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A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present [Paperback]

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 28 1999

Are the "culture wars" over? When did they begin? What is their relationship to gender struggle and the dynamics of class? In her first full treatment of postcolonial studies, a field that she helped define, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the world's foremost literary theorists, poses these questions from within the postcolonial enclave.

"We cannot merely continue to act out the part of Caliban," Spivak writes; and her book is an attempt to understand and describe a more responsible role for the postcolonial critic. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason tracks the figure of the "native informant" through various cultural practices--philosophy, history, literature--to suggest that it emerges as the metropolitan hybrid. The book addresses feminists, philosophers, critics, and interventionist intellectuals, as they unite and divide. It ranges from Kant's analytic of the sublime to child labor in Bangladesh. Throughout, the notion of a Third World interloper as the pure victim of a colonialist oppressor emerges as sharply suspect: the mud we sling at certain seemingly overbearing ancestors such as Marx and Kant may be the very ground we stand on.

A major critical work, Spivak's book redefines and repositions the postcolonial critic, leading her through transnational cultural studies into considerations of globality.

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From Library Journal

In recent years, a growing body of literary and historical scholarship has explored the complex relationship of Western elite culture to the postcolonial societies of the Southern hemisphere. Spivak, a prominent literary theorist based at Columbia University, is widely known for her sophisticated deconstructive approach to questions of feminism, North-South relations, and the politics of subaltern studies. This book is based on a number of her published essays, including the influential 1988 article "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Spivak focuses on the relationship of debates in philosophy, history, and literature to the emergence of a postcolonial problematic. Overall, she seeks to distance herself from mainstream postcolonial literature and to reassert the value of earlier theorists such as Kant and Marx. Readers unfamiliar with recent trends in literary studies may find Spivak's deliberately elusive prose impenetrable. On the other hand, those already invested in the postmodern and postcolonial debates may find her style invigorating. Recommended for university libraries.AKent Worcester, Marymount Manhattan Coll., New York
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the foremost thinkers in postcolonial theory, looks at the place of her discipline in the academic "culture wars." A Critique of Post-Colonial Reason includes a reworking of her most influential essay, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" which has previously appeared in only one anthology. (Publishers Weekly)

Gayatri Spivak's long-awaited book...sets out to challenge the very fields Spivak has herself been most associated with--postcolonial studies and third world feminism...[A Critique of Postcolonial Reason] is remarkble for the warnings it provides--powerful critiques of diverse positions structure the author's stance--as guardian in the margin. Spivak forcefully interrogates the practices, politics and subterfuges of intellectual formations ranging from nativism, elite poststructuralist theory, metropolitan feminism, cultural Marxism, global hybridism, and "white boys talking postcoloniality." (Yogita Goyal New Formations)

A Critique of Postcolonial Reason is almost above all else self-conscious, self-aware, self-deprecating. In 139 brilliant footnotes to "Culture," Spivak carries on a running engagement with the flotsam and jetsam (what Walter Benjamin called the "detritus" of culture or "Trash of History") of what passes for public life and the attendant information and culture industry in this global thing we live in: ad campaigns by clothing designers, articles and stories from the New York Times or "Good Morning America"...Spivak's tone makes the book a constant pleasure. A mocking smile seems always present, along with sincere engagement with important issues...From the first page of the preface to her footnote almost 400 pages later about the exchange with the World Bank official at the European Parliament, Spivak focuses on the ignorant, arrogant Eurocentric destruction of people and the environment and the enabling practices of culture that make it possible...This is a most important and significant book. (David S. Gross World Literature Today)

Spivak focuses on the relationship of debates in philosophy, history, and literature to the emergence of a postcolonial problematic. Overall, she seeks to distance herself from mainstream postcolonial literature and to reassert the value of earlier theorists such as Kant and Marx...Those already interested in the postmodern and postcolonial debates may find her style invigorating. (Kent Worcester Library Journal)

A founder of postcolonial studies surveys the current state of the field and finds much to criticize. This is vintage Spivak--dazzling, often exasperating, but unfailingly powerful. (Partha Chatterjee, author of The Nation and Its Fragments)

In these pages Gayatri Spivak performs what often seems either impossible or purely gestural--a critique of transnational globalization which manages to be equally attuned to its cultural and economic effects. This book deserves to be read for its modulated defense of Marxism and feminism alone. It will be welcomed as the clearest statement to date of Spivak's own relationship to the postcolonial theory with which she herself--wrongly, as she forcefully argues here--is so often identified. With a brilliance that is uniquely hers, Spivak issues a challenge which will be very hard to avoid to the limits of theory and of academic institutions alike. (Jacqueline Rose, author of States of Fantasy)

Gayatri Spivak tells us that here she charts her progress from colonial discourse studies to transnational cutlural studies. She does so brilliantly. And she does so much more. She constructs this extraordinary progress through an intricate labyrinth, but one with blazing lights in every corner. (Saskia Sassen, author of Globalization and its Discontents)

Gayatri Spivak works with remarkable complexity and skill to evoke the local details of emergent agency in an international frame. Her extraordinary attention to the texts she reads and her ability to track the reach of global power make her one of the unparalleled intellectuals of our time. (Judith Butler, author of The Psychic Life of Power)

Gayatri Spivak's most recent text, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, brings together in a single volume a wide range of her work in postcolonial studies…She weaves together these multiple levels of critique brilliantly, presenting a rigorous reading of the discourses of imperialism… A Critique of Postcolonial Reason presents a scrupulous discussion of imperialism in European philosophy, literature, history, and culture. (Rachel Riedner American Studies International)

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Customer Reviews

2.6 out of 5 stars
2.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars music from under the floorboards Jan. 26 2002
Spivak works in the interstices to tease out what has been left out in ideas, in cultures, in histories, in language.
Many people apparently are maddened by her methods because there is no easy "method" to be extracted from her work. Her style is an antithesis to traditional "methods". The only real tool a theorist or critic has is intelligence and that quality is not easily described and perhaps not directly transmittable, especially when the kind of intelligence in question has no precedent and must thus inscribe itself into the language for the first time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Some confused twaddle, but interesting too Jan. 1 2000
By Gwen
This is book is often silly and almost always self-righteous in academe's usual way, but there are valuable and engaging, if not entirely original, ideas here about feminism and economic inequity. For Marxism and the contemporary relations of affluent West vs. impoverished (and largely female) populations, there are much better books available; the author is of course a prominent academic star, but if you are genuinely concerned about the plight of those left out of Western prosperity and hegemony, there are intelligent studies by Cornel West and other brilliant thinkers.
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By A Customer
No one said it would be easy, to traverse the insitutionally diverse encampments of high academic theory, international political conferences, and everyday fashion. And, to avoid lending revolutionary zeal to one's own hybridity. It is certainly a mess, and one can fault Spivak for assuming a overknowledged reader. But, as her last line clearly challenges, the ethical attempt must be to seam such areas of operation, to make contacts between those who have no need of communication, to hold together thoughts and actions that are forced apart and bound to fall again.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Gardening is not a bad idea for academics. June 30 1999
By A Customer
the subdurban mall is something like a model/symptom of Spivak's recent attempt to think. The book is big and vacant, like an old shopping mall waiting to be turned into an unhabited parking space. The most vexing part of the text, a text full of them, is the tired way she attempts to analyze the consequences of the Bandung conference, an event she obviously knows nothing about. Furthermore, it appears that many of the citations mention are never read or, if they were she had no time to understand them. This is an unelegent and flawed parody of CRITIQUE.
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