27 May 2009

Spivak, the Subaltern, feminism

One of the perks of having no job to report to each day is that I get to attend seminars on UCI's campus. UCI gets an impressive array of world class scholars to visit, especially when it comes to deconstruction and critical theory (like Derrida).

J. invited me to attend a two day seminar by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a scholar whom I had never heard of (which only speaks of my ignorance in such things). I declined the first day's lectures. J. came back raving, muttering for hours about feminism and Hannah Arendt and reproductive heteronormativity and the notion of honorary male in post-menopausal women. I was intrigued enough to attend the second day.

To be honest, for the first half of the 3 hour session, I had no idea what her work was supposed to be doing. It was obvious that she was a powerhouse of a scholar. She was cross-referencing philosophy, literature, and anthropology and translating from original texts in multiple languages (french, bengali, german) while she taught about her feminist theories. It was so esoteric with only slight glimmers of understanding and practical application that I began to realize there were people such as her who lived on a completely higher level of thinking and the only way the masses got it was to have it trickled down bit by bit by people who kept breaking it down into dumber more understandable morsels.

By the 2nd half however, things started coming together. It's much too convoluted in my head to even try to explain "what" it was that was coming together for me but I left inspired and challenged by her passion for feminism, her intellectual rigor, her discipline and activist energy. I realized that what she was trying to do with all of her work, her deconstructive readings of literature and philosophy, her reflections on contemporary society, was to show how there was no legitimate understanding or place for the role of "woman" and the closest thing we had to a place and/or recognition was the status of honorary male given to post-menopausal, aging women who were post-reproductive (thus unable to be identified as woman by the ability to reproduce) and intelligent enough to command respect in the sphere of men. Or something like that.

Afterwards, we shook hands. J. and her had a little tete-a-tete over tea sandwiches. After all that, it was nice to see her as a normal human being who talked about her past lover and needed to run off to the gym because she hadn't worked out in 10 days.

A stimulating afternoon even if I only understood like 2% of what I heard. A couple things became clearer. Whatever my life work is, it will have to do with women. And it is becoming clearer that I must continue to be in places that nurture ideas and consider them a necessary part of being.

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