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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.65, No.2, 223 ~ 235, 2019
Illiterary Reflections on the Subaltern
Jason Barker
This paper uses a review of Gayatri Spivak’s Critique of Post-Colonial Reason as a means to reappraise her theory of subalternity. Published in the London Review of Books in 1999, the review illustrates the chauvinism of which its author, Terry Eagleton, is eminently capable; and, by extension, that of literary theory and its prejudice toward postcolonial studies. My impulse for returning to this review, given its age, is that it reflects a renewed focus in the theoretical humanities on ethical questions and on right and wrong ways of speaking and writing. Such focus reflects in part the fact that westerners, too, in addition to their non-western “others,” are increasingly feeling victimized and disempowered by economic and social injustice. At least such has been the case since the start of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, when western Marxists have been lining up to include the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in their Grand Narrative of a crisis of global capitalism. To cite the title of Alain Badiou’s book, Le reveil de l’histoire (The Rebirth of History) what we are allegedly faced with here is History “waking up” or being “reborn.” The paper argues that in taking to task Spivak’s “illiteracy,” Eagleton inadvertently reveals the political stakes of Spivak’s writing, and the significance of its “illiterary” style.
Key Words
Terry Eagleton, literary theory, postcolonial studies, Spivak, subalternity
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