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Week 7 Spivak

Week 8 Spivak

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Week 12 Lem

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Week 14 Gupta

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Final Paper Elders

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Victoria Kline
March 16, 2005
Seminar in Ethnology
Dr. Pérez

A Critique of Post Colonial Reason: Week 8

Part 3: History

Spivak is now in the process of telling us the history of the native informant or subaltern through readings in history. But, as she says it is not really history, but a smidgen of remote fragments of archival material that she has found that becomes the framework for the flesh of Derrida, Foucault, Gramsci, and Marxist theory threaded through two stories of archival women non-subalterns that she tells the story of. The first is about the Rani of Sirmur, a woman whose husband was exiled from India because he had syphilis, or maybe the Brits just needed to get him out of the way. Apparently, in the absence of her husband the Rani was going to commit Sati, as she was not allowed to leave India to hook up with her husband. An Indian woman’s value was such a construct as to be only of value as a wife of one husband. When she could not be with that husband, she was to throw herself on a funeral pyre and thus commit suicide in the name of being a respectable wife to the now deposed husband. Spivak had many questions when she found reference to this woman in the archives and sought to find out if she did commit suicide because it came to pass that English Colonists intervened in the woman’s right to kill herself and created laws that prohibited this woman’s act of self-sacrifice and made it a criminal act.

Through the archival searches, Spivak found inconsistencies in the definition or translation of Sati, that it may have been the rebirth of a woman into the house of the deceased husband’s brother rather that the suicide of the woman after the death of the woman’s husband. The (hi)story of Sati, although convoluted and indeterminate, also included the fact that Hindu men were said to grow and rebirth and therefore become something new and higher in the ladder towards nirvana, and that that was a suicide of a past personality as such. Then, there was the confusion of the words Sati and Setee as similar and possibly the same.

In the end, Spivak finds that the Rani of Sirmur did not commit suicide but died a natural death. She had a son who became the Raja of Sirmur when of age and was quite westernized I believe. One of the reason(ing)s behind the English interception to the Rani’s death by Sati was the appeal to raise this son, to not deprive the son of his mother. The written record of the Rani is so sparse as to be almost unaccounted for. This, says Spivak, is because of the voiceless place that women retained at that time in history, and that this (dis)-placement of women in this lesser level in the power hierarchy is prevalent today.

The second story of woman as non-subaltern is that of a middle class teenage girl who committed suicide by hanging. She was menstruating at the time of death, pre-meditated to dispel any notion that she was having an illicit pre-marital affair. It was found that the suicide was done because of her inability to perform an act required of her in her position of secret revolutionary. The inability to act brought shame upon her, and thus she ended her life.

The stories of these two women who were not subalterns as they were not workers but middle class women are interspersed with the same incoherent dialog that accompanied the first two chapters. With the knowledge I gained through class discussion I was able to maneuver my way through the text a little better, to tease out the characters and stories that were more interesting to me. Also, I was able to follow her flow of narrative and did get caught up it in that euphoria (that classmates were alluding to in discussion) of being in a dialog with her. But then with the introduction of the discussion between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze (248) that feeling receded into anxiety once again. But kicked in once more after the (hi)story returned to Bhubaneswari Bhaduri’s suicide in her father’ apartment in North Calcutta (306).

Part 4: Culture

It sucks because between last night and this morning, my main computer switch conked out, cannot get access to the page I wrote about this chapter yesterday. Did not think I would need to use the laptop, and therefore did not save the revised file to the jump drive. So this is an earlier version that I am working on today on the laptop. Luckily we are set up with a printer off this laptop. And it makes me worry about the system at school that hasn’t been backed up since maybe December or January (Koji) and won’t be this week, possibly next week. OK on with this paragraph. My hands are freezing for some reason this morning.

I have Bush on TV this morning, keeps bringing up World Bank and a person that he has either recommended or has received a top position in that institution. The World Bank has everything to do with what Spivak keeps bringing up about the exploitation of the third world subaltern especially the gendered subaltern (woman) as the target of credit baiting and workforce double exploitation. She is stuck and cannot move easily with the burden of childcare and therefore is a perfect subject in whom to create desire for material items and subsequently offered credit to obtain these consumer goods setting up a system of indebtedness to the “company store.”

I thought this chapter was going to be about the evolution of culture, cross culturally, from the point of view of the textile and garment manufacturing industry. When I was first out of high school, my dream was to be a fashion designer, and in the process of becoming, took a field trip in San Francisco, to a garment manufacturer to observe the methods employed in the making of well made women’s dresses. That day, the factory had three seamstresses, all Japanese women, busy with piecework, extremely focused, but always properly acknowledging of us students that were encroaching on their workspace that day. The head of the fashion institute where attended, was Japanese, as were maybe a quarter of the students. These students like the garment workers that we observed, and the head of the institute were all extremely competent, skilled pattern makers and seamstresses. Truly, if they were being exploited or treated as subalterns, it did not affect their work.

I was reminded of this reading Spivak and her reference to the Japanese woman designer and the New York style of describing how her designs were minimalist or whatever. If she is anything like the women that studied design at Pacific Fashion Institute on Powell Street in San Francisco at the end of 1969, she is exceptionally good at if not design, then construction of the garment, which is something one does not see in the fast, cheap garment imports sold in Walmart and Kmart.

I was also fascinated by Spivak interfacing with the old fashion magazines with the swatches of fabric enclosed in them, and the fact that she wore a hand woven silk sari over a cheap imported top that had used the third world gendered subaltern in manufacture. Now around all the textile and manufacturing Spivak text was a lot more tangential discussion that drew in textual works that I was unfamiliar with. Then at the end, she threw in one last literature by Toni Morrison (Beloved). I had read that and was hooked on that author’s style!  If anything, I come away from Spivak’s book humbled by the sheer volume of reading, writing, and scholarship that she has indulged in. I have a new reading list from the pages of this book. Everyone would benefit from reading Derrida and Foucault among others (Freud, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Shelley, a very long list).

Discussion Question: If the gendered subaltern wants to work for the wages that she is offered, should someone intervene on her behalf? Into the 1970s (I do not know how long this lasted, and it may still be occurring today in the US) there were sweatshop garment factories in the United States) workers were paid little, and conditions in some were poor, small and cramped, enclosed without windows or ventilation, and with poor lighting.

Discussion Question: What alternatives does the subaltern have that does not become a risk for exploitation such as in the garment industry? I realize that the people who apply poison in the form of insecticide or herbicide here in the US, the appliers are mainly subaltern new immigrant men from third world countries. Who else would be willing to expose themselves to the dangers of pesticides over the long term?

Discussion Question: We are now used to cheap prices for good value. Is this a reversible process? Should we be boycotting the stores that sell cheap imports? Are all factories that set up in third world countries exploiting the subaltern or the gendered subaltern in extraction of labor for little pay? This setting up of viable employment for third world-ers is meant to supply them with a means of livelihood for their betterment is it not?

Discussion Question: Spivak does not see any good being done by development. My contention is that not all development is bad. We have been talking about good and bad development in Dr. Conway’s Applied Anthropology class. It is true that there are problems with design and implementation. The class readings seem to focus on the inclusion of anthropological input from the beginning of the planning stages in development, something that does not happen often. What alternative to development does Spivak wish to incorporate into the aide process? How should “helping” look? Should only indigenous people be involved with their own development? One cannot deny that third world countries are in a pickle and need help from outside.


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

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