Practise plurality

October 29, 1999

In her response to my review of Critique of Postcolonial Reason ("Muffling the voice of the Other", THES, August 6), Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Letters, October 15) asks if I found this sentence difficult to understand: "Given 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." The answer is yes.

I am therefore grateful to her for telling me that she really meant we can still "ask questions about reforms that were in themselves good".

But that was my point when I commented that she regarded sati as a form of female empowerment. Here's why: "Such a death can be understood by the female subject as an exceptional signifier of her own desire, exceeding the general rule for a widow's transgression."

The professor then charges me with finding her position on child labour "evasive". I said it was equivocal, and, as the high priestess of deconstruction, she can appreciate that there is a world of difference between those two terms.

Spivak then asks why I noted that she is a landowner's granddaughter. First, she scatters biographical details through her book. Second, she makes herself the instance of her own arguments: "(t)he example is Gayatri Spivak on a winter's day outside at an opening in New York's Museum." Third, these snippets underline her status as a privileged person speaking about and for the underprivileged; the problem of which is her book's theme.

As a post-structuralist, Spivak has spent her career peddling the idea that the author is dead, so it is ironic that she protests that she has been misunderstood. If her prose were less pretentious, this problem might not arise in future.

Gary Day

Principal lecturer in English

De Montfort University

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