Paul Gilroy “Fanon and Amery: Theory, Torture and the Prospect of Humanism”


“Post-Marxism  and its Discontents/The End of Postmodernism?”

Class Presentation

Oct. 19th 2011.

Babacar Faye


Paul Gilroy  “Fanon and Amery: Theory, Torture and the Prospect of Humanism” Theory, Culture & Society 2010 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore), Vol. 27(7-8): 16-32



Paul Gilory’s analysis of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (2004, new edition) prefaced by Jean Paul Sartre and foreworded by Homi Bhabha and Jean Amery’s At the Mind’s Limits (1980), can somewhat be viewed as a revisionist reading of Postcolonial Studies through the lenses of Fanon’s legacies, especially with regards to his insights about the psychological trauma of colonialism on the colonized, the psychic wounds of what Aime Cesaire called the Negro’s “appalling process of …depersonalization” (1960). For my part, I think that Fanon has been either misread or incompletely grasped by most postcolonial scholarship thus far. This same academic treatment, to a certain extent, has been done on Cheikh Anta Diop’s works on history and Egyptology. As Mamadou Diouf and Mohamad Mbodji have pointed out, “to question the work of Cheikh Anta Diop, even from a scientific point of view, was for a long time synonymous with African antipatriotism, to refer to it in passing was an obligation one could readily fulfill, especially in academic work, to repeat its great principles, often without any real knowledge of the work itself, was a certificate of nationalism and Pan-Africanism” (117-118). In the same way, citations of Fanon’s works are often quoted without any questioning of the work itself. “Fanon’s insights,” Gilroy writes, “have been devoured and tamed by timid, often parochial fields like ‘critical race theory’ and ‘postcolonial theory” (17).

In a revisionist perspective, Gilroy aims at redirecting the insights of Fanon not to a colonial discursivity but to the complex state apparatus of what he calls “securitocracy” of Western nation-states behind their “fortifications” (18). Frantz Fanon’s insights on psychiatry can, according to Gilroy, help us better analyze the social experiences of the “denizens, pseudo-citizens, illegal and sans papiers” and “the aspects of the social and psychological conflicts…inside the postcolonial metropolis” (20). Because of the “spectacular mainstreaming of black cultures,” most of readings on Fanon’s works merely focus on the “amputed and epidermalized humanity,” of the colonial moment. To what extend can Fanon’s insights be applied to the dynamics of postcolonial identity? And because Fanon’s critique of the colonized himself and the incompleteness of African nationalist movements have been glossed over in postcolonial reason, some cultural theorists, mainly blacks, are somehow reluctant to talk about the “responsibilities” of blacks, as “individuals…in both collective rehabilitation and personal salvation. Mass incarceration is apparently the favored means to accomplish this regressive ‘form'” (21). In a nutshell, if we, contemporary and/or postcolonial subjects, want to have a more complete picture of the Fanon’s legacies, we should make a move beyond the label “postcolonial,” to translate “the postcolonial critique of reason” into “a critique of postcolonial reason” (Spivak, 1990, 1999). “Scholars in the Humanities” Spivak writes, “must see the ‘Third World’ as a displacement of the old colonies as colonial proper displaces itself into neocolonialism (meaning the largely economic rather than the territorial enterprise of imperialism)” (3). There seems to be a productive move or shift within postcolonial scholarship.

The comparative analysis between Fanon and Amery is quite interesting in that Gilroy constructs a critical view of what is sometimes called “liberal humanism” which, most of the time, silences the tangibility of racism and its new configurations. For Gilroy, Fanon and Amery paved the way for a “radical humanism”, especially with regards to what we can link to Foucault’s “Biopolitics” through the very act of torture. In cross-reading  the psychological and physical tortures of colonial times (blacks) and in the “concentrationary universe” of Jews, Gilroy sees the body as a ontological site of identity which the tortured’s consciousness. “Only in torture” Amery says “does the transformation of the person into flesh becomes complete (…) My body when it tensed to strike,  was my physical and metaphysical dignity. In situation like mine, physical violence is the sole means for restoring a disjointed personality”  (28, 91). I, however, feel ambivalent about Gilroy when he talks about “Fanon’s naive humanism and juvenile existentialism” (17), especially when “the transgressive sexual desire and its full appreciation in the colonies” (18) is concerned. Although Fanon himself is sometimes depicted as a homophobic by gender studies scholars, I think that only more contextualized analysis of his works can help overcome this controversy. This is open to questions though.

What Paul Gilroy is trying to put forward in this article is a rereading of Fanon with a close eye on what is currently happening in postcolonial metropolis.  “It may be greater” he says, “if his ideas can be reapplied carefully to managing challenges that are tied up in the lives of the often traumatized incomers (migrants) who are expected to bring the global insurgency alive on the fertile soil of their racialized exclusion from the dreamscapes of indentured consumerism” (21). This connection of identity to economics echoes, to certain extent, Sara Ahmed’s notion of Affect and its relation to economics in the social dynamics of immigration. Lines of identifications for blacks immigrants are not solely constructed on racial terms, but on economic, class consciousness and consumerism.


Work cited:

Diouf, M., Mbodji, M. “The Shadow of Cheikh Anta Diop” in The Surreptitious Speech:

Presence Africaine and the Politics of Otherness 1947-1987 V.Y. Mudimbe (ed.)

Chicago: The Chicago University Press, 1992, pp: 118-135

Spivak, G. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason:  Toward a History of the Vanishing Present.

Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999.




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“Subject Scenes, Symbolic Exclusion, and Subalternity” Brian Carr

Angelaki Journal of Theoretical Humanities, Vol 6, n. 1, April 2002, pp: 21-33

In this article, Brian Carr discusses subalternity from a philosophical perspective in that he compares Althusser’s notion of “interpellation” of the subject with Jacques Lacan’s psycholoanalysis of the mirror stage. According to Carr, Althusser’s notion of interpellation , the very act of hailing the subject “does not appear to presume the subject, but seeks to explain the production of the subject” (21), even though Althusser suggests that there is a sort “obviousness” that is attached to the subjecthood to the subject being hailed:” It is clear that you and I are subjects”. In addition, according to Brian Carr, Althusser suggests that “individuals are always-already subjects since the category of subject always awaits them”, that is to say, “individuals are just subjects waiting for the interpellating call” (24). Here, thus, discursivity is central to the production of subjecthood, even though this subjecthood is denied or mis-recognized. Lacan’s notion of the unconscious is also a tool to discuss subalternity but Brian Carr seems more cautious about applying it outright. “The unconscious” he says” understood within the Lacanian framework as constitutively disruptive of the subject, emerges in ‘spoken or written sentence(s) [where] something stumbles,” the subject being always understood as “self-divided” in the notion of the symblic in Lcan’s Psychoanalaysis (25).

If I understand well Brain Carr’s article, what he is trying to do is a close reading of what he calls “mirrors and calls” (referring to Lacan and Althusser) to the exclusion of subaltern people in relation to normative metanarratives, be colonial or national elitism. As a result, Brain Carr has discussed Spivak’s seminal question of subalternity, suggesting that the subaltern cannot speak not because he has not the ability to speak, but because his discourse will be misrecognized, denied, or simply misheeded by hegemonic discourses. Lacan notion of the Pyschosis, that is the subject’s “inability to mobilize language” (26) is kind of different from the subaltern’s subjecthood, which is denied or simply not taken into consideration.

As a result, Brian Carr suggests that “the universal drama of misrocognition in Lacan and Althusser is troubled in the figure of the subaltern insofar as the subaltern derails the inevitablilty of the individual’s movement into subject” (26). Therefore, Brian wants to “demomstrate the inadequacy of ‘interpellation’ as a model of apprehending sociosymbolic exclusion”. However, Brian has asked important question, at least for me, in that he interrogates the applicability of “interpellation” into the condition of subalternity, asking to know :” if the subaltern is interpellated, how might this work since silence and non-recognition (neither speech nor recognition) govern her dominant construction?”. In other words, “how can the subaltern speak as a subject whe she is deleted as such from official discursivity?” (27).

This question has been, and perhaps still is, central in the scholarship of subalternity. Brian Carr has asked to know the better way for the subaltern to resist hegemonic discursivity, which refer to Leela Ghandi’s Anticolonial thought and the politics of friendship. And therein lies my interest in linking Subaltern Studies with Postcolonialism in that both scholarships face the complicated taske of writing about national history, when that history happened to be vilified by colonialism and hegemonic imperialism. What I found interesting is Brian Carr’s implicit linking of the universal theory of interpellation to the national elistism of colonial India as he reminds us “that the notion of interpellation originates in a theory of bourgeois ideology” (29). And Brian concludes by saying that “the category of the subaltern demands, and what Spivak’s question of her “speech” calls for, is a reading of symbolic exclusion that is somewhere between the success of ideological interpellation (where a subject can speak) and total failure of symbolic constitution (foreclosure in the real)” (30, my emphasis).


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Gareth Williams’ The Other Side of the Popular: Neoliberalism and Subalternity in Latin America, 2006

Chapter 3: “Formalities of Consumption and Citizenship in the Age of Cultural Hybridity”, pp: 102-139

In this book, Gareth Williams theorizes the ongoing process of modernization of Latin America, “a passage from national to postnational cultural and political paradigms,” through the notions of citizenship and consumption in close relation to, and in interaction with, postmodern cultural hybridity and contemporary forms of cultural and political mediation” (103). The author’s theoretical framework refers to postcolonialism in that he has pointed out the similarity of Orientalism and Latinamericanism, especially the way it is theorized and produced within the Western academies, which tend to “identify Europe, and by extention the United States, as a superior culture in comparision to all other non-European peoples and cultures”. Which is a reminder of the role of disciplinary production of knowledge as “one of the many arenas for hegemony’s insistent naturalizing processes” (104). On the other side, “thedisciplinary spectrum of the modernist literary tradition (of the West) merely reproduce and redistribute a profoundly outdated preservationist desire to maintain, to uphold, and perpetuate discouirses of national cultural patrimony and canonical tradition” (105), therefore hinting at the sometime-oppositional framework of postcolonial scholarships and social projects. In reaction to that, Gareth Williams relies on the politics of transnationalism to undermine such polarizations, not only in scholarly traditions, but in social encounters and interactions as well.

In this chapter, the author questions the notion of identity which is sometimes related to territory, regionalism, or ethnicity to put it simply. through the coupling of citizenship and consumption, Williams is positing the “passage from national-popular formations to transnational configurations,” a passage aimed at “transforming forever not only state/culture relations but also intellectual/state/culture relations”. His ideas refer to a Gramscian framework in which the intellectual plays in important role between the state (a hegemonizing actor) and civil society (as a counter-hegemonic agent). “The passage toward postnational multiculturality” he says, “announces the problematic repositioning of the Latin American intellectual in relation to the state, but also in relation to the restrcuturation of local cultural politics in face of transnational market forces and capital flows”. With such a repositioning, the intellectual occupies an in-between space of mediation not only between the state and the civil society, but the “nation-state, and external forces, influences, and desires” (107).

Williams has also drawn fron the Deleuzian framework of capital flow and dessimination  through what he calls “intallations of new circuits of domination and control (108). I will not go further with Deleuze given the reasons that you might know. Having said that, Gareth Williams has remarkably focused on  Nestor Gracia Canclini’s Consumidores ad Cuidadanos (Consumers and Citizens) and Hybrid Cultures in which the author kind of argue that the “the hybrid transnationalism” that has dismantled “the traditional local/national civil configurations” and has established a informal economy which in turn has “preconditioned the emergence of critical discourse dealing with the relation between citizhenship and consumption as a potentially new arena for subject formation and collective agency” (112). The emergence of such a hybrid space of consumption through informal economy, as G. Williams argues, is a critical response to the “postmodern crisis of the nation-state and the exhaustion of the national-popular in Latin America” (113).

My understadning of this chapter is that G. Williams is arguing for the importance of transnationalism, the flow of capital from North and South, and vice versa, not in the hands of the few, but accessible to “subaltern” people for them to become “real” citizens, not in emphasizing on their marginalities as a people, but on their ability to consume: consumption as a guarantor of citizenship. This might be realizable  through “increasing urbanization and the emergence of mass society, the gradual transnationalization of symbolic markets and labor migrations, the increasing insertion of peripheral cultures and economies into global networks of symblolic productions” (119).

Nestor Garcia Canclini has asked a very important question in his Hybrid Cultures, wanting to know “in what, then, lies the novelty of postmodern decollection, deterriotorialization, and hybridity” (123), which, according to G. Williams, refers to Georges Yudice’s observation that “societies may have reached a historical threshold in which it is no longer possible to think such ideals as citizenship and democracy in the absence of consumption” (124, emphasis mine). I, however, have a strong doubt on the feasibility of such a project, given that the state is always capable of adjusting to new forms of social networks and always absords their most effective gains, even though Yudice proposes “a cross-cutting, longitudinal nationalism” or ‘regional federalism,’ designed to negotiate economic integration and transnational circuitries” (124).

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Proposal for Affect and Subaltern Studies.

The discussions we have had so far in class have increased the theoretical framework of my research interests in general. Subaltern studies is a key tool to understand the sometimes intricate relationships of different bodies in a multicultural society, intricacies that remain to be unravel. It is sometimes argued that we (as contemporary people) must assume the exigencies of contemporaneity in trying to have a candid look back to history in order to better represent the self in  relation to other selves.

In this class, I will be focusing on identity and representation, issues that have been at the core of postcolonial, subaltern and diasporic studies. My proposal might look too broad but it is the transversality that is appealing to me, especially when we have in mind the evolution and crossroads of different academic disciplines. Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic (1993) is my main theoretical framework. The Black atlantic culture shares similar insights with postcoloniality and/or subalternity in that they both engage in the intricate inroads of self-identity in a world characterized by chaos and unstability. Postmodernism has had the great merit of challenging the grand narratives of modernism. Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979) has showcased the collapse of Western thought which have been nurtured by a totalizing and authoritative Reason, the notions of human progress and development or what have you. However, postmodernism seems to be trapped in this ever-celebratory trend in a manifest obcession with cultural difference, which in a sense, reproduces the same paradigms of oppostionality which were (and perhaps still) dear to imperial and nationalist colonial/neocolonial enterprises. As Omi K. Bhabha has insightfully problematizd it, “if the interest in postmodernism is limited to the celebration of the fragmentation of the ‘grand narratives’ of postenlightenment rationalism then, for all its intellectual excitment, it remains a profoundly parochial enterprise” (Location of Culture, 2007, 6 (reprint). Therein lies the core problematics of not only postmodernism, but postcolonialism and subaltern studies as well.

This obcession of celebrating parochially cultural difference does not come from a vacuum. I think it has something to do with “Affect” and the sometimes traumatic past of formerly colonized and oppresed people in the world. Homi Bhabha’s insistence on “the third space of enunciation, the liminal space”, along with Edouard Glissant’s notion of “creolization” as an ongoing-process of relationality, or again Gilroy’s idea of the “living memory of the changing same”, are sometimes seen as mere  utopia because of people’s nostalgia of tradition, most of the time in an uncritical way, thus jeopardizing the many merits of cultural hybridity. How can people better engage in postmodernity? What is at stake in being obcessed with the ever celebration of the collapse of the postenlightenment rationalism and the overemphasis on cultural difference? As an example, Stuart Hall once says that he is “dumbfounded” by the world “black” in Black popular culture in the Unite States, that is say the way this notion is being catapulted in African American Aesthetics and literarure.

So to wrap up, I will draw on the intersectionality of subaltern/diasporic/postcolonial scholarships to see how the very act of representing identity is challenged by the exigencies of contemporaneity; hybridity and social relationality. And I want to see how “Affect” and the memory of the traumatic past influence such monochromatic landscape of cultural fundamentalism and the nostalgia of origins and premodern tradition.

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“Fin-de-siècle-radicalism and the politics of Friendship”

Affective Communities: Anti-colonial thought Leela Ghandi (2006), chapter5 : “God: Mysticism and Radicalism at the End of the Nineteenth Century”, pp: 115-141

Leela Ghandi’s Affective Communities is one of the many academic works that embody a new and more productive way of dealing with postcoloniality. Right in the introduction of her book, she has made it clear that what has impoverished the postcolonial academic project is “the putative non-West upon the putative West, through gesture of oppositionality, culturalism, nativism (and) fundamentalism” (1). The attempt of writing history from “below” has sometimes glossed over the enterprises of European people who were, right from the beginning, against the politics and ideologies of colonial imperialism in London. What about people, she asks, “who renounced the privileges of imperialism and elected affinity with the victims of their expansionist cultures (…) the nonplayers in the drama of imperialism” (1). What made this mindset possible, she argues, is the cosmopolitanism of 19th century London, a culture which subsequently contained “anti-imperialist and critics of imperialism.” Therefore, the central argument of Leela Ghandi’s book is to excavate the “long-forgotten nineteenth century metropolitan anti-imperialism”, an unciousness oblivion caused by the sometimes parochial perspective of postcolonial writers.

In order to comprehend the intellectual and philosophical standpoint of those metropolitan anti-imperialists, Leela Ghandi talks about “the ethical imperatives” of these enlightened people, “immune to the ubiquitous temptations of an empire (considered as a) factory for ‘making imperialist-minded citizens” (2, quoting Shneer). In fact, Leela Ghandi draws on Edward Said’s notion of “contrapunctuality”, “new alignments” that replace “the binary oppositions dear to nationalist and imperial enterprise”, alignments that undeniably “provoke and challenge the fundamentally static notion of identity that has been the core of cultural thought during the era of imperialism” (E. Said, Imperialism and Culture, xxviii, 36). Ghandi’s reliance of Edward Said refers to Omi K. Bhabha’s “interstiality”, hybridity and “mimicry”. In order to go beyond the “monochromatic landscape of imperial division” (6), Leela Ghandi challenges both emperial and anticolonial orthodoxy.

Chapter 5 of Affective Communities criticizes what I sometimes call the problematics of postcolonial thought which sometimes “disqualify the maturity and seriousness of some white anti-imperialists’ politics and their friendship with colonized people” (115), epitomized by the historical figures of Nivedita and Edward Carpenter in the Chapter. Paroma Roy, one of the parochial postcolonialists, “discredit(s)” the politics of European anti-imperialism when he considers their endeavor as “nostalgic spiritualism within Indian nationalism, favoring orthodoxy and revivalism over rationalism and reformism” (116).

In addition, Leela Ghandi puts forward a deconstructive analysis of Emmanuel Kant’s philosophy of the “empirical” and the “metaphysical”. She argues against Kant’s insistence upon the idea of “human autonomy” with Metaphysics enabling him to transcend any social relationality. In sustaining this idea, Leela argues, Kant sees in “hybridity” something not productive. In contrast, Ghandi considers “hybridity” as discloser of Kantian philosophy, claiming hybridity as “the basis for a more humane and humanizing ethics” (117). Instead of a metaphysical detachment of man with his society, Leela Ghandi proposes, throughout this chapter, “an empirical-metaphysical politics of hybridity” (118). there must be something pure and sincere in metropolitan anti-imperialism, a true sentiment that triggered their politics of friendship with colonial India, the “inexplicable spiritual-affective pull towards Indians” she  writes (120).

Western philosophy has been nurtured, since the Enlightenment, by the separation of religion and State, when the divorce between Reason and Dogma took place during the 18th century onwards. In the case of colonial India, however, Leela Ghandi does not want to apply such dichotomy or dualism; she sustains the idea of the “admixture of theism and ethics”, a sort of spiritualist revolution that eventually led those metropolitan anti-imperialists to India.

What I found interesting in Ghandi’s book is her wiping out  of the many limits of Kantian philosophy which sustained that Reason intervenes to liberate “moral agents” from “the empirical contaminants”. For that to be possible, Kant argues, humans beings must stand aloof from “the contingencies of our humannes and sustain strict independence from the domain of ‘lurk’ which circumcribes our desires and inclinations at any given moment”; in a sense, to be free from the “heterogeneity of consciousness and the “distractions” of human social experiences” (126). Leela Ghandi obviously disagrees with such an argument in that Kantian philosophy refers to what she calls “the mongrelization of subjectivity” which springs from “the perils of relationality” be it vertical (transcendental) or horizontal (existential).

Kantian philosophy has received harsh criticisms in postcolonial and cultural studies, specially in the writings of Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy, in their interventions about heterodox social movements in Britain. The human body is no longer set aside from other bodies, but is in perpetual contingency which triggers as Gilroy has put it, “a nexus of rich interpersonal relationships” (128). The problematics of Kantian philosophy lies in its “extraction  of worship and metaphysics from the realm of social justice.” The “impassivity of Kantian rationality”, Ghandi says, has to be replaced or overcome by the compatibility of religious faith and social justice” what she calls “the empirical-metaphysical politics of hybridity”, when the role of the metaphysics consists in “producing or enabling empirically meaningful types of hybridity” (131). Human experience has to be prioritized over a rational and would-be autonomous body and spirit. Relying on William James’ radical pluralism, Leela Ghandi insists upon “the ontological and epistemological primacy of (human) experience” which might echo Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialism. And she argues that James’ philosophical credo lies in the beleif that Kant and Hegel’s “allergy to pluralism, contradiction and experience have impoverished Western thought” (132). Instead of that allergy, Leela Ghandi valorizes “the all-inclusiveness of conjunctural relationality, what William James has called “the horrizontal demands of conjunctive relationality in a pluralistic world (…) an obligation to coexist with irreducible difference that few are equipped to handle” (133).

However, Leela Ghandi warns against the dangers of empirical relationality in which some moral agents (may be more economically powerful) might take over other, thus deepening hierarchies. In today unstable identity formation and unsecure worlds, relationality may be considered as mere utopia,  with warring identities and vacillating connections ceaselessly dividing the world. “How then” Ghandi asks, “might we submit to the psychic hazards of the nonimpirical relationality (in the kantian sense) upon our ethical capacity as experiential beings is predicated? How can you “trust yourself and trust other agents enough to take the risk?

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Affect Theory and Memory: Sara Ahmed’s “Happy Objects”

Sara Ahmed has laid out an interesting framework of Affect Theory related to the notion of happiness and its affective values. In The Affect Theory Reader, edited by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (2010),  she has considered the notion “happiness as happening, as involving”, therefore sustaining that “to be happy is to be affected by something” (29). The connection she has made between affect and happiness is furthured by the notion of “contingency” between bodies and objects, when “happiness puts us into intimate contact with things” (31). In addition to this intimacy, Sara Ahmed argues for the evaluation of things, a sort of affective value that is sometimes attached to things, “to be affected by something is to evaluate that thing” she says. When reading her article, I felt like in sort of labyrithintic journey since her arguments and theoritical framework are too philosophical and thus, kept my mind blowing. But in an nutchell, Sara Ahmed describes happiness as “intentional in the phenomenological sense (directed toward objects),  as well as affective (contact with objects)” (32, original emphasis). An “ended-oriented intentionality” is then important in her philosophical analysis of happiness and its affective value.

I am not interested in the philosophical dimension of the text. Instead, what I found interesting for me is her analysis of the film Bend It Like Beckham (2002) wich features the experiences of migrancy of a Sirkh family in Houndslow, London. The film is about a father and his daughter who wants to be somebody else rather than the already given social status of gender identity in traditional Sikh values, that is to get married and be boxed in in household. This generational conflict is quite interesting in that it tells more about the father’s insistence on not letting her daughter be female soccer player in the national game. The father’s position is not a vacuum, instead it is further complicated by the memory of racism he is, until now, unable to evacuate. Since he suffered from racism and the British people’s mocking of his turban, he wants her daughter to be happy by not encountering the same racism in the football game. My point in here is that the game triggers memory of pain and humiliation in the father’s psyche. Even though he lets her dauhgter go to the football game, the actual standpoint of the father is very interesting for me in trying to link Affect and memory/past.

This generational conflict in this story is appealing to me in that  the argument, for me, is trying to draw a connection between Affect and the politcs of multiculturalism and ethnic and/or racial identity. On what Omi and Winant have called the “micropolitics” or the every-day-life of racial interactions, there is always a great impact of the memory of the past which negatively impacts on people’s ability to engage in multiculture. I am not saying that white supremacist ideologies have been totally wiped out from institutions or what have you, but I mean that multiculture is being consider a utopia because of people’s over-insistence on the past, thus being “abandoned at birth”. As Paul Gilroy has pointed out, if “victimage” is always insisted upon in multiracial societies (UK, US mainly), little can be made to effectively fight racism, on both sides. In his Postcolonial Melancholia, he argues that former colonial empires are melancholic, due to the loss of former control and outright domination of the postcolonies. On the other hand, he maintains that Blacks sometimes overuse their “victimage” in relation to white people. My question is: how can we (contemporary people) get rid of the traumas of the past in order to be mutually and positively affected by other bodies and values, out of anxiety and fear?

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Logics of Empowerment

Logics of Empowerment: Development, Gender, and Governance in Neolibreal India, Aradhana Sharma, Chapter 6: “Between Women? The Micropolitics of Community and Collectivism”, pp: 150-182

In the introduction of the book, A. Sharma begins with the politics of empowerment and the notion of India entering the world stage. Arguing on Farred Zakaria’s article “India Rising” written in the wake of the 2006 World Economic Forum in Davos, A. Sharma talks about the idea which sustains the triumph of society over state with Zakaria setting up “India’s recent economic growth as an example of the struggle of society againts the state (…) which finally empowered its people economically” (xiv, original emphasis). Even though Zakaria’s arguement is appealing to a certain degree, it glosses over the lives of millions of Indians whose “survival, meanwhile, has been rendered increasingly tenuous by the very processes of liberalization that have benefited some” (xv). By taking up and narrating the “less-often-told stories about the state (…) and popular protests in neoliberal India”, A. Sharma wants to highlight the different effects of postliberalization in India, especially if taken from the margins of society. Therefore, her major analysis of the logics of empowerment is located within what she calls “the lens of grassroots empowerment”. Sharma has made it clear that her argument is not a “one-way localization, or a ‘vernacularization’ of global libearlisn in India.” Instead, what she is trying to argue against is the sometimes “taken-for-granted homogeneity” of the effects of liberalization on the different classes and subjectivities in India (xvii).

The sixth chapter of the book is about an ethnographic analysis about micropolitics of collectivity and comminity in a village called Nimani, on the Seelampur road. A. Sharma’s insights of the MS government-sponsored women program is quite interesting in that her analysis delves into “the fractious dynamics of MS women; those among MS, between participants and nonparticitants, and between participants and program functionaries” (153). With this layered positioning, the author aims to wipe out the common sense argument that “women are already formed subjects and they will coherent in groups because they share common gender identities, interests, and forms of oppression”, that is to say women are an “aggregation of essentially similar individuals” (153). What I found telling in Sharma’s argument, as in chapter 4, is her insistence that “development does not work on backstage socuial realities and already formed social actors, but constitutes them onstage” (154, emphasis mine). interestingly enough is the way she links development state-sponsored program such as MS and the contentious communities -and the frustrations that those programs are, in principle, aimed at for.

In addition to this paradox, A Sharma argues against the homogeneization of gender identities which see women as having the same ideals in their lives. An example that troubles this common sense knowledge is education and the way it depeens the already existing social stratification. The case of Chameli, an ex-preschoolteacher in the village, is quite interesting because according to some women MS participants, she was “disrespectful and comsidered herself as better than the rest because of her formal education and cash wages” as a MS funtionary (157). Another element in the state-sponsored program is the land issue, the Panchayat bhavan (women’s center) land issue that divided the MS women participants and their MS functionaries (158).

This land issue reminds me of an experience that I personally lived two years ago in my own village. Even though the cases are a bit different, I think something can be linked in here. A woman in my village, a business woman I would say, was working with a French NGO that decided to finance a preschool and and an art gallery in my village. The woman in question, who is a native of the village, used the name and image of the village to attract good-willing French  people, seduced them to come and invest for free in the village. But the problem is the assocition she set for the cooperation with those French people was composed of herself, her husband, and her children. This association has been never heard in the village. A second issue that aggravated the situation is the land on which the school was built, a land that is hers and where she has already built one of her many houses. therein lies the similarity that I want to highlight. When the other women and the students of the village were tuned about this woman’s wierd business, things were more complicated in that family relationships became rigid from that moment on. The other natives of the village felt betrayed and misregarded in the process of developing the village. The strongest belief that any of us had is the kinship orientation of a program designed to help and better the lives, not of a single family, but those of a whole village. The rivalries ended in in court.

This situation is quite in the Nimani village, where land issue caused “much argumentation and angst” that ended up into unresolvable skirmishes, if not physical fights (165). In this Nimani’s case, however, things are complicated since the MS program disregarded the already existing different women discouirs about power. If the goverment-sponsored program understood that land is very important in identity formation in rural India, it would be able to handle the dispute about the women’s center, when “various families (were) vying for a piece of the village commons on which the council house (of the women) would have been built”.

What is interesting in A. Sharma’s ethnographic analysis is the different voices that are heard regarding the dispute, therefore showing a more complex view of gender identities in the village. Everybody is arguing for or against the program, depending on everybody’s social class or sense of identity deeply differentiated in relation to others. In this regards, A. Sharma argues that “development program do not simply target individuals and groups but also produce them” (167, emphasis added). I would not say that development alone produces these individuals, but it participates in the deepening of their already existing clivages or contradictory worldviews. Heeravati, who is reported to be the quarel instigator, claims that she did not receive loans from the MS program because of “discrimination and nepotism”, for the MS members looked out for their “kin’s interests and consistently turned down her loan requests” (170). Bhagwan, on the same page, sees the disunity in the program as stemming from “interfamily fractionalism” (171), thus linking class kinship and personal interests to the failure of such a program.

In a nutchell, what A. Sharma is trying to argue againts is the collectivization of women as “women,” their essentialization as a common group having the same ideals and facing the same oppression. This common sense knowledge is a fraught process and “its reality has been revealed in Nimani village.” Her arguement is also againts the GAD feminist and simplistic ideas about gender identities, homogenized and presumed identities which fail to seriously take into account the intersectionality of class, caste and relation to partriarchy of MS women participants (178). “Women gender identities” as A. Sharma argues, “are a contradictory amalgam of different social relations, such as caste, class, and kinship” that are not “compartimentalized” but “shaped in conjuncture to each other” (179), and idea that simply means that “women’s agency needs to be examined in the context of their ambigious subject positionings”

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“Habitations of Modernity” D. Chakrabarty

Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies.

Chapter 3: “Modernity and the Past: A Critical Tribute to Ashi Nandi”, pp 38-47

This chapter deals with Chakrabarty’s critical analysis of Ashis Nandy’s writngs about Subalternity, and especially the complicated relationship between the past and modernity. He begins by emphasizing traditional pratices and its political implications. The fundamental question that lies in Chakrabarty’s analysis is the position of the Indian intellectual educated in the West like him and his attitude toward tradition, which places him in a sort of ambivalence. How can we better define tradition in the academic project of subaltern studies? Should we incorporate all things past in tradition or do we have to select some elements that meet our understanding of modernity?

Chakarbarty, to my mind, is warning us against the notion of education that uncritically leads to an eurocentric meaning of the term, a rationalist worldview that is sometimes problematic. He, therefore, contrasts this “problem of the undesirable past” with the past ” as warehouse of resources in which to draw as needed” (39) if we want to better define what it means to be modern. For that, he emphasizes Nandi’s “critical traditionalism” which is totally different from “uncritical adulation of past practices”. An example he has given in this chapter is the sati phenomenon (woman self-immolation) in traditional India which has been “unresolved” in today India’s cultural life. What I found interesting in Chakrabarty’s analysis of sati traditional practice is the way it has been theorized by some Indian subalternists when they tend to “demystif(y) modernity (and) remystif(y) tradition” (40), which I consider as an uncritical traditionalism. I personally feel uncomfortable with the sati phenomenon and my concerns are the victimization of the female body and her voicelessness. I think that what was and/or is debatable in this phenomenon is the imperial role of British colonial rulers in trying to police what might be a cultural backwardness for them. The same issue has been raised by first world feminists when they want to apply a sort western worldview of how women should be treated worldwide, especially about the genital mutilation of women in some parts of Africa. That was obviously problematic, if not eurocentic in essence. But what is interesting is the fact that African women themselves ended up negatively criticizing this traditional practice whithout the western interference. This practice has been institutionally outlawed by most of African countries, if not all of them. What I am trying to argue is that indigenous people can internally have a critical disposition regarding traditional pratices without the imperial eye of the fomer colonizer.

The disposition of the subaltern subject with regards to modernity according to Chakrabarty is to be ambivalent and a critical traditionalist who does not see “modern science as alien to (critical traditionalism), even though it may see it as alienating”, ambivalently and “uncompromisingly critisiz(ing) isolation (from) and over-concern with objectivity” (40). Until page 40, Chakrabarty’s analysis of Nandy was appealing to me. But as soon as he clarifies Nandy’s decisionist choices of “myth over history, tradition over modernity, wisdom and intellect for science and objectivity” (41), I was like confused and could not decode Nandy’s decisionism any more. In the academic project of Subaltern studies, how can we schematize a manichean understaning of these seemingly contradictory forms of knowledege? I fear this disposition will not do but reproduce the binary understanding of tradition and modernity. This confusing intellectual position might be the result of the heated debate between Nandi and his opponents about woman self-immolation, when he considered his opponents as “Anglophile psychologically uprooted Indians” who retaliated by calling him “a neo-Gandhian” who uses the “rhethoric of anti-colonial indigenism” (42). I have in mind Paul Gilroy’s notion of “cultural insiderism”, even though this notion is a bit different from the sati debate.

My confusion goes deeper when Nandy argues that “every culture has a dark side” (45). I mean the argument is accurate in essence but the problem it contradicts his decisionist choices of tradition over modernity, wisdom over science and objectivity. This dark side of every culture might, in a sense, refer to Gilroy’s notion of the incompleteness of any cultural identity, hence requiring any of them to go for cultural symetrical interpenetration. Then my question is: if every culture has a dark side, how can we understand Nandy’s decisionist choices? I think this is a nowhere-leading-argument since it does not clearly define what is tradition and what is modernity.

I will end up by critisizing Charkrabarty’s notion of darkness. He argues that darkness is ” where light cannot pass; it is that which cannot be illuminated” (45). I am not sure if he uses this definition in a narrower sense. But in the general sense, darkness is not impermeable to light, and it is where light has not yet passed.

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“Subalternity and Representation

Subalternity and Representation: Arguments in Cultural Theory John Beverly, Duke University Press, 1999, chap. 1 “Writing in Reverse: The Subaltern and the Limits of Academic Knowledge” pp 26-40

This chapter begins with the story of Jacques Lacan and Petit Jean with regards to the symbolism of the can which is ” a witness to the canning industry” (26). With Lacan wishing to “see something new”, Beverly, in this chapter, deals with what Stephen Morton calls the “critique of representation (…) the ethical dangers associated with representing the disenfranchised from a standpoint of a relatively empowered, diasporic intellectual in the western academy” (95). In addition, what Lacan wishes to do, according to Beverly, is a splitting of position in the production of knowledge which has always been produced from the standpoint of the “alienated” master, an alienation that puts him aside from the experiences of the subalterns. That splitting goes from the position of the master to that of the slave (26).

Interestingly enough is the way Beverly schematizes the splitting of that position, not only writing in reverse for the sake of reversion, but writing in negation, “negation as the category that defines subaltern identity or ‘will'”. However, the methodology of this writing in negation might be replete with some of the dangers of essentialism and/or reversing the world, for the center to move to the periphery and vice versa. This notion of negation hints at the ideas of Jean Paul Sartre, a French philosopher of the 20th century, who was committed for the cause of the Négritude movement in Paris. Black Africans writers at the time wrote in negation about about African culture and historiography  againts the Eurocentric anthropology and colonial discourse. But what is interesting in Sartre’s ideology is that he warned his fellow African negritudists againts the dangers of writing in reverse for the sake of reversion; his ideas might, in a sense, echo Spivak’s “strategic essentialism” or again Guha’s “necessary antithesis”, considering the Negritude, not as an end in itself, but as a necessary passage that was to be “bypassed” (o bypass might be blurred but it is my personal conviction of it). In connection with this chapter, Beverly talks about the “epistemological reversion” directed againts the hegemonic linguistic and cutural “assumptions of the elites-both native and colonial” (27). What is at sake in this particular reversion is the fact that “the sense of history (has been) converted into an element of administrative concern”, thus refering to the colonial archive that has not to be burnt in its entirety. What Beverly is trying to say, to my mind, is that Guha’s the-lower-in-the-higher model of reversion has to be called into question. He draws the debate over negation as inversion vs. negation as “dialectical sublation” (32). And i think that Beverly is more likely to be for the dialectical dimension of representing the subaltern, in a sense, refering to the hegelian terms of negation, “one moment of dialectical process of necessary ‘development’ through stages that culminate in the Absolute Spirit” (32), the spirit being understood as modernity in itself.

However, as Beverly argues, the notion of subalternity has to be seriously defined. for him, subaltern studies is an academic project which, instead of being exlusively linked the ontological identity of the subaltern, has to be embodied in its developmental achievements in close relationship with globalization that reinforces its rhetorical framework. in order for that to be possible, Beverly argues that the role of intelletuals has to be “understanding and administering increasingly multicultural populations and heterogeneous transnational working class”, but this has to be politically done “on the side of the subaltern” (28).

Another story in this chapter is Rodriguez’s, a “chicano scholarship boy” whose autobiographical work, Hunger of Memory, deals with his tight relationship with his working class minority group, the “los pobres” (the subalterns). With this story, John Beverly “celebrates” the power of academia in triggering, like in Rodriguez’s case, consciousness about the mutism and lack of politicl agency of the “los pobres”. What Beverly means by the “power of academia” is not its power to name authoratively things (I mean producing eurocentric knowledge), but its power in giving ” a socially disadvantaged child (Rodriguez) a sense of self and personal agancy” (29). And what is interesting in Rodriguez’ story is that, even though he might be well-intentioned in trying to side with “his” socially disadvantaged minority group, he reprents a sort of threat for the members of that subaltern group since himself bears the marks of western education. This simple fact once again deals with the dangers of ethical positionality of the intellectual concerned with subalternity. Beverly in trun argues for a  new way of representing subalternity, “to develop new forms of scholarship and pedagogy – in history, literary criticism, anthropology, political science, philosophy, education and so forth -and the need to critique academic knowledge as such” (31). This intellectual task in representing subalternity is always challenging because the subaltern and/or postcolonial subject who is educated in the West is in a “doubly elitist position” for he/she is in “academia” and in “the metropolis”, thus reminding us of the dichotomy between metropolis (most of time associated with bourgeoisie) and “ruralness”.

Beverly ends up this chapter by emphasing the multiculturalist feature of scholars in the academy, “we are all muticuturalists now” he says. The multicultural disposition of subaltern studies entails the reconsideration of subalternity in the global and transnational movement or crossroads. The “particularistic, Manichean, (…)  and even sometimes reactionary” standpoint if the subaltern himself has to reconceptualized in the global era. Subaltern studies is not only speaking about the subaltern, but also “the possibility of building relationships of solidarity between ourselves (as intellectuals educated in the western academia) and the people and social pratices we posit as our abject of study” (38-39). therein lies the debate about objectivity vs. subjectivity in representing the subaltern/postcolonial subject,  what Richard Rorty has dichotomized as “desire for solidarity” with the subaltern vs. “desire for objectivity” about the subaltern, the former being more about “commitment than “conversation”.

I will end up by mentioning a passage in the chapter where Berverly states that “the writing of history is not about the past; it is about the present” (34 emphasis mine). This statement needs to be more  elaborated, may be the discussion in class will help all us to better understand.

extra work cited:

Morton, Stephen. Key Contemporay Thinkers: Gayartri Spivak. Cambridge: Polity Press,  2007

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Gramsci’s hegemony and the notion of subalternity

Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony has had a great impact on the developmental character of Cultural Studies in general and of Subaltern Studies in particular. Hegemony, which refers to social power relationship, hints, as Thomas R. Bates has pointed, to the idea that sustains that “man is not only ruled by force alone, but also by ideas”. Therefore, hegemony means a societal setting in which a ruling class is imposing its ideas upon a ruled class, be it by force force or consensus. To my mind, the most telling feature of Gramsci’s hegemony is his notion of the “war of position” in which intellectuals play a central role. In Gramsci’s Italy, intellectuals were positioned in-between the “political society” and the “civil society,” most of the time working to gain the “consent” of the ruled group toward the ideas of the ruling class.

Even tough Gramsci’s Italy differs from the case of subalternity in colonial India, some interconnectedness can be made out between both local histories. The role of intellectuals in Gramci’s Italy might, in a sense, refer to the role of nationalist intellectuals in India who sought to write Indian colonial history by ignoring the insurgencies of subaltern people. As Gramsci beleived that democracy and the concepts of political governance had to be made from the ruled class’s perspective, subalternists thought that the colonial history of India not only included that of the subaltern, but must be said and told from that very perspective, instead of the nationalist and elitist discourse. Herein lies the connection between hegemony, in the gramscian meaning of the the term, and subalternity.

That being said, I like the way scholarship  has and is being influenced by displacement/ diaspora/dis-location. Gramsci’s theory was influenced by Marxism, though he deconstructed its superstructure/base’s economist scheme; and the way Gramsci’s theory has influenced subaltern studies while having in mind the difference of locality between Italy and colonial India. I do beleive that rather than trying to applying concepts outright, intellectuals should think of the specificity of locality and in turn make some changes if needed. And finally, subalternity and postcoloniality have come to meet at crossroads as their common goal at some point was to rewrite historiography and history from “below”. I, however, would like to emphasize the complexity of postcolonial and subaltern subjects that is sometimes overlooked by intellectuals. We have to seriously examine the ambivalence of such positionality in colonial history as Ludden has point it out, “the thorny question of (subaltern/postcolonial subject’s) consciousness” as “the  composite culture of resistance to and acceptance of domination and hierarchy” (18). (emphasis added)

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