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Notes Towards Day 8 (Thurs, Feb. 9): "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Can We?

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Coursekeeping
sign in
naming one another: let's see how far we can get....

today @ 4:30 in Sharpless Auditorium @ Haverford: Margaret Price on "Ways to Move"
tonight @ 8:30 in Stokes: Feministing comes to the Bi-Co

for Tuesday, watch Born Into Brothels, an 83-minute film, made in 2005,
that will raise some questions for us about Western feminist activism
in the Southern Hemisphere (on reserve in Canaday; a copy @ Haverford;
available from Netflix, but not streaming...)

don't forget, also, to do a forum posting this weekend,
either looking back @ our discussions about Spivak, or
looking forward to the one we'll have on Tuesday....

remind you that you are also invited to keep talking w/
me on-line about your paper, or to respond to others'....

II. On Tuesday, Spivak's analysis of "Three Women's Texts..."
problematized our valorizing of the subject of the "individual" feminist.
Spivak said that she intended "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.  

And she critiqued 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;
they do not exist "outside" of them, or "free" of them.

I was suggesting, as we closed, that Spivak's "disinterested' reading,"
her attempts to "render transparent the interests of the hegemonic readership,"
had relevance for how we conduct ourselves in a "progressive" classroom:

"One can make a strategy of taking away from [students]
the authority of their marginality, the centrality of their marginality ...
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.”

We're going to apply these ideas now to Devi's short story, "Breast-Giver."
What are your reactions to it? What do you get? Is it "culturally intelligible"
to you? What don't you understand? Where are you puzzled?
Talk w/ a (new! still unnamed?) partner about this....

What questions do we have, that y/our partners haven't answered?
What other reactions/observations/interpretations for sharing w/ the larger group?

III. What happens when Spivak takes hold of Devi?
"critical interruption": lit teacher wrenches text out
of proper context  to show limits of theory

1. historical & literary representations both discursive
different in degree, not kind: both structured/textured alike
Devi pushed from the "literary" into "historical" forms
claim to legitimacy in "effect of the real"

2. author's own reading
parable of India after decolonization
(Jashoda's life shows citizens taking, not giving:
nationalism a product of imperialism)
all-too neat reading of subaltern as metaphor
vehicle for greater meaning excludes the subaltern as such

3. subject-positions of teacher and reader
deconstruct detritus of nationalism participating w/ colonizer
combat mind-set of radical reading of homogenized ethnicity
flotsam of subaltern as gendered subject
least susceptible to those ideas
literature particularly susceptible to didactic use
4. elite Marxist-Feminist approaches
another reductive allegorical reading:
Jashoda's gestation, lactation means of production
labor theory of value taking reproduction into account:
use-value/exchange value of superfluity of milk
"professional mother"

stutter in pre-supposition that women's work is non-productive
Marxism, feminism persistent interruptions of each other
emphasizing literariness of literature: endistance from reason
(Jashoda alienated from her breasts)

substance of story is failure of the exchange:
absence of child @ end: mother gives more than she gets
interruptive relations of class, race, sex systems,
and of indigenous and imperialist ones
Marx's view of the economic sphere: site of the production of value
what's @ stake in invoking the singularity of the gendered subaltern?
5. elite liberal feminist approaches
benevolence/ravenous hunger for Third World texts
participation in production of knowledge =
share in structures of privileges
(253-4): subaltern's own idiom did not allow him
to know his struggle, articulate self as its subject:
story stages loneliness of gendered subaltern

possibility of knowledge not predicated on identity,
but sustained by irreducible difference:
knowledge is never adequate to its object
impossibility of ideal knower, identical with her predicament

continued subalternization of Third World material
text dramatizes indigenous class-formation under imperialism,
its connection to women's social emancipation
mind-set of imperialist displaced/replicated in comprador capitalist
contradiction/failure: Brahmin brutalized: elite in case/subaltern in class
decode granddaughters-in-law as post-Independence Indian diaspora...

understanding subjectivity/growth in consciousness
is beside the point: subaltern not made individualist
Joshada, as subaltern, distanced from reproductive body
solution to her problem: productive rights
text for us raises constructive questions, corrective doubts


IV. What does Devi herself say?
From The Telegraph, Calcutta India (March 2007):

What has it been like to inhabit a woman’s body?
I find such a question neither intelligent nor of much use to
the way I write or work. I feel, quite strongly, that these gendered
notions of the body have been thought up largely by the middle
classes who are seldom in touch with the people. One is born
either a woman or a man, and it is positively idiotic to make
a fuss about this
. Perhaps if such questions were put to
women like Tapasi Mallik, raped and burned in Singur, then the
senselessness of these queries would be made even plainer.
When I started writing, it was my only means of earning a living.
The Bengali literary establishment was then entirely male, but
even so, I did not feel either constrained or empowered by
my body. Nor was this ever an issue in my activist life.
have travelled to remote villages and towns all over the country,
often on my own or with unfamiliar men. I was born with a
female body, and now that I have grown old, no new little bits
seem to have sprouted anywhere (aar notun kichhu to gojay-tojay ni)!
So I must be a woman still.

V. Implications of this work for our understandings--
of the world we don't know? Of the world we think we do?

* critical challenge to adequacy of author's intent/
self-knowledge/knowledge of her text

* "knowledge is never adequate to its object":
impossibility of ideal knower, identical with her predicament

Or: how well do you know yourself?

Are you the *most* adequate representer of your own life?

Might a "disinterested" party "read" you better than yourself?

How might this be related to the possibility of "accidental feminism"?