Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

She is a name well-known to all those who have had anything to do with cultural studies, post-colonial studies, subaltern studies, Marxist thought, generalized stupidity or what I like to call the higher ignorance. Her seminal text is ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ an essay whose central conceit is that in any cultural environment there are those who define and control it and those who are controlled, and that those who are not in control cannot express themselves in their own words. Having set all of this up, she asks the question.

The answer is no, but not because she has proved anything about self-expression among those who are not in control in any particular culture (which is what the subaltern is supposed to represent), but because she implicitly defines her ‘subaltern’ at all times as one who cannot freely express anything, but must filter it through the language (way of speaking) of those who are in control. It is therefore what Kant would call an analytic statement, and is recognised by mathematicians as proving that 0=0. It is not, however, easy to spot this. The discussion is long and full of errors of fact and logic, besides this essential one, many of which also invalidate any conclusion. She has no interest in truth. Yet it is a standard text. There is a whole field of subaltern studies spinning off from this tripe.

I can’t find a link to it, which is a pity, although it’s not worth reading of course, except as an exercise in spotting falsehood, unreason and prejudice, and most people have better things to do. But she obviously believes it makes sense, that she has discovered something, and so do a lot of others, who refer to what they have learnt from her ‘work.’

It is late, and she is not worth the effort. Avoid her rantings like the plague.

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