6. A recent exception has focused on the putative subject or non-subject of speech: the subaltern. Chakrabarti and Chaudhury have criticized Spivak's use of the term as suppressing class antagonisms, not simply essentialistic or reductive ways of understanding these antagonisms, but class contradictions . In fact, if we examine the essay closely we can go even further to say that Spivak has elevated the contradiction between the First World and Third World as opposing blocs to a position of strategic and political dominance, as if the working classes in the West (and it appears that only the West has working classes--from the essay one would think that India was a primarily peasant society rather than one of the largest manufacturing economies in the world) is structurally allied more closely to its own bourgeoisie than to those forces traditionally regarded as its allies in the nations outside of Europe, North American and Japan: workers, rural laborers, landless peasants, etc. Thus, the idea of international alliances between the working classes East and West is for Spivak only a relic of so-called orthodox Marxism, it is even more menacingly a component of the strategy to maintain the domination of First World over Third World by subordinating the interests of the subaltern to those of their privileged counterparts. It is worth remarking that this is hardly a new position: on the contrary, it has a long history in the socialist and communist movements. Lenin flirted with it in his attempts to explain the capitulation of European social democracy in the First World War, Stalin embraced it and its very language derives from the period of the Sino-Soviet split and the consolidation of Maoism as an international current. Accordingly, those who hold this position might want to draw their own balance sheet of its real political effects.
5. What Foucault and Deleuze, First World intellectuals, share with the subaltern studies group is the notion no less dangerous for being naive that "the oppressed . . . can speak and know their conditions." And thus to the general plague of essentialism which in truly internationalist fashion circulates freely between the First and Third Worlds, Spivak proposes the antidote of a single question: can the subaltern speak? It is a testimony to the power of Spivak's essay that this question has come to dominate an entire theoretical field to such an extent that the vast majority of responses have consisted of answers to, rather than examinations of, her question. It is as if there exists a simple dilemma before us: either we argue that the subaltern can indeed speak, in which case according to one's perspective we have either brought agency back in or, in contrast, lapsed into essentialism; or we argue with Spivak that the subaltern cannot speak, which means for some that we have silenced the oppressed, which for others we have refused the myth of the originary subject. Few have ventured to question the question itself, to ask how such a question functions and what are its practical effects.
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.
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.
Since the 1500s, masculinity and the socialization of men have been defined by colonization. This essay explores the hypermasculine male as a person unemotional yet fearful of intimacy, void of non-masculine attachments and identifications, competitive and aggressive, strong, independent, dominant, powerful, rational, sexist, homophobic, and generally disconnected from his own sense of self and the self of others. Nancy Chodorow’s challenge for the reproduction of masculinity is understood as a call to decolonialize the hypermasculine male as exposed in the political and subaltern psychologies of Frantz Fanon and Ashis Nandy. When the hypermasculine male is not rehumanized, all people are dehumanized, especially persons of color, children, women, and the elderly, and all who are perceived as not manly enough or as not following the rules and systems set by men. The image of the hypermasculine male is recognized in select computer games, where the image is actively promoted.
Spivak's essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?"--originally published in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg's Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988)--perhaps best demonstrates her concern for the processes whereby postcolonial studies ironically reinscribe, co-opt, and rehearse neo-colonial imperatives of political domination, economic exploitation, and cultural erasure. In other words, is the post-colonial critic unknowingly complicit in the task of imperialism? Is "post-colonialism" a specifically first-world, male, privileged, academic, institutionalized discourse that classifies and surveys the East in the same measure as the actual modes of colonial dominance it seeks to dismantle? According to Spivak, postcolonial studies must encourage that "postcolonial intellectuals learn that their privilege is their loss" (Ashcroft. et al 28). In "Can the Subaltern Speak?", Spivak encourages but also criticizes the efforts of the subaltern studies group, a project led by Ranajit Guha that has reappropriated Gramsci's term "subaltern" (the economically dispossesed) in order to locate and re-establish a "voice" or collective locus of agency in postcolonial India. Although Spivak acknowledges the "epistemic violence" done upon Indian subalterns, she suggests that any attempt from the outside to ameliorate their condition by granting them collective speech invariably will encounter the following problems: 1) a logocentric assumption of cultural solidarity among a heterogeneous people, and 2) a dependence upon western intellectuals to "speak for" the subaltern condition rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. As Spivak argues, by speaking out and reclaiming a collective cultural identity, subalterns will in fact re-inscribe their subordinate position in society. The academic assumption of a subaltern collectivity becomes akin to an ethnocentric extension of Western logos--a totalizing, essentialist "mythology" as Derrida might describe it--that doesn't account for the heterogeneity of the colonized body politic.
7. My objective, however, is to question the question itself, "Can the Subaltern Speak," which even if we replace the subaltern with another noun of our choice (the working class[es], the people, the oppressed, etc.) rests on an obvious paradox. Of course the subaltern speak and write; the archives of the world are filled not only with the political tracts of their parties and organizations, but there are literary texts, newspapers, films, recordings, leaflets, songs, even the very chants that accompany spontaneous and organized protests all over the world. To all appearances, there is speaking and writing always and everywhere and even more where there is resistance to exploitation and oppression. But here we must be very careful; Spivak does not ask whether the subaltern speak but whether it is possible for them to speak. Her question is a question of possibility which as such functions as a transcendental question, akin to Kant's famous question: what can I know? That is, what we take to be the subaltern speaking may in fact be determined to be only the appearance of their speaking, if our theory deems it impossible for them to speak. Such transcendental questions thus necessarily produce a distinction between appearance and reality: if what is, is impossible then it must be declared no longer to be what is and a second real reality substituted for it.
8. Even more curious than this transcendental turn itself is the argumentation Spivak musters to support her declaration, against all appearances, that the subaltern cannot speak. And she has called forth some very intimidating witnesses on her behalf, the primary one, of course, being Derrida. Who better than the translator of to remind us of the relevance of Derrida's critique of Western logocentrism and phonocentrism to political life and to show the utter folly, if not the disingenuousness, of Foucault's call to publish the writings of prisoners as an integral part of the movement against the prisons, or the attempt to set up and archive for the workers' voices as part of the project of proletarian self-emancipation (a project which Spivak has already criticized in categorical terms)? It appears, however, that no one has thought to ask whether Derrida's argument's (especially in , the work in which such questions are most extensively examined, lead to such conclusions). Is there anything in Derrida's critique of logocentrism that would allow us to say the subaltern cannot speak but must be spoken for, that is, represented both discursively and politically by those who can speak, those who are real subjects of speech? In fact, it would appear that Derrida's argument leads in precisely the opposite direction. For if we accept Derrida's arguments against the speaking subject as ideal origin of speech, present to its utterances as a guarantee of their truth and authenticity, that is, that speech is always already a kind of writing, material and irreducible, we are left only with the fact that there is no pure, original working class or subaltern (or ruling class), possessing a consciousness expressed in its speech or for that matter its acts. There is speech and writing (although these are only modalities of action which are in no way privileged) always and everywhere. It is precisely in and through the struggles that traverse these fields of practice that collectivities are constituted. The question of whether or not the subaltern, or to use the Leninist term, the masses can speak cannot be posed transcendentally but only conjuncturally by the disposition of opposing forces that characterizes a given historical moment.