draupadi by mahashweta devi

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"Draupadi" by Mahasveta Devi Translated with a Foreword by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Translator's Foreword I translated this Bengali short story into English as much for the sake of its villain, Senanayak, as for its title character, Draupadi (or Dopdi). Because in Senanayak I find the closest approximation to the First- World scholar in search of the Third World, I shall speak of him first. On the level of the plot, Senanayak is the army officer who captures and degrades Draupadi. I will not go so far as to suggest that, in practice, the instruments of First-World life and investigation are complicit with such captures and such a degradation.' The approximation I notice relates to the author's careful presentation of Senanayak as a pluralist aesthete. In theory, Senanayak can identify with the enemy. But pluralist aesthetes of the First World are, willy-nilly, participants in the production of an exploitative society. Hence in practice, Senanayak must destroy the enemy, the menacing other. He follows the necessities and contingencies of what he sees as his historical moment. There is a convenient colloquial name for that as well: pragmatism. Thus his emotions at Dopdi's capture are mixed: sorrow (theory) and joy (practice). Correspondingly, we grieve for our Third-World sisters; we grieve and rejoice that they must lose themselves and become as much like us as possible in order to be "free"; we congratulate ourselves on our specialists' knowledge of them. Indeed, like ours, Senanayak's project is interpretive: he 1. For elaborations upon such a suggestion, see Jean-Fran~oisL yotard, La Condition post-moderne: Rappod sur b sauoir (Paris, 1979).

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382 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak "Draupadi"
looks to decipher Draupadi's song. For both sides of the rift within himself, he finds analogies in Western literature: Hochhuth's The Deputy, David Morrell's First Blood. He will shed his guilt when the time comes. His self-image for that uncertain future is Prospero. I have suggested elsewhere that, when we wander out of our own academic and First-World enclosure, we share something like a relationship with Senanayak's do~blethinkW.~h en we speak for ourselves,

we urge with conviction: the personal is also political. For the rest of the world's women, the sense of whose personal micrology is difficult (though not impossible) for us to acquire, we fall back on a colonialist theory of most efficient information retrieval. We will not be able to speak to the women out there if we depend completely on conferences and anthologies by Western-trained informants. As I see their photographs in women's-studies journals or on book jackets-indeed, as I look in the glass-it is Senanayak with his anti-Fascist paperback that I behold. In inextricably mingling historico-political specificity with the sexual differential in a literary discourse, Mahasveta Devi invites us to begin effacing that image.

My approach to the story has been influenced by "deconstructive practice." I clearly share an unease that would declare avant-garde theories of interpretation too elitist to cope with revolutionary feminist material. How, then, has the practice of deconstruction been helpful in this context?

The aspect of deconstructive practice that is best known in the United States is its tendency toward infinite regre~sionT.~h e aspect that interests me most is, however, the recognition, within deconstructive practice, of provisional and intractable starting points in any investigative effort; its disclosure of complicities where a will to knowledge would 2. See my "Three Feminist Readings: McCullers, Drabble, Habermas," Union Seminu9 Quarterly Review 1-2 (Fall-Winter 197%80), and "French Feminism in an International Frame" (forthcoming in Yak French Studies).

3. I develop this argument in my review of Paul de Man's Allegories ofReading: Figural Language in Rowseau, Nietzsche,...
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