Sunday, January 8, 2012, at Elliot Bay Bookstore, Seattle, WA
Interviewed by Rahul K. Gairola, Seattle University and University of Washington
In January 2012, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak visited Seattle for a number of reasons: to deliver the keynote address of the annual conference of the South Asian Literary Association (SALA), participate on a distinguished panel on the future of postcolonial studies at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association of America (MLA), and, among many other things, meet with local scholars, teacher, and students for an informal coffee date at Elliot Bay Bookstore. Spivak’s many engagements prefaced the recent publication of An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (Harvard UP, 2012), a collection of meditations that together explore the many instances of what she has called “the double bind,” which can be read as the elliptical shuttling between two subject positions where at least one, but more often both, are sites of the other. A double bind, in other words, involves a binary in which two subject positions can simultaneously oppose yet construct one another. Spivak also describes the double bind as “learning to live with contradictory instructions.” We can think of this important concept as a function of many other concepts that Spivak has influenced throughout her substantive career: for example, she has famously argued that one can no longer claim subalternity one comes into representation. This presents a double bind in the sense that we need representation to “know” what it means to be “subaltern,” but that representation itself is precisely that – a re-presentation whose meaning is overdetermined and distorted once it is mediated through a semiotic system of meaning production. Another example is Spivak’s famous notion of “strategic essentialism,” which presents a double bind since it, on the one hand, recognizes that essentialism of identity is at play, but on the other hand acquiesces that the flattening of identificatory differences is necessary to secure political agency and bind subjects together for resistance tactics.