clandestino Border Reverb


2 thoughts on “clandestino Border Reverb

  1. 9 JUNE, 2010

    I have to write about it, right? After all, it’s not every person nor every day who gets to watch and listen to “the” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. And yesterday, she appeared to be in full flow – at least, as far as I could tell, never having seen her before. Spivak was in conversation with John Hutnyk, who is a professor at Goldsmiths, which by all accounts seems to be emerging as the brightest star on the progressive-academic firmament.
    Hutnyk introduced the Goldsmiths/AHRC connection with this year’s Clandestino, the theme being “Border Reverb”. Spivak kept familiarly referring to the many Goldsmiths students who had turned up, almost in the manner of continuing a conversation that had already begun in London and was merely continuing in another location. Although that gesture of familiarity did make me feel slightly excluded and hence annoyed, I was also relieved since it took the pressure off me to ask her intelligent questions. And I must confess that there was pressure indeed – from Spivak herself, who early on announced that anyone in the audience who disagrees or cannot follow her must do so on the spot, rather than moan about it later. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much that I found disagreeable, though it took some focus and deep breathing to stay with her throughout.
    Unfortunately too, I didn’t find very much illuminating either, but then this was not a “guru” giving a “discourse”, this was just a well-known intellectual (oh yes, in every way she is “the” intellectual) having a casual chat (well, semi-casual because they certainly didn’t talk about the weather or the latest flick). Obviously, if you were “into” her, you’d connect easily and possibly spot the nuances. But the pleasant surprise for me was to find her a marvellous storyteller – her laconic description of “pissing whilst becoming aware of starlight” was magical and the almost angry rendition of her grand-aunt’s suicide by hanging at age 17 during her menstrual period, perfectly evoked the body as the only/real texting medium -the point that (I think) she started out with. The non-surprise was to see her stubborn Bangla-ness! Note: she said “text” and “textile” share the same roots, and both involve “weaving” of a kind. Isn’t that beautiful?
    So what did she talk about? Well, a little bit of everything, but I’m not going to send you a summary, I don’t even remember exactly what was said. But what was memorable was to see and feel her persona – exemplar of the “engaging professor”. Witty, charming, vulnerable… and incredibly articulate. When she referred to the practice of teaching as a pointless but continuous attempt to “rearrange the desires” of students, I knew just what she was saying – and I felt her doing that to my mind, in that moment. You want to be intensely loved, but always on your terms.
    Her weaving of verbiage (I don’t mean it in a derogatory way) was simply incredible – she works language like a master potter works clay. And she delivers it with all of her being – which is why I feel that she cannot be read merely on pages of a book. All the terms from her wikipedia CV flashed through my head as I relished her “performance” (for it was nothing but a powerful performance of an intellectual-academic engaging with a student-audience): literary, criticism, theory, deconstruction, grammatology – no wonder language was her element (or was she an element of language?). Her performance made me reposition her in my head from the classic but dense and impenetrable “subaltern” texts that I had read during my short-lived PhD and further attempts to read more of her works that were ruthlessly resisted by her use of language (dare I say “jargon”?): try these that I stumbled upon in an ancient review of her book by Terry Eagleton – (1) “many of us are trying to carve out positive negotiations with the epistemic graphing of imperialism” and (2) “the in-choate in-fans ab-original para-subject cannot be theorised as functionally completely frozen in a world where teleology is schematised into geo-graphy”.
    I had written her out of my head, so to speak – maybe she had herself done so. But with yesterday’s performance, she wrote herself back in.

    For those of you who have no clue who or what Spivak is (or want a refresh, or just curious how she is represented), start with her Wikipedia entry:
    This is John Hutnyk’s faculty page at Goldsmiths:
    This is the Clandestino 2010 website: If you read it soon enough, the top story features Edda Manga, who is a room-mate of mine at this collective where I stay. She has been one of the hardworking organisers and frontline activists on the recent “Ship to Gaza” multi-nation initiative. Read about it here:
    Terry Eagleton’s rather uncharitable but not unexpected assault on Spivak (way back in 1999) can be read here: If you do, also read the readers’ comments further below.


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