Terry Eagleton on Gayatri Spivak

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Oct 13 07:43:03 MDT 1999

In the Gaudy Supermarket

Terry Eagleton

A Critique of Post-Colonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing
Present by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Harvard, 448 pp., £30.95 and £15.50, 10 June, 0 674 17763 0

"Spivak rightly sets her face against the left philistines for whom any
idea which will not instantly topple the bosses is about as politically
useful as algebraic topology. But she is far more reluctant to recognise
the seed of truth in their point of view: that radical theory tends to grow
unpleasantly narcissistic when deprived of a political outlet. As the
semioticians might put it, the theory then comes to stand in metaphorically
for what it signifies. Political revolution may have many perils, but
failing to concentrate the mind wonderfully is not among them. The endless
digressions and self-interruptions of this study, as it meanders from Kant
to Krishna, Schiller to Sati, belong, among other places, to a politically
directionless Left. More charitable readers will see this garrulous
hotch-potch as a strike at the linear narratives of Enlightenment, by one
whose gender and ethnicity these violently exclude. If colonial societies
endure what Spivak calls 'a series of interruptions, a repeated tearing of
time that cannot be sutured', much the same is true of her own overstuffed,
excessively elliptical prose. She herself, unsurprisingly, reads the book's
broken-backed structure in just this way, as an iconoclastic departure from
'accepted scholarly or critical practice'. But the ellipses, the
heavy-handed jargon, the cavalier assumption that you know what she means,
or that if you don't she doesn't much care, are as much the overcodings of
an academic coterie as a smack in the face for conventional scholarship."

(full review at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n10/eagl2110.htm)

Louis Proyect

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