consists of mainly two parts; first, she locates a deconstructive
moment in each text (this aporetic moment has been indicated by other scholars such as De Man, Balibar); second, she connects up the aporia with the moment of foreclosure of “native informant.” By so doing, she demonstrates that the three representative figures of “reason” surreptitiously subscribe to “imperial” ((in her words, postcolonial) reason and that, furthermore, the “native informant” is structurally and systematically situated in a geopolitically (spatial) and historically (temporal) differentiated imperial (non-)place in their philosophies. The below quote summarizes her project: The possibility of the production of the native informant by way of the colonial/postcolonial route … is lodged in the fact that, for the real needs of imperialism, the in-choate in-fans aboriginal para-subject cannot be theorized as functionally completely frozen in a world where teleology is schematized into geo-graphy (writing the world). This limited access to beinghuman is the itinerary of the native informant into the post-colonial, which remains unrecognized through the various transformations of the discussions of both ethics and ethnicity. (30) In a sense, she pits an ethnographic reading (with which she aligns literary reading) against philosophical coherence (here coherence is maintained by supplimentarity). However, her “ethnographic” reading seems to be motivated by her scholarly ambition to bridge or penetrate different and disparate stages of the postcolonial era—namely the imperial age (enlightenment), the age of independence and nationalism and the post-Fordist age (globalization). If what she is trying to do is to construct a kind of continuity b/w these stages, then my simple and Foucauldian questions is: what kinds of discontinuities, transformations, changes took place during the postcolonial era?
Gayatri Spivak: ethics, subalternity and the critique of postcolonial reason
This study offers an advanced and sustained analysis of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivaks thought. In particular, it traces the ethical dimension of Spivaks thought in and through her persistent critique of Marxism, feminism, deconstruction and postcolonial studies. In so doing, the book seeks to argue that what underpins Spivaks essays and interventions is a political commitment to achieve what she calls a relation of ethical singularity with the subaltern. The book offers a concise and authoritative introduction to the work of this increasingly important thinker; it is written by an author with an established reputation as a critic and interpreter of Spivak's work; it provides an in-depth analysis of Spivak's relationship to postcolonialism, feminism, Marxism, and subaltern studies; it deals with the complete trajectory of Spivak's writing, from her early translations of Derrida, to her recent contributions to debates on human rights, terrorism and globalization; and it addresses some of Spivak's most recent writings.
Lopamudra Basu, Gayatri Spivak and Intellectual Activism: A Response to A Critique of Postcolonial Reason
Published: October 2, 2009 In this essay, I shall examine a theory of intellectual activism, which emerges in Gayatri Spivak’s discussion of "Culture" in the fourth section of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, which is at once aligned with the anti-globalization movements, which have emerged in metropolitan centers like Seattle, and at the same time sensitive to the opposite end of the spectrum of resistance, the unorganized labor of the third world rural woman. It is Spivak’s constant negotiation of two such divergent poles, and her simultaneous inhabiting of both spheres that produces ruptures in a linear, uni-directional formulation of opposition to global capitalism. In one of the most self- reflexive passages in the chapter "Culture," Spivak describes the act of criticism as " A caution, a vigilance, a persistent taking of distance always out of step with total involvement, a desire for permanent parabasis is all that responsible academic criticism can aspire to. Any bigger claim within the academic enclosure is a trick" ( 362). However, it is in this chapter more than anywhere else in the book, there is a sense of a dissatisfaction with this precise enclosure and an attempt to move beyond it. This move is hesitant and self-critical and the chapter alludes to the embarrasment of being a part time activist, as well as the difficulties in moving into the arena of activism, in the concluding section. But even if the discussion of her activism can only be glimpsed at the margins of the text, it informs the theorization of the critical project as a permanent parabasis. More importantly, the activist dimension of Spivak’s work dispels the sense of pessimism which can envelop a postcolonial critic with the realization of the complicity of her position within the workings of global capital and the limitations placed on her due to her location. I will first examine a demonstration of Spivak’s critique as "permanent parabasis." In the chapter "Culture," one of her dominant arguments is the deconsrtuction of Frederic Jameson’s diagnosis of postmodernism as a rupture by the insistence that it is indeed a repetition. Spivak makes this case by a painstaking analysis of Jameson’s essay "The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," disproving Jameson’s reading of the architecture of the Bonaventure hotel in Los Angeles, as " a dialectical intensification of the auto-referentiality of modern culture,"( 318) and his argument about the transformation in art from the compensatory utopianism of Van Gogh’s to the commodity fetishism of Andy Warhol’s shoes. But, the most salient argument on which she builds her case is that " the postmodern, like other Western terms of periodization since the late eighteenth century, is being produced by way of dissimulation of the geopolitical other." (334). This dissimulation is elaborated through her reading of the production of the Japanese designer Rei Kwakubo, in contrast to the textile workers and the traditional weavers of Bangladesh in a reading of the fashion/ garment industry. In her corrosive attack on the forces which produce Kwakubo as the privileged migrant Japanese aesthetician, the anger and rage stems from an engagement and admiration of the work of Farida Akhter, the feminist activist who works to preserve the traditional art of Bangladeshi jamdani weaving, through the creation of a weavers collective. Spivak’s indignation lies in the fact that " Rei Kwakubo emerging as the favored subject of feminism/masculism often allows another
woman to disappear."( 352). This disappearance is precisely the erasure of the labor of third world women, and it is in their condition of geopolitical exploitation that Spivak sees no radical departure from the methods of industrial to present global, micro-electronic capitalism. The dissimulation of the geopolitical other takes place at multiple levels and Rei Kwakubo is for Spivak only one of the dissemblers. Her strongest reproach is reserved for the privileged cosmopolitan diasporic academic/intellectual. Against this group, Spivak launches a double critique. The first is a critique against the assumption that migrancy and change in the ethnic composition of the metropole automatically fosters resistance. The second is the separation of the diasporics from the third world people, particularly rural and indigenous groups that they have moved away from. Like Kwakubo’s face erases the faces of many Japanese women, with the emergence of the diasporic intellectuals, "Both the racial underclass and the Subaltern South step back into the penumbra."(361). However, the most significant trope of repetition for me is that which is emblematized through Spivak’s account of the Child Labor Legislation and its parallel with colonial legislation of an earlier, era on Sati. The Child Labor Deterrent Act of 1993, is symptomatic of American efforts to regulate corporate hiring of child labor in the textile industry in Bangladesh. Like Spivak’s discussion of Sati or widow burning in colonial India, in the Chapter on History, this latter day legislation is not untainted by the axiomatics of imperialism. Both Sati and the Child Labor Act illustrate instances of law making by a foreign ( AngloAmerican Power), in an effort to regulate socio-economic realities of an other non Eurocentric culture. Moreover, both examples of law making are shaped around the rhetoric of moralism and the enactment of the laws is represented as the ethical imperative against religious, cultural or socio-economic injustice. The law and its givers or makers are cast as the saviors of the nonEurocentric populations on whom the laws are enacted. This high moral rhetoric can only be credible by a lurid depiction of the barbarity an "other" kind of ritual, or a sensationalist or sentimental presentation of the atrocity of the economic reality of child labor. The rhetoric is also inflected with the missionary zeal of " saving," and the lawgivers can only be presented as saviors by the deliberate and sustained presentation of a very palpable and emotionally charged image of victimhood. In the nineteenth century this image of victimhood is most easily served in the visualization of the horror of widow burning. In the late twentieth century, the child worker in South Asia is the victim whose face is circulated in morally indignant documentaries, clamoring for an end to the exploitation of children in the garment industries. In the previous epoch the subaltern had been erased by the deletion of the Rani of Sirmur from the colonial records, and the erasure of Bhubaneshwari Bhaduri from the memory of her decendants, and the misreading of her suicide, which was an attempt to write on the text of her mensrtuating body, the reason for her suicide. Bhubaneshwari’s suicide was committed because she had bee unable to fulfill the task of political assasination that she had been assigned, due to her involvement in the armed nationalist struggle. By hanging herself at a time when she was menstruating, she had attempted to discredit the traditional reason assigned to suicide by unmarried women of that time, illicit pregnancy. The act came to be interpreted as a "case of delirium rather than sanity"( 307) in the immediate aftermath. A couple of generations later, Bhubaneshwari’s female relatives told Spivak that she had indeed been involved in an illicit relationship, thereby negating her attempt to speak. In the circulation of this binary opposition of the savior and the victim, in its latter day avatar, the silencing of the subaltern continues this time quite literally in the English language voiceover of the Urdu speeches of Pakistani children in the brickmaking business, depicted in one such documentary. A concomitant gesture to this construction of the binary between the victim and savior i
s the implicit hierarchization of the cultures of victim and savior, with the consequent demonizing and devaluation of the culture in which the victim is located. The culture of the savior is cast as the one of righteousness, moral and ethical superiority and humaneness against the one of the victim depicted as one of oppression, injustice and atrocity. This schematization supports the moral rationale for colonialism in the nineteenth century and provides the righteous facade over the rapaciouness and brutality of the colonial enterprise. It also served to effectively conceal the atrocities on the Euro-American side of the divide which would undercut the assumption of equality and justice of every cultural practice of Euro-America. In the contemporary legislation on child labor, and in the discourse surrounding it, there is the continuance of the tendency to essentialize about geographic and cultural spaces on the basis of the of the media attention surrounding them. Thus while there is a shift between the barbarism associated with colonial Hindusism, and the generalization that child labor is an essential aspect of third world societies, made by some U. S. academics, both emanate from the same kind of ignorance which Spivak terms "transnational illitercy." This analysis made by some American sociologists, may perhaps be subscribing to a notion of cultural relativism. But this is certainly not Spivak’s reading of this issue . There is no hesitancy in Spivak’s condemnation of both Sati and the practice of child labor, but she performs in her analyses of these two legislative enactments, an expose of the agendas behind the passing of these laws, and the contributions of these laws to the sustenance of the prevailing ideolgy of Eurocentric cultural domination. There is no doubt in her mind that child labor is awful but she cannot accept the naivete of the enactment of laws banning the practice, by a body of people who are ignorant of the living conditions of Bangladeshi rural poor, and the false congratulation and complacency in the mistaken sense of having made a real and ethical change, without having developed any constructive infra-structure for the children displaced from working in the factories. There is one distinction between the two laws enacted under the arch of imperialism. While the banning of Sati and Child Labor share in the cultural stereotypes of civilization and backwardness, they set into motion, they are distinct in the economic conditions underpinning each legislation. Spivak attacks the inherent nationalism of labor movements of the North, when she points out that one of the motivations behind the Child Labor legislation is the sense of competition of the American working class, and the desire not to be undersold by the children of the South. The element of economic competition did not figure so directly in the Sati legislation. The structures fashioning that law were principally those of race and gender. But in its reincarnation, as the Child Labor Deterrant Act, the question of the competing labor interests is crucially linked to the passage of the law. Thus, if late capitalism is a repetition as Spivak argues it to be, it is also a shift, marking the beginning of more aggressive contests over labor and markets, and an era in which the cultural has been penetrated more invasively by the economic. Of course, in the previous era, the moral and cultural justification for the colonialist project, the white man’s burden, the civilizational imperative ultimately facilitated economic aggrandizement of colonialist powers. However, now with the dissolution of purist colonizer/ colonized categories, it is all an undisguised competition of groups competeing to sell their labor to transnational corporations, and TNCs vying for markets for consumption. Spivak alludes to intensification of capital’s conquest of the globe in her reference to the phenomenon of foreign direct investing in Bangladesh, and the distinction of Bangladesh’s economic history in comparison to India’s and particularly West-Bengal’s. One of the dire repurcussions that Spivak identifies with this new phase of capital’s sway is the growth of religious fundamentalisms, when she writes " As I have imagined , in the New World
Order-or hot peace – the hyphen between nation and state comes looser than usual; and that in that gap fundamentalisms fester." (373). In the concluding section of the "Culture" chapter Spivak engages in a passionate polemic against the World Bank and the Development projects it sponsors both overtly and through Non Government Organizations( NGOs), which weaken any attempts at distributive justice in postcolonial states. It is in this section that she seems to be most aligned in spirit with the recent protest movements against the WTO and the World Bank in Seattle and Washington DC. She begins her attack by the statement " Shielding colonialism in the direst possible way shields the new imperialism of exploitation as development."(371). A few lines later she locates the origin of most development initiatives to the World Bank and expresses her disdain at its operations. The main funding and co-ordinating agency of the greatest narrative of development is the World Bank. The phrase "sustainable development" has entered the discourse of all bodies that manage globality. Development to sustain what? The general ideology of global development is racist paternalism( and alas, increasingly, sorroralism); its general economics capital- intensive investment; its broad politics the silencing of resistance and the subaltern as the rhetoric of their protest is constantly appropriated. ( 373 Although, deeply suspicious of the triumphalist rhetoric of any resistance project or disruptive anti-globalization movements, she does take a moment to pause and praise the Narmada movement in India, " But, although every victory is a warning, we cannot afford to forget that the people did push the World Bank out of the Narmada Valley in March 1993" ( 377). This statement is prophetic, because the Narmada Movement has entered a new phase with the proposed construction of the Maheshwar Dam in Madhya Pradesh. This dam is being built by the Ogden Corporation in New York City, against which a demonstration is being carried out today (June 14 2000) at the Company’s shareholders meeting, by groups called Friends of Narmada and The Narmada Solidarity Coalition.. The Narmada resistance movement, as it continues in India would fit the paradigm of Spivak’s impassioned plea for " the recognition of the agency of local resistance, as it is connected to peoples’ movements that girdle the globe." ( 415). The critical question still remains about the involvement of the academic/ intellectual, particularly the diasporic in these resistance movements. This is the question of moving beyond the enclosure of the academic. How can a migrant intellectual do that and not fall into the predictable trap of appropriating the subaltern, speaking in her name, perpetuating the asymmetries of geopolitical power. Spivak’s theorization of ethical singualarity provides a model of activist engagement. She describes ethical singularity as an "impossible ethical relation." " a secret encounter..when responses flow from both sides. " ( 384). This impossible relationship is the ideal that an activist can aspire to, but not something which an be achieved in collective movements, either the disruptive anti-globalization movements, in metropolitan centers, or the constructive ones which go in the South, less visibly. Perhaps it is this relationship of ethical singularity that Spivak seeks in her experiment with educational philosophy, in the rural literacy work that she has been involved with, among a small group of aboriginals in western West-Bengal in India. In her conversation with me, she spoke about the "habits of democratic culture" that she tries to foster in these children, and the group of teachers in Manbhum, who have not had the benefit of a careful education. However, there is always a deep awareness of the contradictions and conflicts between activism and critical theory. In her account of her encounter with Seema Das, the activist, she alludes to some of the difficulties in trying to forge a relationship between the two. The desire to connect the arenas of activism and
theory is perhaps analogous o the impossibility of the relationship of ethical singularity. This impossible connection is what the chapter, and indeed the book strives to make. The impossibility of the relationship does not mean the abandonment of the effort, but an awareness of the difficulties inherent in the desire for connection. It is my belief that Spivak’s critical project as a "permanent parabasis," would be impossible without a personal engagement with grassroots movements of the South. It is the knowledge and association and with Farida Akhter and her handloom weavers collective in Bangladesh, or Mahasweta Devi, the Bengali fiction writer, and her work among aboriginals in West-Bengal, and others that enables the critique of Anglo-American feminism, UN and World Bank sponsored development and the hegemonic rise of the postcolonial diasporic critic, and the continued appropriation and marginalization of the subaltern woman of the South.
"I am not erudite enough to be interdisciplinary, but I can break rules." Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason Breaking rules of the academy and trespassing disciplinary boundaries have been central to the intellectual projects of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the leading literary theorists and cultural critics of our times. Professor Spivak was born in India and received a B.A. at the University of Calcutta. She came to the United States in 1961 and in 1967 she graduated with a Ph.D. from Cornell University. She was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh till 1991, and is currently the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. In addition she has taught at Université Paul Valéry, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, University of British Columbia, Goethe Universität in Frankfurt, Riyadh University, and Stanford University among others. She has been a Fellow of the National Humanities Institute, the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan, the Humanities Research Center at the Australian National University, the Center for the Study of Social Sciences (Calcutta), the Davis Center for Historical Studies (Princeton), the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio). She has been a Kent Fellow and a Guggenheim Fellow. Among her many Distinguished Faculty Fellowships is the Tagore Fellowship at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (India). She has been a member of the Subaltern Studies Collective. She is on the editorial Board of many journals, among them Cultural Critique, boundary 2, New Formations, and Diaspora. Professor Spivak has been active in hands-on educational reform and teacher training in aboriginal India for about a decade, and is active in other social movements. Professor Spivak is a scholar of deconstructive approaches to verbal, visual and social texts. By translating Jacques Derrida's De la grammatologie into English (published as Of Grammatology,
with a critical introduction) she initiated a debate on deconstruction in the Anglo-American academy. She defines deconstruction as "...a constant critique of what you cannot not want," and admits that what she continues "...to learn from deconstruction is perhaps idiosyncratic, but it remains my rein." Her most important contribution to the field of literary studies is helping to define, elaborate on, and then complicate the field of postcolonial studies. About two decades ago she raised the question "Can the Subaltern Speak?" whereby she took issue with Western intellectuals' almost confessional account of their inability to mediate the historical experience of the working classes and the underprivileged of society. In rendering visible the complexities of the "Native Informant" in her publications In Other Worlds, The Post-Colonial Critic, and Outside in the Teaching Machine, Professor Spivak has followed up on this question. Furthermore, through her translations of the Bengali author/activist Mahasweta Devi's fiction work into English, published in Imaginary Maps, she has added another dimension to postcolonial debates about the native informant. Her forthcoming publications include Red Thread and Other Asias. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (1999) is "...a practitioner's progress from colonial discourse studies to postcolonial studies." ".... This book "...belongs on the same shelf as bell hooks, Deniz Kandiyoti, Trinh-ti Minh-ha. Chandra Talpade Mohanti and Sara Suleri..." and is Spivak's "...attempt to look around the corner, to see herself [oursleves] as others would see her [us]." As footnotes become the foundation stones of the main text, Spivak addresses feminists, philosophers, critics and activists as they converge and diverge in the game of global political economy. Spivak ends her book with a profound observation: "Marx could hold The Science of Logic and the Blue Books together; but that was still only Europe, and in the doing it came undone." As we try to learn about the history of the vanishing present from this global feminist Marxist scholar, it would be safe to say, "Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak can hold the Bhagwad Gita and UNESCO's Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems together, but it is still only the post-industrial information-age global village, and look how in the doing it comes undone!"