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Understanding Spivak

In which I explore parts 3 and 4 of Spivak's "Can the Subaltern Speak?"

Adriana Nieves

on 9 April 2013

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Transcript of Understanding Spivak

Because she is difficult to understand Understanding Spivak Derrida shows grammatology's limits as a positive science Can the subaltern speak? Based on European 17th century's appropriate ideological self-justification Freud's sentence, "A child is being beaten" is homologous to Spivak's sentence: "without access to social mobility" According to a speech Spivak gave at UCSB, the subaltern are those What is sati? Sati "Between patriarchy and imperialism, subject-constitution and object-formation, the figure of the woman disappears, not into a pristine nothingness, but into a violent shuttling which is the displaced figuration of the 'third-world woman' caught between tradition and modernization." Why must every text involve a fight with Freud? Who Are the Subaltern? Three kinds of prejudices as symptoms of European consciousness:
1) theological prejudice
-God wrote a primitive or natural script: Greek or Hebrew
2) Chinese prejudice
-Chinese is a perfect BLUEPRINT for philosophical writing
true philosophical writing is independen[t] with regard to history
3) hieroglyphics prejudice
-too sublime to be deciphered European consciousness preserves 'actuality' of Hebrew or Greek and the center of logos seen as Judeo-Christian God The problem of the European Subject Derrida's question: "How does one keep the ethnocentric Subject from establishing itself by selectively defining an Other?" Yet Derrida cannot ask the 'first' questions in order to establish his argument, for he admits that grammatology cannot 'rise above' empiricism.
"Derrida thus aligns 'grammatological' knowledge with the same problems as empirical investigation."
Both operate through examples Chinese is rational Egyptian hieroglyphics are mystical "White men are saving brown women from brown men." "In the phrase, 'a child is being beaten,' there is the simultaneous abstraction of any child, coupled with any aggressor. The passive construction allows the past tense of the verb to be considered in the present. It does not matter who is beaten by whom, or why. This is an abstract, but reoccurring beating, a scene that has happened countless times before, and is likely happening now. This is a historical beating, in the Heideggerian sense: any particular beating becomes connected to an entire history of beating, and the potential for beatings in the future." --thestate.ae "in binary opposition to the nation-state" The subaltern are voiceless, spoken for, or not acknowledged (not heard) The subaltern do not identify as subaltern; rather they are given this title by the European Subject The Subaltern and Subjectivity As the very nature of the subaltern requires that no group self-identify as subaltern, Subjecthood is imposed on from the "outside" by members of other groups or theorists. These outsiders thus ascribe the needs, goals, desires, etc., of the Subaltern and construct its Subject-constitution Sati is the practice of widow self-immolation. "The Hindu woman ascends the pyre of the dead husband and immolates herself upon it. This is widow sacrifice." "White men are saving brown women from brown men" "These women wanted to die" "One never encounters the testimony of the women's voice-consciousness . . . The most one can sense is the immense heterogeneity breaking through." What does this mean? "The protection of woman becomes a signifier for the establishment of a GOOD society which must, at such inaugurative moments, transgress mere legality, or equity of legal policy." Sati, once a ritual, which "had been tolerated, known, or adulated as a ritual" became redefined as suttee, a crime. Female free will "As the discourse of what the British perceive as heathen ritual is sublated into what the British perceive as crime, one diagnosis of female free will is substituted for another" A woman's free choice to perform sati (as martyrdom) versus A woman being set free from performing sati (as suicide) The archaic origins of sati defines the woman as the object of one husband; the object of unique possessor (husband) Sati is the feminine of "sat," which transcends gender-specificity, is the present participle of the verb "to be," means the True, the Good, the Right, and has entered the "privileged discourse of modern philosophy: Heidegger's meditation on Being"; yet it only means "good wife." the burning of the sati is the burning of the good wife who escapes the regressive stasis of the widow The Sati of Hindu mythology, Durga as a good wife, dies in pain when she arrives at her father's court uninvited, and he begins to abuse her divine husband Siva. When Siva arrives, he dances over the universe with Sati's corpse on his shoulder. The sati woman becomes an ideological battleground between Eastern and Western colonial discourse. By representing sati as a barbaric practice, the British were thus able to justify imperialism as a civilizing mission in which they were rescuing Indian women from the reprehensible practice of traditional Hindu patriarchal society The subaltern cannot speak. Can the subaltern speak? "The question of 'woman' seems most problematic in this context."
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