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Expanding the Frontiers of the Politics of Reading

Notes towards Day 7 of Critical Feminist Studies

Expanding the Frontiers
of the Politics of Reading
"It is possible to read these texts in a politically useful way...."

--with help from "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."

I. First: Our Conversation with Alums

Gail '67: I do not get the sense of a "thread" or sharing of thought. As I read the posting of students/alums, each seems to be a brief independent essay.

Barbara '57: Thank you tbarryfigu. Until I read your Death for the Feminist Cause I was about to give up on this Forum. Like Gail, it seemed to me it was a collection of independent essays, each one vying to see how impressive and academic it could be. There was no sense of a forum or conversation. But you have raised some meaningful and reality oriented questions, questions that have no easy answers....

Perhaps one reason there seems to be more silence today is that people are isolated in their own world of technology and spend much of their lives in virtual reality rather than true communication. This Forum is an opportunity to break that silence, to communicate across generations. Let's do it!

Gail '67: Thank you all for this "thread". I feel that I have for the first time in this series, made a connection!
Alex '65: This is starting to feel more like a conversation....
Continuing and facilitating this conversation?
Some thoughts:
* if you have a long post--an idea to work out @ length--
(ex: Jessy's "Let the silt sink to the bottom" speech...)
post it as a blog, and link to it from the forum
(blogs are available by RSS feed --i.e. other people can subscribe to them) 
(any guidelines here re: length, sense of talking to self or others??)

*all have blogs due (=2-pp. Papers on-line only), Friday @ 5

*How 'bout inviting alums explicitly to respond to
(any of) your papers (they find interesting)?
Might you write back?)

*How 'bout taping our conversations here?

* How important is it
(for our feminism/ourselves/themselves)
to work on these connections?
*How important is it to reflect on our narrating selves?

Adding a new task:
once/semester, make your weekly posting a reflection
on "where we went" together that week
(sign up sheet: handing over my traffic cop role)
outgrowth of T&L feedback in CSem:
on helping students learn to think for themselves

II. What happened last Thursday? What did we 'foreground'? (sic)

IV. What's going to happen today? Change it up a bit.....
Looking at Orientalism, @
what Spivak calls the "worldling" of the Third World.
(For background, see Edward Said...)
"What is at stake, for feminist individualism in the age of imperialism,
is precisely the making of human beings,
the constitution and 'interpellation' of the subject...
as 'individualist'....represented on two registers:
childbearing and soul making."
Spivak offers a philosophical grounding for Kauffman's challenge to
personal testimony as means of doing feminist work.

Spivak 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 the 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 Bi-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
(example: in this classroom, where I wield authority,
and you all consent to be governed...
I say, submit your papers this Friday, and you do).

Gramsic, 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, as individuals trying to make sense of the world.
And/but they want you to be aware that, preserved behind the veneer of the bourgeous social harmony of this classroom, domination is present!

(aka sock puppetry on the internet,
the pretense of a third party,
unaffiliated with the puppeteer?!?)
That's the 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 assures us that she does "not seek to undermine
the excellence of the individual artist," although--
  • a deconstructive approach sees both text and bio-graphy as "psychosocial productions," each other's "scenes of writing; but Spivak
  • takes "strategic shelter" in "essentialist binary oppositions "(book, author; individual, history), in order
  • to critique 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;
  • in cf. with the "non-theoretical," "self-conscious" "information-retrieval" approach to '3rd World' literature.
So: what exactly happens
--in Bronte's novel Jane Eyre?

--in Shelley's novel Frankenstein?
--& in Shakespeare's play The Tempest?
How does "the active ideology of imperialism
provide the discursive field"
(for both childbearing and soul making)?
Of what use to you is Spivak's " 'disinterested' reading,"
her attempts to "render transparent the interests
of the hegemonic readership"?
And what's Kant got to do with it?

(The categorical imperative--
what is good without qualification:
"In all creation every thing...may be used merely as means;
man an end in himself.")

"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?

Has Spivak "at least expanded the frontiers
of the politics of reading" for you?

Chong Lai's "Orientalism"

Discussion continues in the Course Forum Area....
go there and add your thoughts!