can the subaltern blog 2: the subject-position strikes back

a great post in the comment section by jenn that i am hoping will stir further conversation

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5 thoughts on “can the subaltern blog 2: the subject-position strikes back

  1. THIS IS A PASTE OF JENN’S COMMENT:

    Jenn said:

    Since I had recently had to read the entire Spivak article (and if anyone else out there has made it through as well, I raise my cyber-glass to you!), it’s been on my mind.

    I think one of the key points tha Spivak makes is not so much that the subaltern cannot speak, but that no matter what she says (and Spivak’s subject(s) is/are female), her voice/text will be misread. I’m thinking specifically of the last third of the article which focuses on widow-burning in India. We don’t need to get into a whole thing about the widow-burning, but the point that Spivak makes is that even when a subaltern “speaks” (in her case, through the act of voluntary suicide for Indian wives when their husbands have died), her message will be misinterpreted two ways: both on a national (local) level and also on a colonial (international level).
    The subaltern, essentially, runs the risk of being misunderstood by her own “community” as well as by the colonial/imperial project. I think this is where Spivak’s feminism is crucial–she points out that patriarchy exists both within and outside subaltern communities, so subaltern women are double (triple) crossed by sexism, as well racial and class-based discrimination.

    Her last line in the essay is: “The subaltern cannot speak.” Spivak, whether she’s making a dramatic point or not, doesn’t really offer a way of the problem she identifies. This is where we can take up where she left off. If we want to dedicate ourselves representing the voice of the subaltern, even in the face of misreading and silencing, the only choice is to KEEP TALKING. The power of minority voices to persist even against all odds is an historical fact and a contemporary reality–we only need to look at the reecnt demonstrations against the proposed changes to U.S. immigration/border control for examples. Those of us who are not minorities should work HARD to LISTEN the voices of our minority commrades, and not just hear them, but help others hear them too. This, of course, has obvious implications in the “blogging” discourse.

    8:07 PM

    Jenn said…
    The other issue I wantd to raise focuses on my own process of working in the “interstices” of scholarship and art. Craig and I were talking about the responsibilities of minority bloggers and the issue of subject position, or “positionality” as my fancy grad school classmates call it.

    Craig brought up Jameson’s idea of the “political unconscious”…in very simple terms, the idea that one’s socio-historic moment influences one’s aesthetic production. Or, by examining a work of art, one should be able to unearth the influence of the artist’s political/historic/cultural moment.

    I’m struggling with this. As a scholar, I find Jameson’s thesis an incredibly easy way to approach analysis. Simply look for how, for example, Tomas Rivera’s And The Earth Did Not Devour Him speaks to issues raised by the Chicano Nationalilst movement of the 1960’s and bang! You’ve got an analysis. It’s a handy tool for theorizing about aesthetic production. In fact, I think it can become kind of crutch…an easy way to explain away a work of art. Not that I think that it’s not important to consider biography or history when doing an analysis, but my experience has been that this type of analysis ultimately doesn’t give as much treatment to the formal and stylistic choices of the artist (the words on the page, the brush strokes, camera angles, etc)…theme becomes much more important.

    As a fiction writer and poet, I have a hard time believing that everything I write necessarily speaks to my position within my historical moment. Moreover, I think I believe that there’s such a thing as “art for art’s sake” or consciously disengaged art. I want to resist the idea that my subject position will dictate my formal and stylistic choices. Perhaps the answer is simply to learn to live in the interstitial world between scholarship and criticism.

    Anyway, since so many who comment here also seem to be committed to both artistic expression and critical analysis, I thought I would just open it up for discussion…how are others navigating their multiple subject positions?????

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