Fwd: Critique of Spivak by Bengali lit critter/Lenin, political , economy and post-colonial theory.

Dennis R Redmond dredmond at oregon.uoregon.edu
Thu Jan 6 01:51:06 PST 2000

Forward from Azfar Hussain reads:

> But the analytics of political economy in Spivak's hands, as I can see,
> do not give a rap about the concrete political histories of Marxisms in
> the "Third World." I feel terribly uncomfortable here. Also, while
> inserting "ruptures" into the chain of value-codings (or into the linear
> logic of production or political economy) via her provocative readings
> of those texts of Marx which have hitherto remained relatively unheeded,
> Spivak's theorizing of political economy evinces rather "eltist" and
> "pomo"-kinds-of leaps by way of bypassing Lenin, as if Lenin, like
> Garcia Marquez's "plantation workers in Macondo," "didn't exist!" In her
> entire book, Lenin receives half a line and Stalin another half: "Lenin
> thinks State, and Stalin Nation" (83). And that's it.

Spivak's book is actually pretty good, though I myself would carp over the lack of references to Adorno (she actually mentions the notion of the micrology, so there's some Frankfurt praxis in there). I'm just wondering what the heck this 3rd world Marxism is, which we're all supposed to know. Che's Marxism? Fidel's? Ho Chi Minh's? If we're talking Lenin, we might as well bring up Ataturk, Lee Kuan Yew, and the other sacred patriarchs of the national developmental state. Where Spivak shines is precisely the facility with which she leaps from theory down to the hard-nosed field conditions of neocolonialism, incessantly overturning the local to rediscover global accumulation. Class struggle in the 3rd world nowadays is about fighting off the IMF and the likes of Mitsubishi and Daimler, and not just attacking the comprador bourgeoisie, rotten though these latter indeed are.

> Finally, in her Marxist-yet-deconstruction-infected political-economic
> move, when Spivak reaches Bangladesh and tries to point
> up--condescendingly of course--the radicalism of "Prabartana" (which is
> again a kind of NGO in Bangladesh, an organization which, despite its
> occasionally lefty rhetorical clap-traps, is not immune to
> developmentology-syndromes as such). Mark what Spivak says here: "As a
> result of the foreign direct investement related to the international
> garment industry, the long tradition of Bangladeshi handloom is dying.
> Prabartana not only subsidizes and "develops" the weavers' collective,
> but also attempts to undo epistemic violation suffered by the weavers by
> rcognizing them as artists" (414). Ah, that's is news to me. I wonder
> if Spivak here is paying attention to the political economy of the
> production of the weavers and also the specific "production relations"
> between "Prabartana"--run by middle/upper-middle class educated Bengali
> folks occasionally funded by white donors--and the weavers themselves.
> "Attempts to undo epistemic violation" on Prabartana's part, eh? Just
> when the middle-class folks, having the sanctioned taste for the
> "artistic," recognize the weavers as "artists" (condescendingly or not),
> the "undoing of epistemic violation" begins, eh?

We could all use a little infection by deconstruction, it's good for building up your ideological immune system. Bring on that Western decadence! Actually, Spivak recognized this particular contradiction a long time ago, in the form of her famous concept of the subaltern who is not allowed, due to neocolonialism, to speak. Since she isn't here to defend herself, I'll quote from her "Outside in the Teaching Machine":

----- "Especially in cultural critique, the event of political independence can be automatically assumed to stand in-between colony and decolonization as an unexamined good that operates a reversal. As I am insisting, the new nation is run by a regulative logic derived from a reversal of the old colony from within the cited episteme of the postcolonial subject: secularism, democracy, socialism, national identity, capitalist development. There is however a space that did not share in the energy of this reversal, a space that had no firmly established agency of traffic with the culture of imperialism. Conventionally, this space is described as the habitat of the subproletariat or the subaltern. Mahasweta's fiction suggests that this is the space of the displacement of the colonization that can become, for her, a dystopic representation of decolonization as such. In this context, "decolonization" becomes only a convenient and misleading word, used because no other can be found.

If neocolonialism is only seen from the undoubtedly complex and important but restrictive perspective of the metropolitan internal colonization or the postcolonial migrant or immigrant, this particular scenario of displacement becomes invisible, drops out of sight. The pouvoir-savoir or know-it-as-this/can-do-it-as-this of the discourse of feminism is obviously counterintuitive to the inhabitants of this space, the space of Mahasweta's fiction. As she works actively to move the subaltern into hegemony, in her struggle in the field, she pushes them toward that other episteme, where the "intuitions" of feminism become accessible. I am not arguing a fiction/reality opposition here. The narrow and the general sense infiltrate each other, bring each other to crisis, although they are not inscribed into a continuum.

Mahasweta's fictions are thus not stories of the improbably awakening of feminist consciousness in the gendered subaltern. They are also not spoken for them, whatever that might mean. She does not speak as them, or to them. These are singular, paralogical figures of women (sometimes wild men, mad men) who spell out no model for imitation." [Pg 48-49, Outside in the Teaching Machine, Gayatri Spivak. Routledge, NY & London ) 1993.] ------

In plain, simple language, she's saying the discourse of 3rd world nationalism, whether as Leninist etatism or Congress Party corporatism, long ago became a tool for turning the world peasantry into a cheap labor pool for Nike & Co.

-- Dennis

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