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The Post/Colonial Novel Postcolonial Theory: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak representing colonised subjects.

and questions of ethics and

Coetzees Foe engages with some of the central questions of postcolonial studies relating to the ethics of reading and representing stories and identities silenced by colonial power. These might include: y How do we go about retrieving Fridays story after his silencing by Crusoe? y How do we recover stories and identities silenced by colonialism? y Can we recover these stories? y If we try to recover and represent these stories, how do we avoid imposing our own power over them again? y If we attempt to speak for Fridays silenced identity or story, do we risk repeating Crusoes attempts to speak for, i.e. represent, Friday to us? In her ground-breaking essay, Can the Subaltern Speak?, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak theorised the question of retrieving or representing the stories of subjects silenced by the colonial project, subjects like Friday who is silenced by Crusoe. While she agrees that critics should look for the lost stories of colonised subjects, she raises questions about the ethics of representing these stories and subjects. She asks whether, in the attempt to represent these stories, we (as intellectuals, critics, fiction writers) risk resilencing them. If Crusoe claims to speak for Friday, and therefore silences him in the process, do we risk repeating this mistake in our attempt to recover and represent his story? Ultimately, Spivak suggests that we should not stop trying to recover the stories of silenced colonial subjects or imagine their histories. But, we should always be very selfconscious about doing so, and should always recognise the extent to which, in trying to speak for those subjects we potentially render them silent again. We should always question the way that we try to represent colonised subjects and silenced histories, the way we try to narrate their voices, and we should always be aware of our own position of power in doing so. That is, we should always pay attention to the representational strategies and systems through which we try to voice silenced subjects. Is this why Coetzee refuses to give Friday a voice? Spivak is a difficult read, so the following are summaries of her arguments given by two literary critics, Ania Loomba and John McLeod. In what follows, we can understand the subaltern as the colonial subject (like Friday, or Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea). Ania Loomba, Colonialism/Postcolonialism In Can the Subaltern Speak? (1985), Spivak suggests that it is impossible for us to recover the voice of the subaltern or oppressed colonial subject. Even a radical critic like Foucault, she says, who thoroughly decentres the human subject, is prone to believing that oppressed subjects can speak for themselves, because he has no conception of the extent of the colonial repression, and especially of the way in which it historically intersected with patriarchy. Spivak turns to colonial debates on widow immolation in India to illustrate her point that the combined workings of colonialism and patriarchy in fact make it extremely difficult for the subaltern (in this case the Indian widow burnt on her husbands [funeral] pyre) to speak or be heard. [] [S]chlars such as

Lata Mani have shown that in the lengthy debates and discussions that surrounded the British governments legislations against the practice of sati, the women who were burnt on their husbands pyres as satis are absent as [active] subjects. Spivak reads this absence as emblematic of the difficulty of recovering the voice of the oppressed subject and proof that there is no space from where the subaltern subject can speak. [] Spivaks point here is also to challenge the easy assumption that the postcolonial historian can recover the standpoint of the subaltern. At the same time, she takes seriously the desire, on the part of postcolonial intellectuals, to highlight oppression and to provide the perspective of oppressed people. She therefore suggests that such intellectuals adapt the Gramscian maxim pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will by combining a philosophical scepticism about recovering any subaltern agency with a political commitment to making visible the position of the marginalised. [] Spivak effectively warns the postcolonial critic against romanticising or homogenising the subaltern subject. (Loomba, p. 195-96)

John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism the Subaltern Studies scholars were interested in the representation of the subaltern in colonialist texts, with subalterns defined as those who did not comprise the colonial elite such as the lesser rural gentry, impoverished landlords, rich peasants and upper-middleclass peasants. [These scholars were interested in trying to critique colonial power and the way it has silenced colonial subjects and histories and, more importantly still, the way it has tried to silence attempts at resistance and insurgency. The Subaltern Studies scholars tried to recuperate and recover stories of resistance and the histories and subjectivities of colonised subjects silenced in colonial texts and discourses.] pivak is entirely sympathetic to the aims of scholars [who try to recover and represent the silenced colonial subject, their history and their consciousness] and supportive of their politics. But she urges that critics must always be aware of attempting to retrieve a subaltern consciousness from texts, as this will merely replicate the two problems [ of] perceiving the subaltern as a sovereign subject in control of his or her own consciousness, and assuming that the intellectual is a transparent medium through which subaltern consciousness can be made present. Representations of subaltern insurgency must not be trusted as reliable expressions of a soverign subaltern consciousness; [] subaltern consciousness is fiction, an effect of discourse. To retrieve the unruly voice of a subaltern subject from the colonial archives is to risk complicity in an essentialist, specifically Western model of centred subjectivity in which concrete experience is (mistakenly) preserved. Therefore, all forms of representation which claim to identify and articulate subaltern consciousness are conceptually compromised and actually complicit in the very colonialist discursive dynamics they seek to challenge. It is not possible to retrieve and encounter subaltern consciousness in this way, the argument goes, because the theoretical models we use when we try to do this are incommensurate with subaltern consciousness, which will always remain beyond the boundaries of the discourses we use to articulate them. To put this point inelegantly: we cannot encounter the subaltern on their own terms but are fated instead to render their consciousness with recourse to dominant modules. In the act of giving visibility and voice to the subaltern, ironically the subaltern actually disappears and is silenced. These problems are further compounded by the issue of gender, because representations of subaltern insurgency tend to prioritise men. As object of colonialist historiography and as subject of insurgency, the ideological

construction of gender keeps the male dominant. If, in the context of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow (pp. 82-3). Note here how the subaltern as female is not properly represented within the context of colonialism and resistance to it, colonial production and insurgency. Both authority and the resistance to it are gendered in worrying ways. This famous quotation raises further questions: can oppressed womens voices ever be recovered from the archive? Can the subaltern as female, confined in the shadows of colonial history and representation, ever be heard to speak? The answer, it seems, is now, so long as intellectuals go searching for an originary, sovereign and concrete female consciousness which can be discovered and readily represented with recourse to questionable assumptions about subjectivity. Rather than hunting for the lost voices of women in the historical archives in an act of retrieval, intellectuals should be aware that this kind of work will continue to keep the female entirely muted. [] As Robert C. Young puts it in his reading of the essay, the problem which Spivak identifies is not that the women cannot speak as such, that no records of the subject-consciousness of women exist, but that she is assigned no position of enunciation [and therefore] everyone else speaks for her, so that she is rewritten continuously as the object of patriarchy or of imperialism (White Mythologies: Writing History and the West, Routledge, 1990, p. 164). The subaltern as female is always being written with recourse to a form of representation which is incapable of bearing adequate witness to her subjectposition. [] Ultimately, she suggests, it is better to acknowledge that the subaltern as female exists as the unrepresentable in discourse, a shadowy figure on its margins. Any attempt to retrieve her voice will disfigure her speech. So, she concludes, intellectuals must instead critique those discourses which claim to rescue the authentic voice of the subaltern as female from their mute condition, and address their complicity in the production of subalterneity. Simply inserting subaltern women into representation is a cosmetic exercise as long as the system of representation endorses discredited models of essential, centred subjectivity. [] To summarise: in Can the Subaltern Speak? Spivak complicates the extent to which womens voices can be easily retrieved and restored to history. As Stephen Morton clarifies, this is because subaltern consciousness and resistance are always already filtered through dominant systems of political representation (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, p. 66). Rather than making the subaltern as female seem to speak, intellectuals must bring to crisis the representational systems which rendered her mute in the first place, challenging the very forms of knowledge that are complicit in her silencing. [] In discussing the silence of the subaltern as female, she suggests that she was not using the term literally to suggest that such women never actually talked. Rather, she wanted to consider the inability of their words to enable transactions [an exchange/communication] between speakers and listeners. Their muteness is created by the fact that even when women uttered words, they were still interpreted through conceptual and methodological procedures which were unable to understand their interventions with accuracy. It is not so much that subaltern women did not speak, but rather than others did not know how to listen, how to enter into a transaction between speaker and listener. The subaltern cannot speak because their words cannot be properly interpreted. Hence, the silence of the female as subaltern in the result of a failure of interpretation and not a failure of articulation. [] It is not the act of speaking that is at issue, but the system of representation in which such speaking is (not properly) heard.