Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2010. “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2010. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In, Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea. Rosalind Morris (ed.) Pp. 21-78. NY: Columbia University Press.

Spivak writes that while Foucault and Deleuze were “great intellectuals,” their unmediated conversation (Intellectuals and Power 1972) revealed “certain kinds of convictions” – for instance, their rendering of the third world as “transparent.” She argues that Western scholars tend to assume that they know and understand the situation the “Others” are in, and thus can speak for them. Spivak discusses two types of representation by Western intellectuals: 1) representation as “speaking for” as a proxy (vertreten), and; representation as “re-presentation” (darstellen). Spivak critiques Foucault and Deleuze for their simplistic compression of these two different terms, which they do “in order to say that beyond both [kinds of representations] is where oppressed subjects speak, act and know for themselves” (30). This leads, according to Spivak, to an “essentialist, utopian politics” that “give unquestioning support to the financialization of the globe…” (21). Foucault and Deleuze also “ignored the epistemic violence of imperialism and the international division of labor.” This problem can also be seen in non-Western intellectuals, and Spivak gives as an example the Subaltern Studies group. Subaltern Studies scholars intend to give voice to the subaltern, yet they limit the “subaltern” to the indigenous dominant groups (43), and eventually tend to reproduce the Western representation of the “Other.” Spivak controversially argues that the “subaltern cannot speak” because of the Western/colonialist mindset that dominates the subaltern, and the intellectual also remains complicit in the “persistent constitution of the Other as the Self’s Shadow” (35). Thus, the vertreten-darstellen (proxy-embodiment) modes of representation silence the subaltern.

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