“Can the Subaltern Speak” Response
Spivak’s article, while difficult to get through, brings up many interesting points. She ultimately comes to the conclusion that the subaltern cannot speak. Yet in coming to that conclusion she explains reasons why they cannot. Early into the essay, Spivak asks the question, “Are those who act and struggle mute, as opposed to those who act and speak?” (70). She asks this question in response to Deleuze’s pronouncement that, “‘[a] theory is like a box of tools…. There is no more representation; there’s nothing but action’ – ‘action of theory and action of practice…’” (70). The statement that a theory is like a box of tools and there is only action of theory suggests that the theorist is always in action and therefore unable to rest in a passive position while actively theorizing the struggles of the subaltern. Using Spivak’s terms, theorists do not represent the subaltern, they re-present them. Spivak then goes to state that, [t]he critique of ideological subject-constitution within state formations and systems of political economy can now be effaced, as can the active theoretical practice of the ‘transformation of consciousness’. The banality of leftist intellectuals’ lists of self-knowing, politically canny subalterns stands revealed; representing them, the intellectuals represent themselves as transparent” (70). The intellectual theorists fail to re-present the subaltern, and Spivak seems to believe that it is impossible for the intellectuals-“those who act and speak” to represent or re-present the subaltern – “those who act and struggle” at all, since they will always be involved in the ‘action of theory.’ Spivak uses the ritual/crime of sati in India as an example of the subaltern’s inability to speak. She comes up with this sentence to describe the criminalization of sati: “White men are saving brown women from brown men” (92). The brown women don’t get the chance to speak for themselves or even articulate the need to...
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