We only have stories. We can only narrate the past. We must work with these narratives (stories), but there is also a problem here. For as you proceed along the narrative, the narrative takes on its own impetus as it were, so that one&begins to see reality as non-narrated. One begins to say that it's not a narrative, it's the way things really are.

Born in 1942, in Calcutta, West Bengal. Gayatri Chakravorty immigrated to the United States in the early 1960's, to attend Cornell University, which she chose primarily due to its international reputation. She gained her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (because they were the only department that offered funding), her 1974 dissertation was on W.B. Yeats, and written under the mentorship of Paul de Man, who steered Spivak towards Jacques Derrida, whose On Grammatology Spivak translated into the English language. Spivak now teaches at Columbia.

Spivak's work is best known within the context of postcolonial thought (see also Slavoj Zizek, Theodor Adorno, and Edward Said) though she describes her own work in terms of ethics, interdisciplinarity, deconstruction and even by reference to the rhetorical trope catachresis. Of course, summarization is exactly what can't describe Spivak, at least not on her own terms.

In her famous essay Can the Subaltern Speak?, Spivak challenged the inability of Western intellectuals to mediate and understand the forms of culture and knowledge that were underprivileged according not only to the traditional boundaries of legitimacy set forth by their various disciplines, but also the very sites of power that their bodies represent. Spivak is particularly critical of the current postmodern trend in academia to readily admit this fact, but thereby brush it under the table, keeping the conscience of the academy clean.

This position is not unlike that of Derrida (who is, of course, in a position of even greater privilege than Spivak herself (being not only Western, but Western by birth (though a Jew), and male, and white)), and it is of no surprise, then, that we find both Spivak and Derrida struggling to use deconstruction as a tool for addressing their own complicit contributions to the social formations that they oppose, or think they oppose. Within the context of post-colonialism we can read this as: Is postcolonial thought a specific product of the first-world guilty conscience? Of what value is a Western academic discipline that seeks, in fact, to discipline the suffering and misappropriation of third-world resources and bodies? Is such a disciplining ever going to set these resources free, or is it, rather, a further imprisonment, or merely an empty admission of an unconscious complicity?

The subject of the essay takes its cue from the suicide of a young Bengali woman. Spivak's conclusion is that the subaltern cannot speak, and that our normal economies of language torment the utterance of the unutterable, if they do not, in some cases, prevent it altogether.

"I am not erudite enough to be interdisciplinary, but I can break rules."


Btw, I enjoyed the above writeup by Shapes, don't delete it please. It's in the spirit of Spivak.

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