The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s essay, “Can The Subaltern Speak?” begins to pick up when she proposes the intriguing demarcation between “represent” as in what a political body such as a congress does, and “re-present” as in the mode of representation that is employed in language and by extension in philosophy. This separation comes for Spivak’s problemization of Gilles Deleuze’s desire to compound theory into action, or better phrased, to remove the binary between the two. In her words: “Two senses of representation are being run together: representation as ‘speaking for’ and ‘re-presenation as in art and philosophy.’ ”

My immediate sense of this, and an unclear one at that, is Spivak is suggesting that the kind of theorizing which deconstructs systems of powers, somehow implicitly maintains its systems of hierarchy in its formulations. This is manifested mostly in the intellectual’s position within the discourse of power that he or she is attempting to deconstruct, and this position vis-à-vis Delueze’s desire to make theory into action and thus remove the signifier, i.e. the represented, (as he puts it, “There is no more representation; there’s nothing but action.”) is to conflate the two different meanings of “represent” and “re-present,” thereby wholly removing the voice of the Other.

Although I readily admit to my near complete obfuscation of this text, I will try to piece together an ad-hoc synthesis of Spivaks’s argument. She ends her discussion of the various means of this double entendre of “representation” with “My view is that radical practice should attend to this double session of representations rather than reintroduce the individual subject through totalizing concepts of power and desire.” This line of attack is similar to the manner in which she described the goal of post-structuralism in the beginning of her essay. Post-structuralism must resist the urge to narratize history and human relations because the relations between power, desire and interest are so complex that any reduction provides no real use. Yet, it must be acknowledged, the human mind is so prone to narrative creation that a constant criticism against this instinct must be waged.

It seems here that Spivak is suggesting that even post-structuralism has not been able to resist sufficiently the urge towards narrative, a narrative that also obliterates the Other. Even though post-structuralism was able to do away with the “too neat” binaries of structuralism, by introducing power and desire into the argumentation, it has still allowed for an abstraction that in some ways denies the total spectrum of actuality. Now, if I am reading Spivak’s critique correctly, I must assent to her argument, but I must also add that the problem to which she is pointing is systemic of not just post-structuralism but of all theories. It seems that Spivak is taking a hard Humeian line against generalization, but if this be the case, she leaves no room to theorize herself: all that is possible with Hume’s formulation is a taxonomy of the known or a priori reasoning of mathematics.

Perhaps then this all comes back to language. An utterance about something is invariably not an utterance about something else, and, to continue in this reasoning, any discourse, unless it be the dictionary itself, is going to have not accounted for something. In the sciences, this is serviceable: botany can be unconcerned with astronomy without anyone being disenfranchised. The problems arise in the realm of social discourse. The question becomes: how does a society create social procedures that are viable, and formed by the necessary procedure of abstraction, without effacing any persons in this process of representation/re-presentation?


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