Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: an Introduction

Benjamin Graves '98, Brown University

When in 1976 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak published Of Grammatology--an English translation of Jacques Derrida's De la grammatologie (1967)--she introduced herself as a radical postcolonial critic whose deconstructive interpretations of imperialism and the struggle for decolonization seek also to interrogate the very premises of marxism, feminism, and Derridean deconstruction that underwrite her own work. Encompassing literary criticism, a learned application of European enlightenment philosophy, as well as ambitious forays into economic problems of labor and capital, Spivak's eclectic and often contradictory critical scope resembles her shifting position as an academic "subject." Simultaneously privileged as an elite, even esoteric intellectual currently teaching at Columbia University, and marginalized as a "Third-World woman," "hyphenated-American," and Bengali exile, Spivak uses deconstruction to address the ways in which she is in fact complicit in the production of social formations that she ostensibly opposes. In the following passage from "Bonding in Difference," an interview with Alfred Arteaga, Spivak describes her indebtness to deconstruction in order to explain the postcolonial criticšs responsibility to question the assumptions not only of the social formations under their scrutiny but their own critical and institutional allegiances:

So right form the beginning, the deconstructive move. Deconstruction does not say there is no subject, there is no truth, there is no history. It simply questions the privileging of identity so that someone is believed to have the truth. It is not the exposure of error. It is constantly and persistently looking into how truths are produced. That's why deconstruction doesn't say logocentrism is a pathology, or metaphysical enclosures are something you can escape. Deconstruction, if one wants a formula, is among other things, a persistent critique of what one cannot not want. And in that sense, yes, it's right there at the beginning. (28)

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak