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Notes Towards Day 7 (Tues, Feb. 7): The Politics of Reading (and Representing) the Self

Anne Dalke's picture

Today we re-read Jane Eyre (and ourselves!) with help
from the "practical-Marxist-feminist-deconstructionist" critic
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who is "uneasily pleased" to be viewed
"by Marxists as too codic, by feminists as too male-identified,
by indigenous theorists as too committed to Western Theory."

Spivak says, in her essay on three Western women's novels,
that "It is possible to read these texts in a politically useful way .... 
In a reading such as mine ... the effort is to wrench oneself
away from the mesmerising
focus on the ... female individualist
.... to at least expand the frontiers of the politics of reading."

I. (before we "wrench" and "expand"...)
a little coursekeeping!

sign in

how are we doing on names? (can you name
2? 3? people to the left and right of you?)

your first set of webevents are now available from the course homepage:
my comments are going up there, bit by bit, a few each day...
please feel welcome to write back; also to read and
comment on one another's on-going process,
not finished when the paper goes up....

break into pairs to share/compare what you've done/
get this convo going in person (to continue on-line...)

amophrast and buffalo: feminism and porn, feminism and sex work

aybala and bluebook: the evolution of BMC and Girl Scouts (= admission of transgirls)

Colleen on freaks/outsiders and hwink on veiling (as a choice)

rayj and S.Yeager on feminist comics

FrigginShushi and melal: Feminism in Korea and China

MC: re-imagining/re-visualzing the dinner party as food, not a table setting, w/
JD reviewing the historical etymology of the word "feminism" and calls for a new one

Mbeale and meowwalex on oxymorons/betraying the category:
Black feminists and pro-life feminisms

on conventional female roles:
pejordan on motherhood, sara.gladwin on sisterhood

dchin and epeck: reading feminist texts (Goblin Market, Persepolis)

michelle and abertolino on 3Guineas

sekang and wo(m'n) on education (in math and science and sex)

(cf. emerging practices in academic publishing: more open-source, peer-to-peer
review is bringing into question "when" publishing happens--w/ increased focus on
dynamism of the process, less on perfection of finished product)

what was it like, publishing yourself on-line, before your work had been vetted?

still trying to demonstrate
dchin's growing portfolio

Feministing Comes to the Bi-Co: "The Power of Blogging in Social Justice Work,"
8:30 p.m. this Thursday, Feb. 9th, in Stokes Auditorium

highlight relevance of what amophrast/Google Chrome did to my webpage on Thursday:
GREAT illustration of Kathleen Fitzpatrick's saying, in
Planned Obsolesence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy
(which we just read for my genres class...)
that we need to consider the significance of the shift from
typewriter to word processer (= computer is co-writing w/ us:
we need to become literate in markup/computer languages!)

also a great way to illustrate the gap between what we see
& so-called objective reality--
> the role of interpretation/the multiplicity
of possible stories/alternative accounts of "what's happening"

and a great lead-in to Spivak's "wrenching" re-reading of Jane Eyre and Frankenstein...

for Thursday,
we'll continue being guided by her interpretations: please read
Mahasweta Devi's short story, "Breast Giver," and Spivak's analysis,
"A Literary Representation of the Subaltern"
(in our password-protected file as a single file, "SpivakBreastGiver")

II. So, let's begin this re-reading by writing for a few minutes.

1) what's one insight you've learned from Gayatri Spivak's dense essay?
(a quotation would be good here: a passage that has resonance for you)

2) what's one question that her essay has provoked for you?

Write (in preparation for reading) these out...

Performing a "text rendering," or slow, deliberate reading aloud ->
(like we did w/ "Goblin Market"): choose either your quote from or question to Spivak:
just a sentence. Let's let the spaces speak, too--allow for some (Quaker-ish) silence
(and time for me to record some of this on the board....).

What are the key issues that Spivak raises for us?

What questions might we try to answer together?


III. The reason I brought her to the that
Spivak offers a deep philosophical challenge to

personal testimony as means of doing feminist work
(Woolf, Satrapi...)

She does so by drawing on the work of the French
Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser (1918-1990).


Althusser argued that there is no single dominant dialectical force
propelling social development (as classic Marxism maintains),
but rather that social formation is overdetermined by an
intricate dynamic of heterogenous practices.

The word/idea most used from Althusser in contemporary cultural studies
is that of interpellation: his term for the social formation of the subject
that involves a process of being "hailed and recruited."

This occurs, for example, in religion: we participate in religious practice
(fulfill ritual obligations of Catholicism, for instance) because it enables us
to believe that God has hailed and recruited each one of us as an individual.
We participate "freely" in the system because it gives us a belief that we are
concrete, individual, distinguishable subjects.

Althusser argues that in the early 20th century school began
replacing the church as the dominant ideological apparatus; we all--
YOU ALL--submit to the system all by yourselves, as "free subjects"
(pay $10,000s to come to the Tri-Co, perform educational exercises
I give you) because doing do offers you recognition as individuals--
at the expense of conforming to the law--and so are "formed" as subjects.

The work of Spivak and Althusser is grounded,
in turn, on that of

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937),
Italian Marxist and journalist
who spent the last ten years of his life imprisioned by the fascists,
analyzing why the revolution had failed to spread.
Gramsci's key term is hegemony:
a relationship between two political units
in which one dominates the other with its consent
(agan: in this classroom, where I wield authority,
and you all consent to be governed...
I say, don't raise your hand to speak, and you try not to;
I say, submit your papers next Friday, and you do).


Gramsci, Althusser and Spivak suggest that you submit
(not so paradoxically) because doing so
gives you a sense of agency, of functioning as a subject.
I attend to you as intellectuals, individuals trying to make
sense of the world; @ the end of the semester, I will certify
that you have achieved a certain status in this regard.

And/but they want you to be aware that, preserved behind
the veneer of the bourgeous social harmony of this classroom,
domination is present, a domination you've acceeded to...

That's the philosophical/political background for Spivak's focus, in
"Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" (1988),
on the historical determination of feminist individualism

 --and for her intention to incite rage
against the "imperialist narrativisation of history"
that produced so abject a script for the author of
the 'cult text of feminism': Jane Eyre.

Spivak critiques the "unfortunate reproduction," in
feminist criticism, of the "axioms of imperialism
to illustrate "the high feminist norm":
isolationist admiration for literature of the female subject.

Such individuals are "constructed" to serve larger social forces.

"I'd thought I'd try to write her a life"...
suggesting that so intimate a thing as personal and human identity
might be determined by the politics of imperialism.

But what did Rhys do with
the "good servant" Christophine?
telling the story of an individual always puts other individuals into the shadows...

IV. Of what use to us is Spivak's "disinterested' reading,"
her attempts to "render transparent the interests
of the hegemonic readership"?

"Can the Subaltern Speak?" Spivak argued that
the Subaltern can not speak
; a single “voice” is
essentialist, reductionist, "bipolar"...and not available
(by definition: subaltern is dispossessed/does not
know/understand his struggle

Related questions re: classroom politics -->
the power of being silent/not being "used":

"One can make a strategy of taking away from [students]
the authority of their marginality, the centrality of their marginality ...
that authority will not take them very far because the world is a
large place. Others are many. The self is enclosed."

“To be out is really to be in – inside the realm of the visible,
the speakable, the culturally intelligible” ... engaging in ...
dialogue about “personal” or “private” aspects of yourself ...
can make you TOO easy to understand ... maintaining the
liminal ... position ... means that you do not become
“culturally intelligible”
. You can’t be mainstreamed;
your deviance cannot be absorbed ...“cannot be contained”
(Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine)

cf. also the literary texts produced in India in the 1920s
w/ the "functionally witless India of Mrs Dalloway..."

"the power of this singular hermeneutics is precisely that
it can make the outside inside: 'I studied the aspect of
that winter afternoon. Under the clear panes of glass,
the rain no longer penetrates...'" (Jane Eyre).

Spivak offers us a reading not only of Jane Eyre,
but of what we are doing here, together, in this classroom:
how feminist? colonizing? interpellating? ....
are our shared activities?

melel: If she is an insider, what about me?

epeck: exclusion is necessary....