- Postcolonial Reading
Marx could hold The Science of Logic and the Blue Books together; but that was still only Europe; and in the doing it came undone.—A Critique of Postcolonial Reason
“As I work at this at the end of a book that has run away from me, I am of course open to your view. You will judge my agenda in the process.... You work my agenda out” (357–358). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s Critique of Postcolonial Reason addresses an “implied reader” several times toward its end, inviting a response (cf. 421). We are deep in the ultimate chapter, on Culture, where the “this” refers to questions of cultural politics. By analogy with Marx, who, envisioning a reader for Capital,1 “attempted to make the factory workers rethink themselves as agents of production, not as victims of capitalism,” Spivak asks her implied readers—hyphenated Americans, economic and political migrants from the decolonized South—to “rethink themselves as possible agents of exploitation, not its victims” (357, cf. 402).2 The persistent call, voiced in Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993), for the migrant to the North to distinguish, in terms of victimage and agency, between him- or, especially, herself, and the citizen of the postcolonial nation, is reiterated in Critique. But by the time it includes its implied author and reader in the exhortation, “let us want a different agency, shift the position a bit” (358, cf. 402), Critique has given its reader to work out more than an agenda, an itinerary of agency in complicity. It has also blazed an intricate trajectory on reading. The latter is what my essay endeavors to work out.
The Preface to Critique begins:
My aim, to begin with, was to track the figure of the Native Informant through various practices: philosophy, literature, history, culture. Soon I found that the tracking showed up a colonial subject detaching itself from the Native Informant. After 1989, I began to sense that a certain postcolonial subject had, in turn, been recoding the colonial subject and appropriating the Native Informant’s position. Today, with globalization in full swing, telecommunicative informatics taps the Native Informant directly in the name of indigenous knowledge and advances biopiracy.(ix)
To track the composite figure Spivak names the Native Informant is not simply to trace and analyze its outlines as it emerges in colonial or postcolonial discourse. Finding that the Native Informant reveals, in its trail, a dispropriable “position,” a borrowed one not strictly anyone’s own, the tracker herself performs the figure, and is, in turn, performed by it. Giving shape to the tracker, this mimetic tracking engages the trace of the other which sends this book on its way.3 The writer, in other words, conjures up a reader. The result of figuring, and taking up, the “(im)possible perspective of the Native Informant” is an interventionist writing that is quasi-advocative in its conduct. Amplifying and deepening Spivak’s thinking, Critique revises major published texts to go with considerable new ones by her. Cut into four long chapters—headed Philosophy, Literature, History, Culture—and a small appendix on The Setting to Work of Deconstruction, it reframes such well known essays as “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” “The Rani of Sirmur,” and “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism” so that, in addition to being key interventions in colonial discourse studies and postcolonial studies, they add to the wider critical idiom by developing insights in ethics and reading gained from a thinking of postcoloniality. Among its surprises is the insistent, and at times cryptic, conversation with the later writings of Paul de Man (to whom Critique is jointly dedicated) on irony, allegory, and parabasis, which she deploys in terms of a disruptive speaking- and reading-otherwise. What emerges is an ethics of reading, of the making of a reader; and, from that, a way for writer and reader to acknowledge and negotiate discursive, and socio- and geopolitical situatedness as complicity. Herein resides the book’s particularity. Those whose passion lies in staking out a “position” in the...