2

What does G. Spivak mean by epistemic violence in her essay "Can the subaltern speak"? What I understand by her paper is that intellectuals in Europe and western countries control the kind of knowledge they assume to be the "truth" by writing texts about postcolonial studies and they prolong and fix neo-colonialism by this act. What I understand is that intellectuals in third world countries and subalterns also produce their own postcolonial texts but they never have the permission to speak and introduce what they think is the "truth". So it is western and first world countries who determine the form of knowledge. Did I understand the paper correctly or I am totally wrong?

4
  • I think it is along the right lines. 'Speaking' entails or ought to entail an audience, a listener, being heard . Apr 11 '14 at 16:14
  • I wish the word truth would not be used in this way. It covertly undermines awareness of the objectivity attainable from reality from those who bother to try. And it comports poorly with both the traditional philosophical and colloquial notions of truth (at least pre-relativism). (I appreciate the scare quotes.)
    – Rex Kerr
    Apr 13 '14 at 8:50
  • @kerr: so one can't say political or historical truth? Apr 14 '14 at 14:06
  • To be fair to Spivak, I do not believe she uses the word "truth." She talks about "knowledge" at times, but I think that's not susceptible to quite the same critique.
    – senderle
    Apr 27 '14 at 13:12
3

The question was asked on history stack I was criticize for not giving you a full answer, so I will try my best here. I've never used philosophy stack, so I hope I don't run afowl of any rules. Your thinking is almost correct, but not quite. You said:

What I understand by her paper is that intellectuals in Europe and western countries control the kind of knowledge they assume to be the "truth" by writing texts about postcolonial studies and they prolong and fix neo-colonialism by this act.

I'm first confused why prolonging neocolonism is fixing it. Those two actions sound like opposites, so it might need to better explained. "Postcolonial studies" is a particular subject taught by universities founded on the principles of the ideas brought forward by theorists such as Spivak. She isn't saying anything about prolonging neocolonialism through postcolonial studies. The word post colonial in this refers to the celebration of the native peoples, so the meaning gets very muddled.

What you want to say is:

I understand that intellectuals in Europe and western countries control the kind of knowledge they assume to be the "truth" through the creation of their colonialist discourses and they prolong control over the subaltern through cultural imperalism by this act.

Colonial discourses can be created through texts or through other methods, such as art, music, social conventions, proper ways of dressing, etc. Therefore, its better to concentrate on all these things, not only texts. Cultural imperalism is the type of neocolonialism Spivak is referring to. Neocolonialism could also refer to companies that get no-bid contracts in developing countries. It's better to specify.

Next section:

What I understand is that intellectuals in third world countries and subalterns also produce their own postcolonial texts but they never have the permission to speak and introduce what they think is the "truth".

Change to

What I understand is that the subalterns also produce native post- colonial discourses but they never have the permission to "speak" and introduce what they think is the truth.

The word "third world" is from the Cold War. Some consider it insulting. Just note here that people in the developing world have always provided some of the information that was used to create academic information about them and their histories. This is a process that is more actively seeking their participation rather than seeing them as objects of study. The subaltern would speak, but what they said was scrutinized and relegated to a more personal truth than the objective Truth of academia (I'm not sure that's it in her paper, but just so you understand). In other words, "marginilized."

So it is western and first world countries who determine the form of knowledge.

Yes! I hope this is more clear now.

2
  • The OP was using "fix" not to mean "repair," but to mean "make immovable."
    – senderle
    Apr 27 '14 at 13:13
  • @senderle Maybe? The word should be "affix" if that's the meaning. The OP will just need to make sure to clarify in his essay.
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 28 '14 at 17:49
1

Epistemic violence is visited on the subaltern subject, who contra D+F, cannot speak; When they speak in their own name, they are not heard; thus rendered mute they become silent, and become as tabula rasa on which the hegonomic discourse can be inscribed; then when they speak, they speak not in their own name, they are no longer conscious of their own names, but in the name of the hegonomic discourse.

D+F, by abandoning the notion of Ideology, first theorised as 'false consciousness' by Marx, and then by Althusser, building on the psychoanalytic work of Lacan, the inaccessability of the Real by our immersion in language foreclose the 'difficult task of counter-hegonomic ideological production'.

D+F, 'represent themselves as transparent', and then the 'self-knowing, politically canny subalterns stand revealed' and speaking, they are heard - but when one listens one hears only the hegenomic episteme.

Spivak accuses D+F of abandoning the historical project of the intellectual (in Marxist discourse) of representing the dispossessed, those that no longer own their own names. The 'common man', is a 'victim of common-sense', and is so deeply embedded in 'empirical positivism', that he can no longer see beyond the 'concrete'; there is always a necessity of 'de-fetishizing the concrete'; she has been 'trying to point out that the uncommon man, the contemporary philosopher of practise, sometimes exhibits the same positivism'.

D+F, align themselves with 'sociologists who fill the place of ideology with a continuistic unconscious or a parasubjective culture', and thus, 'in the name of desire they have reintroduce the undivided subject into the discourse of power'. Spivak contra this natural discourse of desire follows Marx, in affirming the importance, the recognition of something that is 'artificial' to begin with - 'the economic conditions of existence that sepearte their mode of existence'.

To her, the 'contemporary invocations of the libidinal economy and desire as the determining interest, combined with practical politics of the oppressed - speaking for themselves - restore the category of the sovereign subject within the theory that seems most to question it.

She notes that 'Saids critique of power in Foucault as a captivating and mystifying category allows him to obliterate the role of classes, the role of economics, the role of 'insurgency and rebellion' as important, to which she adds the submerged subject of power and desire and the 'transparent intellectual'.

She declare that this transparent subject belongs to the exploiters side of the international division of labour.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.