Sunday, September 21, 2014

One and the Many: Looking at the Question of Religious Pluralism in India from a Materialist Philosophical/ Theological Perspective

One and the Many: Looking at the Question of Religious Pluralism in India from a Materialist Philosophical/ Theological Perspective

There is a Vedic aphorism in India: “Truth is one, sages call it by many names.”  This aphorism has been used to denote the religious/ cultural tolerance in India. The Vedic theologies/ philosophies like Advaita (non-dualism) hinge on the logic of One, of course, which is not the totalitarian One.  The Advaitic logic of One, according to its theologians and philosophers, is nothing but ‘all-inclusive mansion which has many rooms within.’ For them, this Oneness is to be explained in terms of its depth and abyss, mystery and negativity; but not in terms of the numerical logic of One.[i]  Indian Christian theologians who appropriated the Vedic philosophy/ theology, found it as the epistemological habitation for the Christian doctrine of trinity-the logic of accommodating many in to One.  As efforts to interact with ‘the other’ religious and philosophical traditions in India and to make Christian theology contextual and ‘indigenous’, these theological inventions are to be validated and acknowledged.   At the same time, the absence of the dialogical engagement with the materialistic philosophical traditions makes us inquisitive and on the other hand, invokes us to listen more carefully to the theologies from the margins that posed sharp criticisms to the transcendental logic of the Vedic theologies in Indian Christian Theology.

It may be true that the materialistic philosophical traditions like Carvaka/ Lokayata and the counter-Vedic religious traditions like Buddhism and Jainism might not have made a visible effect in the Indian theological/ philosophical academy. At the same time, those interrogations to the transcendentalist, all embracing, and accommodative politics of the Vedic epistemologies and the subsequent legitimizations of the ‘unitary social orders’ are still validated in the political/ theological aspirations of the marginalized sections in the contemporary post-modern/ post-colonial India. For example, we have to ask certain questions like how do we address the Ambedkarite political philosophy that vehemently challenges the Vedic logic of One that pretends to be all inclusive and plural? How does he appropriate the materialist religious/ philosophical traditions in India to augment the political becoming of the marginalized in Indian democracy?  What would be our response to Ambedkar’s re-definition of religion as an ethico-political practice (Dhamma) that denies any kind of notions of a Transcendent Big Other who legitimizes the theo-logic of a ‘unitary social order’ from ‘beyond’?  Setting it in this wider spectrum, this paper tries to address the question of religious pluralism as it is attended by the Vedic and non-Vedic religious traditions in India and tries to formulate a theological response to the problem of ‘one and the many’ from the materialistic philosophical traditions in India. It analyzes how the early materialistic philosophical traditions like Lokayata addressed the question of plurality differently and how it has been appropriated in the (post) modern and the (post) colonial Indian context by Ambedkar in order to re-define the notions of God, human freedom, and religion.  By addressing the problem of ‘one and the many,’ this study proposes a materialist philosophical/ theological response to the problem of religious pluralism in India.  

Published in NCC Review, September 2014 issue.
Rev. Dr. Y. T. Vinayaraj


[i] For a detailed study on this point see, S. Wesley Ariarajah, “One and Many: The Struggle to Understand Plurality within the Indian Tradition and Its Implications for the Debate on Religious Plurality Today” in Divine Multiplicity: Trinities, Diversities, and the Nature of Relation, edited by Chris Boesel & S. Wesley Ariarajah (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), 106-118. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Re-configuring 'Christian Unity': Towards an Ecumenism of 'Manyness'

Re-configuring 'Christian Unity': Towards an Ecumenism of 'Manyness'

Post-script: An Indian Response

The logic of Oneness is not just a western product. it is the content of all totalitarian and hegemonic logic and practices. In Indian 'Orthodox' philosophical traditions, there is a parallel logic of unity-Advaita which has been used by the early Indian Christian  theologians as an 'indegenized' form of christian unity. Advaita speaks of a non-dualistic monism which provides the ultimate authority to Brahman-the Almighty and a degraded status to the world and human. the logic of unity conceived by Advaita was not capable enough to address the question of marginalization caused by caste hierarchy and oppression. like Oikumene of the western Christian theology, the Oneness offered by the Hindu-Brahmanic theology was also bogus and hegemonic. The case of Dalits in India remains as a typical example of the effect of all theologies of Oneness. Ecumenism of 'manyness' in India finds its foundation in these multiple contentions, however, not based on their identitarian positionalities. 

Rev. Dr. Y. T. Vinayaraj
Article published in Bangalore Theological Forum, Vol. XLV, No. 2 December 2013

Monday, May 12, 2014

Ambedkar, Politics, and Theology

Ambedkar, Politics, and Theology
Y. T. Vinayaraj

(Article published in Theology for Our Times, Ecumenical Christian Center Bangalore, April 2014)

Any renewal of the political order required a renewal of theology.                                               John D. Caputo and Catherine Keller[1]
Political thought, whether it is of the ‘West’ or the ‘Rest’ bears the signature of a theology.  It was Giorgio Agamben who exposed the Christian theological inheritance of the Western political thought. Agamben theorizes the social location of the bare lifepeople live outside of the territory of laws of immigration, nationality and citizenship which reconfigure the notions of state, law and justice.[2]  Agamben’s political theory of ‘the state of exception’ signifies a radical turn in the Continental political thought as it is being appropriated or even critically engaged by the postcolonial political philosophers.  Taking the cue from those critical engagements with the Continental philosophical thought, this study tries to analyze B. R. Ambedkar’s political thought in the contemporary postmodern/ postcolonial context and explores its theological implications for envisaging a subaltern political theology in Indian context.
 As in the case of Agamben, the political thought of Ambedkar which is termed as the subaltern political thought exposes the hegemonic epistemological foundation of Indian socio-political order which excludes certain sections of people in the account of the social practice—caste that is legitimized by certain elitist epistemologies and theologies.  As an interlocutor of colonial modernity, Ambedkar’s political intention is to explore the possibility of democratizing of the democracy on the basis of a social ethics which is rooted in Indian materialist philosophical discourses.  Here Ambedkar’s political thought remains unique due to its non-Western philosophical foundation while exploring the multiplex inhabitations within the colonial modernity.  This study tries to re-read or re-locate Ambedkar in the philosophical discourses of the Indian political thought while allowing him to interact with the other post-Continental political thinkers as well. It is argued here that Ambedkar’s political thought signifies a radical turn not only in the Indian political thought but also in the Continental political philosophical tradition. Theological engagement with Ambedkar’s political thought doesn’t mean just attaching certain Christian categories like God, Christ, kingdom of God or liberation to his political thought and argue that he is eligible to be called as a liberation theologian; rather it is to explore deep into his epistemological discontents with Christian theology and Christianity on his way to envisage radical social democracy in India.  This study has four major sections: (1) Ambedkar’s epistemological itinerary; (2) The political philosophy of Ambedkar; (3) Religion after Ambedkar; (4) A theological engagement with Ambedkar’s political thought.      

1.      Ambedkar’s Epistemological Itinerary
Despite of his academic training in Deweyan pragmatism, Ambedkar appears to be a postcolonial interlocutor of the colonial modernity.[3]  Ambedkar takes a departure from the notion of the universality of the Western enlightenment ideals such as liberty and freedom, and initiates a deviation from the universal reason to social ethics or morality which is founded on Indian materialistic philosophies and religious traditions. It is here Ambedkar deviates from the Habermasian communicative theory that presupposes the universality of reason, and locates himself in a postcolonial theoretical location through which he appropriates or rejects the colonial notions of liberal subjectivity. Of course, Ambedkar prefers the scientific thinking and the enlightenment notions as it is in the Deweyan pragmatism, but that is to challenge the irrational Brahmanic-Hindu knowledges on social order and democracy which is inherently hegemonic and exclusive.[4]  In nut shell, Ambedkar’s subaltern political thought opens up a dialogical epistemological space within colonial modernity which appropriated with the indigenous knowledges of social morality and politics.  
Another important discipline that Ambedkar engages with is Marxism. In his 1961 Columbia essay, ‘Castes in India’ describes caste as an ‘enclosed class’. According to Ambedkar it is the ‘enclosure of caste’ which gives caste their social coherence.  Ambedkar uses the word class as a collectivity formed around shared interest and the experience of exploitation.   Ambedkar’s use of the term Dalit varga (class) is to signify the governmental category of depressed classes through which he meant for a Dalit political subjectivity in the modern context. Ambedkar-Marxist dialogue intensified during the formation of the Independent labor party on 15 August 1936.  Ambedkar used the category labor as an inclusive category of depressed classes.  Society is classified into various classes and the depressed classes constitute the excluded-the marginalized. They are excluded from all kinds of ownership, management, and production due to their caste location. Ambedkar brought caste as a crucial factor in defining the category-labor which is nothing but Ambedkar’s “interwar engagement with Marxism”.[5] While signifying Ambedkar’s emphasis on caste in Indian socio-political context, Anupama Rao clearly analyzes the inadequacy of the Marxist definition of the category-labor in India.  Rao contends, “labor was thus underspecified and overdescribed: it was an organizational element in union activism, a category on whose behalf the Communist Party spoke, and a key category of governance and legal regulation shaped by the joint requirements of industrial capital and the resistances of strike action.”[6]
Ambedkar-Marx engagement ultimately led to a postcolonial translation of Marxism which differentiates themselves in their notions of power, body, and capital. Ambedkar contradicts with the Marxist theory of labor and argues that in Indian context the labor of the untouchables has no ‘value’ or ‘count’ because it is already defined as defiled and impure. According to Rao, in Ambedkar-Marx dialogue the problem that involves the collision of two kinds of body history, of the body as value, and the body as dispossessed and disposable.[7] In the Brahmanic Hindu social knowledge, the history of labor was embedded in the theory of duty, varnadsramadharma, the labor of the shudra was seva-the service to the social body. Taking the cue from the Vedic epistemology, Gandhi defined labor as a social gift-sacrifice for the social order. For Gandhi service is a ‘giving without return’.[8]  Gandhi’s political philosophy of non-violence was in fact inherently violent. For Ambedkar, the primary step for the untouchables is to challenge the stigma embodied on their bodies and to become ‘valuable’ bodies before go for emancipation through labor as Marx proposed.
Along with Marx, Ambedkar initiates a lifelong interaction with Buddha. Unlike Nagarjuna who takes a mystic turn with Buddhism, Ambedkar takes a secular-political turn with Buddhism.[9]  Ambedkar engages with Buddhism through Marx. Differently said, Ambedkar envisages a new form of Buddhism with the help of Marx.  Ambedkar re-interpreted Buddhism as a morality-centric Dhamma based on the materialistic philosophy. Buddhism, in its original form, is a heterodox philosophy that denies the Vedic philosophy of God, soul, and karma. Ambedkar denies the philosophy of Hinduism which is impotent to offer an open and free subjectivity and social life based on liberty and fraternity. As Kancha  Illaiah writes Ambedkar re-constitutes Buddhism by defining God as a political philosopher and human self as futurist and becoming through political engagements.[10] Gail Omvedt clearly states that it is the question of commitment to an egalitarian society that led Ambedkar to approach Buddhism which hails from an anti-hegemonic epistemological standpoint.[11] Thus in Ambedkar’s political thought religion takes a political turn and becomes ‘religion after religion’.
While reading Ambedkar’s the Buddha and his Dhamma, Raosaheb Kasbe rightly analyzes that Ambedkar’s Buddha is not just the traditional Buddha; but a Marx-like Buddha.[12] Buddha, for Ambedkar, is a political philosopher who stands for a democratic form of governmentality as it is theorized by Marx. However, Ambedkar-Marx-Buddha dialogue is internally complex and contested one. Ambedkar asks “Could the Buddha answer Karl Marx?” Ambedkar wanted Buddha to answer the questions raised by Marx. By critiquing Marx for the inadequacy of his economic theory and the theory of historical materialism in Indian context, Ambedkar looks into the social formation of the economic-political system that is epistemologically located in the ‘pure materialistic’ philosophies like Lokayata. Ambedkar finds epistemological validity to fulfill the Marxist vision of classless society in the Buddhist Dhamma which further needed to be reconstructed to be a postcolonial political philosophy of casteless society. In short, the epistemological itinerary of Ambedkar’s political thought locates itself in a locus of Dewey-Marx-Buddha which is internally complicated, contested and disputed.    
2.      Political Philosophy of Ambedkar
Ambedkar’s political philosophy is analyzed here in three focuses: (1) social precedes political; (2) ethical and religious contents of political philosophy; (3) constitutional democracy and the agency of law.

a.     Social Precedes Political
Ambedkar becomes the most prominent political philosopher in the Indian political thought, based on his political theorization of the problem of exclusion. According to Ambedkar there is a permanent inconsistency in the political knowledge of Indian social order. Some sections of people are permanently excluded and their struggle to enter into the political domain constitutes democracy in India inherently problematic. In this contested political situation, Ambedkar comes up with a new slogan: the social precedes political.[13] According to Ambedkar, it is the social content of democracy that enhances the excluded one’s struggles to reorganize the social-political order. It is not just the lack of the political conscience, but lack of the moral conscience that becomes important in the Indian context of caste exclusion.  Here Ambedkar offers a radical ‘punch’ to the political philosophy which is internally destabilized and re-defined in terms of the social morality and social democracy.
Kesava Kumar opines that the core of the Ambedkarite political thought is constituted by two assumptions: ‘the rights are protected not by law but by social and moral conscience of society, and a democratic form of government presupposes a democratic form of society’.[14] Unlike the Western tradition of democracy, in Ambedkar’s thought democracy is a form of society, or a mode of associated living, and a social consciousness which is founded on high values of morality. For Ambedkar the political democracy presupposes a social democracy. Social democracy presupposes a quality life based on social values of freedom, liberty, and justice. According to Ambedkar, a democratic government means a democratic social structure that brings revolution to the socio-political and economic life of the common people without bloodshed. Here Ambedkar poses the potentiality to annihilate caste as the major criteria to judge the fecundity of a political theory or practice in Indian context.

b.     Ethical and Religious contents of the Political Philosophy
Another significant specialty of the Ambedkarite political thought is that is primarily ethical and religious. According to Ambedkar, Indian social order which is fundamentally built on the caste epistemology of the Vedic religiosity, is to be destabilized and denied on the basis of the modern ideals of democracy, justice and liberty. The moral standard of the Vedic religiosity is not at all acceptable due to its exclusivist and enslaving theology. The authoritarian Hindu social order delimits the freedom and enslaves the majority of the Indian polity. The victims of the caste system are thrown out of the socio-political and economic capitals of the society. Thus the social order is to be reconstituted on the basis of equality, justice and the moral religiosity.  Hinduism is not capable enough to provide an ethical social life due to its caste epistemology. It is here Ambedkar brings the question of religious conversion as political strategy for freedom and social democracy.
Religion for Ambedkar is nothing but a political community that gives a collective identity to the marginalized people in India.  Especially the modern Indian context of nation-state necessitates a collective political identity that is rooted in a religious identity. In the nation-state politics, it is the religious collective identity that signifies the representation of plural sections of people. Analyzing this consciously, Ambedkar argues for a religious identity for the caste victims to be represented in the nation-state political power.  Thus the notion of community becomes central to Ambedkar’s political thought. For him, Hinduism is not qualified to be a just community. Islam and Christianity, though they stand for egalitarianism, are politically impotent to challenge the caste epistemology and its practices in Indian context. For Ambedkar, Buddhism has the inherent potentiality to be a moral community based on political reasoning and ethics.[15] Buddhism, unlike Islam and Christianity, has had the history of challenging the caste epistemology theologically and politically. Contrary to the Marxist notion of class, Ambedkar’s ideal community is to be created through the moral transformation of an individual from the caste status to the political subjectivity. Ambedkar believes that Buddhism has the potential to initiate this moral transformation because of its anti-casteist epistemological heritage and the moral philosophy of political becoming through sangh.

c.     Constitutional Democracy and the Agency of the Law
Ambedkar’s political philosophy is marked by its basis on the constitutional democracy and the agency of the law.  Ambedkar’s engagement with the British government was to ensure the self –representability of the disadvantaged people in the politic discourses of the state. If the untouchables are not represented in the political process, that state becomes sectarian and exclusive. Here Ambedkar exposes the assumption of the Western notion of state that it represents all citizens irrespective of their social locations.[16] The Western notion of the state always functions in the assumption that the excluded are to be incorporated into the mainstream through its emancipatory projects and thereby the state can become politically neutral.  Contrary to the Western notion of the state, Ambedkar destabilizes the notion of the neutrality of constitution of the state and reconfigured it in terms of the multiple locations of its citizens on the basis of a constitutional democracy and the agency of the law. Ambedkar focuses on the political inclusion of the excluded through the constitutional spacing and the agency of laws and thereby the very constitution of the notion of the state itself can be re-imagined and re-configured. It is here Ambedkar differentiates himself with the so called ‘nationalists’ and becomes an ‘anarchist’. It is this ‘anarchist’ position of Ambedkar enforces the ‘nationalist wing’ like National Congress and Hindutua allies to call Ambedkar ‘anti-nationalist’. In fact, in this position, the ‘nationalist wing’ becomes pro-colonial and promoters of colonial modernity.
However, towards the end of his career and political life, Ambedkar comes to the understanding that there is a limitation to the fulfillment of the social democracy and the annihilation of caste through the legal means. Ambedkar stated on All India Radio in 1954: “I deem the place of law very low; because I am not confident to say that law would certainly be of any help with regard to violation of liberty and equality”.[17] Thus Ambedkar moves towards the social role of religion in functioning of a social democracy. J. Soske rightly says that ‘Ambedkar moved away from his expanded ideal of state-driven transformation not because he rejected its presuppositions: many of them reappeared in his advocacy of Buddhism as a civic religion’.[18] Of course, in the law’s place, he advocated the criterion of a new socio-cultural-political community as the power capable of producing social consciousness and a shared moral order. Conversion to Buddhism was a political agenda of Ambedkar to envisage a political community, political practice and a political theology that challenge the casteist social order and promote political subjectivity to the disenfranchised in the Indian context.

d.    Ambedkar and the Continental Political Philosophy
Continental philosophy as a post-enlightenment Western thought emerges out of the crisis of Western liberalism. In the modern world dominated by Europe, liberalism has functioned to support both economic capitalism and political democracy. The political democracy that continues to support neoliberal capitalism encountered severe criticism from the post-Continental philosophers for being authoritarian and sovereign.[19] The concept of sovereignty embedded in the modern political democracy has been severely criticized by Giorgio Agamben’s political theory of ‘state of exception’. According to Agamben, there are some people who live in the ‘state of exception’-‘the living dead’-that destabilizes the notion of the sovereignty of the state. Interrogating the notion of sovereign state, Jacques Derrida proposes the theory of ‘democracy to-come’ that invokes a constant deconstruction of the political process in order to envisage an ever differing meaning of democracy and political subjectivity. Hardt and Negri, on the other hand, come up with the notion of ‘multitude’ that signifies the political power of the common people as it is opposed to the notion of sovereignty in a post-liberal and postcolonial democratic political process.
Following Foucault’s theory of bio-politics, Agamben highlights the inability of the force of law to deconstruct the social body from the discursive formulation of the sovereignty. Here Agamben explains the crisis of the Western political philosophy as it finds difficulty to reconfigure social order out of its liberal, individualistic, rational and sovereign political epistemological framework.  Gilles Deleuze tries to address this crisis by fixing it with his theory of ‘event’. Deleuze talks about an unconscious event through which we dream for the force of law beyond the law. The problem with these Western political thoughts is that they are founded on certain psychoanalytic ideas and literary aesthetics, rather than political engagements of the marginalized people. It is here Ambedkar’s political philosophy remains significant and different for a postcolonial political thought. Ambedkar’s political thought is rooted in the political engagements of the excluded as they take on the hegemonic notions of political power and social order. It is located in the ethical and religious values rather than psychoanalytic ideas and liberal values of capitalism. Unlike the Continental political philosophy, Ambedkar’s political philosophy is located in the political becoming of the subaltern subjectivity as they struggle to erupt a multiphonic democracy based on the indigenous materialistic philosophies and the heterodox religious traditions.    

3.      Religion after Ambedkar
Ambedkar differentiates the concept of religion and Dhamma. Keeping Hinduism in mind, he defines religion as personal whereas Dhamma is social. According to Ambedkar, Hinduism as a reformed Brahmanic philosophy, is ritualistic and thus forms enslaving subjectivities.  On the other hand, Dhamma stands for righteousness which means right relationship with all. Dhamma necessitates relationship and vice versa. Society cannot do without Dhamma. Dhamma leads to liberty and justice. Dhamma consists of prajna (reason) and karuna (compassion). It is the understanding with compassion and ethics keeps our social life righteous and democratic.[20]
Following Buddha, Ambedkar held the view that religion is connected with revealing the beginning of things or the origin of the world whereas Dhamma is to reconstruct the world. Dhamma is founded on morality. The main content of religion consists of God, soul, prayers, worship, rituals ceremonies, and sacrifices. Transcendence is foundational for religion whereas Dhamma is built on immanence. The root of Dhamma is not rituals rather it is morality. According to Ambedkar, morality comes in religion only human comes in relationship fellow human. Religion asks us to be moral because we are all connected to God. Be good to your neighbor because we are children of God.  In religion, morality is just an attachment. For religion, morality is casual and occasional and thus it is a secondary thing.  On the other hand, Dhamma is nothing but morality. In Dhamma, morality takes the place of God, although there is no God in Dhamma. Morality in Dhamma does not need any divine sanction. It arises out of the human relationship for liberty, freedom and justice.
Morality in Dhamma is considered as sacred because it stands for the protection of the weak. Survival of the weakest is the social imperative behind the morality. It is the morality or the politics of the survival of the weakest what determines the progress of the society. As in the case of religion, Dhamma is not controlled by ceremonies, rituals and liturgies, rather social morality that sustains the society sacred. Dhamma is not just rhetorical, rather it is practical and thus internally political.   
Ambedkar’s definition of religion becomes significant in the post-religious and post-secular context.  In Ambedkar’s political thought, religion (Dhamma) is treated as a political philosophy through which the binarism between the secular and the sacred is being denied and it is being immanently connected to the political process of becoming. The reconfiguration of the subjectivities is inherently connected with the socio-political and the material relations which are founded on morality or Dhamma. Dhamma as a political form of religion (Dhamma) becomes significant in Ambedkar’s thought through which it transgresses the limitations of both Marxism and the traditional Buddhism.  When this political thought of Ambedkar comes into dialogue with Christianity, the problem becomes intensified since Christianity is assumed as the epitome of ‘The Religion’.   
Despite of its egalitarianism, Ambedkar was skeptic about the potentiality and the usefulness of Christian theology in challenging the caste knowledges and its practices. According to Ambedkar, Christianity is good to be preached, but not to be practiced.  For him, Christianity is purely spiritual.   Christian spirituality is unrelated to the material life and thus it is politically unproductive. Ambedkar argues that it is evident in the life of the Dalits who converted to Christianity. The Christian converted Dalits, in Ambedkar’s perspective, become apolitical and inactive due to the transcendent content of the Christian doctrines. Analyzing the missionized theology in India, Ambedkar tries to expose the theological inconsistency within the doctrinal discourses of Christian missionary program:
Instead of being taught that their fall was due to a wrong social and religious environment and that for their environment they must attack the environment, they were taught their fall was due to their sin. Consequently the Dalit Christians instead of being empowered to conquer their environmental context, conferred themselves with the belief that there is no use of struggling, for the simple reason that their fall is due to the sin committed not by them but by some remote ancestors of their called Adam and Eve.[21]  
According to James Massey, here Ambedkar stresses that when a Dalit Christian ‘was a Hindu his fall was due to his karma. When he becomes a Christian he learns that his fall is due to the sins of his ancestor. In either case, there is no escape for him.’[22] In Ambedkar’s political thought, the transcendental framework of Christianity is being strongly interrogated and the Christian theology is being invoked to deconstruct its doctrinal fecundity in a postcolonial political content. 
4.     Ambedkar, Politics, and Theology
            As Agamben exposes, Christian Theology is inherently political. In the Western tradition, what is political is always theological. However, through the formation of political theology in the modern philosophical context, Christian theology tried to cover up this inherent coalition and pretend to be neutral to become capable enough to talk about democracy, justice, and freedom. The emergence of the postcolonial theologies exposes the “imperio-colonial sense” of the Christian Theology and tries to envisage theologies differently in the post-Christendom context.  While explaining the potential space of the postcolonial theologies, Catherine Keller emphatically contends: “With its (Christian Theology’s) imperial success, the church, one might argue, absorbed an idolatry of identity: a metaphysical Babel of unity, an identity that homogenizes the multiplicities it absorbs, that either excludes or subordinates every creaturely other, alter, subaltern”.[23]   It is here the postcolonial theology, that differentiates itself from the “imperio-colonial sense” of the Christian Theology and rooted in the subaltern ethical and religious theological epistemology, becomes imperative in the Indian theological context.
            Dalit theology in India, on the other hand, followed uncritically the epistemological foundations of Christian Theology and never tried to engage with the philosophical framework of its doctrinal discourses as we see in the political thought of Ambedkar. Dalit theology tried to appropriate and incorporate Ambedkar into theological discourses without attending his epistemological differences and contestations. This is true in the case of all contextual theologies and public theologies in India that pretend to be political in content. Ambedkar’s political thought cannot be incorporated to Christian theology easily.  The political thought of Ambedkar remains insoluble and unfathomable for Christian Theology.  To engage with the Ambedkar’s subaltern political thought, Christian Theology has to go through certain foundational reconfigurations and changes.  Ambedkar’s political thought invokes Christian Theology to take a postcolonial and subaltern epistemological turn which is rooted in the materialist philosophical traditions in India. Christian Theology has to prove its theological and doctrinal fecundity to be a de-casteist epistemology. The offering of salvation to the sinful bodies, whether it is human body or social body, through the transcendentalist notions of the sacramental theology faces interrogation in the Ambedkarite subaltern political thought. For Ambedkar, Christian theology seems to be apolitical and impotent to challenge the caste formations of subjectivity. In short, a theological engagement with the subaltern political thought of Ambedkar provokes Christian theology to take a postcolonial and materialist turn that even destabilizes the philosophical foundations of Christian Theology itself.  Differently said, engagement with Ambedkar’s political thought is a ‘crucifixion point’ for Christian Theology that necessitates new resurrections in the political programs of the disenfranchised in the Indian context.   
It was Ambedkar who unsettled the settled logic of Indian social order and reconstructed it on the basis modern notions of social democracy and equality.  Ambedkar was not just an interpreter of the colonial modernity; rather he twisted its head towards a social democracy of equality and justice. In his political thought, both the process of secularization and the religious-moral foundations are being interrogated and reformulated for the excluded mass of Indian population.   The question of social agency and the recognition of the ‘broken people’—Dalits in the Indian socio-political realm signifies Ambedkar’s political thought in the contemporary transnational political context. Ambedkar’s subaltern political thought due to its foundation in the materialistic philosophical tradition and in the ethical-religious values rather than liberal, capitalistic values of the Western democracy locates itself in post-Continental philosophical framework.
 Ambedkar’s political philosophy remains unassimilable for Christian Theology. It is not just easy to absorb him into the philosophical foundation of Christianity. Christian Theology has to be destabilized epistemologically and philosophically in order to attend the political thought of Ambedkar.  Ambedkar’s political thought remains unincorporated and unfathomable for Christian Theology. There is a tendency among the Christian theologians to theologize everything by adding some Christian categories like liberation, salvation, and redemption to anything.  At least Ambedkar needs to be saved from any kind of such incorporation and accommodation into the all-embracing philosophical foundation of Christianity.  The ‘irreducible singularity’ of Ambedkar’s subaltern political thought is to be affirmed and differentiated.  It was his desire for becoming a political community through which the excluded ones envisage a political subjectivity and social democracy lead him to embrace Buddhism and to reject Christianity. The challenge before Christian Theology in India is to reconfigure its epistemological and philosophical foundations that delimit its potential to become a subaltern political practice which locates its epistemological habitation in Indian materialistic philosophies and heterodox religious traditions.           


[1] Catherine Keller and John D. Caputo, ‘Theopoetic/ Theopolitic,’  Crosscurrents, March 2007,Vol. 60, Issue 1: 105-111.
[2] Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception  (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005
[3] Dewey was Ambedkar’s teacher in the Columbia University, New York. There are some studies that define Ambedkar as a statist. It is a misunderstanding of Ambedkar’s political reading and a misreading of  Deweyan pragmatism. For e.g. Keith Hebden, Dalit Theology and Christian Anarchism (USA & London: Ashagate, 2011), 87.  Dewey had never been a statist.
[4] Pradeep Gokhale, ‘Dr. Ambedkar as a Philosopher: Beyond Reductionism,’ in The Philosophy of Dr. B. R. Amedkar, edited by Pradeep Gokhale (Pune: Indian Philosophical Quarterly Publication, 2008), 1-25.
[5] Anupama Rao, ‘Revisiting interwar thought: Stigma, labor, and the immanence of caste-class,’ in The Political Philosophies of Antonio Gramsci and B. R. Ambedkar: Itineraries of Dalits and Subalterns edited by Cosimo Zene (London & New York: Routledge, 2013), 43-58.
[6] Ibid., 48-49.
[7] Ibid., 52.
[8] Ibid., 55.
[9] Pradeep Gokhale, ‘Dr. Ambedkar as a Philosopher: Beyond Reductionism,’ 6.
[10] Kancha Illaiah, God as Political Philosopher, Buddha’s Challenge to Brahmanism (Culcutta: Samya, 2000).
[11] Gail Omvedt, Buddhism in India (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2003)
[12] Raosaheb Kasbe, Ambedkar ani Marx cited by Pradeep Gokhale, ‘Dr. Ambedkar as a Philosopher: Beyond Reductionism, 13.
[13] Kesava Kumar, ‘Political Philosophy of B. R. Ambedkar: A Critical Understanding, International Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 1 No.2, pp 193-210, 2008, Pondicherry University, Pondicherry.
[14] Ibid., 4-5.
[15] Harish Wnkhede, ‘The Political and Social in the Dalit Movement Today,’ in Economic & Political Weekly, February 9, 2008, 50-57.
[16] Valerian Roudrigues, ed., The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), 61.
[17] Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, edited by Vasant moon and Hari Narke, Vol. 17 (3): 503, Mumbai Education Department, Government of Maharashtra.
[18] Jon Soske, ‘The other prince, Ambedkar, constitutional democracy, and the agency of the law,’ in The Political Philosophies, 70.
[19] Douglas Harink, ed., Paul, Philosophy and the Theopolitical Vision, Critical Engagements with Agamben, Badiou, Zizek, and Others (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2010).
[20] Aakash Singh Rathore and Ajay Verma, eds. B. R. Ambedkar: the Buddha and his Dhamma, A Critical Edition (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011), 167-221.
[21] Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol.7, Bombay Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989, 471-2.
[22] James Massey, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, A Study in Just Society (New Delhi: Center for Dalit/ Subaltern Studies, 2003), 60.
[23] Catherine Keller, “The Love of Postcolonialism: Theology in the Interstices of Empire,” in Postcolonial Theologies, Divinity and Empire, edited by Catherine Keller and et al. (Missouri: Chalice Press, 2004), 223.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Representation of the Subaltern: Spivak and Historiography

Y. T. Vinayaraj

(Article Published in the Mar Thoma Seminary Journal of Theology, Vol. II, No. 2, December 2013)

Representation is first and foremost an act of   performance, bringing forth in the mode of staging something which in itself is not a given-  Wolfgang Iser[1]

Representation, whether it is re-presenting or re-presencing something, is a political activity. It is the epistemological and the question of power implied in it make the politics of representation complex and contestatory. The question of power in the act of representation has been closely examined by the postcolonial theorists and they have exposed the process of ‘worlding’ and ‘othering’ embodied in the colonial modern Western historiography, literature, and culture. Since Edward Said’s Orientalism, this has been one of the major undercurrents that determined the postcolonial discourses in historiography and politics.[2] Taking the cue from Edward Said and other postcolonial theorists, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak problematizes the question of representation of subaltern in the colonial and postcolonial texts.  Spivakian account of subaltern offers a radical turn in the issue of representation and envisages a new rhetorical space of social engagement especially with regard to the social agency of the marginalized sections in the ‘Third world.’ Taking a different theoretical position that interstice postcolonialism, postmodernism, Marxism and post-feminism, Spivak offers a radical positionig of (subaltern) subjectivity and social responsibility. This paper explores the fecundity of the Spivakian theory of subalternity and the challenge that poses to historiography, theology and politics. 
History, Representation, and the Epistemological Trajectories
As a product of modernity, historiography finds its epistemological location in humanism. Humanism as a modern Western enlightenment product envisaged new definition of human subjectivity in contradictory to the pre-modern epistemological trajectories.[3] The fundamental premise of the humanism is that it believed in a universal human nature despite of the differences across time, place, culture, gender and ethnicity. It was this notion of universal humanity later became a point of attack from the post-humanists. Along with this, the writing of history and culture in the post-enlightenment period had to encounter many subsequent epistemological shifts. The notion of the linguistic constructivity of the social world, as it was theorized by the ‘linguistic turn’ and the proceeded theoretical shifts like structuralism and post structuralism became instrumental for the emergence of the post-humanist era. Poststructuralism/ postmodernism as an epistemological shift problematizes the modern gaze on human relationship, texts/ narratives and on human bodies for being Euro-centric, essentialist, universalist, and colonial. In this new epistemological context, the act of representation becomes multifaceted, fragmentary, deconstructive and postcolonial.

It was Michel Foucault who theorized the interconnection between text and the question of power in the postmodern epistemological context. Foucault unsettled the settled notions of (modern) historiography which categorized or ill-treated the ‘subjugated’.[4] For Foucault, the insurrection of the ‘contested knowledges’ of the ‘subjugated’ invoke new resistances and politics.  Jean-Francois Lyotard, in the same vein of thought, criticizes the modern historiography as metanarrative. By metanarrative he means, “master stories that serves as a comprehensive narratives, which subordinate, organize and account for other narratives. For Lyotard, the authoritative, over-arching, and totalizing narratives are no longer tenable because they reject and invalidate the difference of the local/ little narratives that hesitate to be accommodated, appropriated, and emplotted.[5]   Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction shook the Euro-centric epistemic foundation, through which modernity rationalized the existence of ‘non-European,’ ‘variations,’ ‘aberrations,’ and ‘marginal identities.’ Deconstruction brings out the politics behind the construction of meaning and the desire for representation of the ‘other’ in the historiography and culture. It was this post-humanist epistemological context that enriched the insurrection of the postcolonial knowledges and historiographies from the ‘non-European’ peoples and cultures. Postcolonial historiography envisages a radical turn in the writing of history and politics locally and globally.

Postcolonialism that emerged as a critique of Euro-centric approach in the post-humanist era, problematized the modern Western (mis)representation of the ‘non-European other’ in the colonial historiographies and literatures. It was Edward Said’s Orientalism that represented the first phase of postcolonial theory. Said’s intention was to unmask the ideological disguises of imperialism as a hegemonic epistemological project. According to Said, ‘the Orientalism’ unveils the Western style of dominating, restructuring and having authority over the non-European cultures and people. For Said, the representation of the East in terms of the European imaginations (what Said calls ‘fantasies’) was integral to the conquest of the East. Said argues that ‘the Orient’ is an epistemological construction of ‘the Occident’ by which they retained their political and cultural superiority over ‘the Orient.’ He asserts that “orientalism, therefore, is not an airy European fantasy about the orient but a created body of theory and practice in which, for many generations, there has been a considerable material investment.”[6]

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, as a literary critic and political theorist, locates herself in this wider spectrum of post-humanist theoretical location. Engaging with Edward Said, Spivak addresses the question of ‘worlding’ and ‘othering’ in historiography in order to expose the unequal power relationships embodied in the representation of the West’s Other-the ‘Third World’ and the Third World’s Other –the subaltern. Critiquing both postcolonial and poststructural engagement to ‘speak for’ the subaltern, Spivak argues that there is no ‘unrepresented’/ ‘essentialist’ subaltern who can know, speak, and represent themselves in history, culture and politics. Spivakian theory of subalternity makes its representation impossible and at the same time denies any kind of essentialist position of subaltern identity. This ‘im/possible subalternity’ makes Spivakian method unique in the question of representation and thus signals a methodological shift in the hermeneutical program of historiography, culture, politics, theology, and philosophy. 

The Spivakian methodology is highly informed and influenced by three theoretical frameworks: Marxism, postcolonialism and deconstruction which constitute the triadic theoretical foci of her methodology.  However, Spivak offers a feminist critique of all these theories and even re-locates feminism itself in a subverted way.  Spivak may use one theory of this triadic focus to interrogate the other and adopts a novel method of interchanging and exchanging of theoretical gift to envisage a deconstructive, interdisciplinary and trans-theoretical methodological approach of feminism. Even though she is designated as one among the ‘postcolonial trinity,’ Spivak hesitates to be located as a postcolonialist.[7]   One of the main reasons for this rejection of the label ‘postcolonial’ is an increasing recognition that postcolonial theory focuses too much on past forms of colonial domination, and is therefore inadequate to criticize the impact of contemporary global economic domination of the economic agencies of the West on the economies and societies of the global South.[8]

At the same time, Spivak’s relationship with deconstruction is very complex and contestatory.  Spivak’s use of deconstruction is to question the cultural and philosophical foundations of the Western imperialism.  Spivak uses an ‘affirmative deconstruction’ in order to exemplify how textuality justifies colonial expansion and thereby intersects postcolonialism and deconstruction for an effective political hermeneutics.   Spivak has been persistently critical of the universalist claims of Western feminist thoughts to represent all women, rather than acknowledging its culturally partial and relatively privileged position. She warns the Western deconstructionist feminism not to become ‘complicit with an essentialist bourgeois feminism.’[9] Spivak exhorts the ‘first world’ feminists to learn to stop feeling privileged as a woman.[10] What she is intended to do with feminism is to re-locate the gendered subaltern/ the Third World women/ the marginal women and to emphasize the differential, dispersed, and heterogeneous location of women. In short, Marxist-deconstructionist-feminist epistemology seems to be her methodological focal point through which she tries to attend the issues of the representation of the colonized, disempowered, marginalized and disenfranchised women in the complex context of postcolonialism, postmodernism and globalization.

Spivak, Subaltern and Historiography 
Spivak’s use of the term ‘subaltern’ is primarily informed by the work of the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci on the rural-based Italian peasantry and the research off the international Subaltern Studies collective[11] on the histories of subaltern insurgency in colonial and postcolonial South Asia.  The Italian term subalterno, as used by Gramsci, translates roughly as “subordinate” or “dependent.”[12]   Gramsci used this term to question the received Marxist emphasis on the urban proletariat and economy neglecting the culture and the consciousness of the peasantry. The peasantry was dynamic and numerically predominant in Gramsci’s Italy and thus Gramsci wanted to bring them into the alliance with the revolutionary forces in the city.  According to Gramsci it is the responsibility of the intellectual “to search out signs of subaltern initiative and incipient class identity that could be nurtured and educated into true class consciousness and effective political action.”[13]   In the program of the Subaltern Studies Collective, this Gramscian category was extended to “the general attribute of subordination in South Asian society whether this is expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office or in any other way.” [14]

The subaltern has been used by the Subaltern Study Collective as a category that cut across several kinds of political and cultural binaries such as colonialism vs. nationalism, or imperialism vs. indigenous cultural expression, in favor of a more general distinction between subaltern and elite.[15]   For them, it was a category that points to the subordinate sections-the marginalized-the Dalits, the Tribals, the Adivasis, the farmers, the unorganized laborers, the minorities, the women etc. who have not been considered as subjects of their own histories and consciousness in the colonial and national elite historiographies.[16]   Spivak argues that the subaltern in the early Ranajit Guha of the Collective was the name of a space of difference; although Guha seems to be saying that the words “people” and “subaltern” are interchangeable.[17]   By reviewing the Subaltern Study Collective, Spivak proposes a new definition of subalternity- subalternity as ‘identity-in-difference’, as it charts two distinct but related problems of othering, the first concerning the politics of identity and the second contemplating an ethics of alterity.[18]

Can the subaltern speak?
In her essays ‘Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography’ and ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ Spivak offers a productive critique of the theoretical methodology of the Subaltern Study Collective and there by proposes a revised version of Subalternity.  These essays have been revised and incorporated in the expansive “History” chapter of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 198-312) published in 1999.[19]  In this chapter, Spivak exposes the exclusions and the gapes in the representation of the subaltern subject in the colonial and postcolonial historical records.

First, the essay addresses the question of the ‘worlding’ of the ‘native’ or the formation the ‘other’ by the European self.[20]  It is the colonial epistemological trajectory, Spivak argues that, through which the ‘other’ comes to know and narrate its ‘self.’ It is the moment in which the colonial authority speaks for/ as ‘the native’-the other becomes self. Here Spivak destabilizes both colonial and postcolonial representations of subaltern identity that can provide an “authentic voice” in history. As Ritu Birla clearly contents, it is a call to “quit-other,” or the problem of alterity, that is, that which escapes consolidation into narrative and identity.[21]

Spivak’s contention with the postcolonial or proto-deconstructive approach of the Subaltern Study Collective is based on her theoretical critic of the Foucault-Deleuze’s conversation on the relationship between the “masses” and the “intellectuals.”  Spivak questions Michel Foucault and Deleuze who endeavor to produce a radical critique of the Western subject or an authentic postcolonial subject by exposing their double incapacity to recognize the ‘non-universality’ of the Western position and the constitutive space of the gender in the formation of the subaltern subject.[22]  By rereading Marx through the lens of Derrida, Spivak brings out the Marxian dichotomy between Vertreten (proxy) and darstellen (portrait), and exposes the politics and dilemma of representation.  Spivak rejects both the idea that “the masses” are known to themselves and able to make their interests manifest politically (Foucault and Deleuze), and the idea that intellectuals can fulfill their political responsibility by representing or speaking for the masses (Marx).  Spivak’s criticism on the postcolonial method of the Subaltern Study Collective who draws heavily on Foucault-Deleuze conversation is that by constituting a self-speaking postcolonial subject as an  ‘essentialist other’,  and trying to speak for them, in effect, the ‘true subaltern’ becomes silent.   Spivak here problematizes the ‘radical autonomy’ / the claim of the authenticity of the “real experience” of the subaltern and on the other hand, signifies its ‘radical alterity’ and ‘irreducible difference.’

Spivak rejects any kind of essentialist notion of subaltern subjectivity and asserts that there is no such essentialist postcolonial subject who can speak and know their conditions by themselves.   She contends that “there is no unrepresentable subaltern subject that can know and speak itself” and asks, “With what voice-consciousness can the subaltern speak?”[23]   Spivakian thesis is double bind; on the one hand, she argues that the colonialists and postcolonials have misrepresented the subaltern subject and on the other hand, there cannot be an ‘essentialist subaltern subject’ to speak against the colonial representation as it was proposed by the Subaltern Study Collective.   It is out of this epistemological context, the Spivakian thesis arises: “The subaltern cannot speak themselves”[24] which indicates the ‘irreducibility’ and the ‘untranslatability’ of subalternity in historiography and politics.

The Gendered Subaltern  
The question of ‘unrepresentability’ of subaltern is further extended to the question of gender.  By focusing, women as subaltern, Spivak asserts, “within this effaced itinerary of the subaltern, the track of sexual difference is doubly effaced.”[25]   Spivak explains this doubly effaced female subjectivity by entering into the discussion of the psychobiography of Sati (widow-immolation) in pre-colonial India.    According to Spivak, women as subaltern, their voices have been silenced in between the imperialist/ colonialist object-constitution and the nationalist/ patriarchal subject-formation.   She argues that the voices of the gendered subaltern subjectivity has been lost in between the notion of the ‘liberative act’ of the imperialists who tried to abolish this ‘crime’ in the name of civilization and the patriarchal notion of Sati as a “heroic act” through which it was translated as the subaltern women “wanted to die.”   For Spivak, the voices of the female subaltern subjectivity is silenced in between the colonial and nationalist/ patriarchal translations of their ‘consciousness’: (i) “White men were saving the brown women from the brown men” and (ii) “The women wanted to die in order to become good wives (Sati).”  The British colonial rule legally abolished Sati by considering it as a crime and thereby, Spivak argues that the ‘differentiated voice’ of the gendered subaltern subject kept unattended, unheard and silenced.  Both the ‘axiomatics of imperialism’ and ‘the Hindu patriarchal legacy’ are responsible for keeping their voice in shadow.  Spivak here not only problematizes the politics of gender representation but also displaces both the Eurocentric (colonial)and anti-Eurocentric (postcolonial) notions of the ‘authenticity’ of the ‘lived experiences’ of women as an ‘essentialist other.’

Spivak exemplifies this ‘shadowing’ of the voice of the subaltern women by narrating the story of the suicide of a young woman-Bhubaneswari Bhaduri- in Calcutta in 1926. Bhubaneswari Bhaduri was a young woman of sixteen or seventeen; she hanged herself in her father’s house.  She was menstruating at the time, which would indicate that she was not pregnant.  Years later it emerged that she had killed herself because she had been unable to carry out a mission for a revolutionary group of which she was a member.  According to Spivak, Bhubaneswari’s suicide was an act of subaltern re-writing of the social text of Sati-suicide.[26]  Yet the “message” self-inscribed on her body was not read.   “She ‘spoke,’ but women did not, do not, ‘hear her.”[27]  Thus, Spivak argues that the subaltern as female cannot be heard or read even though they speak or write.

Spivak here problematizes the dilemma of the subaltern subject who even tried to speak or re-inscribe something on her body.   According to Spivak, the silence of the subaltern women is not a failure of articulation but the result of the failure of representation.[28]   The point here is not that subalterns do not know how to speak for themselves; rather, the claim on the part of the intellectual that subalterns can and do speak for themselves stands in favor of their civilizing mission of benevolence while occluding the question of audibility.  Spivak argues, while the intellectuals’ claim that the subaltern can speak for themselves, they assume the position of ‘proxy’ and the absence/ presence of the subaltern voice remains as aporia-the im/possibility.  Subalternity according to Spivak is a sheer space of this aporia-the im/possibility where the possibility and the impossibility of absence and presence, voice and viocelessness, essentialism and constructionism coincides each other.  It is here Spivak’s most controversial phrase comes in to the discussion-‘the strategic use of positive essentialism.’

Strategic use of positive essentialism
It is out of this theoretical lacuna of representation, Spivak proposes what she calls the ‘strategic use of positive essentialism in a scrupulously visible political interest’.[29]   Spivak explained it latter in an interview where she denied any kind of theoretical sanction for essentialism.[30]   She warns that it can be used as a theoretical alibi for proselytizing academic essentialisms.  For her it is not a theory but a strategy or tactic fitting a specific situation.   It is a political space of alterity and difference which has nothing to do with identitarianism.   As she remarks in the interview: “I think identitarianism ignores what is most interesting about being alive, that is to say, being angled towards the other.   I therefore found that it was unfortunate that people liked that phrase (‘strategic essentialism’).”[31]   On this Spivakian phrase, Stephen D. Moore and Mayra Rivera comment: “rather than assuming that action flows naturally from identity, strategic essentialism acknowledges the employment of or appeal to an essentialized concept of identity, however deconstructible, as a sometimes necessary political tactic.”[32] 

What Spivak reiterates is that subalternity is a political position-a ‘decolonized space’ without identity through which the subalterns are speaking and resisting. She defines the word -subaltern as the “sheer heterogeneity of decolonized space”[33] and denies it as a synonym for the word “oppressed”.   Spivak explained this in a recent interview with some of the postcolonial theologians at Drew University: “if the subaltern speaks, and it is heard; then he or she is not a subaltern.”[34]  Subaltern speaks, but, she argues, ‘it is not heard” and of course “it cannot be heard”. By defining ‘speaking’ as ‘transaction between the speaker and the listener,’[35] Spivak contents that “Bhubaneswari has spoken in some way”, but “it is effaced even as it is disclosed.”[36]

For Spivak, Subalternity is a ‘rhetorical space,’ that cut across any essentialist position in terms of caste, class, gender and nationality.  Spivakian subalternity is a “secrete”-the irreducible alterity—the (im)possible. If subaltern speaks, it demands deconstruction; because it is “an Echo.”[37] According to Spivak, ‘Echo’ is an attempt to give gendered subaltern a space to deconstruct her out of the representation and non-representation, however imperfectly.  The intellectuals, who defend for the autonomy of the subaltern voice, stand for their civilizing mission of benevolence and speak for the subalterns and the make the true subaltern silent.  The true subalternity is a ‘secrete,’ ‘Echo’, which is ‘indefinable’ and ‘unrepresentable.’   As it is exemplified in the case of Bhaduri, it is beyond our gaze, cognition, and representation, because; it lies in the realm of death. It lies ‘in-between’ representation and non-representation.  It is ‘in between’ human right slogans and the desire for the infinite justice-the justice to come. Thus, for Spivak, subalternity is the im/possibility that makes the subaltern voice or viocelessness a possibility in the contemporary social engagements.  What is most dynamic in the assumption of Spivakian subalternity, it destabilizes the ‘epistemic violence’ of the ‘othering’ of the subaltern and it postpones the ‘truth’ of subalternity in order to rescue it from any kind of representation in history, culture, and politics.

Spivak problematizes the representation of subaltern in historiography, culture and politics. For that purpose, Spivak uses an interdisciplinary method that spans between Marxism, postmodernism, postcolonialism and feminism.  Spivak offers a radical critique to any kind of approach that easily appropriates, accommodates, and emplotes the ‘subaltern consciousness’ in the name of obligation, duty or solidarity.  Spivakian subalternity is a ‘decolonized space,’ where any kind of ‘worlding’ or ‘othering’ is being denied. Voicing against the silencing and the foreclosure of the subaltern, Spivak upholds the irreducibility and the alterity of the subalternity which cannot be emplotted. Spivakian method of writing history is neither objective nor subjective; rather ‘in between.’ This ‘in between’ space is a ‘dialogical space’ where the relationship between the historian and the historicized are re-imagined and re-constituted. It is the ‘deconstructive space’ where the historian becomes no-historian and it is the ‘postcolonial space’ where the historicized denies any kind of fixity of subjectivity. It is here, as Wolfgang Iser contends, we recognize the representation as an act of performance through which we re-define ourselves not on the basis of the other. Writing historiography demands a self-interruption (kenosis) within the historian before he or she inters into the act of representation which is nothing but a political activity. Historiography has never been an innocent activity whether it is colonial or postcolonial.   Spivakian subalternity is an ‘im/possible space’ in which the historian tries to listen to the silence-the echo-the secrete of the silenced. It is here the act of writing history becomes an act of im/possibility.  


[1] Wolfgang Iser, “Representation: A Performative Act”, in The Aims of Representation, Subject/ Text/ History edited by Murray Krieger (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 232.
[2] Edward Siad, Orientalism, (London: Routledge, 1978).
[3] For a detailed study on humanism and post-humanism, see Patrick Fuery and Nick Mansfield, Cultural Studies and Critical Theories (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
[4] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (New York: Pantheon, 1970), 96.
[5] See Willie Thompson, Postmodernism and History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). Emplotment is the concept propounded by Hayden White who draws attention to the reality that any historical narrative requires to be represented in a manner that is analogous to certain forms of literature. See Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: MD, 1973).
[6] Edward Said, Orientalism, 6.
[7] Edward Said and Homi Bhabha are the two other most influential exemplars of postcolonial theory.
[8] Stephen Morton, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Ethics, Subalternity and the Critique of Postcolonial Reason (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), 2
[9] Spivak, In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (New York: Methuen, 1987), 132.
[10] Ibid., 136
[11] It was a group of historians who aimed to promote a systematic discussion of subaltern themes in South Asian Studies. The group-formed by Ranajit Guha, and initially including Shahid Amin, David Arnold, Partha Chatterjee, David Hardiman and Gyan Pandey-has produced five volumes of Subaltern Studies: essays relating to the history, politics, economics and culture of subalternity.
[12] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, trans. and ed. Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 52-120.
[13] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, p. 28. Stephen Morton argues that “it is hard to read Gramsci’s use of the term subaltern only as a simple code –word for the more familiar Marxist category of proletarian; rather it seems to precisely denote subordinate group such as the rural peasantry in Southern Italy, whose achievement of social and political consciousness was limited and their political unity weak.” See, Stephen Morton, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,  96.
[14] Ranajit Guha, ed., Subaltern Studies, Vol.I, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982), vii
[15]Bill Ashcroft, et al. Post-Colonial Studies; The Key Concepts (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 218
[16]For a detailed study of the epistemological trajectories of the category-subalternity in the theoretical methodology of the Subaltern Study Collective, see the introductory essay ‘A brief History of Subalternity’ in Reading Subaltern Studies, edited by David Ludden (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001), 1-42
[17] Spivak, ‘Scattered Speculations on the Subaltern and the Popular,’ Postcolonial Studies, 8 (4) (2005): 476
[18] Ritu Birla, “Postcolonial Studies,” in Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea, edited by Rosalind C. Morris (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), pp. 87-99
[19] Spivak’s most controversial essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” exists in different forms. It was first published in 1985 and revised in Marxism and the Interpretation of Cultures, edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (pp. 271-313) in 1988. Here, I will examine the updated version of this text appeared in the expansive “History” chapter of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 198-312.
[20] ‘Worlding’ is Spivak’s term for the process whereby a colonizing agent assimilates a subject people through acts of epistemic violence, such as naming or remapping. Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, 211-212.
[21] Ritu Birla, “Postcolonial Studies,” 88
[22] I Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, 252
[23] Ibid. 262
[24] Ibid., 273
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid, 307
[27] Ibid.,247
[28] Ibid., 72-74.
[29] Spivak, In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics,  205
[30] Chakravorty, Milevska, and Barlow, Conversations with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (London and New York: Seagull Books, 2006), 64
[31] Ibid., 64
[32] Stephen D. Moore and Mayra Rivera, eds., Planetary Loves: Spivak, Postcoloniality, and Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), 10-11
[33] Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, 310
[34] Spivak, The Post-Colonial critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues, ed. By Sarah Harasym (New York: Rutledge, 1990), 158. This idea is reiterated in her discussion with the postcolonial theologians recently. See   Stephen D. Moore and Mayra Rivera, eds., Planetary Loves, 145-6
[35] Spivak, ‘Subaltern Talk’, in The Spivak Reader, eds Donna Laudry and Gerald Maclean, (New York and London: Routledge, 1996), 289
[36] Spivak, ‘Introduction’, in Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, eds, Selected Subaltern Studies, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 11
[37] See, Spivak, ‘Echo’, The Spivak Reader, 177