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Reviewed by:
  • Death of a Discipline
  • Amar Acheraiou (bio)
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Death of a Discipline. Columbia UP: New York, 2003. ISBN: 0-231-12945-9

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in Death of Discipline surveys the fields of comparative literature, area studies, and cultural and ethnic studies, and criticizes their insularity and cultural conservatism. She advocates disciplinary collaboration and unrestricted permeability, urging these disciplines to establish institutional bridges to respond more appropriately to students' needs and to the demands of today's complex, fragmenting world. Throughout, she recommends removing disciplinary fear and hostility, invoking Jacques Derrida's politics of friendship as "an example of how humanities and social sciences must supplement each other" (27). The new comparative literature she presses for involves a double rupture: moving from the Euro-U.S. cultural dominance and shifting focus from the new immigrant groups to the older minorities (African, Asian, and Hispanic).

Spivak undertakes a challenging intellectual project that interrogates global culture and redefines the North-South relationships. While denouncing the restricted permeability of global culture she pleads for a reformed comparative literature that moves from the status of a dominant agent of knowledge, reducing the languages and literatures of the Southern Hemisphere to mere objects of study, to the position of a learning subject inclined "to learn from below" (15). She envisages the redefined area of studies as a deterritorialized discipline that not only "must always cross borders," offering the languages and cultures of the South the solidarity of borders, but should also "displace globalization into planetarity" (16, 97). In the same breath Spivak envisions a new comparative literature that respects linguistic and cultural diversity and urges a shift from globalization to planetary, exhorting us constantly to "imagine ourselves as planetary subjects rather than global agents" (73).

Spivak extends her caustic critique of hegemonic old comparative literature to such world organizations as Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). In parallel with blaming comparative literature for using native informants and relying on translations instead of reading [End Page 311] closely in the original, she reproaches primary health-care groups with using local interpreters rather than learning the local vernacular. She pursues her confrontation with Euro-U.S. cultural dominance and condemns the totalizing impulse of international women's conferences that she dismisses as "the exact structural replica of the grand design to bring the world's rural poor under one rule of finance, one global capital, again run by the internationally divided dominant" (46). In keeping with her subaltern theory, Spivak relates women to the rural poor, presenting both as victims of globalizing capital which tries "to flatten out the struggle of macro and micro-economic history" (46). She also criticizes international women's conferences that tend to obliterate "the myriad specificities of women's histories" (46). Spivak argues for a fairer international economic, cultural, and political system capable of movement from a politics of dominance to an ethics of friendship and solidarity. She aspires to a new world order where regional specificities would not be flattened out and emergent identities would not be appropriated by a dominant global uniformity. What she expects, above all, from this utopian project is a displacement of globalization's individualism and restricted permeability into a permeable planetary collectivity.

Spivak discusses the notion of collectivity in various literary works including Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North, and Mahasweta Devi's Pterodactyl. Through original, thought-provoking, though lopsided reading of these texts, she pinpoints the predominance of the question of collectivity in these novels and indicates how some of them can be pulled in the direction of planetarity. Focusing on these issues, she offers a corrective interpretation of A Room of One's Own, warning that this novel is primarily "an essay on women's collectivities of all sorts" rather than a call for androgyny, as is often taught (39–40). She views it as a privileged site of collectivity, where Woolf enacts a "gendered notion of friendship" that displaces and reverses the terms of the gender equation (34).

This insightful claim sheds light on Woolf's vision of society...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0252
Print ISSN
0010-6356
Pages
pp. 311-319
Launched on MUSE
2011-04-29
Open Access
No
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