This post is part of Long Sunday’s “Carnival of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak”.

Before I attempt to bring some threads together, a bit of anecdotage, that may also prove illuminating about value and global communications.

Blair, The Third WayA few years ago, at a time that I was working in Manchester, England, I happened to be in North Carolina for a conference. There I received an email from my friend Jean Franco, who taught for many years at Columbia (she is now emerita) and is one of Gayatri Spivak’s closest friends. She’d just got back to the States from London and said she had “an immense favour to ask.” Gayatri had phoned her from Hong Kong, “in a state of agitation,” because she needed to get hold of a book by Tony Blair, The Third Way, in advance of her keynote at the British Sociological Association conference in Manchester at the weekend. It was now Wednesday. Jean passed along Gayatri’s temporary email address in Hong Kong so we could make further arrangements.

I forwarded all this back to my partner, Susan, back in Manchester, to see if she might be able to pick up the book and drop it off at the relevant hotel. And I wrote to Gayatri to assure her that measures were being taken to ensure the text’s arrival. She wrote back:

My Ma always tells me, in her heavily (Bengali)accented Sanskrit: swadeshe pujyate raja vidyan sarvatra pujyate (a king is worshipped in his own kingdom, a learned man everywhere). I laugh at her, usually. But Giddens’s books are all over the place, but neither Blair’s nor Clinton’s offerings are to be found in any library or bookstore in Hong Kong or New York! O tempora, o mores.

Susan then chipped in with the information that

I’ve managed to track down a copy of The Third Way for you–though even in his own land, this king’s publications are hard to find!

For it had turned out that a copy of the book was not to be had in Manchester for love or money, either, but that a phone call to the Fabian Society meant that the book would be sent North post haste. And indeed, Susan picked it up and left it at the hotel for Gayatri to collect.

A little while later, a note arrived in the post, written on the back of a scrap of stationery from Air India’s Maharajah Lounge in Hong Kong. Enclosed was the money that the book had cost, thanks to Susan for her trouble, apologies for a “peculiar smudge” (circled and arrowed) and the explanation that “this is the only piece of paper I have, would you believe. My paper was awful. Best, Gayatri.”

I like this story for a number of reasons. First because it shows something of the worries, the charm, the humour, and also the self-deprecation of someone so often described as “difficult” (with all the overtones that such a description carries).

Second, because it’s an instance of a fairly extraordinary ad hoc network coming together to get something done: a phone call from Hong Kong to New York; an email from there to North Carolina, and then on to Manchester and back to Hong Kong; a phone call to London, and a series of deliveries to and within Manchester; and finally the note, its textuality and materiality physically marked and commented upon, and money repaid. It’s a dizzying circulation of information, people, commodities, and money. All kinds of debts and favours and friendships or affects are called in and granted or extended, in a circuit that overlaps with and enables the purchase, distribution, and consumption of a particular commodity, but that is in no way simply reducible to the economic.

And so third, there’s a moral about value–intellectual, academic, cultural, and political as well as financial–as it is translated across borders and across generations, even across languages. “Swadeshe pujyate raja vidyan sarvatra pujyate“: a fable about the relativity of prestige, at first “heavily [. . .] accented” in a language I at least do not understand, gently laughed at by she who does, perhaps because it seems an “inadequate” or naive view of the world; but it’s a saying that becomes more than adequate, something like a durable snippet of wisdom from “Ma” about the limitations of temporal power, even in an age of Empire and globalization.

Cross-posted to Long Sunday.


This post is part of Long Sunday’s “Carnival of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak”.

I’m going to jump in here with a brief note on continuity and discontinuity in Spivak’s text, “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value.”

The nub of Spivak’s argument is this: she presents a critique, first, of what she terms “the continuist version of Marx’s scheme of value” (In Other Worlds 155), but second and more importantly, also of “all ideologies of adequation and legitimacy” (171).

The notion of value as continuity (of unruffled exchange, or even a series of more or less orderly exchanges and transformations) is at best mistaken, at worst ideological, and so complicit.

Hence Spivak’s recourse to “the concept-metaphor of the text” (171) and textuality, to indicate the overdeterminations, the loose ends, the “situation of open-endedness” that characterizes the process by which value is produced as “an insertion into textuality” (161).

But the point is that there are discontinuities and then there are discontinuities.

For if capitalism puts forward ideologies of continuity, the latest of which is the dream of unregulated world-wide instantaneity effected in globalization, in fact it functions always by means of a series of ruptures, of breaks in that flow. Globalization can only be a tendency, another version of the same basic ideology of continuity. In practice, “even as circulation time attains the apparent instantaneity of thought (and more), the continuity of production ensured by that attainment of apparent coincidence must be broken up by capital” (166). Here, maintaining a distinction between productive center and comprador peripery, between the First World and “the dark presence of the Third” (167), is crucial. But also even immediately in the production process: value arises from the discrepancy between use and exchange, from the super-adequation of labour power. It is discontinuity, not continuity, that constitutes the ruse of capital.

Yet Spivak will have no truck with any notions of flow and immanence counterposed to capitalist segmentarity. From the outset she brackets off “the anti-Oedipal argument” of Deleuze and Guattari as “but a last-ditch metaphysical longing” (154). Moreover, and for all her agreement with the notion of capital’s liberating aspects, its “‘freeing’ of labor-power” (161), she is harsh in her critique of any utopian faith in what we might call the deterritorializing powers of Empire. “Telecommunication” (for which we could substitute now the powers of cognitive or communicational labour) only “seems to bring nothing but the promise of infinite liberty for the subject” (167; my emphasis). And this is because “economic coercion as exploitation is hidden from sight in ‘the rest of the world'” (167).

No. Against discontinuity: more discontinuity, or perhaps better, other modes of discontinuity. Against the capitalist ruse of extracting surplus in the discrepancy between labour power and exchange value, Spivak defends what she describes as the “radical proto-deconstructive cultural practice” of “bricolage, to ‘reconstellate’ cultural items by wrenching them out of their assigned function” (170). This is, no doubt, a defence of eclecticism. And here, incidentally, Deleuze and Guattari somewhat surprisingly reappear, now applauded for their concept of desiring-machines as “originarily unworkable” (170).

But here’s the question, and in some ways it’s a question for Deleuze and Guattari too: can in fact these two modes of discontinuity, the one governed by capitalist expansiveness, the other by a principle of avant-garde defamiliarization, really be distinguished so easily? Can we still say so unreservedly that “the computer, even as it pushes the frontiers of rationalization, proves unable to achieve bricolage” (170)?

Or to put it another way: Spivak recognizes a certain ambivalence in the word-processor, and so in the machinic and the collaborative communicational labour it enables; but does she explore that ambivalence far enough?

1980s word processor
Cross-posted to Long Sunday.

Spivak schedule

Gayatri SpivakMany have answered the call to read Spivak. Certainly enough for a week-long intensive reading.

Here’s a summary of the gathering consensus…

Text: “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value”.

Supplementary and optional: “Ghostwriting”; “History” (Critique of Postcolonial Reason, chapter three); “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography”; “The Trajectory of the Subaltern in My Work” (lecture).

Many thanks to Craig for making these texts available for this limited period.

Dates: Week beginning April 17th.


Monday 17: John, Matt, pomegrenade.
Tuesday 18: Craig, Scott.
Wednesday 19: crojas, Nate, s0metim3s.
Thursday 20: Amardeep, Jodi, Keith.
Friday 21: Dominic, whispering dave.
Saturday 22: Amish, az, Squibb.
Sunday 23: Jon, Ken.

There is some method to the above ordering, for instance in allowing John and Matt to set out some stakes at the outset. But don’t hesitate to suggest changes. Plus others are welcome to jump in.

Practicalities: I suggest that the posts be divided between Long Sunday and the Valve. I can help arrange the requisite technicalities for guest-posting on Long Sunday nearer the time. I am investigating other forms of aggregation, too, which might accentuate the “blogweave”.

Subaltern Speaks t-shirtUpdates: az has renamed the event a “Carnival of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak”. John is already raring to go, seeking help on the first few sentences. And sepoy, a commenter at Amardeep’s, blogmaster at Chapati Mystery, and proprietor of the Chapati Mystery Bazaar, has the necessary apparel.

Further Update: The Carnival of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak now has its own webpage.

Please add other suggestions in the comments. Occasionally, owing to troll activity, comments are moderated. But non-troll comments will be approved with all due speed.


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.