Spivak

Gayatri SpivakHot on the heels of the rather successful Tronti symposium at Long Sunday, it has been suggested that we turn our collective attention and efforts to Gayatri Spivak.

It is possible that this might be an enterprise that would bring together the forces of Long Sunday, the Weblog, and the Valve.

Spivak is interesting for her attempts to combine Marxism and deconstruction in the name of postcolonial feminism, and at the crossroads of literary studies and philosophy. There are many constituencies she is out to reach–and many, perhaps as a consequence, who take exception to her work.

For a particularly snotty review of Critique of Postcolonial Reason–a work that the reviewer shows few obvious signs of having read–see Terry Eagleton’s “In the Gaudy Supermarket”. The subsequent brouhaha, including a contribution from one Judith Butler, was played out in the letters pages here and here.

Among other things, Eagleton accuses Spivak of “eclecticism,” in the passage from which his review takes its title:

If an abrupt leaping from Jane Eyre to the Asiatic Mode of Production challenges the staider compositional notions of white male scholars, it also has more than a smack of good old American eclecticism about it. In this gaudy, all-licensed supermarket of the mind, any idea can apparently be permutated with any other.

Which, should its adherents wish to ally themselves with Eagleton, could prove grist to the mill of the so-called “higher eclecticism”.

So who’s up for such a reading?

Texts: let me propose “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value”, from In Other Worlds–an essay to which Negri responds in “Value and Affect”. Or perhaps “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography” (likewise found in In Other Worlds). Matt is keen on “Ghostwriting” (diacritics 25.2 [1995]: 65-84). And the updated “Can the Subaltern Speak?” has also been suggested.

(Supplementary: Keith points us to “The Trajectory of the Subaltern in My Work”, a filmed lecture given at Santa Barbara and now available online. But make some time to watch it: it’s an hour and a half long.)

Volunteers: So far, Amish, az, Craig, Dominic, Jodi, John, Keith, Matt, Nate, Scott, s0metim3s, Squibb. Plus myself.

Dates: either the week of April 17th or the week of the 24th.

Update: we now have a schedule.

otaheite

Spurred on by Le Colonel Chabert, here are some thoughts I wrote up a little while ago about Caroline Alexander’s The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

At the end of it all, the most interesting thing that emerges is the extent to which the mutineers (but not just the mutineers) were affected by their five-month stay in Tahiti (Otaheite as they called it), picking Breadfruit prior to the voyage home. Allegedly (and on this, as on much else, there’s much dispute) as they sailed off from Bligh and his loyalists after the mutiny, they called out “Huzza for Otaheite!” This has been disputed by those sympathetic to Fletcher Christian et. al., who wish to suggest that their motive was not to return to the easy life (and easy sex) of the South Pacific, but to rid themselves of Bligh’s tyrannical authoritarianism. But why should the two be mutually exclusive?

Or even, why not revolt for something better, rather than merely against something worse?

Otaheite
Moreover, and pace Alexander’s refrain as to how much the Europeans tainted and finally destroyed the Pacific paradise (introducing sexually transmitted diseases, but also the general strife and possessive individualism of Western ways), what’s really remarkable is the extent to which the Europeans were themselves affected or even infected by Tahitian custom and culture.

It seems that the Bounty’s crew would frequently converse in the Tahitian language, and indeed one of the (convicted, but pardoned) mutineers, Peter Heywood, spent most of his time awaiting what he thought would be execution writing up a dictionary of the language. Another mutineer, James Morrison, devoted “nearly half” of the 382-page book that was his account of the voyage and defence of his actions to “Tahitian culture and customs, geography and natural history. [. . .] The work is an extraordinary and valuable document of Tahitian life as it had been before the coming of the Europeans, and would never be again” (335).

Well, yes, Tahiti was irrevocably altered; but so were these Europeans, and perhaps also Europe as a whole. Alexander’s main argument (in so far as she has one, in the morass of description) is that the Bounty story struck home so because it occurred at the cusp of Romanticism, and Christian stood as “the perfect Romantic hero” at “the dawn of this new era, which saw devotion to a code of duty and established authority as less honourable than the celebration of individual passions and liberty” (344, 345).

From this perspective, the Bounty story revolves less around the power relations between master and crew, though that is how it has been read, in terms of whether or not Bligh deserved to be overthrown; rather, it’s more about the possibility of “going native,” a possibility that carries with it the germ of what will become Romanticism.

unruliness

I’m over a third of the way through Gilroy’s book. And to follow up on my last entry, I do find what he has to say about unruliness interesting.

But in the first instance, what he has to say is (as yet) nothing particularly specific. Indeed, generally, Gilroy seems to have reached that stage of his career at which he can dispense with references.

Sometimes that’s OK. When he says that “problems like the disappearance of public torture are often understood to identify a significant stage in the development of a new type of power: capillary, biopolitical” (44), I know he’s talking about Foucault, even if he doesn’t say so. (My graduate students would be less happy, but there we go.)

But at other times, he succumbs to the temptation of broad sweeps in a way that makes me raise my eyebrows. For instance, he consistently asserts that his project is unfashionable and against the grain of scholarly and public discourse alike, but is it really true that “the academic tribunes of globalization do not usually include the end of formal empires or the wars of decolonization in their accounts of our planet’s commercial and political integration” (55)? If so, which ones? And though it might be true that “some beguiling political models assume metropolitan governance to be innocent and colonial administration to be benign” (18), it would help to know which, and to be told who exactly is beguiled. There are times when it is as though Gilroy thinks that Niall Ferguson has a monopoly on scholarship or writing about imperialism.

And as for public discourse, I’m not completely convinced either that “dissidence has been criminalized” within our contemporary “states of permanent emergency” or even that such states would have it that “civilizations are now closed or finished cultures that need to be preserved. The individual agents who are their bearers and affiliates come ready-stamped with iconic badges of relative rank” (58). Look at the London bombings: apparently carried out by three people of Pakistani descent, one of whose parents rang the police and so opened up their investigation, but also a West Indian married to a white woman and now a series of East Africans, also apparently shopped by members of the Somali community. The ways in which they have been described and discussed (OK, apart from in the Express) reveal both a more complex public struggle to understand the relations between cultures and also the fact that there’s no necessary link between bearers and badges.

Second, however, though Gilroy may not refer (yet) to specific instances of unruliness, the metaphors of disorder permeate the text. Despite his declarations of willful unfashionability, there’s something very familiar about the way in which he opposes a “docile cultural history” with its “tidy models of governance” and its “polite scholastic debates” on the one hand with the “disreputable, angry places where the political interests of racialized minorities might be identified” (17) or with the “tangled, profane, and sometimes inconvenient forms of independency” that he wants to champion. “Scurrilous speculations” are to displace “polite labor” (53). Gilroy consistently invokes a rhetoric of messiness, of the “unkempt, unruly, and unplanned” (xiv), the “messy complexity of social life” (6), allied with “disreputable abolitionism,” “insurrectionary practice,” and “vitality” that “can still embarrass and contest the overly innocent versions of liberal thinking that are still in circulation” (57). Arranged against this vital, uncontainable disorder are “facile notions,” “casual talk” (36), “squeamish reluctance” (54), and above all “cheap antihumanist positions” (7), “the cheapest invocations of incommensurable otherness” (8), and “cheap patriotism” (25).

Now, there are plenty of reasons to favour a bit of messiness and a bit of unruliness over over-tidy authoritarianism, the deceits of ideological whitewash, or (of course) the political hygiene of ethnic cleansing.

But I do wonder about the extent to which Gilroy’s is also an aestheticized politics, if more Jackson Pollock than Albert Speer. And how much that has to do with the denigration of the “cheap.” Why in politics as in housing should the expensive be valorized over the affordable? Moreover, does this opposition between tidiness and mess not also map onto a distinction between state and market?

Indeed, and rather against what is elsewhere an (Agamben-influenced) analysis of states of emergency, new modes of sovereignty, and the like, Gilroy at times implies that the market is itself undoing a couple of centuries of racism rooted in colonial order:

The colonial hierarchy that previously specified the proper relation of blackness to whiteness starts to break down. It yields to a different–usually commercial and resolutely antipolitical–understanding of what “races” are and how they differ from themselves and each other. The previously separated worlds of absolutely different groups can then be made to leak. They bleed risk, pleasure, and excitement into one another as part of selling things and accumulating capital. The magic of freshly racialized markets means that it is important to consider whether blackness and whiteness, like raciality’s other inventions, should now be understood as nothing but transient symptoms of a dominant but dying order. (55)

We can see that the messiness, entanglement, and unruliness everywhere privileged in this text maps quite closely onto market processes described in terms of “leak[age],” “bleed[ing],” “risk, pleasure, and excitement.”

And there’s nothing wrong, either (and especially for Deleuzians), with considering the revolutionary potential of capital’s deterritorializing flows (as it were). But I wonder how that fits with what is otherwise Gilroy’s high-minded defence of (a revitalized) modernity, universalism, humanism, and the like.

multiculture

I’ve now finished and sent in the review of Read’s book.

Next (and for all intents and purposes last) up on the review front is Paul Gilroy’s Postcolonial Melancholia. (Which I believe goes under another title in the UK.) I’ve flicked through it before, and even read the Preface, in which Gilroy writes that “Britain should make more of the conspicuous gains brought about in its civil society by an unkempt, unruly, and unplanned multiculture” (xiv). It’ll be interesting to read this book in the light of the recent unruliness.

I may take a little longer on this review, as at the same time I’ll be starting up on the Book again, and saving Gilroy for downtime.