Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak | Further Reflections

By Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

I was Thomas Flynn’s friend and colleague when he was attending Foucault’s seminars. Is Flynn right in saying that “whereas his [Foucault’s]’s earlier treatment had focused on parrhesia as a political virtue, you told the prince the truth even if it cost you your head, the subject this semester was truth-telling as a moral virtue, you admitted the truth even if it cost you your self-image.” Are we looking at the possibility of auto-critique? I would consider also Etienne Balibar’s – another friend and colleague – reading of these lectures, which may miss Flynn’s point: “the bearer of the ‘parrèsiastic’ function (and, to the extent that they are genealogically linked, the critical function), must be an individual subject, or it must be the ‘contingent’ coming together of several (perhaps many) individual subjects who individually dissociate themselves from the common.” (In an extended discussion, Balibar’s distinction between Edward Said and Foucault would be interesting.) Foucault’s relationship to Hegel was amphibolic, but I will also relate this briefly to Hegel’s distinction between the true spirit, the estranged spirit (Bildung and the Enlightenment), and the beautiful soul. I believe the possibility of auto-critique is related to the general rethinking of the Enlightenment reflected in the post-Hegelian tradition. Derrida’s last book says we must “Echo” Plato since we don’t seem to be able to avoid him, Lyotard’s différend cohabits with “pagan instructions.”   Can we relate this to Mao’s extraordinary text on Hegel, or is that schizophrenia, rather than schizanalyse?

I am still only at the beginning of the reading of this book. If possible, I will refer very briefly to the history of sexuality. Can one try to make this thinking available to a world where Nadia Saavedra is destroyed by Alejandro Uribe, and where the relationship to the fluid-gendered subject and the subject of democracy is an important issue?

Is it possible to think about a historian and sociologist such as W. E. B Du Bois when reading this book? Or is that struggle inflected by the classical German philosophy from which Foucault distances himself, as recently suggested by Anthony Appiah? This leads to my predictable final question: how can we open Foucault and make him meaningful for more people? As I know, this kind of question is fraught with diluting his precision; but should this risk be taken? Or are we fated to niche-market? (I am encouraged here by Pakistani feminists’ endorsement of “Foucault and Najibullah.”)

This might involve asking what kind of model/example one might get from other species of the non-Abrahamic? There will be no time to discuss this in this session, and I am no expert. But I must expand this into future work by way of my collaboration with Bimal Krishna Matilal. And I thank Bernard and Jesus for involving me in this difficult task so that the beckoning of such future work becomes tremendously attractive.

Additional Thoughts

I want to “read” Foucault’s intentionalist binary opposition between rhetoric and parrhesia in order to understand the possibility of auto-critique, by way of the difference between subject and agent, hinted at in Judith Butler’s The Psychic Life of Power, at which I arrived at about the same time by defining subject and agent in exactly the opposite way.

I want to think that Foucault is going to surprise me by his own “reading” of the account he is now giving of the exceptionalism needed for parrhesia to function – the aporia within democracy between liberty and equality (I must finish reading Equaliberty in the next few days) being defined as the impossibility of ethical differentiation…

. . & relate the redefinition of the aporia to Derrida’s worry about the quiconque as the subject of democracy, where the “truth” is nestled in rhetoric . . .