By: Okky Madasari
It is really not easy to understand Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s writings regardless of her brilliant ideas and influences – yet most of us seem to just pretend to understand them. This difficulty has been mainly caused by Spivak’s writing technique; her language and her structure. It also needs to further examine if her writing style reflects her position and ideas on language.
Spivak’s ideas is mainly represented by her one essay on subalternism, specifically on how to allow the subaltern themselves speak rather than to let others speak for or to represent them. While her essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” has been acknowledged as her most notable work, I personally believe it is not that subalternism, especially the explanation of Hindu Law and Sati practice in India that makes the essay to be such an important work and positioning her as one of the most influential post-colonial thinkers. Rather, it is her criticism against great Western thinkers and her original arguments on representation and subjectivity in knowledge production and theorizing that separate her from the rest.
Through the essay, Spivak delivers significant criticism against several greatest western thinkers whose theories have significantly influenced her, and somehow provide her a foundation to build her arguments. Spivak starts her essay by revealing the conversation between two French thinkers in text entitled “Intellectuals and power: a conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze”. The discussion of the Foucault’s and Deleuze’s ideas and position also dominates the content of the essay and lead the narrative to its main conclusion. Spivak underlines almost every sentence and even word in the conversation, questions it and offers her arguments.
Spivak argues that the text of Foucault and Deleuze confirms that the main problem in the Western knowledge is the desire to conserve the subject of the West, or the West as Subject. Spivak further explains how it is impossible for contemporary French intellectuals to imagine the kind of power and desire that would inhabit the unnamed subject of the Other outside Europe, and that the Other as Subject is inaccessible to Foucault and Delueze.
This inaccesibility is presented in the language, in every words that have been used. Foucault, for example, tends to always hide behind concept of Power, without ever clarifying what the power is and where it is located.
For this, Spivak quotes Edward Said’s statement on Power in Foucault, saying it as a captivating and mystifying category that allows him to obliterate the role of classes, the role of economics, the role of insurgency and rebellion.
We should directly read the conversation between Foucault and Delueze to understand Spivak’s arguments. On the conversation, Foucault seems to avoid exploring the questions of geographical discontinuity. He underlines that instead of focusing on the struggle agains exploitation, the fight should be directed against power. Foucault argues that on the struggle against exploitation, the proletariat not only leads the struggle but also defines its targets, its methods, and the places and instruments for confrontation; and to ally oneself with the proletariat is to accept its positions, its ideology, and its motive for combat. Foucault calls it as total identification. Meanwhile, when the fight is directed against power, we deal with all those on whom power is exercised to their detriment, and all who find it intolerable.
Spivak sees Foucault uses the term to distinguish between exploitation (as if been used in Marxist analysis) and domination (power studies). For this, Spivak who acknowledges Foucault as a briliant thinker whose theories, especially of disciplinarization and institutionalization are really important and useful, believes that Foucault lacks the awareness of the topographical reinscription of imperialism and therefore it is impossible for him to inform his presupposition.
That is the main reason why Foucault, Deleuze, and rest of Western thinkers, does not really understand or even care of the concept of representation, confusing it with re-presentation, leaving the Other to be silenced, or the Other themselves prefer to be silent forever. That is how language and vocabulary have been used to hide an essentialist agenda. Spivak also investigates how in French – language that is mainly used by Foucault and Deleuze – there is no difference between consciousness and conscience in which both are called as “conscience”.
Such a fact of language use demands a language clarity, which first requires clarity on presupposition and clarity on geographical position of the Subject. By understanding the work of the language, we could understand the argument of pluralized Subject and why heterogenity of Subject becomes one of the Spivak’s key concepts.
Another Spivak’s concern is how the Western thinkers always act to overdetermine belief that their theories and narratives can be applied for other part of the world. As Spivak asks, “What if the particular redefinition was only apart of the narrative history in Europe and as well as in the colonies?”
From all these questions and criticism then Spivak presents the narrative of how the silencing and somehow self-preference to silence women taking place in India through the concept of Sati as we know it.