Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak | A BORDERLESS WORLD?



Radical teachers and thinkers must keep thinking and teaching a borderless world.  Remembering Edward Said, and facing the wall separating the West Bank, it is on this theme that I will speak.

Border-thought calls for judgment and discrimination. Borders must be both removed and respected.

I will open with a general word on gender, the tacit globalizer before we could think a globe: In the simplest possible sense, the female body is seen as permeable. It is seen as permeable in perhaps the most basic gesture of violence. To respect the border of the seemingly permeable female body, which seems to be in the benign service of humanity itself for the continuation of the human race, to understand that one must attend to this border, respect it – we must nuance borderlessness, remember that citizenship is predicated on legitimate birth, breaking the border of the female body.  The bordered female body opens the possibility of society.

In terms of respect for the bordered body, the short-term work is law, and its implementing. The long-term work is the work of a borderlessness that attends to borders. To be borderless is also a pleasure for the female and the male – to be borderless, to be permeable, can be a pleasure. So it is attending to borders rather than simply respecting them that is our first, gendered, lesson.  This is a question of children’s pedagogy, as will be suggested below.

Even violence can be connected to desire. Here at the border of gendering, we enter the space of the incalculable.  With respect to the fraught cartography of the contemporary world, this surfaces as rape, displacement, asylum.

If, then, we situate border-thought into the broadest perspective, the gender-thought that is the condition and effect of all social formations, we begin to see that borders are amphibolic.  In a symmetrical world, “bordered” and “borderless” would be substitutable.  But all situations are marked by the asymmetry of interest and power.  And to make individually altered word usage effective requires an impossible epistemological revolution presupposing a “borderless” world – a performative contradiction; and it would deny the world’s wealth of languages, which would say “borders,” “frontiers,” “borderless” in ways that we cannot know.

A world where “bordered” and “borderless” would be substitutable is a socially just world.  We are commemorating not only the tenth anniversary of Edward Said’s untimely death, but also the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht.  Daniel Barenboim was expected at the conference where this anthology took shape, so I began with some words of his.  Given his resolute work against unjust borders by bringing together young Palestinian and Israeli musicians under the auspices of the West-Eastern Divan, I have preserved that opening.

I saw online that Daniel Barenboim had said “the Divan . . . [is]not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well.  The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance.” I want to quote myself here to show how much I agree with Mr. Barenboim’s words. Last November, I said this in front of rather a large crowd: “I [also]do not believe there is a direct line from art and philosophy to social justice.”  Barenboim’s words – “it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, . . [so that]the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives” – describe the most practical form of social justice – echoing Dr. King’s statement in “Beyond Vietnam” in 1967: “it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

Here is my self-quotation:

When artists and philosophers, then, call for social justice, they are acting as responsible citizens of the world, themselves perhaps changed by practicing art and philosophy, sometimes using the weight of their prestige as celebrated artists and philosophers in order to make an appeal. The real contribution of artists and philosophers is that they change minds. Art and philosophy, detached from their producers, become instruments for viewer, listener, player, teacher, to be changed from mere self-interest. You notice that word “teacher,” last on the list. I am neither artist nor philosopher, but I am indeed a teacher of the humanities. It is our task always to work for the future of humankind. The stream of art – within which is included literature and music, today the filmic and the hypertextual – must flow forever; the practice of philosophizing must be passed on from generation to generation, so that the human mind is prepared to use the technological setting-to-work of science for the betterment of the world.[1]

“Human” here marks the forever deferred promise of a post-humanism to come, a striving too easily claimed for the here and now.[2]



One theme of the conference was “Beyond Postcolonialism.”  I remember two things when asked to think “beyond.”  One, that all attemts beyond also fall short of; and, secondly, Martin Luther King’s luminous speech “Beyond Vietnam” (1967). Necessarily within that frame, I take the beyond gesture to mean that, rather than take each case as an example of itself, a group of artists, intellectuals, and activists might try to think by listening to each other, how the specific example can enter a broader general sense for the philosophers of the future.  I admire such efforts, but, like Barenboim in his own context, I do not have real-world confidence in the attendant claims.  We must declare the claims in the mode of “to come,” as Phil Ochs, the Texas boy who killed himself, using the phrase “futuristic” in the place of the more sexy “to come,” declared, also in 1967: “I declare the war is over.”  So Edward Said remarked, in 1978, when accused of partiality toward Palestinians by Donald Davie in 1978, “I will be the first critic of the state of Palestine once it is established.”  Death has obliged us to place that declaration in the future anterior.  Edward W. Said will have beenthe first critic of the state of Palestine. The time is not there yet, when people will be able to disagree democratically.  Israel is described times without number as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” although it plays the retaliation game energetically, basing it on a “faith-based” – the word fills me with horror – narrative, quite opposed to the promise of democracy.  Democracy is now equated with an operating civil structure, the functioning of a hierarchized bureaucracy, and “clean” elections.  We have plenty of examples around the world, that unrelenting state violence on the model of revenge and retaliation can co-exist with so-called democracy.  Revenge is indeed a kind of wild justice that proves that no retribution is just to the outlines of the tribute.  It has nothing, however, to do with a vision of social justice, which builds itself on its own indefinite continuation.  It nests in all children’s, and therefore all people’s, capacity to usethe right to intellectual and imaginative labor, not just in ease and speed of learning. All accountable efforts at social justice are no more (and no less) than the way in which we can access justice as such, if there is such a thing.

I mention Edward Said here again because I want to touch on two topics that tied me to him and still consume my life. Since it was a memorial occasion for him, I thought it would be appropriate to do so.  Paul de Man introduced me to Edward Said in 1974. Over the years, I developed two kinds of public connection with Edward Said: 1) as a political ally to raise public awareness and 2) as a teacher, sharing students. I was not his student, and not significantly his junior. He had started teaching in 1963, I in ’65. My relationship with him was somewhat divided on the grounds of the status of humanism. He always listened carefully when I interrogated his position and I speak in that spirit today. There was no guarantee that I could convince him but I always tried as hard as I could.

These are the two topics that tied me to him and to which the rest of this paper will attend: 1) public awareness, with reference to post-colonialism and, 2) teachers and students, with reference to treaties.  I will make a somewhat unrelated concluding gesture.



The brutalities of settler colonialism are writ large in Israel’s policy toward Palestine.  As such, it is out of joint with the postcolonial, which began in the middle of the last century.  Indeed, it may be said that the global part of World War II, which started a move toward the end of territorial colonialism; in its European formation began a project of settler colonialism in the name of Israel.  The parallel with the project, shared by many, including Abraham Lincoln, of deporting all the emancipated blacks to an African location after the U.S. Civil War. is unmistakable.

The depredations of colonialism are shamelessly public.  We are grateful to risktaking investigative journalism for activating this already existing public aspect, less public under contemporary legal structures.  It is also true that some effect on policy can be expected if the obvious and typical cruelties of colonial modernity are made clear.

The sustained experience of what is called postcolonialism, however, teaches us to ask: who creates public awareness, why, for what public?  In the case of Said and those who worked with him, there was no doubt that it was a Palestinian in exile who raised his strong voice on may registers to affect policy on the highest level.  Like Socrates, he was a gadfly.  We will not consider him typical.  We will frame his intervention in its own context and move on to generalizations.

I have for long held that, apart from gendering, the most international postcolonial movement was 20thcentury Pan-Africanism.  Aamir Mufti’s contribution in this volume enriches our understanding of this. Asked to speak on postcolonialism in France, I wrote an essay on Patrice Lumumba.[3]In its course, I was obliged to distinguish clearly between vestiges of Pan-African postcolonial impulses, among peoples given no chance to practice freedom then and now, and French and Belgian postcolonialisms.  The case of Palestine is not analogous.  The suppression of the practice of freedom for Palestine is of a more recent date. And the distinction between international and located intervention is perhaps less clear.  In addition, the kind of sustained violence that we associate with earlier phases of settler colonialism is rampant in the area today. Asked to go beyond the postcolonial, it is such distinctions that we must foster if we want to locate and consider the subject of social justice rather than insurgency alone.

For, if the declaration of the achieved state is in the future anterior, the postcolonial is either not yet or no longer. This works in two ways: one because the task of developing democratic intuitions in the electorate – systemic institution of the breaking of internal class apartheid to facilitate the securing of the right to learn to usethe intellect and the imagination for labor specific to it for every child as an implied part of a public rather than a developing private subject – is an indefinitely temporized task learning from necessary and engaged failure, the very name of a just history – the postcolonial not yet.  We must remember that this is not just an idealistic philanthropic task, it involves the abstract structures of democracy at the cusp of the public and the private.

And secondly, the no longer postcolonial relates to the fact that that entire political epistemology is tied to the simple past, colonialism as a preterite: it happened.  We are here for you were there.  This, again, is not “just philosophical.”  Is anything?  The postcolonial is predicated on polarizing the colonial and the national.  It is interested in the reversal of this opposition, of this predication, which it calls liberation, not its displacement into a revolution.  National liberation is not a revolution.    My generation, as I have often repeated, spoke of “postcolonial” ironically because the failure of decolonization seemed to start the morning after.  In spite of Edward Said’s confidence, “the history of liberation movements in the twentieth century” does not “eloquently attest” that “indeed, the subaltern can speak,” except in the merely military sense of the subaltern as “junior officer,” nationalist leaders under colonial control, not in the Gramscian sense of those without access to (even a colonial) state, whose history cannot be written.  The leaders are usually members, as Lenin correctly opined, of the “progressive bourgeoisie.”

The postcolonial participation of subaltern insurgency in the new nation is almost unheard of. For this we can turn to the South African experience, for today Palestine is under the kind of sustained siege that is more comparable to South Africa under apartheid.    Nonetheless, it has to be said that, if we move into globality from failure of decolonization through neo-colonialism, the real problem in Palestine, if we can look forward to that day, will be no practice in the management of capital, combined with the usual lack of experience in the practice of freedom. Who can think of that now?  Yet that is part of the definitive timing of the postcolonial – not yet, no longer.   And, further, to turn that into the question of social justice, not reliance upon the international civil society’s goodwill but sustain the right to intellectual and imaginative labor, connect it to the correct disposition of capital and then delicately open the question of gender that remains today confined to inadequate opportunities for feminist work at the universities – seems just as impossible. If efforts at public awareness are directed towards unaware outsiders, the work for building a will to social justice even in the mindset of the greatest diversity requires focused epistemological mingling with the subaltern and the subalternized.  Although theoretically there is nothing to stop the two efforts from co-existing, in fact it is hardly ever the case.  It goes without saying that we are not talking about fact-finding trips, but sustained efforts to access the epistemological apparatus of the subaltern victims of violence.

Case by case, nothing is “just” beyond postcolonial.  The relationship between a just fit and justice will take us too far or perhaps not far enough.  Let us say that Palestine, caught in the general (im)possibility – there is no contrastive possible possible here – of the postcolonial as a just and practical position, just practical, is also prevented to act out the performative contradictions of postcolonialism.  It is that limited but crucial impossibility in the narrow sense, that collective preventive detention, that the forever postponed preparation for democracy – every child’s right to intellectual labor – works to quell.  To “perform” together works to help, in its place.  Raising public awareness, the easiest form of academic activism, travels in a circle, unless the impossibility of postcolonialism is picked up appropriately. Otherwise, we are neither literate enough nor transnational enough to understand that the Indian Chamber of Commerce’s unpublicized complaint that the government’s brilliantly successful project to provide every citizen with the right at least to manual, if not intellectual/imaginative labor for at least one hundred days in the year is depriving them of skilled labor connects conjuncturally to the London Times passage, apparently quoting a florist, representing “the man on the street,” that “[t]here are fears of the consequences of ending Chavez’s social spending. ‘If Capriles end [sic]these programmes, there’ll be civil strife,’ said Dayan Briceno, a florist.”[4]  Lack of skilled labor, threat of civil war.  Ways of keeping at bay a socialism understood materially as access to manual labor for the worker and/or state-supported welfare. How, beyond the postcolonial, will Palestine fare with this?   Only the preparation for the use of the right to intellectual labor for all makes it slip across other borders in globality.  Otherwise, we are left with the failures of mere nationalism, class greed subalterrnizing the poor so the liberated nation can claim development.



I turn now to the second stream: teachers and students, with reference to treaties.  Part of my point has already been made in my discussion of public awareness. Treaties are made between heads of state.  The peace they announce can only be sustained if their inhabitants are trained in the practice of peace, whose instrument is training in the right to use intellectual labor.  I repeat what I quoted at the outset:

The real contribution of artists and philosophers is that they change minds. Art and philosophy, detached from their producers, become instruments for viewer, listener, player, teacher, to be changed from mere self-interest. You notice that word “teacher,” last on the list. I am neither artist nor philosopher, but I am indeed a teacher of the humanities. It is our task always to work for the future of humankind. The stream of art – within which is included literature and music, today the filmic and the hypertextual – must flow forever; the practice of philosophizing must be passed on from generation to generation, so that the human mind is prepared to use the technological setting-to-work of science for the betterment of the world. Today, this is particularly urgent because the digital has all the power and beauty of the wild horse. Without adroit handling, it can be destructive.

My personal memory is that Edward Said’s first personal realization of the distance between the contributions of the intellectual and the making of treaties came with the Treaty of Oslo (1993). In conversation, his irritation was that Arafat had agreed to give Palestine away to be run by committees appointed by Israel, in the interest of a travesty of the Kantian project of peace through commerce.  A joint Israeli-Palestinian liaison committee, a Continuing Committee that would decide by agreement on the modalities of admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, an arbitration committee, a joint Palestinian-Israeli Co-ordination and Co-operation Committee for mutual security purposes, an Israeli-Palestinian continuing committee for economic co-operation, and so on.

Yet, as the Rector of the University of Utrecht pointed out on the first day of the conference, Said’s spirit was continuous with the Treaty of Utrecht, or at least its ideals: Peace, security, human rights, multi-lateralism.[5]  I, on the other hand, am with the Voltaire who placed his Candide in Westphalia, to mark the distance between treaties and reality – the depradations of rape located in a place hallowed by a treaty that many think was the beginning of modernity – the very modernity that secured our humanism as a weapon against colonialism. We remember that the wise words in that work were spoken by an old woman (a Baubo figure) with only one haunch remaining as part of a punishment. “The Old Woman says: ‘A hundred times I have wanted to kill myself, but I was still in love with life.’”[6]This is a mature optimism. This is not the Panglossian, clearly irrational formula repeated over and over again. She says, “Yes, I should end this life, it’s so horrible. No, I love to be alive.”  To live in this absurdity, to adopt the philosophy of the double bind, is a much more robust philosophy than what is being criticized in Pangloss, and I think we should notice that it’s in the mouth of this decrepit Old Woman.  Speaking with the voice of the improbable old woman then, I say, consider the Treaties of Maastricht 1843, 1992: from unjust partition to failed model of union, of a group of debtor states and creditor states, an expression now widely used, without irony, by everyone, including ministers of European states.  Consider the double bind inherent in treaties because they are devised by the vanguard. They cannot operate successfully without their indefinite supplementation by teaching, the teaching of the imaginative activism practiced by the Humanities as such, upon the polity as such, persistently, generation by generation, to train the future citizen into the double bind.  Some here will know my formula: an uncoercive rearrangement of desire.  Both Judith Butler and Akeel Bilgrami spoke of double binds at the conference, in binationalism, for Butler, and between liberty and equality, for Bilgrami.  I add to them the one between treaties – the implacability of statecraft — and the historical contribution of a teaching that must unravel them in the interest of change when necessary.  Butler’s discussion of the amphibolic “two-state solution” in the case of Israel and Palestine shows the virtues of double bind politics.   Bilgrami shares my concern for the aporia between liberty and equality that constitutes democracy. But he offers a solution that takes us (academically trained intellectuals) outside of the democratic system into a sort of social behavior that will not sit well with preserving democracy. He proposes that weusher the Enlightenment off center stage and think unalienated life rather than learn to live the double bind of liberty and equality.  I invite him to think this as the limits of mere humanism, on the model of Kant’s censored work on mere reason.  The double bind of liberty and equality is where we work at the persistent movement of the subaltern into hegemony.  We should be deeply sympathetic with Bilgrami’s attempt to think something new beyond a vexing problem: that liberty and equality will never play together and are dependent upon tremendous efforts at subaltern education that do not seem to be in the world’s future. However, his proposed solution may also not be a solution at all. Inevitably, his examples of dissent are all from Britain or northwestern Europe; whereas the assumption of unalienated life depend upon broad generalizations about non-European civilizations that ignore their historical developments and social stratification patterns; not to mention varieties of rational critique present in such areas. Bilgrami has strong company. Levi-Strauss after A World on the Waneand A Savage Mindmade such assumptions popular and objections similar to mine have been made to his point of view as well.[7]If I may place a short self-citation here, indeed from an essay from a volume that Bilgrami is co-editing, I would basically comment on non-European social formations in the following way, even as I sympathize deeply with Bilgrami’s sense of the problem:

Benevolent or malevolent or in-between or indeed not-bothered-to-be-volent-pre-colonial power groups unevenly enriched themselves at the expense of the postcolonial groups inheriting older hierarchies.  This gives us a pre-modern clue to the word “underdevelopment” as it spread to varieties of class-apartheid present in all polities, cutting across gender-apartheid and group-apartheid, where the usual overflowing of something like “class” in the everyday must be allowed to contaminate the disinfected house of scientific socialism. . . . Interested underdevelopment rather than development has forever made the world turn, it inhabits the persistent structures of contemporary globality, and rogue capitalization, as it is now indicated by more and more people at the center, could inhabit those structures not only as rupture but repetition. . . . If weallow the concept of development to overflow the interplay of capital and colony, we make room for an acknowledgement of complicity – folded-togetherness. . . . Development as sustainable underdevelopment has a longer history and perhaps this history is beginning to make itself visible as the pattern of globalization explodes economic growth into developing inequality.[8]

The undoing of the colonial narrative from the secret writing of the “Middle East” with the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1917 has resulted in a messy worldwide situation that seems a blind alley, no alternative to the peculiar constitution of the via fracta of social justice. Today we must thicken this with considerations of the new Khilafat movement in Syria.

We must remember that the Sykes-Picot was European. And, whatever the virtue of the virtues of the Treaty in the European context, its contemporary inheritors do not offer a significant exception.  This is not my specific field of research.  I offer a few random examples to mark the contemporary moment.  If this seems irrelevant to the “European” reader, s/he may be part of the problem. The Netherlands do not seem a significant exception in this respect.  Just a random passage from a February 2008 report, published by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, notes the negative shift in public discourse on immigrants and Islam in the Netherlands, causing a “worrying” societal polarization and a “substantial” increase of Islamophobia.  The Dutch response to the immigration problem has created new barriers to immigration.  A rule was recently enacted that requires future residents (as opposed to citizens) to pass a Dutch language and culture – do you speak English? I myself was asked at the border as I came in — test before arriving in Holland, making it the first country in the world to demand that permanent residents complete a pre-arrival integration course. A local council oversees and tracks the individual.  We all know about stop-and-search.    Immigrants such as Muslims, Turks, and Moroccans are expected to become majorities in a decade in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.  These major cities have had huge problems with crime.  Much of the crime is blamed on the immigrants in the city. Since September 11, 2001, there has been increased attention and hostility when those perceived as immigrants commit crimes.  The welfare system, which is considered generous, is currently undergoing problems because of declining native birthrates (necessary to support the pensions) and increasing need for welfare support by immigrants. . Immigrants, especially from Turkey and Morocco, make up a disproportionate amount of the population imprisoned, unemployed, or on disability.  Once immigrants become residents (not necessarily citizens), they can apply for social welfare benefits.[9]   As Julie Roberts reports in her “Letter from Brussels” in a recent issue of Frontier, the situation in neighboring Belgium has exacerbated tremendously.[10]   In this crumbling of Europe’s self-representation as the custodian of peace, security, human rights, and multilateralism, we must train our own imagination and the imagination of our colleagues and students and global compatriots, small group by small group, for this faculty of the mind to be able to undertake the counter-intuitive epistemological performance of a complicity that seems unequal or incoherent to a history understood as a linear narrative – political or religious.  “Culture” is a buzzword.  Knowing the discontinuous other is easier said than done.  How about the non-Abrahamic?  How about non-harmonic musical traditions?  The questions crowd the landscape.

I go back to Barenboim’s words: “that we can exist together.” What is implicit here is a much broader, indeed global, model of simultaneity: we do exist together; how? Of course, the [11]situation in Palestine is explained in terms that are obviously true to the case. But if I can analogize from W. E. B Du Bois’s analysis of the failure of Black Reconstruction after the US Civil War, I would say that the way to understand what is happening is in terms of the global simultaneity, the simultaneity of global capital, that manages the world. The failed model of the European Union makes visible the successful model of uneven and violent global simultaneity: a dystopian existing together. How does the teacher respond to this?



History understood as the linear narrative of race has sometimes diagnosed the Du Boisof Black Reconstructionas a race traitor. Du Bois wrote to train the imagination to be able to undertake an ungraspable epistemological performance.  Describing the question of giving voting rights to the emancipated Negro in the middle of the 19thcentury, he shows how abolition-democracy allied itself with the self-determination of capital.  I quote one of many passages:

In all this reported opposition to Negro suffrage, the grounds given were racial and social animosity, and never the determination of land and capital to restrict the political power of labor.  Yet this last reason was the fundamental one. While the South was in suspense, and the abolition-democracy was slowly debating and crystallizing opinion, industry in the North was forging forward with furious intensity: and this movement was foreshadowed and predominant in the mind and vision of living persons in that day.7

The capital-complicity of the global is a lesson in simultaneity. What institutions of tertiary education in varieties of the metropole now have to think about is that globalization has introduced a kind of accessible contemporaneity to us, and placed us within it, which has not taken away, but rendered obsolete, the established ways of knowing the historical. Modernity/tradition methodologies, colonial/postcolonial methodologies remain appropriate in their own place, but are no longer useful to understand this new situation, which seems to lend itself more easily to a quantified, statisticalized, and, in a less rigorous way, simply arithmeticalized approach, democracy computed as supervised safe elections, epistemic claims without reality checks, going hand in hand with a collection of “global” curiosities as evidence.

Let us rather ask ourselves how we must change in response to this challenge to knowing, not how we can add more information and money to the spectacular alternative streams at the edges of disciplines. How can the mainstream of disciplines be rearranged so that we and our students learn to think differently, rather than separate rigorous history and method from the glamour of easy globality.  Such challenges have come in history from time to time and intellectual historians as well as students of the history of consciousness have told us after the fact how these changes happened. To that extent, we too must give ourselves over to what we call the future anterior, what will have happened in spite of our best efforts. But at the university, we must also make these efforts — once again, to change ourselves, rather than simply to acquire more substantive knowledge.   These general words on teaching can only be fleshed out in diversified classrooms across the world, not just elite universities in North and South.



Example One:  In March, 2013, as a group of academics were going to the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University, one of our hosts mentioned the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century.  Another one of us remarked, “can you imagine anything happening here before the sixteenth century?”

It was an innocent remark.  But my imagination, trained to read since 1957, kicked in. . . . and I began to think, not just of the Maya, the Inca, the Nahuatl in a general way, but also of the Diegueños. I thought of the Kumeyaay nations, the Tipai-Ipai, the Paipai and Kiliwa.  Of the Kumeyaays, I learned of the many bands, many with Spanish names, holding an alien history inaugurated 500 years ago: the Barona, the Campo, the Capitan Grande, the Cuyapaipe, the Inaja-Cosmit, the Jamul, the la Jolla, the La Posta, the Coyotes, the Manzanita, the Mesa Grande, the Pala, the Pauma/Yuima, the Rincon, the San Pasqual, the Santa Ysabel, the Sycuan, and the Viejas.   I thought that the point is not to say ah but they too were violent, or oh, but they did not develop the land.  The point is to remember that they held the land in common, that they loved the land and largely left it alone, did not move recklessly toward the anthropocene. A limit to mere humanism, but not an unalienated choice to avoid the double bind of liberty and equality.  I was addressing these words to high school students.  I knew that many of them worked already in environmental studies, so they knew the word “anthropocene.”  But to those who had not come across it yet, I said: google it.  I said “google it” simply to make it clear that I of course applaud digital resources, if only for the mind trained to “follow” actively, not simply to listen to advice, real or virtual.  Unmediated cyberliteracy can produce a simulacrum of the unalienated, forget that the unconditionality of equality is conditioned by many “liberties.” On wikipedia one could find:

The Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronologicalterm that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth‘s ecosystems. . .   Many scientists are now using the term and the Geological Society of Americaentitled its 2011 annual meeting: Archeanto Anthropocene: The past is the key to the future.

I got the info about the Diegueño Native Americans off the webpage of the University of San Diego, again a digital resource. I found the name of Professor Nancy Carter of the School of Law, who may be a future ally.  But in the trace of that history, forgotten by my colleague, there is no access to unalienated life.

Example Two: I have been training teachers through teaching elementary schoolchildren among the landless illiterate in a corner of India for the last thirty years.  Since I will not last very much longer, I am trying to choose workers who can do the training work in that actively following way that literary reading has taught me.  Our goal is not top-down philanthropy for income production, — which is undoubtedly a good thing – but to produce the intuitions of democracy in a tiny section of the largest sector of the electorate in India, the world’s largest democracy.  I quote something I wrote to one of the candidates seeking to join my efforts:

To make it convenient for you immediately to be able to access the schools is not what we are about. I have been making many mistakes and trying to learn with what instruments those who cannot immediately access a car for convenience learn — believe me, there is a difference — although I cannot write you an ethnographic account right this minute. What I am trying desperately to learn is how to access such instruments with no access to means of convenience to which we have immediate and unthinking access, and I don’t know yet. At first, I too used to hire cars, and my associates, including the women (illiterate, therefore not involved in the education) were quite delighted to ride in these wretched cars. But slowly, they began to realize that I was practical in their own terms. How I managed to achieve this, I have no idea — but I consider this as one of my major achievements in the field. And then they began to save me money. This is a complete epistemological turnaround. The first intimations of equality (though not sameness). First they directed me to ride rural buses, sometimes walk — independently of the school walks that I arranged for myself as exercise. Then when I had my shoulder operations and got my spinal disease, only motorbikes. It would be more convenient for me to ride a car. But the work that I am embarked on is not about my convenience, or ours, I repeat. This does not mean an uncritical “going native.” This is indeed a double bind. There are certain things without which I cannot operate: toilets, clean water, mosquito nets. I offered no explanation but required these without trying to convert. Clean water, of course, is abundantly available through tubewells, so everyone habitually uses clean water. Slowly, on their own, they are beginning to move toward toilets, and therefore over the last two years, I have said that so-called “my toilets” are in fact everyone’s if they are kept as clean as I keep them.  So, given that you immediately came up with this convenience of a car, and defended it as only an expression of your admiration for me (which doesn’t really make sense), my feeling is, that you will go toward these kinds of solutions on your own when I’m gone. I’m not interested in transforming this undertaking into an NGO-style enterprise. The first thing to learn is how really to teach effectively in this environment, not how to access the schools conveniently. Maybe we can ourselves learn how not to want to put quite so many motor-cars on the road, fight the anthropocene.  Given that your control of Bengali is also less good than I had thought, I have decided to let you out of this obligation and, as I mentioned, I will look forward to a long association involving your own research work.

In our everyday, we condition the unalienated, by taking ourselves as representative!  Just thinking otherwise will not solve this.

I summarize again: Look below, not just away. Supplement vanguardism, rather than taking yourself as example of the human.  Earn the right to join the localmovements against the unrepresentative gender crimes, and to feel if justified lament over loss of property is necessarily “ecological.”  I end in the name of my friends, Afiya Ziah and Rana Husseini, active against faith-based gender oppression in their place.[12]  This is rear guard action, in memory of Edward Said’s unforgettable heroism.

©Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University


[1]Modified acknowledgment speech for Kiyoto Prize in Art and Philosophy (2012)(2012 Kyoto Prize Presentation Ceremony is available on you-tube).

[2]I have gotten further along in this line in “Crimes of Identity,” forthcoming in anthology edited by Robert Duschinsky and published by Palgrave.

[3]“Postcolonialism in France,” Romanic Review 104.3-4 (May-November 2014), p. p. 223-242.

[4]James Hider, “Insults and Budgies Fly in Fight Over the Soul of Venezuela”, The Times, 13 April 2013, p. 30.

[5]The Wikipedia entry, representing the popular view, emphasizes the end of war and balance of power: good things. “The Treaty of Utrecht, which established the Peace of Utrecht, is a series of individual peace treaties, rather than a single document, signed by the belligerents in the War of the Spanish Succession, in the Dutch city of Utrecht in March and April 1713. They marked the end of French ambitions of hegemony in Europe expressed in the wars of Louis XIV andpreserved the European system based on the balance of power.”

[6]Voltaire, Candide and Other Stories, tr.,Roger Pearson (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), p. 30-31.

[7]The most famous being Jacques Derrida, “The Violence of the Letter: From Lévi-Strauss to Rousseau,” in Of Grammatology, tr. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1976), p. 101-140.

[8]Spivak, “Development, A Political Concept,” Political Concepts: A Critical Lexicon, Issue 3.5 (Fall 2016),; reprinted in J.M. Bernstein, Adi Ophir, and Ann Laura Stoler, eds., Political Concepts: A Critical Lexicon(New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2018), p. 118-130.

[9]February 2008 report, published by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, p. 19.

[10]Julie Roberts, “Letter From Brussels,” Frontier, online article published on 15 January 2014 at:

[11]W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction(New York: The Free Press, 1998), p.210.

[12]Rana Husseini, Murder in the name of honor : the true story of one woman’s heroic fight against an unbelievable crime (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2009) ; Afiya Shehrbano Zia, Challenges to secular feminism in Pakistan : a critique of Islamic feminism and revivalism (Cambridge: Centre of South Asian Studies, 2008), and Sex crime in the Islamic context : rape, class and gender in Pakistan(Lahore, Pakistan: ASR, 1994).


*Previously published as “A Borderless World?” in Rosi Braidotti and Paul Gilroy, eds. Conflicting Humanities, London: Bloomsbury (2016), pp. 47-60. Republished in Shuddhashar by permission of the author.



Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is University Professor and founding member of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. Her publications include writings about 19th- and 20th-century literature, politics of culture, globalization, feminism, Marxism, Derrida, subaltern studies, Mahasweta Devi, and W.E.B. DuBois. She is an activist in rural education as well as feminist and ecological social movements since 1986.


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