Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Notes Towards Day18: Expanding the Frontiers of Reading

Notes towards Day 18
of Critical Feminist Studies
Expanding the Frontiers
of the Politics of Reading

I. Coursekeeping
(increasing politically fraught exercise of "naming" one another!)
New "kicking off" schedule
for Tuesday: 'nother piece of lit crit by Spivak
AND the short story that she is reading
for Thursday: piece on the violence of everyday life in Brazil
next Friday: 2nd 5-pp. paper,
looking @ gender issues in one particular location in the world:
in language of Moya--looking @ the "salience of social location,"
doing what (she says) Butler & Haraway don't do:
grounding your theorizing about how gender is operating
in a specific history and culture,
attending to the social conditions that produced it
exs: anime; agency of veiling in secular setting (France);
phenomenon of "Albanian virgins"
needn't be culturally exotic: your rural hometown; male magazines...
learn something new/surprise yourself and me....

II. What happened on Tuesday?
(enfranchisement--> disenfranchisement?)
Obama's election--and the passage of Prop 8 in California
(echoes of Leong re: the "family-centeredness and
supra-homophobic beliefs of ethnic communities":
Many Obama supporters also backed Proposition 8)

what did we 'foreground' in class?
What's going to happen today?

"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."

"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 challenge to
personal testimony as means of doing feminist work.
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 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 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
(example: in this classroom, where I wield authority,
and you all consent to be governed...
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, 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.
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"?
Where would she would come down in forum debate re:
"cultural feminism," value of "personal testimony,"
the "politics of intimacy," the suggestion that
(a la Judy Butler) we not make
ourselves "too culturally intelligible"...?


(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?