Spivak: Marxist, Feminist, Deconstructionist
Benjamin Graves ’98, Brown University
If Spivak’s chief concern can be summarized as a wariness of the limitations of cultural studies, what’s particularly interesting about her engagement of the postcolonial predicament is the uneasy marriage of marxism, feminism, and deconstruction that underlies her critical work. “Three Women¹s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” an analysis of Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, portrays the complicated interface of competing critical practices. According to Spivak, Bronte’s novel may well uphold its protagonist as a new feminist ideal, but it does so at the expense of Bertha, Rochester’s creole bride who functions as a colonial subject of “other” to legitimate Jane’s simultaneous ascent to domestic authority. In other words, a feminist approach to theory perhaps precludes an understanding of the novel’s depiction of the “epistemic violence” (and in the case of Bertha, physical containment and pathologization) done upon imperial subjects. In the following passage, Spivak portrays such imperialism as a “worlding” process that attempts to disguise its own workings so as to naturalize and legitimate Western dominance:
If these ‘facts’ were remembered, not only in the study of British literature but in the study of the literatures of the European colonizing cultures of the great age of imperialism, we would produce a narrative in literary history, of the ‘worlding’ of what is now called ‘the Third World.’ To consider the Third World as distant cultures, exploited but with rich intact literary heritages waiting to be recovered, interpreted, and curricularized in English translation fosters the emergence of ‘the Third World’ as a signifier that allows us to forget that ‘worlding,’ even as it expands the empire of the literary discipline (269).
Spivak’s description of the Third World becoming a “signifier that allows us to forget that ‘worlding'” resembles in many ways Marx’s notion of the commodity fetish that he describes in volume one of Kapital. In “The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret,” Marx suggests that commodity products become part of an obfuscating network of signs that obscure the history of labour that went into their production. Spivak suggests that the Third World, like the commodity fetish, becomes a sign that obscures its mode of production, thus making Western dominance appear somehow given or natural.