- Otherwise Occupied: Pedagogies of Alterity and the Brahminization of Theory
This is an informative book on prominent and well-known critiques of theories focusing on “otherness,” which undertakes to tackle the “paradigm shift from the aesthetic to the political” in the “last two decades” (1). However, it really constitutes an overview of critiques of and within postcolonial (and multicultural) studies, which were robust in the 1980s and continued into the 1990s. For this reason, Figueira’s characterization of the “new type of intellectual” who is the academic postcolonialist—“defined as someone who claims to have dispensed with territorial affiliation and travels unencumbered through the world bearing the burden of a unique yet representative stability” (emphasis added)—seems somewhat out of touch today. Her statement that “examining the East to see if it too might be cluttered with stereotypes or misconceptions was never a sustained part of this critique” also ignores the work of a whole new generation of “postcolonialists” working on Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and different parts of Asia, whose first studies began to appear in the late 1990s and who reached their peak in the few years just preceding publication of her book. Although Figueira refers to some of her own training in the French system, this book does not address at all the debates around “postcolonialism” and its uncomfortable French avatar “francophonie.” Figueira positions her book as remedying a “crue[l] lac[k] in anthropological, literary, and philosophical studies” although her real focus is what she calls the “brahminization of theory [by which] strategies of power originating in India are adapted and deployed in the world of university criticism” (4).
While the idea of being occupied with otherness is evident in the title (“otherwise” occupied), it also suggests that there is a dirty secret in the enterprise of the theories under scrutiny in her book. Indeed, when Figueira uses the highly charged term of “brahminization,” she is referring to how Third World critics, and particularly Indians, who are elite individuals in their own countries, come to the United States and become spokespersons for the disenfranchised at the same time that they “reify their own position within both their professional and their ethnic communities” (2). [End Page 584]
The first chapter presents structuralism as a movement that arises out of “the waning influence of Sartrean existentialism” in the 1960s as well as out of phenomenology. Summarizing the various positions within structuralism, Figueira then delves into poststructuralism to demonstrate how alterity figures within it. Drawing on the work of the critic Herman Rapaport, Figueira concludes that “sexual orientation” and “ethnicity” provide new categories that displace “class” in cultural studies. Figueira’s focus on postcolonial studies fails to note how various central Marxian-derived concepts such as contradiction, quality and quantity, base and superstructure, alienation, agency, and the organic intellectual become part of the sometimes careless vocabulary in the field. A significant critique of postcolonial studies remains to be done, but it does not emerge in this book because Figueira essentially (a) relies on criticism of the field that has become canonical within postcolonial studies (for example, Peggy Kamuf, Rey Chow, Benita Parry, E. San Juan Jr., Anthony Appiah, Arif Dirlik, Neil Larson) and (b) does not consult any studies that have been done under the aegis of postcolonial studies since the heyday of Spivak, Said, and Bhabha, who, while laying the ground for postcolonial studies more broadly, are, in fact, primarily scholars of both canonical texts and/or colonial discourse. Figueira’s study is somewhat outdated: for example, while the notion of “silence” from Spivak’s 1988 essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” has received substantial critique that has defined subsequent work, Figueira dehistoricizes its impact by providing nothing beyond the conclusion that Spivak “creates a need for the theorist (Spivak herself) who will determine and monopolize the discourse of the victimized” (38). Also disappointing is that none of the critics who are chastised in this study ever merits a sustained direct reading by Figueira...