What is the main argument, narrative and effect of this text? What evidence and examples support these?

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May 14, 2020

(in my very limited understanding): Spivak offers a critique of the Subaltern Studies collective by "reading with and against the grain" of the texts produced by the collective. I like this overview of the collective's history, key concepts, critiques and an annotated bibliography of their texts. The collective broadly offered a reading of colonialism in the Indian subcontinent which sought to recover a history of the subaltern (which for them is the peasant exploited alike by a colonial and indigenous elite, insurgent against both colonial and feudal domination; derived from Gramsci's Italian peasant) from the colonial archive, even though the voice of the subaltern was noticeably absent in such archives. Their intervention was primarily against an "elite historiography" that had narrated nationalism as an upper-class, upper-caste project, but had failed to represent dissent and resistance from peasant rebellions.

Their consequent move was therefore not only to offer other archives for writing a subaltern history but also to reframe key moments in elite historiography to reveal the presence of the subaltern. This, they thought, would reveal also the presence of a subaltern consciousness and solidarity, which was as much, if not more critical to decolonization in the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere. The Subaltern Studies collective's larger theoretical and political commitment thus centered around the question: How can we read absences of the archive to articulate consciousness and solidarity?

Spivak's object of analysis are the collective's texts. She argues that historans of the subaltern want to give us a theory of change (broader social change but also particular shifts and tensions between feudalism, capitalism, colonialism). But what they end up doing is offering a theory of consciousness in line with Marxist and anti-humanist thought, assuming that collective consciousness, through a recognition that things are not what they seem to be, leads to change.

Spivak argues that this is a strategic move, and that the collective must not abandon the subaltern subject as an object of analysis. But what they need to do is not speak of the subaltern as a monolith, not assume that subaltern consciousness is collective, much less a radical consciousness. Nowhere is this more lucidly expressed than in her analysis of how women are written within the collective's texts, where they are present but as passive objects of exchange over and through whose bodies class consciousness formed. It is also present in what I think is her most damning critique of the collective: "the transactional quality of interconflicting metropolitan sources often eludes the (post)colonial intellectual". Spivak is calling out the collective for not reading/citing other scholars who also attempt to articulate a radical anti-hegemonic consciousness. This is the double bind of the subaltern for Spivak: capturing it with careful historiographic work at the same time pointing to its absence. For Spivak this is not a point of paralysis, but a point to start from, acknowledging that there is no way out of the inadequacy of representation. 

James Adams's picture
April 28, 2020

In Climate Leviathan, Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright speculate about the future “in a serious way,” drawing on a wide range of theory to sketch four possible governance scenarios, experimenting with scenarios as a genre for critical political thought. The authors assume that the governments and societies of the world will fail to mobilize fast enough to mitigate climate change, resulting in numerous and massive social, political economic, and cultural disruptions. They then analyze contemporary geopolitical trends in order to generate four different modes of governance that might take hold, at a global level, in order to respond and manage that state of affairs.

The scenario they deem most likely, which they call “Climate Leviathan,” imagines the rise of a global sovereignty that addresses and manages climate change through some form of liberal capitalism. The emergence of this sovereignty, however, is contingent on Climate Leviathan winning out over two antagonistic ideologies and governance forms. One, “Climate Behemoth,” is described as a reactionary and national-capitalistic resistance to the Leviathan’s global hegemony and appeal to rational governance. “Climate Mao,” by contrast, is an anti-capitalist but autocratic counter-hegemony. Finally, the authors also pose “Climate X,” named after Walter Benjamin’s Thesis X (in Theses on the Concept of History) depicted as an anti-capitalist, anti-sovereign alternative to the former three.