Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

African Feminism, Literature

” Calling out liberal gospels” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Kenyan performance poet and activist, Shailja Patel first introduces Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and then goes on to interview her. They discuss the ‘lecture circuit’, self-examination and reflection- speaking of the self but not speaking of the self. I watched this lecture and I recall Shailja’s question – a far cry from the ostentatious narcism that performs daily in new media!

Rockstar goddess of postcolonial studies. Leading feminist Marxist scholar of our time. Gadfly of subaltern studies: her seminal paper, “Can The Subaltern Speak?” seeded a thousand dissertations. Irreverent, iconoclastic, unfailingly taboo-busting, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is a study in highwire intellectual risk-taking. As University Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, one of the world’s most elitist academic institutions, she trains upper-class graduate imaginations for epistemological performance. At the other end of the global spectrum, she has, for three decades, pursued the painstaking, backbreaking project of creating and sustaining schools for rural children in Western Bengal.

I want to understand something about bypassing the necessity of good rich people solving the world’s problems. Good rich people are dependent on bad people for the money they use to do this. And the good rich people’s money mostly goes to bad rich people. Beggars receive material goods to some degree and remain beggars. My desire is to produce problem solvers, rather than solve problems. In order to do this, I must continue to teach teachers, current and future, with devotion and concentration, at the schools that produce the good rich people — Columbia University — and the beggars, seven unnamed elementary schools in rural Birbhum, a district in West Bengal. This work cannot be done with an interpreter, and India is multilingual. I must understand their desires, not their needs, and with understanding and love try to shift them. That is education in the humanities. (Spivak, 2010)

What Spivak does in Bengal is the opposite of philanthropy, or uplift. At the 2008 inaugural World Authors And Literary Translators’ Conference, in Stockholm, she called for unflinching examination of the conference theme: “Literature And Human Rights”.

I take this idea extremely seriously, so I am obliged to critique it rigorously. We are self-appointed moral entrepreneurs, our mission predicated on the failure of state and revolution. We fetishize literacy, health, employability, without inquiring rigorously into what they have effected, or how we deploy them, in our own lives.

This consistently brilliant calling out of liberal gospels is one reason non-scholars flock to Spivak’s talks, though we may comprehend only every 5th or 10th sentence. But there is more. Spivak has a glamour, a draw, that defies the complex — some say intentionally over-difficult — nature of her work. As with all legends and icons, it is almost impossible to analyze the precise elements of her appeal. Her charisma is best described by its impact. Continue reading full interview on 3Quarks Daily

Situating Feminism lecture