Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gayatri Spivak / "Can the Subaltern Speak?" - short critical review

Gayatri Spivak / "Can the Subaltern Speak?" - review 

Gayatri Spivak devotes the first and main part of "Can the Subaltern Speak" to launching a massive attack on Foucault and Deleuze – two of the main figures of contemporary critical theory, and therefore Spivak's offensive can be considered as directed at this academic field in general.  Spivak doesn’t hold back in criticizing Foucault and Deleuze , and turns to especially insulting allegations, accusing them in cooperating with capitalism and imperialism, in essentialism,  positivism, in false claims to objectivity and transparency,  institutionalism and chauvinism.  Spivak uses Marx and through rereading him criticizes those that to a large extent work within the tradition founded by him. Spivak employed a deconstructionist tactic which reads the objects of her criticism "against themselves". Finally, to add insult to injury, she appeals to their eccentric "black sheep" of the family, Jacques Derride, who's method she favors over that of Foucalt and Deleuze. And all through her offensive Spivak makes sure to raise the shield of subject position that is supposed to neutralize the meaning of the words at the bottom of "Can the Subaltern Speak?"  - "California University, Berkeley".

And so Spivak joins Edward Said and other researchers before her of non-western origin that employ western thought and methods in order to criticize the way in which western cultures and academic discourse are representing the third world.

This means that Spivak's title – "Can the Subaltern Speak?" has another question folded inside of it, a question that is addresses to a larger extent in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" than the question formulated in the title, and that question is "Can the oppressor Speak?". It seems that spivak's (and Said's) answer to this question is a definite no, at least not without having their ethnocentrism and economical interests effecting the way they speak and eventually being a repressive act.  The inability, or invalidity, of westerners to speak about the other is derived, so is implied by Spivak, from their inability to listen to the other and understand him without enforcing their own western consciousness and values upon him. In the circle drawn by Spivak the colonial oppressor cannot speak about the Subaltern that he cannot hear since the subaltern cannot speak since the oppressor cannot listen to him. With everybody interlocked in this deaf-dumb cycle, it seems that Spivak leaves room for only one voice to speak – her own ,the female hybrid researcher that now poses the same claim for transparency and objectivity for which she criticized Foucault and Deleuze.

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Gayatri Spivak / "Can the Subaltern Speak?" - review - summary part 1 - summary part 2


  1. I think the reviewer misses a key point Spivak was making...she makes no claim her voice is superior to other Western academics...she acknowledges as a subaltern her voice is tainted by Western historical and philosophical tradition. 'Can the subaltern speak?' is an open ended question, one to which she does not provide an answer.