I got to listen to a dialogue between Gayatri Spivak and Peter Hitchcock today at the grad center.
It was in the basement, which was a little odd. What surprised me most about Spivak was how self-effacing she was. She had this interesting way of being humble and incredibly self-assured at the same time.
Her and Peter talked a bit about her new book, Other Asias, which is actually a volume of previously-published essays.
The first question that Peter asked her revolved around the subaltern, and this really annoyed me. It just seemed quite decontextualized, given the specific topic of "critical regionalism" that she tries to approach in Other Asias. I had to wonder why we were talking about her famous 1981 essay again. Not that it isn't an amazing piece that needs to be continually discussed--but I was hoping that we'd start with something a bit more current. This, of course, produced a long and slightly incomprehensible question about what constitutes a "technical subaltern" from the crowd, and I found myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat. It seemed like, even after 27 years, academics were still trying to nit-pick this argument of hers, which even she admits to not quite understanding in the first place. I was really interested to hear her talk a bit about how the piece was actually written about her great-aunt, which made it personal for her. I hadn't actually known that before.
After that, she talked a bit about statism and human rights as an "alibis" that could be "philosophically inaccessible and useless" when not framed with real people and material politics in mind. Here are some paraphrased highlights for me:
"What is in our hearts must be protected from the deeply embarrassing experience of having it become public."
"Everyone at Columbia thinks I'm a space-cadet."
"Long after the material structures of imperialism have faded, the epsitemic structures last. The affective structures last."
"I won't ask you to be like me. Just don't ask me to be like you."
"When they [Foucault and Deleuze] talk about high theory, they are incredibly sophisticated--but when they talk to each other, and when they talk about literary texts, they're sloppy. Plot summary, themes, characterology--it's not sophisticated at all. And [pointing to the audience] you all shouldn't do that either, there's no excuse!"
"When we read a text [as academics] we look for those points of transparency, those points of misalignment, and we can turn them around, turn capital around, as if re-writing, until it [is as if] we in fact did write those spots because they seem to speak to us. Not just re-writing, but seeing something by Derrida or Heidegger as having been already written by us [because it resonates]."
"I'm not very well liked on the mainland."
In response to a student who asked a question about statist human rights: "It's like being in an eye doctor's office. You ask big questions like that, and it's like staring at that big poster and trying to see the letters. Can you see 'E?' Ok, I can see 'E,' but that's about it. The vision of these states who claim to be helping just isn't good enough. And if that's too confusing, then I'm sorry, but I can't un-confuse it."
Other high points included: a story about her getting mugged, having a concussion, and showing up the same day for a lecture with an empty briefcase and no notes; describing Who Sings the Nation State? as "the book that Judy and I wrote--you know, Judy Butler"; having her cell-phone ring in the middle of answering a question, then exclaiming "Jesus!", getting up to answer it, then sighing: "One missed call. And this isn't even my cell-phone"; and desribing a postcolonial critic as "my homeboy." Also, I have to say, her deep maroon sari with an emerald hem was seriously ass-kicking.
As if the afternoon wasn't surreal enough, as I was writing this blog, Eve Sedgwick walked into the computer lab, said hi, and asked me how my semester was going. We chatted about Proust for a bit, since she's teaching her Proust course again next year, and I told her how weird it felt to read Swann's Way on a Greyhound bus from Toronto to New York. Her reply: "I don't think Proust cares where you read the book, as long as you read it."
So there you go.