4. And according to Spivak they found themselves in some very distinguished company in that Abyss. The other major objective of the essay is to intervene in a quarrel not so much between Foucault and Derrida (who did engage in a philosophical debate which Spivak curiously neglects to mention) as between their champions, acknowledged and unacknowledged, in the U.S. A third figure, Deleuze, also comes to play a part, if a minor one, in this scene as Foucault's accomplice. In particular, she seeks to lay to rest the "received idea" that "Foucault deals with real history, real politics and real social problems; Derrida is inaccessible, esoteric and textualistic." She will show, in contrast, that "Derrida is less dangerous" than Foucault, who not only privileges "the 'concrete' subject of oppression" but even more dangerously conceals the privilege he thus grants himself by "masquerading as the absent non-represented who lets the oppressed speak for themselves." While this may seem a surprising charge to lay at the feet of Foucault, who, after all, asked the famous question, "What is an Author?" and in doing so had a few things to say about Derrida that Spivak might profitably have consulted, she invokes "the labor of the negative" to sustain her accusation. Foucault's critique of the subject is itself a ruse of subjectivity. The ruse is so clever that its work cannot be glimpsed in any of Foucault's major texts where it labors to dissemble the negation of the subject that it will finally itself negate. Accordingly, Spivak must turn to what she calls "the unguarded practice of conversation," i.e., an interview to discover Foucault's thought. Of course, one might be tempted to argue that it is not only possible but inevitable that Foucault would contradict himself not only in interviews but in his most important works, unless that is, we assign to Foucault the position of Absolute subject, whose writing, despite the appearance of contradiction , possesses total coherence and homogeneity. Spivak, however, suggests that what Foucault utters in apparently "unguarded" moments can only reveal a truth kept carefully hidden under a veil of appearance; such a procedure of reading resolves the apparent contradiction to restore Foucault's work to the bad totality that it has always been.
2. Not that Gayatri Spivak needs to be told any of this. Her essay "can the Subaltern Speak?" (which exists in several forms--I'll be examining the longest version, which appears in ) displays a dazzling array of tactical devices designed to ward off or pre-emptively neutralize the attacks of critics. We might say of Spivak what Althusser said of Lacan--that the legendary difficulty of the essay is less a consequence of the profundity of its subject matter than its tactical objectives: "to forestall the blows of critics . . . to feign a response to them before they are delivered" and, above all, to resort to philosophies apparently foreign to the endeavor "as so many intimidating witnesses thrown in the faces of the audience to retain the respect." To acknowledge this does not automatically imply a criticism of Spivak (which is precisely why I cited the case of Lacan the importance of whose work for me at least is unquestionable): after all, tactics are dictated by the features of the concrete situation.
Can the subaltern speak summary analysis essay
3. Of course, the difficulty of the essay cannot be reduced to a matter of tactics alone. Its difficulty is also a consequence of the fact that Spivak carries on several struggles simultaneously. the first, and perhaps the most important, is her intervention in the debates surrounding the field of Subaltern Studies as it existed in India in the early eighties, particularly as represented by the work of Ranajit Guha. As a critical supporter of Subaltern Studies as a project, Spivak seeks to point out a discrepancy between its research and the way its practitioners theorized that research. In particular, she objects to the notion that Subaltern studies seeks to allow the previously ignored voice of the subaltern finally to be heard and that its objective can be to "establish true knowledge of the subaltern and its consciousness." The notion that the subaltern is a kind of collective individual, conscious of itself, an author, an actor, in short, the classical subject, allowed the movement to differentiate between the subaltern and the representation of the subaltern by imperialism, and thus to call attention to the blank spaces imperialist discourse. The subaltern studies movement did so, however, only by suppressing the heterogeneity and non-contemporaneity of the subaltern itself, that is, by assigning it an essence and therefore falling into a metaphysical abyss from which Spivak seeks to rescue it.