Can the subaltern speak.pdf


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Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Can the Subaltern Speak?
An understanding of contemporary relations of power,
and of the Western intellectual's role within them, requires an examination of the intersection of a theory of
representation and the political economy of global capitalism. A theory of representation points, on the one
hand, to the domain of ideology, meaning, and subjectivity, and, on the other hand, to the domain of politics,
the state, and the law.

The original title of this paper was "Power, Desire,
Interest."1 Indeed, whatever power these meditations command may have
been earned by a politically interested refusal to push to the limit the founding presuppositions of my desires, as far as they are within my grasp. This
vulgar three-stroke formula, applied both to the most resolutely committed
and to the most ironic discourse, keeps track of what Althusser so aptly
named "philosophies of denegation."2 I have invoked my positionality in
this awkward way so as to accentuate the fact that calling the place of the
investigator into question remains a meaningless piety in many recent critiques of the sovereign subject. Thus, although I will attempt to foreground
the precariousness of my position throughout, I know such gestures can
never suffice.
This paper will move, by a necessarily circuitous route,
from a critique of current Western efforts to problematize the subject to the
question oflllgw the third-world subject is represented within Western discourse. Along the way, I will have occasion to suggest that a still more
radical decentering of the subject is, in fact, implicit in both Marx and
Derrida. And I will have recourse, perhaps surprisingly, to an argument that
Western intellectual production is, in many ways, complicit with Western
international economic interests. In the end, I will offer an alternative analysis of the relations between the discourses of the West and the possibility
of speaking of (or for) the subaltern woman. I will draw my specific examples
from the case of India, discussing at length the extraordinarily paradoxical
status of the British abolition of widow sacrifice.
I

Some of the most radical criticism coming out of the
West today is the result of an interested desire to conserve the subject of
the West, or the West as SUbject. The theory of pluralized "subject-effects"
gives an illusion of undermining SUbjective sovereignty while often providing a cover for this subject of knowledge. Although the history of Europe
as Subject is narrativized by the law, political economy, and ideology of the
West, this concealed Subject pretends it has "no geo-political determina271