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

Spivak is Frustrating

dchin's picture

After discussing some of Spivak's thoughts in "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" and "A Literary Representation of the Subaltern: A Woman's Text From the Third World", I am frustrated. In "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism", we said that Spivak wants us to see the underlying constraints imposed by imperialism in texts like "Frankenstein" and "Jane Eyre". In particular, we said that Spivak sees "Jane Eyre", despite its reputation as a progressive and feminist text, as one that actually follows an old script. Shaped by imperialism, Jane also acts as a force of it when she ascends the ladder of social and economic mobility by marrying the wealthy Mr. Rochester, at the expense of the other and "other-ed" woman, Bertha. Imperialism is everywhere; it permeates even our classic literary texts, Spivak says. In class, we pointed out all the various ways in which imperialism exists institutionally and how we choose to submit to it, especially in higher education. My frustration is, well, where do we go from here? So now that we have this awareness or improved understanding of how imperialized every single one of our thought processes is, that's it? And any ways through which we might seek to subvert hegemonic, imperialist forces is probably in some way tinged by imperialism? We just have to accept that there's no way out? Not that I could even imagine what that alternative would be, but at least Woolf gave us the outsider's society, flawed though it may be. Perhaps a way out doesn't exist, but surely ones that are "less wrong" exist. I'd like to see Spivak discuss those possibilities.  


sara.gladwin's picture

why bother?

This post actually voices how I've been feeling about the texts. When I was trying to decide what I wanted to comment/write about I kept coming full circle to the question of "why bother?" If these power structures will always exist, what alternatives are there? Are there any alternatives? Is the point of discourse to escape these power structures or simply to raise awareness so that we may work within the confines of those power structures? I thought a lot about my family in relationship to power structures. My extended family on one side has very specific power hierarchy and ironically works some what like a mini government. We share a family shore house and in order for me to stay there during the summer and work, I have to appeal to my aunts (especially the oldest aunt in the family) to allow me to be there. Even though it is technically "shared" amongst the sisters (my mom and her two sisters) I have to ensure that I effectively persuade the oldest aunt of the family, who will have the most power in determining whether or not I can live at the shore house all summer. So I submit willingly to this power structure, so that in return, I can spend all summer down the shore house. My mom, as the youngest sister, has the least amount of deciding power, while the oldest aunt has the most power in determining the outcome of who stays at the house and when. While I don't personally agree with power structures that are determined by age, I still really want to spend all summer down the shore. SO, I shed this opinion in order to obtain the summer I want. I think no matter where you go, where you live, no matter how individual you believe yourself to be; power structures will apparent in every relationship that you will encounter. Give and take is something you learn when you are young- if you go through the proper channels and appeal to the right "higher ups," you are allowed to recieve the benefits in return. For a society that values individual rights so highly, it seems ironic that in order to get anywhere it is necessary to sacrifice certain individual rights, beliefs or power. Individual rights as we have defined them in the United States, appear to be somewhat of an illusion, contrary to the power structures that are apparent within society. Again, knowing all this, I'm not sure where this leaves me. I still believe it is necessary to have discourse and to challenge these structures but I'm not sure yet for what purpose. So while I keep coming back to this question of "why bother," I can't help but continue to question and challenge, despite a constant feeling of the unavoidable nature of power dynamics in all aspects of society.