Lecture by Gayatri Spivak: ‘The Subaltern, Again and Again’


The Appalachian Online

Katie Murawski

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak was born in 1942 in Kolkata, India. She is a professor at Columbia University and the founder of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia.

On Sept. 24, Spivak hosted a lecture called “The Subaltern, Again and Again” from her controversial essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

A subaltern is “a social group on the fringes of society that has no recognition from states’ consciousness of class,” Spivak said.

The lecture was organized by faculty Sushmita Chatterjee and Diane Mines, and was put together by the South Asia Studies Learning Community.

Chatterjee uses the words “incredible, fabulous and unimaginable” to describe Spivak and her work.

Spivak used Occupy Wall Street as a comparative example of capitalist exploitation versus subalternization and describes the “new subaltern” as those who come for hope and justice under capitalism. In this lecture, Spivak challenges that philanthropy does nothing for destroying the subaltern but actually perpetuates subalternization.

Spivak also provided examples, speaking specifically about how the British outlawed child marriages despite being widely practiced in Indian culture. Even though it saved many young girls from getting sold into marriage, it also asserted the power the “civilized” British had over the “barbarous” Indians, she said.

Spivak goes on to explain how the marginalized “subalterns” are seen as “glorified beggars” in order for colonists to be seen as celebrities. 

Basak Çandar, comparative literature scholar and English professor at Appalachian State, described Spivak’s work as “eye-opening, especially when thinking about whom representation gives a face and who it silences.”

Story by: Katie Murawski, A&E Reporter