Reason and response

October 15, 1999

In Gary Day's review of my Critique of Postcolonial Reason ("Muffling the voice of the Other", THES, August 6), Day claims that "Spivak's interest I is in how satiI was, (as) she argues, a form of empowerment for a widow". Here are my words in the chapter that he refers to: "(G)iven that the abolition of sati was in itself admirable, is it still possible to wonder if the perception of the origin of my sentence might contain interventionist possibilities?" Was this too difficult to understand? I was asking if it is possible to ask questions about reforms that are in themselves good.

Day seems to think my position on child labour is "evasive". In a footnote discussing "metropolitan feminist theory in connection with the ideology of motherhood", I write "(h)ere one risks censorship for fear of instant dismissal as 'a supporter of child labour'!" A careless reviewer seems to have fulfilled my prediction.

Four pages later comes: "(T)he righteous anger of a Harkin Bill or the benevolence of a long-distance benefactor lose all plausibility when confronted with the actual indifference and deception that follow the dismissal of these children." I was lamenting the absence of infrastructural follow-up, not being evasive about child labour. Too complicated for Mr Day, it seems.

"Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, the grand-daughter of a land owner", the review begins. For the record, my father's father, Harish Chandra Chakravorty, was the estate manager of the zamindar of Gauripur and never sat down in his presence. Why begin this way? Is the point being made that my remote class origins have done me in?

May I provide more information for the next British reviewer: avid reader of detective stories since 1951, ardent physical culturist since 1979, gave up drinking in 1988, gave up smoking in 1993. I think these will not fit the bad-prose motif, but they might well fit the too-American motif.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Professor of humanities Columbia University, New York

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