Cover image for A critique of postcolonial reason : toward a history of the vanishing present
Title:
A critique of postcolonial reason : toward a history of the vanishing present
Author:
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 449 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780674177635

9780674177642
Format :
Book

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Status
Central Library JV51 .S58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

Are the "culture wars" over? When did they begin? What is their relationship to gender struggle and the dynamics of class? In her first full treatment of postcolonial studies, a field that she helped define, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the world's foremost literary theorists, poses these questions from within the postcolonial enclave. "We cannot merely continue to act out the part of Caliban," Spivak writes; and her book is an attempt to understand and describe a more responsible role for the postcolonial critic. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason tracks the figure of the "native informant" through various cultural practices--philosophy, history, literature--to suggest that it emerges as the metropolitan hybrid. The book addresses feminists, philosophers, critics, and interventionist intellectuals, as they unite and divide. It ranges from Kant's analytic of the sublime to child labor in Bangladesh. Throughout, the notion of a Third World interloper as the pure victim of a colonialist oppressor emerges as sharply suspect: the mud we sling at certain seemingly overbearing ancestors such as Marx and Kant may be the very ground we stand on. A major critical work, Spivak's book redefines and repositions the postcolonial critic, leading her through transnational cultural studies into considerations of globality.


Summary

Are the "culture wars" over? When did they begin? What is their relationship to gender struggle and the dynamics of class? In her first full treatment of postcolonial studies, a field that she helped define, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the world's foremost literary theorists, poses these questions from within the postcolonial enclave.

"We cannot merely continue to act out the part of Caliban," Spivak writes; and her book is an attempt to understand and describe a more responsible role for the postcolonial critic. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason tracks the figure of the "native informant" through various cultural practices--philosophy, history, literature--to suggest that it emerges as the metropolitan hybrid. The book addresses feminists, philosophers, critics, and interventionist intellectuals, as they unite and divide. It ranges from Kant's analytic of the sublime to child labor in Bangladesh. Throughout, the notion of a Third World interloper as the pure victim of a colonialist oppressor emerges as sharply suspect: the mud we sling at certain seemingly overbearing ancestors such as Marx and Kant may be the very ground we stand on.

A major critical work, Spivak's book redefines and repositions the postcolonial critic, leading her through transnational cultural studies into considerations of globality.


Author Notes

Born in Calcutta, Spivak attended the University of Calcutta and Cornell University, where she studied with Paul de Man and completed a Ph.D. in comparative literature (1967). She has since taught at a number of academic institutions worldwide, most recently at Columbia University. Her critical interests are wide-ranging: she has written on literature, film, Marxism, feminism, deconstruction, historiography, psychoanalysis, colonial discourse and postcolonialism, translation, and pedagogy East and West. She argues forcefully that these disciplinary and theoretical categories must each be articulated in ways that do not "interrupt" each other, bringing them to "crisis." Spivak's own work is resistant to any easy categorization. Her first book, Myself I Must Remake: Life and Poetry of W. B. Yeats (1974), did not have the impact of her second publication, the 1976 translation and long foreword to deconstructive philosopher Jacques Derrida's (see Vol. 4) De la grammatologie (Of Grammatology), which established her as a theorist of note. Since then Spivak has concentrated on examining deconstruction and postcolonialism, and its implications for feminist and Marxist theory. She engages not so much the specifics of colonial rule as the forms that neocolonialism currently assumes, both in the intellectual exchanges of the First World academy and in the socioeconomic traffic between the industrialized and developing nations.

In the last decade, Spivak has been associated with revisionist, post-Marxist historians who have sought to challenge the elitist presuppositions of South Asian history, whether colonial or nationalist. Her contributions include theoretical essays and translations of the Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi.

Most recently, Spivak has published essays on translation and more translations of Mahasweta Devi's stories. She has also given a number of important interviews on political and theoretical issues, many of which have been collected in The Post-Colonial Critic (1990).

(Bowker Author Biography)


Born in Calcutta, Spivak attended the University of Calcutta and Cornell University, where she studied with Paul de Man and completed a Ph.D. in comparative literature (1967). She has since taught at a number of academic institutions worldwide, most recently at Columbia University. Her critical interests are wide-ranging: she has written on literature, film, Marxism, feminism, deconstruction, historiography, psychoanalysis, colonial discourse and postcolonialism, translation, and pedagogy East and West. She argues forcefully that these disciplinary and theoretical categories must each be articulated in ways that do not "interrupt" each other, bringing them to "crisis." Spivak's own work is resistant to any easy categorization. Her first book, Myself I Must Remake: Life and Poetry of W. B. Yeats (1974), did not have the impact of her second publication, the 1976 translation and long foreword to deconstructive philosopher Jacques Derrida's (see Vol. 4) De la grammatologie (Of Grammatology), which established her as a theorist of note. Since then Spivak has concentrated on examining deconstruction and postcolonialism, and its implications for feminist and Marxist theory. She engages not so much the specifics of colonial rule as the forms that neocolonialism currently assumes, both in the intellectual exchanges of the First World academy and in the socioeconomic traffic between the industrialized and developing nations.

In the last decade, Spivak has been associated with revisionist, post-Marxist historians who have sought to challenge the elitist presuppositions of South Asian history, whether colonial or nationalist. Her contributions include theoretical essays and translations of the Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi.

Most recently, Spivak has published essays on translation and more translations of Mahasweta Devi's stories. She has also given a number of important interviews on political and theoretical issues, many of which have been collected in The Post-Colonial Critic (1990).

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Library Journal Review

In recent years, a growing body of literary and historical scholarship has explored the complex relationship of Western elite culture to the postcolonial societies of the Southern hemisphere. Spivak, a prominent literary theorist based at Columbia University, is widely known for her sophisticated deconstructive approach to questions of feminism, North-South relations, and the politics of subaltern studies. This book is based on a number of her published essays, including the influential 1988 article "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Spivak focuses on the relationship of debates in philosophy, history, and literature to the emergence of a postcolonial problematic. Overall, she seeks to distance herself from mainstream postcolonial literature and to reassert the value of earlier theorists such as Kant and Marx. Readers unfamiliar with recent trends in literary studies may find Spivak's deliberately elusive prose impenetrable. On the other hand, those already invested in the postmodern and postcolonial debates may find her style invigorating. Recommended for university libraries.ÄKent Worcester, Marymount Manhattan Coll., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

Spivak's international celebrity status among scholars guarantees a favorable reception for her book among academic readers despite (or perhaps because of) its convoluted style. She titles her four chapters "Philosophy," "Literature," "History," and "Culture," but these labels are interchangeable because issues raised in each chapter appear in all. Redundancy is a problem. Much of the text comprises revisions of material presented earlier. Spivak adopts the assumptions that activate other Europhobic scholars whom Arthur Herman analyzed in The Idea of Decline in Western History (CH, Sep'97). Spivak's purpose is to discredit "normative" accounts of history invented to justify imperialism by unearthing the buried narratives of colonized working people, especially women, thus creating "true" history. She characterizes her self as a "hybrid" belonging to "the indigenous postcolonial elite turned diasporic." She qualifies her "old-fashioned Marxist" agenda with feminine or feminist "intuition" that transcends rational thought. Though she disclaims scholarly competence ("I am no historian"), she documents her contestations with established deconstructionist philosophers and cultural historians in extended scholarly apparatus (e.g., 587 footnotes). Spivak's opaque style makes this volume appropriate at the graduate level and above. Anthologies such as Contemporary Postcolonial Theory, ed. by Padmini Mongia (1996), will be more useful for undergraduates. D. H. Stewart; Texas A&M University


Library Journal Review

In recent years, a growing body of literary and historical scholarship has explored the complex relationship of Western elite culture to the postcolonial societies of the Southern hemisphere. Spivak, a prominent literary theorist based at Columbia University, is widely known for her sophisticated deconstructive approach to questions of feminism, North-South relations, and the politics of subaltern studies. This book is based on a number of her published essays, including the influential 1988 article "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Spivak focuses on the relationship of debates in philosophy, history, and literature to the emergence of a postcolonial problematic. Overall, she seeks to distance herself from mainstream postcolonial literature and to reassert the value of earlier theorists such as Kant and Marx. Readers unfamiliar with recent trends in literary studies may find Spivak's deliberately elusive prose impenetrable. On the other hand, those already invested in the postmodern and postcolonial debates may find her style invigorating. Recommended for university libraries.ÄKent Worcester, Marymount Manhattan Coll., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

Spivak's international celebrity status among scholars guarantees a favorable reception for her book among academic readers despite (or perhaps because of) its convoluted style. She titles her four chapters "Philosophy," "Literature," "History," and "Culture," but these labels are interchangeable because issues raised in each chapter appear in all. Redundancy is a problem. Much of the text comprises revisions of material presented earlier. Spivak adopts the assumptions that activate other Europhobic scholars whom Arthur Herman analyzed in The Idea of Decline in Western History (CH, Sep'97). Spivak's purpose is to discredit "normative" accounts of history invented to justify imperialism by unearthing the buried narratives of colonized working people, especially women, thus creating "true" history. She characterizes her self as a "hybrid" belonging to "the indigenous postcolonial elite turned diasporic." She qualifies her "old-fashioned Marxist" agenda with feminine or feminist "intuition" that transcends rational thought. Though she disclaims scholarly competence ("I am no historian"), she documents her contestations with established deconstructionist philosophers and cultural historians in extended scholarly apparatus (e.g., 587 footnotes). Spivak's opaque style makes this volume appropriate at the graduate level and above. Anthologies such as Contemporary Postcolonial Theory, ed. by Padmini Mongia (1996), will be more useful for undergraduates. D. H. Stewart; Texas A&M University


Table of Contents

Preface
1 Philosophy
2 Literature
3 History
4 Culture
Appendix: The Setting to Work of Deconstruction
Index
Preface
1 Philosophy
2 Literature
3 History
4 Culture
Appendix: The Setting to Work of Deconstruction
Index

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