Study Guide

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Files

A Few of My Least Favorite Things

Not to be confused with the plain old dislikes that I listed under "Activities and Interests," the list below is full of the things that I really and truly loathe. As you may have guessed, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens aren't my bag, and Julie Andrews was never my role model. If you come to one of my talks, you should know better than to represent any of the following –isms and issues:

Knee-Jerk Nationalism

I come from a multiracial and multilingual nation. In fact, India makes the United States look downright homogenous. But my home nation is also ravaged by the nationalist Hindu right, and so I have learned first-hand the dangers of nationalism gone awry.

Luckily, teaching students literature can help them "go beyond the self-identity of nationalism toward the complex textuality of the international." Nothing could be farther from this emerging complexity than the unexamined, automatic, and petty nationalist assumption that one's own birthplace is, like, totally the best in the whole wide world. And obviously, your mother tongue is definitely better than all the other living languages out there. Yep, makes sense to me.

(For more of my thoughts on difference, see "Strategic Essentialism" in the "Buzzwords" section.)

Nostalgia for Lost Origins

This is the flipside of my suspicion of nationalism: I simply can't stand the sentimentality of relatively privileged people who have immigrated and now idealize the lands they've left. The same goes for people who idealize the pre-colonial past, come to think of it. We need to be realistic about all the hard work involved in building a better future, rather than wasting time mourning what we've lost. I love India, and I'm sure you love your home countries, too. But get over yourselves already, metropolitan migrants! It's time to put your behind in the past (or your past behind you, however that saying goes).

Simple-Minded Marxism

I've spent a lot of time refuting "common sense" interpretations of Marx: capital is bad; we need to reverse the clock and return to trading goods and services; blah blah blah.

My writings—based on close readings of Marx in the original German—take pains to show that it's not capital that's evil. I don't hate money, folks, I hate capitalism. It's simply possible to use the abstract structures, including state structures, created by capitalism for the greater good. (This is what most people call socialism.)

Like those nostalgic for lost origins, simple-minded Marxists are out of touch. They don't live in the really real world with the rest of us who actually dedicate ourselves to building a better world.

First World Feminism

This is a tough one for many people to understand, since I am a committed feminist myself. So what's my beef with First World feminism?

Well, it's true that I believe in combating sexism in all forms. But there are better and worse ways to fight this fight, and some of the worse ways are very bad indeed. First World feminists who don't rigorously question their allegiances and assumptions run the risk of supporting the very gender-biased systems they purport to abhor. Remember my quote, "white men are saving brown women from brown men"? Well white chicks are always trying to save brown women, too, and we're downright sick of it.

Another danger of First World feminism is its individualist bent. What's wrong with individualism, you ask? Individualism is an impoverished and impoverishing ethical framework; it leaves us without the tools we need for living together. Just cuz the Western World is all about you, you, you, doesn't mean that functional, just societies are built on the individual.

This is why we need to look to "responsibility-based" rather than "rights-based cultures" to enhance our ethical lives. We who live in the latter (almost everyone in Euro-America and many people in the Global South as well, who inherit colonialism's governmental and social structures) have forgotten crucial lessons about ethical life. These are, I still believe, lessons that the subaltern alone can teach us… even though we need to guard against idealizing her, lest we, too, lapse into a version of nostalgia. Oh, the subaltern, you gorgeous, ungraspable light, you!

(See also, on gender and empire, quote 2; and on individualism, my reading of Jane Eyre in the "Influences" section.)

People Who Don't Read My Work And Criticize It Anyway

Please don't get me started on these people. Really, you don't want to hear what I have to say. Oh, you do, do you?

To put it simply, people who are too stupid or lazy to really read my work sacrifice their right to claim that I have nothing to say. As I told the New York Times some years ago when questioned about my difficult writing, "No student ever complained at the end of a course."