conditions where the prisoners themselves would be able to speak'. Foucault canny subalterns stands revealed; representing them, the intellectuals represent. result of an interested desire to conserve the subject of the West, or the West as Subject. The theory of pluralized 'subject-effects' gives an illusion of. Subaltern according to Spivak is those who belong to the third world countries. It is impossible for them to speak up as they are divided by gender, class, caste.
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Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's original essay "Can the SubalternSpeak?" transformed the analysis of colonialism through an eloquentand uncompromisin.. . men are saving the brown women from brown men' as one interpretation of the relationship between colonizer and colonized. How far does this sentence reflect . Please note that this material is for use ONLY by students registered on the course of study as stated in the section below. All other staff and students are only.
In an afterword, Spivak herself considers her essay's past interpretations and future incarnations and the questions and histories that remain secreted in the original and revised versions of "Can the Subaltern Speak? The title was a seductive simplification, marking the spot where, it was hoped, several debates and discourses might converge in the consciousness of their debt to an extraordinary essay, Can the Subaltern Speak?
Though the fulsome description would perhaps have provided a better index of the scope and ambition of the original essay, it too would have been a mere placeholder for the many difficult questions that unfold out of Spivaks essay. The conference was not occasioned by a retirement; it marked no anticipated diminution in the pace or output of Spivaks continued writing. Neither of these possibilities occurred to me when organizing the event. It was, rather, prompted by the felt need to respond to the more intellectually ambiguous demand of an institutional anniversary which simultaneously remarked years of Columbias Universitys operation and 20 years since women were admitted to Columbia College.
It seemed appropriate to turn to Spivaks essay in this contextnot out of any misplaced overidentification with third world women on the part of Western academic feminists, but, rather, in an effort to grasp, once again, the full implications of her insistent and uncompromising introduction of the questions of gender and sexual difference into the critique of radical discourse in the universities of the West and in subaltern studies in India and South Asia.
Our project was, I hope and believe, innocent of nostalgia. Few interventions have retained with such tenacity the radicality or the relevance that Spivaks essay continues to possess today.
It has been cited, invoked, imitated, summarized, analyzed, and critiqued. It has been revered, reviled, misread, and misappropriatedin its original and its abridged forms, in English and in translation.
One often encounters inadvertent testimonies to the revolutionary quality of the thought contained in Can the Subaltern Speak? Occasionally, these run to the comic, though the pathos of the diffe rend the mutual untranslatability of discourse , which appears as a merely lexical matter, also reveals something about the particular difficulty of writing and reading gender into historical analysis.
Consider, for example, a recent translation of the title into Russian within a translation of a more recent essay on terror.
In the initial draft the translator rendered in Russian what, when translated back into English, might have read Can Junior Officers Speak? The woman, as Spivak tells us, inevitably is doubly in shadow. Problems of translation are less analogues than metonyms for the problems of reading that Can the Subaltern Speak? But if we are stretched to the limits of our intellectual capacity in the act of reading Spivaks writing on reading the silences of historythere are some categorically untenable misreadings that need to be dispatched before anything further can be said.
Among them: those that understand the silence of the subaltern as a simple absence in the recordto be supplemented and transcended by the work of information retrieval Spivak endorses such retrieval, but she understands it to be a matter distinct from the question of theorizing the impossibility of subaltern speech as audible and legible predication ; those that discern in the essay a constitutive opposition between practice and theory, variously attributing to Spivaks own intervention an advocacy for one or the other she emphatically rejects that binarity ; those that claim she has rendered the Indian case representative of the third world she insists on the choice of India as an accident of personal history and as a nonexemplary instance in which, nonetheless, global processes can be seen to generate their effects ; and those, in the most egregious misreadings, that discern in the text a nativist apologia for widow burning on the grounds of its authentic ritual status!
Perhaps the most quoted and misquoted passage from the text, a sentence conceived as such, as a grammatical form , is that in which Spivak writes, White men are saving brown women from brown men. The sentence appears, in the spirit of Freud, but, significantly, in answer to two questions. This doubleness of the question follows on the doubly shadowed status of the woman previously mentioned.
Spivak writesand we note the plural: When confronted with the questions, Can the subaltern speak? And can the subaltern as woman speak? What were those dangers?
For Spivak, the same ideological formation informs the desire to give a voice to the hysteric as that which would speak for the subaltern. The one produces the narrative of the daughters seduction to explain a certain silence or muteness of the pathological woman, the other offers the monolithic third world woman as the tautological name of a need to be spoken for. In both cases the masculine-imperialist ideology can be said to produce the need for a masculine-imperialist rescue mission. This circuitry obstructs the alternative histories that might have been written not as the disclosures of a final truth, but as the assemblages of utterances and interpretations that might have emerged from a different location, namely, the place of the subaltern woman.
These utterances would not, as she herself remarks, have escaped ideology; they would not have been the truth of the women who uttered them.
But they would have made visible the unstable claims on truth that the ideology of masculine imperialism offered in its place. The importance of reading the statement as such and of thereby reflecting upon the act of reading lies in its displacement of the question of what a subaltern woman really said or wanted to say and hence what could be said on her behalf and its consequent emphasis on the question of audibility and legibility.
It enables an investigation of what conditions obtrude to mute the speech of the subaltern woman, to render her speech and her speech acts illegible to those who occupy the space produced by patriarchal complicity whether of imperialism or globalization. Had Spivak conceived of the ideological question only in terms of an earlier Marxism, as one of capitalist imperialism and bourgeois nationalism or international socialism, the question might not have been double.
The woman, or more specifically, the subaltern as woman, is a figure in whom the question of ideologyas the production of subjects in whom desire and interest are never entirely symmetrical or mutually reinforcing splits wide open.
This, then, is the incitement to Spivaks explosive historical excavation of two impossible suicidesthat which resides in the mutilated accounts of something called sati , in the process of Britains abolition of widow sacrifice in India, and that which lurks in the half-remembered tale of a woman, Bhubaneswari Bhaduri, who took her life in , apparently after losing heart in the task of political assassination to which she had promised herself.
I say apparently because, in the first version of the essay, Spivak does not finally decide the question of motivations. She reads them, but the text of what happened that day, when a young woman, menstruating, took her own life, remains somewhat oblique for the reader who has not systematically unlearned the suspicions that ideology attaches to almost any young womans suicide.
Perhaps most readers have wondered Are there other readings? But if this intractable doubt refuses to leave us, at the end, it is at least partly because the possibility of another reading has been forcefully opened to us by Spivaks text. And we remain transfixed by the enigma of Bhubaneswari. One concedes that the pyromaniac metaphor may be in bad taste, in this context. Nonetheless, the story of Bhubaneswari flares up at the end of the essay, and nearly overwhelms all that has gone before.
It is not that the story stands as an exampleto be emulated or repudiated. It is, rather, that the difficulty of comprehending what might have occurred in the act of suicide confronts us, forcing us to go back, to unlearn with Spivak the normative ideals of piety and excess with which the third world woman has come to be associated in the interlaced ideological formations of both West and East. By now, the reading is widely familiar. It is at the point where, in Deleuzes and Foucaults otherwise brilliant claims to have decentered the subject of theory and of history, in its Hegelian conception , Spivak discerns its secret reconsolidation, precisely through Deleuzes and Foucaults double incapacity to recognize, on the one hand, the nonuniversality of the Western position and, on the other, the constitutive place of gender in the formation of the subjectas the subject of language not only in the grammatical sense but in the sense of having a voice that can be heard.
The argument on subalternity takes place here, Spivaks text breaking away from its earlier discourse on Western theory a discourse shaped by the deconstructionist imperative to perform critique from within, reading as unraveling the weave of the dominant text , first through an interrogation of the historical record and then through the insertion of a fragmentary and speculative account of the suicide of Bhubaneswari Bhaduri.
A schematic diagram of the arguments concluding movements might run as follows: An imperial tradition that rendered widow sacrifice as the sign of a cultural failure subsequently outlawed it and misidentified it as sati while misspelling it assuttee.
This imperial tradition legitimated itself as a rule of law and resignified a rituala performatively compulsive discourseas a crime and not merely as superstition , while discerning in it the evidence of a retrograde patriarchy.
Even contemporary commentators realized, however, that the prevalence of sati was historically recent and theologically illegitimate. As Spivaks tentative excavation of the scriptural treatises and philosophical commentaries onsati good wife and widow sacrifice in Bengal point out, widow sacrifice, when practiced, tended to be most prevalent in those areas where women could inherit their husbands property in the absence of male heirs. Hence the rite that represented for colonial powers the most transparent evidence of an absolute negation of female agency was awkwardly situated at a place where a woman might, by law, have at least had some economic power though her assets would have been managed for her.
It would be easy to conclude, as Marx had done, in his reading of Henry Sumner Maine, that the ideological justification for widow sacrifice rested in an economic jealousy of her rights to the deceased husbands property. Marx had chastised Maine for an unforgivable navet when he had attributed to the Brahmin priests a purely professional dislike to her enjoyment of property. He was even more derisive when Maine attempted to argue, in a manner that reproduces precisely the logic of white men saving brown women from brown men a logic Spivak writes into a sentence that she produces as a homology of Freuds statement , that only the Church had saved women from the deterioration of their status after the fall of the Roman Empire.
The prohibition on divorce, Marx noted, could hardly be construed as a protection of the womans freedom.
But, in the schematic notations that filled his Ethnological Notebooks , he generally approved of Maines conclusion that the ancient. Spivak confirms the economic analysis, as have many commentators, but she repudiates the simple ideological reading, which would have made the woman a mere victim of false consciousness. Her reading of the Dharma? Scripture provides no basis for its normativization, especially for women, whose proper duty is seen in that context as a static grieving commemoration of the husband.
Widow sacrifice is therefore, Spivak insists, a mark of excess. Moreover, this excess is the only form in which something like womans agency can be apprehendedas a self-negating possibility. The entire ideological formation seems designed to foreclose the possibility of a woman acceding to the position from which she could actually speakas a subject.
It would seem that one cannot retrieve anything but the image of excess and the impossibility of full subjectivity from the discourse on sati. There is no place for the woman outside her relation to the marriage contract, no agency that is not excess.
The story of Bhubaneswari is heartbreakingly fascinating because it expresses, to such an extraordinary degree, an agency unemphatic and ad hoc in Spivaks idiom that consists in resisting misreading. By Spivaks account, the young woman, who decides against committing an act of political violence, kills herself to safeguard the group. At the time, her membership in the struggle for independence was unknown.
Bhubaneswari did nothing to reveal this membership, perhaps out of solidarity with her colleagues, but she at least foreclosed the interpretation that would have imagined her death to be an act of shame for an illegitimate pregnancy.
Menstruation was proof of that. Her young womans body offered the signs by which she could resist being reduced to the mere effect of the patriarchal discoursebut only from within the same system.
This is why Spivak refers to the suicide in terms of a trace-structure, what she describes in such powerful shorthand in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason as effacement in disclosure Within that system the suicide remains enigmatic, indecipherable, though not completely invisible. So it is with a certain bitterness that Spivak recounts the various interpretations to which Bhubaneswaris death has been subjectedinterpretations that tend to presume a romantic crisis, interpretations that even the most astute feminist reader must have allowed herself to ponder, at least momentarily, if only in shame.
Unlearning ideology is never an easy task. One may wonder, without ceding any admiration for Spivaks text, whether the absolute termination of Bhubaneswaris life doesnt provide too literal a form for the problematic of the general muting that occurs at the place where two mutually untranslatable discourses collide. It is perhaps important to recognize that the story was not offered as a model or even as an example; it was offered as a texta very moving oneto be read. In reading this text, Spivak showed us how and to what extent historical circumstances and ideological structures conspire to efface the possibility of being heard something related to but not identical to silence for those who are variously located as the others of imperial masculinity.
And she has admitted, as she must, that the middle-class woman seeking political independence is not in the same position as the unemployed subproletariat of the urban slums, the sweatshop worker, or the child prostitute forced into sexual labor by a depleted environment and diminishing agricultural returns. But this may only prove the point that true subalternity remains in shadow. Why does this matter now? Much has changed since the initial formulation of Can the Subaltern Speak? To name only the most obvious of the epochal transformations to which we have all been subject: the demise of state socialism in the Soviet Union; the globalization of capital; the resurgence of masculinist religious ideologies as reaction formations to the desire for liberation from the false because not realized secularity of European capital; and the intensification of global ecological crisis, felt most intensely in the rural peripheries of the global South.
Among the most potent ideological weapons in the war on terror has been the claim that radical Islam, the putative incubator of terror and the ideological center of opposition to the U.
The emancipation of women once again becomes the legitimating discourse for imperial agendas. And Spivaks sentence returns to condense and expose the many acts and statements by which an ideology is operating. Even in the aftermath of the Bush administrations ignominious departure from power and the rise of a new liberal agenda in the United States under President Obama in , the war in and against Afghanistan has been construed as a morally necessary war, one of whose critical motivating factors is the defense of Afghan women against local patriarchy.
In a world where the international division of labor is so often organized to permit the effective exploitation of women and girl children in the urban and rural peripheries in sweatshops, factories, and brothels , the imperial project is, we must admit, mainly interested in liberating women for labor, which is to say, surplus value extraction.
Human rights have often provided the alibi for that process. So we can be as cautious now of the promise for womens salvation being proffered in the name of war and imperial domination as when Britain made the abolition ofsuttee the mask and means of its own imperialism. This does not mean that we cannot want women, and others, everywhere, to be free of the constraints that inhibit their access to and capacity to speak from a position of subjectivity, representation, economic liberty, and political agency.
Nor does it imply a relativist defense of the masculinist ideologies that operate everywhere under the cover of culture.
And it certainly does not mean that the task of progressive politics can be imagined as giving a voice to subalterns. Subalternity is not that which could, if given a ventriloquist, speak the truth of its oppression or disclose the plenitude of its being. The hundreds of shelves of well-intentioned books claiming to speak for or give voice to the subaltern cannot ultimately escape the problem of translation in its full sense.
Subalternity is less an identity than what we might call a predicament, but this is true in very odd sense. For, in Spivaks definition, it is the structured place from which the capacity to predicate is radically obstructed.
To the extent that anyone escapes the muting of subalternity, she ceases being a subaltern. Spivak says this is to be desired. And who could disagree? There is neither authenticity nor virtue in the position of the oppressed. There is simply or not so simply oppression. Even so, we are moved to wonder, in this context, what burden this places on memory work in the aftermath of education. What kind of representation becomes available to the one who, having partially escaped the silence of subalternity, is nonetheless possessed by the consciousness of having been obstructed, contained, or simply misread for so much of her life?
Is there any alternative to either the positivist euphoria that would claim to have recovered the truth of her past or the conflation of historiography with therapeutic adaptation by which ideology finally makes the silence of subalternity seem normal?
Today in the halls of the academy it is possible to discern a certain displacement of the critique of power and class, and hence of history, by the cultural analysis of memory. If the latter offers itself as an alternative to the positivism of empiricist historiography, and as a critique of the teleologies implicit in so much Marxist theory, it nonetheless tends to surrender utopianism only to embrace nostalgia.
Nostalgia, in this sense, is but the inverse of utopianism, a utopianism without futurity. Ironically, this nostalgia often bears a secret valorization and hypostatization of subalternity as an identityto be recalled, renarrated, reclaimed, and revalidated. We need to resist the narcissism implicit in this gesturewhich ultimately demands a whole image as the mirror of ourselves, not merely as the basis for misrecognition and hence our own subject formation but also as the alibi for a politics that imagines the project of emancipation to be over.
A quick survey of the contemporary social landscape demands the recognition that it is not. This volume does not pretend to account for all of the social-theoretical itineraries enabled by Can the Subaltern Speak?
But it may be helpful to review, in a very schematic manner, the contours of its future history. There are, by now, a few book-length studies of Spivaks work and thought. There are, in addition, numerous volumes in which her theorization of subalternity as gendered muting, and her argument for an ethical kind of reading attentive to the aporetic structure of knowing in the encounter with the other, are attended to in individual chapters.
In general, the two most receptive fields to her work have been South Asian history and feminist studies. We might begin, in this effort at a genealogy of future history, with prehistory. In , David Hardiman reported on the second subaltern studies conference in Calcutta for theEconomic and Political Weekly. There, he remarked, approvingly, Spivaks argument that the colonial state often viewed the Indian people as an undifferentiated native other.
One can hear, in his account, the echo of Can the Subaltern Speak? Hardiman continued by attributing to Spivak a rebuke to subaltern studies, in the form of a definition with the force of a not yet realized norm: Subaltern Studies [Spivak asserted] does not deal only with subaltern consciousness and action; it is just as important to see how the subaltern are fixed in their subalternity by the elites.
And he remarked her call for the deployment of deconstructionist reading practices in the service of th is more reflective project.
The acuity of Hardimans observation can be seen, in retrospect, by assessing the changes in the ubaltern studies group and its theory, and in the disciplines adjacent to it, following the essays publication.
Leela Gandhi revealingly opens her capacious summary of postcolonial theory with Gayatri Spivak, invoking the date of her lecture rather than the publication of the essay.
In this context she notes, despite the range and profundity of the questions emanating from Can the Subaltern Speak?
To a large degree the rest of her book is devoted to an unfolding of that responsethought it takes her through territory dominated by other postcolonial theorists, from Edward Said and Homi Bhabha to Partha Chatterjee and Dipesh Chakrabarty.
Gandhis book confirms Gyan Prakashs tracking of the arrival of subaltern studies into the field of South Asian historiography, at least in the United States, as a kind of model for postcolonial criticism albeit as an ambivalent practice, perched between traditional historiography and its failures, within the folds of dominant discourse and seeking to articulate its pregnant silence.
This movement beyond the object-determined field of subaltern studies, he suggests, was made possible partly by virtue of the rapprochement between Marxism and poststructuralism that it performedlargely under Spivaks influence. A case in point would be the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty, whose book, Provincializing Europe,provides a useful aperture onto the mechanism of that infiltration, that generalization of the analysis of subalternity beyond the field of subaltern studies.
Indeed, Provincializing Europe owes much to Spivaks formulation of the subaltern, though it is not heavily citationally dependent on her essay.
This debtwhich is exclusive of neither the debt owed to others in the collective nor that to the philosophical architect of deconstructionism, Jacques Derridasaturates the book at a methodological level.
That is to say, despite the contingent overlap in their objects of study, it is the epistemological and historiographic implications of Spivaks essay that inform Chakrabartys disquisition.
Consider, for example, his argument that the forms of knowledge production institutionalized in the university have been constitutively incapable of registering the antimodern except as the antecedent to a teleologically inevitable modernity: the antihistorical, antimodern subject, therefore, cannot speak as theory within the knowledge procedures of the university even when these knowledge procedures acknowledge and document its existence.
He continues, Much like Spivaks subaltern. The nonexclusivity of Chakrabartys debt is related to the fact that it is sometimes difficult to discern the relative f orce of Spivaks interventions when read in relation to the influence of the groups other luminaries: Ranajit Guha and Partha Chatterjee foremost among them. One of the effects of that collectives writings, and its meticulous recuperation of Antonio Gramscis thought, was the discernment and analysis of subalternity outside South Asia.
Florence Mallons account of subaltern studies impact upon Latin American studies illuminates the history of this impact, which would be registered most visibly in the publication of the voluminous collection edited by Ileana Rodrguez, The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader. But one sees its elsewhere, with accounts of oppressed communities in places as remote from each other and as far from the Indian experience of British imperialism as Algeria and Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Uruguay, Turkey and Thailand, Mexico and Morocco, Zimbabwe and Zanzibar.
Of course, the crucial marker, and the orienting question, of Spivaks particular intervention within the theorization of subalternity revolves around the question of gender. This is why, as I said earlier, one of the most receptive disciplines to Can the Subaltern Speak? As with the uptake of the essay in history outside of South Asian history, the initial impetus was a methodological and philosophical one.
To take but one example, Judith Butler opens her landmark text, Bodies T hat Matter, with an epigraph from an interview of Spivak by Ellen Rooney and continues to invoke Spivaks program of reading a deconstructionism that does not negate the utility of what it deconstructs as the basis for her own effort to radically rethink the concept of sexual difference.
Butlers enormously influential writingsaddressed initially to a queer problematic as seen from within feminism and increasingly expanding to encompass the subject of politics in general and, finally, the supplementation of politics by ethicsconstitute a significant pathway for Spivaks writings movement out of the regionalist container in which some of her more acerbic Eurocentric critics would like to have kept it.
Nonetheless, there have been many others. Indeed, there are few readers in feminist studies that do not include and remark Can the Subaltern Speak? The direction pursued by Butler nonetheless runs along a path that diverges considerably from that traveled by so many other feminist scholars under the influence of a revisionist historiography and a desire for the retrieval of womens experience.
One gets a sense of that other direction in Shettys and Bellamys response to Can the Subaltern Speak? Writing in Diacritics, they describe their purpose as demonstrate[ing] just how crucial the concept of an archive perhaps even a postcolonial archiveis for a more sympathetic understanding of Spivaks now notorious silencing of the subaltern woman.
They then continue with the following question, derived from a reading of Spivaks essay: Can we approach the gendered subaltern more productively if our project is to recover not lost voices but rather lost texts?
If this very significant question tends to invite the reader to fantasize the text as the satisfying substitutean accessible and bound object behind which the speaking subjects disappearance loses its status as problemit nonetheless offers an alternative to the kind of longing for authenticity that interpretive social science often sought in Spivaks essay.
It is well, in this context, to recall that Spivaks essay entered the American academy at approximately the same time as there occurred, in the interpretive social sciences, a new and powerful drive to discern and articulate something that was variously termed resistance,unconscious resistance, and, sometimes, the agency of the oppressed.
This drive expressed, on the one hand, an intuition of the collapse of Soviet socialism which, when it occurred, was nonetheless experienced as a crisis for left intellectuals , but, more generally, it expressed an exhaustion with or turning away from more overtly organized oppositional politics and the questions of class consciousness or class formation that had dominated the radical discourse of the previous two decades.
It was, of course, the period of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and thus of the near defeat of organized labor within both the U. In this milieu, under the growing influence of a Gramsci revival and spurred by what appeared to many to be a confluence between Gramscis and Michel Foucaults thought, when alternative forms of political possibility and intellectuals participation in it were being sought, interpretive social scientists identified forms of practice, habits of being, ethical dispositions, temporalities of laboring, and so forth, which Spivak would term defective for capitalism, but often read those forms as traces of an agency that, though unconscious of its interests or bases in the contradictions of economic organization , could nonetheless be read as evidence of something like nonconformism.
The Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci applied the term subaltern to refer the second rank officer to the unorganized masses that must be politicized for the workers' revolution to succeed. In the s Ranajit Guha proposed that the Subaltern Studies Group appropriated the term, focusing their attention on the disenfranchised peoples of India. Dominant foreign groups. Dominant indigenous groups on the all-India level. Dominant indigenous groups at the regional and local levels. S from SVM College.
Sati was a practice among the Hindus in which a woman was burnt alive with the pyre of her dead husband. When the British came to India they outlawed this practice. Though it saved a number of lives of women, it also helped British to secure their rule in India.
Again the outlawing of this practice had a complete absence of Indian women voice. Human conscious is constructed randomly.
We do not construct our identities. We have them written for us. She is of the view that Western Academic thinking is produced in order to support their economic interests. Thus the knowledge is like any other commodity that is exported from Europe to third world countries.
Knowledge is never innocent. It expresses the interest of its producer. This westernized knowledge tends to construct our identities and for the third world people, Europe becomes the ideal. Criticism of Essentialist Ideology Spivak uses Marxist ideology to criticize the leftists. According to her, the leftists essentialize the subalterns i. They consider the third world people to be same as one identity and same issues. It has 3 negative impacts on subalterns.