Home 603Seminar in Ethnology


Week 1 Marcus

Week 2 Marcus

Week 3 Moore

Week 4 Moore

Week 5 Schneider

Week 6 Schneider Paper

Week 7 Spivak

Week 8 Spivak

Week 9 Parker

Week 10 Parker

Week 12 Lem

Week 13 Lem

Week 14 Gupta

Week 15 Gupta

Final Paper Elders

Resource Links

Victoria Kline
March 9, 2005
Seminar in Ethnology
Dr. Pérez

A Critique of Post Colonial Reason: Week 7


We find out that Spivak is a prolific writer. She is also a prolific reader and has devoured many difficult texts, which she chews up and spits out as nearly incomprehensible text. She provides a map for the book, which is a good idea for her poor readers. The writings and influence of Kant, Hegel, and Marx will be discussed in abstract detail in the first chapter. Literary texts of colonial and post-colonial reference are reviewed and analyzed in chapter two. The third chapter has to do with history and her inclusion of an entire essay “Can the subaltern speak?” (this is her own essay she has included in History). The final chapter is entitled “Culture” and will delve into postmodern fashion and women’s place “in the history of textile” (x). She deconstructs, and is influenced by the writings of Jacques Derrida. She is a feminist scholar of Indian descent, and is interested in the deconstruction of post-Colonial reasoning and does so through literary critique. Pretty difficult reading as the vocabulary is great, and includes different languages, and makes use of literary modes of description and metaphor.

Part 1: Philosophy

Spivak looks at the works of three Western Philosophers that were and are widely read: Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, and Karl Marx to trace the foundations of post-colonial thought and reasoning. These guys were influential. Spivak says that in the field of philosophy, “Germany produced authoritative ‘universal’ narratives where the subject remained unmistakably European” (8).  The “native informant” is referred to on many pages for instance on page 6 “the native informant, although denied autobiography…is a blank, though generative of a text of cultural identity that only the West…could inscribe” Spivak says she borrows the term native informant from ethnography (6).

And here is the reference to women and southern women being today’s native informant: “In the pores of this book will be the suggestion that, the typecase of the foreclosed native informant today is the poorest woman of the South” (6).

She starts with the philosopher Immanuel Kant and his “Critique” series of volumes. In The Critique of Judgment Kant describes the “moment of the Sublime” (10).

How will these philosophers dictate who the native informant is and what their position is in the hierarchy is I think what the author intends to uncover in her deconstruction. I have only heard the names and have not read the texts of these philosophers; perhaps they should be added to the reading list. Here are brief descriptions of the three:

  • Immanuel Kant 1724-1804 was a great man in German philosophy, the foundation actually who wrote bunches and influenced a great many people then and now. He philosophized on man’s use of reason and thought himself to be pretty smart.
  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770-1831, best known for teleological view of history, the epitome of which was Christianity and the Prussian state. Most influenced by Immanuel Kant.

  • Karl Marx 1818-1883 best known for his theoretical treatise of communism and most influenced by Georg Hegel, and Ludwig Feuerbach.

So she focused on three generations of German philosophers. These thinkers wrote a lot, lot, lot. How did each philosopher relate and delimit the definition of the native informant?

I think it would be appropriate to discuss this passage from Spivak page 5: “In this chapter, I shall docket the encrypting of the name of the ‘native informant’ as the name of Man—a name that carries the inaugurating affect of being human.” Which sounds respectful in perception. But then on page 6 she says “ I think of the ‘native informant’ as a name for that mark of expulsion from the name of Man—a mark crossing out the impossibility of the ethical relation.”

Terms that could be discussed (since there is not enough time for a thorough deconstruction of this text):
Raw man- closer to nature
Subreptive metalepsis – are we a nation of subreptive metalepses? Ignoring the truth in order to protect our own excessive self-indulgence? By blaming the native informant for allowing himself to be dominated and exploited?

Discussion Question: Are the subaltern, and gendered subaltern the same as the native informant and the poor southern woman? (page 6 has the term “the poorest woman of the South”)

Discussion Question: How is an understanding of the Asiatic Mode of Production, which Spivak spends a great deal of time discussing, relevant to the elucidation of the native informant?

Part 2: Literature

This chapter of the book is further divided into three parts consisting of deconstructions of literature (and one of meeting minutes) in order to show the trajectory of the “native informant” through post-colonial readings. The first part deconstructs literature by four female writers: Charlotte Bronte, Jean Rhys, Mary Shelley, and Mahasweta Devi. Then part two does the same for two male authors and minutes from a meeting: Charles Baudelaire, Rudyard Kipling, and meeting minutes from the East India Company from 1784-1858. The third section atomizes and compares two classic texts and a satire on those texts: “Robinson Crusoe,” and “Roxanna” by Daniel Defoe, and “Foe” by J. M. Coetzee.

Discussion Question: In the preface we were told that the whole point of the book id to “track the figure of the Native Informant through various practices: philosophy, literature, history, culture” (ix). Now at the end of this section, and reading that name “native informant” so many times throughout the text, I am wondering who the native informant is? At first I thought she was referring to informants of anthropological research. Then, I got the impression that she was talking about women, southern women, or subaltern women. And also, that possibly women are always subalterns. This question could very well be answered in the text, but did not have time for a second reading after the first mach 2 reading.

Discussion Question: In reference to the above concerning women being subalterns, I do not agree, even though it may be found in literature and philosophy that men and men’s words dominate the academics. How do you respond to this: Women always form the backbone of society, no matter what men are saying or writing?


Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty
1999  A Critique of Post Colonial Reason:  Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Copyright © 2010 all rights reserved Victoria Kline victoriakline.com
last updated on June 13, 2011