ntanio Annotations

What insights from postcolonial studies seem especially relevant in contemporary, cultural analysis -- inevitably shaped by if not directly focused on the COVID-19 pandemic?

Friday, May 15, 2020 - 10:56am

I first read Gayatri Spivak's, "Can the Subaltern Speak?," many years ago and re-reading it now offers a different context and path to making sense of this work. First, Kim Fortun's contextual introduction is a generative space from which to read this brilliant and complex critique of the Subaltern Studies collective. She provides an opening from which to re-think the place of scholarly engagement within, and as participants of, communities of practices inspired by the research Katie Cox and Angela Okune. Fortun's introduction is a pedagogical gesture, a reflection on her own teaching and learning over time. In re-reading this essay, I can see now that Spivak's essay is also a gesture, opening a place of critique as the grounds for re-imagining and reclaiming the possiblity of Subaltern voices. Spivak highlights the assumptions, the metanarratives, embedded in the collective's historiographical practice as a form of knowledge production.

I have two reflections. First, in reading Spivak's critique of historiography both specific (Guha and Chakrabraty) and more general (Western European) and her analysis of their strategic utility is persuasive. I am reminded of other forms of historiography--specifically microhistory--which also engages in the practice of reading the archive against the grain and which, by avoiding making claims about broader historical patterns and systems, is not subject to Spivak's analysis of historiography. I wonder what microhistorical work emerges from the colonial archive.

My second reflection is more broadly about critique as a generative opening. In the zoom discussion there were moments when contributors began mapping their own encounters with theory (French, German), almost as a rite of passage. I began wondering what other genealogies we bring to our work. This text is a tour de force. It is powerfully incisive. Prerna Srigyan spoke of the multiple meanings of "dangerous" within it. As a strategic text, I find the difficulty in reading Spivak exasperating. As a narrative strategy I think the difficulty is, in part, intentional, which compounds my interpretation. I cannot read Spivak and find affinity, even as I recognize her masterful critique. In a prior discussion Duygu Kasdogan introduced me to the idea of dissenus, as opposed to consensus, as a strategic goal. In reading Spivak as critique, perhaps Spivak is an author willing to position herself not as a guide for collaboration but as a figure of dissenus even as she works to create this generative opening for further work.

Creative Commons Licence