Hello My Fellow Classmates and Scholarly Friends!
For this weeks readings, the focus was centered upon the ideologies of two enormously influential, much debated literary theorists, known mutually for their significant contributions to Postcolonialism. Although difficult to define, as most eclectic analytical practices are, Postcolonialism, outlined in the text A Companion to Postcolonial Studies by Henry Schwarz, involves, “a studied engagement with the experience of colonialism and its past and present effects, both at the level of ex-colonial societies, as well as at the level of more general global developments thought to be the after-effects of empire”(93). Though I like the “minimalism” of this definition, a more thorough description is provided by Homi Bhabha:
Postcolonial criticism bears witness to the unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation involved in the contest for political and social authority within the modern new world order. Postcolonial perspectives emerge from the colonial testimony of Third World Countries and discourses of ‘minorities’ between the geo-political divisions of the east and west, north and south. They intervene in those ideological discourses of modernity that attempt to give a hegemonic “normality” to the uneven development and the differential, often disadvantaged, histories of nations, races, communities, peoples. They formulate their critical revisions around issues of cultural difference, social authority, and political discrimination in order to reveal the antagonistic and ambivalent moments within the “rationalizations” of modernity . . . The postcolonial project, at its most general theoretical level, seeks to explore those social pathologies – ’loss of meaning, conditions of anomie’ – that no longer simply cluster around class antagonism, but break up into widely scattered historical contingencies”(Bhabha, 1992).
A long definition I am aware, but necessary in developing an “understanding” of this complex critical practice, with the goal of combating the lingering effects of colonialism on culture. It is through this postcolonial lens that I have just clarified, that Edward Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak filter their work.
Now possessing a postcolonial background, we will move on to the discussion questions. By now, we all know the drill: You do not have to answer all of the questions but spend enough time to generate a thoughtful online discussion. If you have any questions regarding these questions, feel free to ask me to explain my thoughts. Good Luck!
Rhetoric and Cultural Explanation: A Discussion with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
1) Since the age of Aristotle, scholars in the humanities and other fields have maintained the notion that knowledge derivative of theory is superior to knowledge as a result of praxis. Why? Because one is able to take a broad view with theory and thus it is more universal. However, more recently, aware of the dangers of overgeneralization, scholars argue that theory can not account for local problems and various cultures, highlighting the importance of practice. As a result, the debate whether to privilege theory or practice remains strong and examined in the discussion with Spivak. However, rather than balancing the tensions between theory and practice, Spivak explains “I would be troubled by the balancing because balancing is, in fact, too elegant a solution”, and, “I think that tension is productive, whereas balance is suspect”. What are the benefits of not relieving the tensions created by the debate between theory and practice? How is this tension productive?
2) Spivak discusses the way in which she is “reshap[ing] what is being taught”. She is not “against the teaching of traditional great texts, but . . . cannot see how this continued emphasis on single author courses has anything to do with the memory of the tradition. That is the tradition usurping the present”. Does tradition usurp the present when one is taught the same “old” texts without reference to contemporary texts? What is the importance of teaching “with reference to the big picture”? Furthermore, what does Spivak mean when she says, “Teaching becomes intervention”? Should more contemporary texts be incorporated into classroom pedagogy?
3) When asked the question, “Do you think students should be taught to write for general audiences or should they be taught to address audiences familiar with specialized jargon, grammars, and methodologies”, Spivak responds, “I guess I’m a little old-fashioned about this”, suggesting that writing is a skill that can be taught: “I think there have to be places where you do nothing but the skill, and then the application of the skill develops”. In this framework, writing is a procedure that can be internalized. Once this skill is learned, we can utilize it in different contexts. Do you agree with Spivak? Is writing a system that we can internalize or rather a two-way activity involving interpretation and an audience? Do teachers of writing teach a skill or do they facilitate student responses to an audience?
4) In some of her responses to the questions, Spivak is quick to clarify her inexperience in some disciplines and inability to provide sufficient answers. For example, in response to the question: “How do you conceptualize rhetoric”, Spivak states, “ I can’t really comment on what goes on in the discipline of rhetoric”. How does this effect your reading of her? Do you appreciate the honesty or does she seem to be “playing it safe”? Furthermore, Spivak at times seems inconsistent stating, “So, in fact, having said ‘no’, I am now perhaps saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’-as usual”. Does this highlight her inconsistency or rather point to the notion that knowledge/identity is a malleable thing?
5) Edward Said is one of the founding figures of postcolonial theory. In his article Orientalism Reconsidered, Said responds to the “general issues addressed in Orientalism“. In Orientalism, Said established the meaning of Orientalism as “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the ’the Orient’ and ’the Occident”(2). It is “a Western style for dominating, reconstructing, and having authority over the Orient” by manipulating knowledge of the Orient (3). As a result of heavy criticism of Orientalism, Said wrote Orientalism Reconsidered. After reading the article, do you feel that Said wrote the text as a personal response to his critics, specifically Lewis and Pipes, or as a way of “continuing to look at the problems that first interested [Said] in [Orientalism] but which are still far from resolved (89)? Furthermore, Said writes, “I have been helped to achieve this broader understanding by nearly everyone who wrote about my book”. What is the positive aspect of examining the critique of your own work?
6) Said explains that it is extremely difficult to understand the Arab-Islamic world “whose principle features seem to be, first, that it is in perpetual flux, and second, that no one trying to grasp it can by an act of pure will or of sovereign understanding stand at some Archimedean point outside of the flux”(92). Is it impossible for a critical conscious to occupy a disconnected vantage point from which to understand a culture? If those occupying a space within a culture are unable to disengage from the fluctuating culture, can a stable definition of a certain culture ever be developed?
7) Nearing the conclusion of his article, Said lists various scholars who have “posits nothing less than new objects of knowledge, new praxis of humanist (in the broad sense of the word) activity, new theoretical models that upset or at the very least radically alter the prevailing paradigmatic norms”(104). These works intend the “end of dominating, coercive systems of knowledge”(106). Do you feel that these works will succeed or merely be reclaimed by the established practice of Western humanism? What is the importance of critically thinking “against the grain”?