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'Who is the other woman?' : representation, alterity and ethics in the work of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

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This dissertation analyses a number of key themes in the work of postcolonial theorist and literary critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and uses her ideas to argue for the usefulness of both deconstructive and postmodern thought in a postcolonial context generally, and in South Africa in particular. The early part of the thesis presents a brief overview of Spivak's work (Chapter 1) and discusses its relationship with Derridean deconstruction and what I have called "progressive postmodern thought". Chapter 2 explores in detail Spivak's use of theoretical concepts adapted from, or closely related to, deconstruction. Perhaps the most important of these is catachresis - the idea that all naming is in a sense false, and the words we use to conceptualise the world must be seen as "inadequate, yet necessary". The thesis looks at how Spivak foregrounds the methodological consequences of this insight in her own practice of constantly revisiting and rethinking her own conclusions, and also at the political consequences of recognising specific terms like "nation", "identity" or "woman" as catachrestic. Closely related to this area of Spivak's work are her idea of "strategic essentialism" and her adaptation of Derrida's concept of the pharmakon -- that which is simultaneously poison and medicine. Chapter 3 relates Spivak's work to three key areas of postmodern thought: alterity, and the ethics of the relationship between self and other; Lyotard's notions of the differand and the "unpresentable"; and aporia, or the ethical and political consequences of undecidability. I argue here that all of these emphases are potentially very useful in postcolonial studies, particularly in relation to the predicament - of the gendered subaltern, and that they help to define a progressive postmodern politics. The remainder of the dissertation discusses individual essays at greater length. Chapter 4 focuses in the main on "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (1988) and Spivak's arguments concerning the nature of subalternity and the politics of representation. Chapter 5 examines Spivak's engagement with French Feminism and her feminist critiques of mainstream deconstruction, arguing that Spivak's use of deconstruction undermines the opposition between linguistic and material forms of oppression and hence between theory and practice. Chapter 6 focuses on Spivak's reading of literary texts and raises issues concerning, inter alia, the production of the first world self at the expense of the third world other; the limits of both metropolitan theories and narratives of national liberation, democracy and development in relation to the experience of the gendered subaltern; reading the text of the subaltern body; the (impossible but necessary) ethical relationship between first world feminist and the subaltern in neocolonial space; rights and responsibility; the need to respect subaltern selfhood; and the possibility of what Spivak calls "learning from below". Finally, I look at the relevance of Spivak's thought to three areas of South African political and academic life: conflicts over representation within the local Women's movement; notions of national origin and national identity; and debates over deconstruction and the relationship between the academy and society.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1998.


Criticism., Deconstruction., Postmodernism., Theses--English., Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 1941- --Criticism and interpretation., Postcolonial literature--History and criticism.