Douglas Robinson

Department of English

University of Mississippi

University MS 38677


Bhabha and Spivak on Postcolonial Affect


Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, often attacked as the most abstruse and abstract poststructuralists among postcolonial theorists, are also the two postcolonial theorists who have proved most determined to open up a space within the (anti)binary abstractions of their own poststructuralist thought for a phenomenological economy of affect. To a large extent their tentative passing theorizations of affective economies are influenced by Deleuze and Guattari on the social machine as a body-without-organs and the Foucault of The History of Sexuality Volume One, and therefore chart a radically different course for postcolonial theory from that abstract poststructuralist differentiality that would, say, thematize the subaltern as a “space of difference.”

            What I want to show here, however, is that the phenomenology of affective “economies” or “value-coding” is almost entirely buried in Bhabha and Spivak—almost crushed under the immaterial burden of poststructuralist abstraction. Bhabha’s “Sly Civility,” for example, is a 1985 essay devoted to a deconstruction of the rhetoric of liberal universalism in John Stuart Mill and other nineteenth-century British imperialists who preach liberty and democracy for all times and places—except, of course, the colonies, where “a vigorous despotism is in itself the best mode of government for training the people in what is specifically wanting to render them capable of a higher civilization” (Mill, quoted in Bhabha 96). The moment in Bhabha’s essay that I want to focus on appears in his title and late in his argument, the concept of “sly civility,” which Bhabha borrows from a 1818 sermon by Archdeacon Potts: “If you urge them with their gross and unworthy misconceptions of the nature and the will of God, or the monstrous follies of their fabulous theology, they will turn it off with a sly civility perhaps, or with a popular and careless proverb” (quoted in Bhabha 99; emphasis in original). Bhabha thematizes this “off-turning” response as “the native refusal to satisfy the colonizer’s narrative demand,” noting that “the natives’ resistance represents a frustration of that nineteenth-century strategy of surveillance, the confession, which seems to dominate the ‘calculable’ individual by positing the truth that the subject has but does not know” (99). But “sly civility” is patently not just a “refusal to satisfy the colonizer’s narrative demand”: it is a refusal in the outward (kinesic) form of compliance, both “civility” (submission to the colonizer’s kinesic regime) and “slyness” (resistance to the colonizer’s narrative regime). Affectively speaking, Archdeacon Potts attempts to counterregulate the pagan colonized as/into Christians not just by “positing the truth that the subject has but does not know” but by “urging them with their gross and unworthy misconceptions,” etc., putting a collectivized (ideologized) affective pressure on them to reject their own religion and convert to Christianity—and the colonized exert a surreptitious counterpressure, kinesically performing their indirect speech act of evasion or passive resistance under the cover of a direct speech act of acquiescence.

Indeed the passage from Freud’s “Some Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality” that Bhabha takes as his epigraph and uses to interrogate native sly civility is equally saturated with affect, with obsessive paranoid readings of the affective exchange:


They [the paranoid], too, cannot regard anything in other people as indifferent, and they, too, take up minute indications with which these other, unknown, people present them, and use them in their “delusions of reference.” The meaning of their delusions of reference is that they expect from all strangers something like love. But these people show them nothing of the kind; they laugh to themselves, flourish their sticks, even spit on the ground as they go by—and one really does not do such things while a person in whom one takes a friendly interest is near. One does them only when one feels quite indifferent to the passer-by, when one can treat him like air; and, considering, too, the fundamental kinship of the concepts of “stranger” and “enemy,” the paranoiac is not so far wrong in regarding this indifference as hate, in contrast to his claim for love. (quoted in Bhabha 93)


Those “minute indications” are, of course, body language—laughter, gestures (flourishing their sticks), spitting—read and felt (correctly, Freud says) as signs of inner body states, as emotional indifference and thus as the opposite of the love the paranoiac needs and expects. Similarly, Bhabha argues, the native “urged” by the “paranoid” colonizing missionary indifferently refuses “to unify the authoritarian, colonialist address within the terms of civil engagement[, which] gives the subject of colonial authority—father and oppressor—another turn” (100). As I’ve been suggesting, the native in this encounter both agrees and refuses “to unify the authoritarian, colonialist address within the terms of civil engagement,” which gives the subject of colonization—child and victim—yet another turn. Bhabha writes:


The authoritarian demand can now only be justified if it is contained in the language of paranoia. The refusal to return and restore the image of authority to the eye of power has to be reinscribed as implacable aggression, assertively coming from without: He hates me. Such justification follows the familiar conjugation of persecutory paranoia. The frustrated wish “I want him to love me,” turns into its opposite “I hate him” and thence through projection and the exclusion of the first person, “He hates me.”

            Projection is never a self-fulfilling prophecy; never a simple “scapegoat” fantasy. The other’s aggressivity from without, that justifies the subject of authority, makes that very subject a frontier station of joint occupation, as the psychoanalyst Robert Waelder has written. Projection may compel the native to address the master, but it can never produce those effects of “love” or “truth” that would centre the confessional demand. If, through projection, the native is partially aligned or reformed in discourse, the fixed hate which refuses to circulate or reconjugate, produces the repeated fantasy of the native as in-between legality and illegality, endangering the boundaries of truth itself. (100)


            Obviously, yes, in diagnosing what he takes to be the “sly civility” of the natives Archdeacon Potts is reading their body language; and it may well be that Bhabha’s mapping of Freud on paranoia onto the cleric’s construction of that body language is, if not accurate (for how would we ever know?), at least useful. On the surface, all the Archdeacon wants to do is to convert the native to Christianity; how do we then go about constructing what he wants below that surface? We read his body language—and because he is physically absent to us, long dead, in fact, that means reconstructing his kinesic body imaginatively, affectively, and “reading” our reconstruction. We see him urging the natives, pressing them, seeking to overwhelm their resistance with a swarm of partially verbalized affective aggression; and we see his frustration when they do not respond as he expects, when they respond with incomplete conformity to his counterregulatory pressures. Bhabha wants to push past this level of affective reconstruction, into the realm marked off by Freud in his remarks on paranoia—wants to feel in the Archdeacon’s initial body state a paranoid desire for love that, thwarted, is converted to hatred and projected outward onto the “refusenik” native. This seems extreme to me—surely what the Archdeacon wants from the natives is more submission than love?—but there’s really no arguing here, as Bhabha and I both base our readings of the Archdeacon’s body states on our own competing affective reconstructions.

            Where I think there is ground for argument, however, is Bhabha’s reading of the “frontier station of joint occupation.” If that frontier station is the social-affective exchange, the circulation of shared evaluative affect, then it is not so much projection that compels the native to address the master as it is the circulation of collectivized affective power, sociopolitical power channeled affectively through the Archdeacon’s body language into the native, who feels the power and responds accordingly, civilly: reproduces the Archdeacon’s English Christian civility-pressures in his or her own body and displays them outwardly in the body language of submissive politeness. This is a partial alignment or reformation of the native not only in discourse, but in outward kinesic behavior as well.

What bothers me about Bhabha’s reconstruction of this encounter, however, is that the native doesn’t participate in it, except to refuse. Bhabha’s native is a mere picture of “refusal,” not a subject or an agent at all. Bhabha maps out a similar reading, in fact, in “Articulating the Archaic”: “In these instances of social and discursive alienation there is no recognition of master and slave, there is only the matter of the enslaved master, the unmastered slave” (131). Here too Bhabha presents the enslavement of the master as a positivity that can be theorized and the slave’s subjectivity as a simple blank negativity: unmastered. Ironically enough, what Bhabha is doing in denying the postcolonial applicability of the Hegelian master-slave dialectic is recuperating that dialectic for the master, for the master’s need for recognition from the slave, in tacit rejection of Fanon’s insistence in Black Skin, White Masks that Hegel was wrong: “I hope I have shown that here the master differs basically from the master described by Hegel. For Hegel there is reciprocity; here the master laughs at the consciousness of the slave. What he wants from the slave is not recognition but work” (220n8). And, of course, he is completely ignoring Hegel’s master-slave dialectic for the slave, the topic of Fanon’s seventh chapter.

It seems to me a relatively uncontroversial assumption that the colonized’s partial kinesic alignment with the colonizer’s ideosomatic pressures displaces him, counterregulates her—that in fact it is impossible to remain as blank and affectively unavailable as Bhabha seems to want to make these natives. The frontier station of joint occupation transforms not just the colonizer, as Bhabha seems to want to see it, but what Abdul JanMohamed calls the Manichean relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, and thus the identities, agencies, realities of both. And for any kind of discussion of the counterregulatory pressures channeled into decolonization, it would seem indispensable to me to theorize that key word “sly”: the telling deregulatory pressures with which the native tweaks or spins his or her civility, the strategic contamination of submissive civility not just with refusal but with a counterhegemonic response aimed at minutely but significantly decolonizing (counterregulating) the frontier station of joint occupation.

As Bhabha reads the encounter, both the “slyness” and the “civility” are the colonizer’s paranoid projections, love-and-hatred fantasies that situate the native “in-between legality and illegality, endangering the boundaries of truth itself.” And while it’s certainly true that we have no direct access to the native’s body states—that any reconstruction of the encounter we undertake will be based on the Archdeacon Potts’ verbal report—so what? We never have direct access to anyone’s body states, even our own; all we ever have is affective reconstructions. Bhabha’s strategy of restricting his analysis to the “paranoia” of the Archdeacon Potts and denying the reconstructed native even a vestige of affective agency is a choice, and in fact a choice that seems punitive to me, motivated less by a desire to open up a utopian decolonizing moment in the encounter than by an unrecognized construction of what he takes to be the Archdeacon’s paranoid construction of the native, a projection of Bhabha’s own postcolonial love-thwarted-into-hatred onto this long-dead colonizer. But then, as Freud says, “the paranoiac is not so far wrong in regarding this indifference as hate, in contrast to his claim for love.”

            Gayatri Spivak’s interest in postcolonial affect seems to come out of a confluence of ideological and methodological orientations: out of her poststructuralist/Marxist interest in (but also profound skepticism toward) Deleuze and Guattari’s retheorization of Marx on value in terms of desire, on the one hand, and her feminist interest in the female subaltern’s body on the other. Like Bhabha, however, Spivak remains deconstructively wary of affect and extradiscursive “experience” in general, and her caution stunts her theoretical forays into affective value-coding, lets them languish in unexamined forms borrowed from liberal-humanist individualism, Cartesian mind-body dualism, and patriarchally hierarchized male-female divisions of psychosocial labor.

            It may well be that the specific examples Spivak has chosen in order to interrogate the concept of the subaltern have made it especially difficult for her to find her way out of abstract differentialities: the subaltern as sati and the subaltern as the Third World female other of Kant’s raw man, both in a sense the other of the colonizer’s other, seem to trap affect as a black hole traps light, so densely desomatized that it seems impossible to discuss them in terms of their affective response to communal pressures. Her one piece where this is not the case is “Woman in Difference,” the 1989/1990 essay originally published in Cultural Critique and reprinted in Outside in the Teaching Machine that reads Spivak’s own English translation of Mahasweta Devi’s Bengali novella “Douloti the Bountiful.” Because Mahasweta specifically subjectifies Douloti as a tribal girl sold into bonded prostitution, in reading this story Spivak is in a sense beginning at the other end, the self or subject or affect end of “subalternity”; as a result the essay is Spivak’s most extensive analytical mobilization of affect in her work to date, and her most determined attempt to thematize the subaltern woman not just as a binary effect of discourse but as an affective subjectivity.

            I say “in a sense,” though, because Spivak does still begin with the space of difference: Mahasweta, she says, “lingers in postcoloniality in the space of difference, in decolonized terrain” (105).[1] The space of difference, not surprisingly, is the subaltern:


Especially in a critique of metropolitan culture, the event of political independence can be automatically assumed to stand between colony and decolonization as an unexamined good that operates a reversal. But the political goals of the new nation are supposedly determined by a regulative logic derived from the old colony, with its interest reversed: secularism, democracy, socialism, national identity, and capitalist development. Whatever the fate of this supposition, it must be admitted that there is always a space in the new nation that cannot share in the energy of this reversal. This space had no established agency of traffic with the culture of imperialism. Paradoxically, this space is also outside of organized labor, below the attempted reversals of capital logic. Conventionally, this space is described as the habitat of the subproletariat or the subaltern. Mahasweta’s fiction focuses on it as the space of the displacement of the colonization-decolonization reversal. This is the space that can become, for her, a representation of decolonization as such. (77-78)


The idea here is that the decolonizing reversal should by rights reverse the exclusion of the subaltern into an inclusion, reverse the lack of “established agency of traffic with the culture of imperialism” into an established agency of traffic with the decolonizing culture of organized labor and capital logic, but, paradoxically, it doesn’t: the exclusion remains an exclusion, the lack remains a lack, suggesting to Spivak that there is something in that subaltern “space” that by its very differential nature displaces or repels the reversal. This would make subalternity the negative or abyssal image of decolonization as positive ideal, and thus the perfect deconstructive “representation of decolonization as such.” Noting that the positive ideal of decolonization reverses “empire” as “nation,” Spivak asks: “(1) How does Mahasweta inscribe this space of displacement, if not with the lineaments of the nation? (2) What does it mean to say ‘socially invested cartography of bonded labor?’ and (3) How does Mahasweta suggest, even within this space, that the woman’s body is the last instance, that it is elsewhere?” (78-79).

            Her answer to that first question is that Mahasweta names subaltern communities, names and so “releases” them, allowing the reader “to grasp that the word ‘India’—signifier of ‘nation’—is sometimes a lid on an immense and equally unacknowledged subaltern heterogeneity” (79). Her answer to the second is that the novella’s bond-slaves—all the central characters—are transcoded in the story into a “broad collectivity” or shomaj, the customary Bengali word for “society.” These two answers clear the ground for her sticking point, the third:


There is no avoiding this, even if the story is read by way of the broadest possible grid: in modern “India,” there is a “society” of bonded labor, where the only means of repaying a loan at extortionate rates of interest is hereditary bond-slavery. Family life is still possible here, the affects taking the entire burden of survival. Below this is bonded prostitution, where the girls and women abducted from bonded labor or kamiya households [as the eponymous Douloti is] are thrust together as bodies for absolute sexual and economic exploitation. These bodies are connected to bond slavery but are yet apart. … Woman’s body is thus the last instance in a system whose general regulator is still the loan: usurer’s capital, imbricated, level by level, in national industrial and transnational global capital. This, if you like, is the connection. But it is also the last instance on the chain of affective responsibility, and no third world-Gramscian rewriting of class as subaltern-in-culture has taken this into account in any but the most sentimental way: … (82)


            Here, finally, are affects as the sole carriers of the “burden of survival,” in the family life that is still possible in the next-to-last instance of bond-slavery, the life of Douloti’s mother and father, the life Douloti too leads until at fourteen she is bought into kamiya prostitution. It is interesting that what does the heavy lifting here is “the affects,” a fairly nonspecific catch-all category that presumably includes familial love and support; and that on the previous page Spivak describes “the precariously manipulative function called ‘the nation-state’” as “coded and reterritorialized with the heavy paleonymic (historically stuffed) baggage of reason and affect” (81), an even more nonspecific catch-all category that lumps emotional states in with mental mappings of those states as rationality. There is a metaleptic shift in these two tropes, the rational-affective burden carrying the burden of survival; how should we understand that shift? What makes affect heavy, and what equips it to carry the heavy burden of survival? By the paleonymic baggage of reason and affect Spivak apparently means that reason and affect are historically overcoded or overdetermined (“stuffed”); but what are they stuffed with? The paleonymic baggage of reason and affect is heavy, because it is historically stuffed; survival is another heavy burden, but this time carried by affect. And what kind of survival? Does Spivak mean specifically affective survival—that affective survival is made possible by the familial circulation of supportive affect? Or would she include economic and physical survival as well, the entire burden of survival being taken by the affects?

            In any case, in “the last instance,” the extreme case of bond-slavery, kamiya-prostitution, the affective value-coding of life as family life is almost completely blocked: not only are daughters taken from parents and wives from husbands, but the children with which the kamiya-prostitutes are impregnated by clients are taken from their mothers and sent into the streets to beg. This does not prevent the prostitute-mothers from feeling a maternal belonging to their children, but their feeling is not value-coded as “maternal” by the social machine, as the children do not legally belong to them—because they do not belong to themselves. They belong to the “god,” the master, the bond-holder. This affective value-decoding of their own bodies and their own intentionalities is reflected in Douloti’s depersonalization, her desomatizing withdrawal of all affect: “The social system that makes [her father] Crook Nagesia a kamiya is made by men. Therefore do Douloti, Somni, Reoti [the bond-prostitutes] have to quench the hunger of male flesh. Otherwise Paramananda [the bond-holder] does not get money. Why should Douloti be afraid? She has understood now that this is natural. Now she has no fear, no sorrow, no desire” (61).

            But it is here, I suggest, in her discussion of the affective value-(de)coding of mothering, that Spivak’s vagueness about affect begins to hurt her:


The affective coding of mothering extends from sociobiology all the way to reproductive rights. Before the mobilization of the reproductive rights debate began in the West, demanding the full coding of the woman’s body in constitutional abstractions, Simone de Beauvoir had suggested that, in the continuum of gestation, birthing, and child-rearing, the woman passes through and crosses over her inscription as an example of her species-body to the task of producing an intending subject. …

            Among the women of this fiction [“Douloti the Bountiful”], pregnancy as the result of copulation with clients allows the working out of the inscription of the female body in gestation to be economically rather than affectively coded. (89)


What she means by “economically rather than affectively coded” is reasonably clear in the terms given us by Mahasweta: what happens to the prostitute-mother’s newborn infant is determined not by social ideals of maternity but by the bond-holder’s economic interests. Caring for an infant would take the mother away from servicing twenty to thirty clients a day and so cut into his profits; the infant must go, must be sent away.


Somni put her hand to her cheek and said, “See what a strange thing. I was married in childhood, and I stayed with my man for so long. I had only one son. And Latia made me the mother of three sons in a row.”

            — Those sons?

            — They lie around the marketplace. They beg. They don’t let you live with your child, and clients come up to one month before birth. Then I can’t for three months.

            — Then?

            — The god lends money.

            — Doesn’t he let you keep them?

            — No no, would he? When I am burnt up, I go see them. Reoti’s son too is Latia’s son. And it was Latia’s truck that hit him and crippled him. As a cripple he gets more begging. He got a shirt too. (63)


Paramananda hasn’t given food and upkeep, Latia has impregnated her time after time. Still was it correct of Somni to let her body get so chewed up? (67)


Douloti shook her head. Said, “Uncle Bono, if a kamiya woman becomes a whore the boss makes a lot of profit. No clothing, no cosmetics, no medicine. You have to borrow for everything and the boss adds all the loans to the first loan. No whore can repay that debt in her lifetime.” (73)


            So, okay: economics, not affect. But what conditions the economics? What makes not just the beneficiaries of this economic system but its victims as well cling tight to it, even desperately to it, like dying men to a float? The answer that Mahasweta has her characters give is tradition, religion:


It’s best to go by set rules [Munabar, Douloti’s father’s Rajput bond-holder, says to his son]. Rule breaking is not good. (43)


Paramananda [the brahman master or “god” who is trying to convince Crook to let him “marry” Douloti in return for paying off his bond to Munabar] gripped Crook hard. Crook filled the sky with his screams. “Truth is being destroyed, the Law is being destroyed! This brahman, this god, is holding me [Crook is an untouchable], please! He must be plumb crazy.” (46)


What word, what he should listen to, he didn’t think at all. He said “yes” to whatever he heard. Because if the Master says something the machine in Crook’s head stops working out of fear. He hears the Master’s bellows, but grasps nothing. To say “Yes Sir” to the proprietor is a very long-standing habit. (49)


Rampiyari said, “How will it end? Paramanandaji told me that it is written in the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata that ending bonded labor is against religion.” (81)


— The boss can do what he likes with the person who becomes a bondslave [Paramananda’s son Baijnath says to the nationalist radicals who want to end bond-slavery, upon taking over the whorehouse after his father’s sudden death]. Yes or no?

            — The government will end bondslavery.

            — The big government officers in Palamu keep kamiyas and seokias. Who will stop bondslavery?

            — I’ll tell you, the big government. Delhi government.

            — It can’t be. Bondslavery is an ancient law. That is written in religious books.

            — What book?

            — I’ve heard. (84)


            Is this pure economic value-coding? At the very least, even if we take Rampiyari and Baijnath to be using religion cynically to justify their manipulation of the bond-labor system to enhance their profits, by invoking religious books to defend a traditional injustice they value-code economics as divine law—something far greater and more powerful than sheer numbers. And Mahasweta gives us no indication that they are speaking cynically: they do seem to believe that the ancient religious books not only tolerate but demand bond-slavery. (Mahasweta tells us in the interview with Spivak that introduces the volume that “the bonded labor system was introduced by the British. They created a new class, which took away tribal land and converted the tribals into debt-bonded slaves. The present government of India had to introduce, in 1976, the Bonded Labor Abolition Act,” xii. But the bond-holders in the novella don’t know this. For them the system is traditional, therefore affectively required.). Munabar value-codes bond-labor economics as the rule of law, the law of rules, regulation as a guarantor of stability, protection against the insecurities of social change, which he tropes as the West Wind: is this simple cynical greed? Hasn’t Munabar been conditioned to believe in bond-slavery, conditioned to believe that it is the natural way of the world, conditioned further to believe that bad things would happen not just to him but to everyone, to life itself, if it were abolished? In other words, isn’t there an affective/evaluative conditioning that disposes these power-holders to hold onto their power? The fear that grips Crook Nagesia when the Master bellows or Paramananda grips him is obviously an affective/evaluative body state that tells him how to behave, what to believe and what to say and what to do in the presence of his social superiors; the Rajput and Brahmin bond-holders defend their economic system with considerably more poise and self-possession—the calm somatics of authority—but they too are clearly “organized” by tradition and religion through affective channels.

            Of course it’s true that the Master’s ability to overlay his own nervous or anxious affect with the outward kinesic display of authoritative “reason” would support Spivak’s claim that what is at work here is economic rather than affective value-coding: value-coding is no ontology but a social semiotizing process that makes things be what the authorities want them to seem to be, and in capitalist patriarchy the authority of the wealthy male is normatively value-coded as “rational” rather than “emotional,” which is to say as the mind’s dominion over the body. In this sense Spivak’s insistence that “pregnancy as the result of copulation with clients allows the working out of the inscription of the female body in gestation to be economically rather than affectively coded” supports capitalist patriarchy’s protective (re)regulation of the authorities’ feelings as numbers, the Master’s body as thoroughly and calmly mastered by numeric mind. In this regulatory regime, only the lower orders are “value-coded” in terms of affect, the tears of powerless women and children, the fears of powerless men.

            Indeed throughout her reading of the novella, Spivak repeatedly thematizes affect as Douloti’s sentimental conservatism:


Her relationship to her mother, who is still in the village, is filled with affect. In terms of the critical implications of our argument, it has to be admitted that this affective production, fully sympathetic, is yet represented within rather than prior to an accepted code. … Like the affection between mother and daughter, Douloti’s affect for her village, again gently and beautifully written, is within a recognizable coding of sentiment. And indeed, as we see in the following passage, this unresisting nostalgia, dismissing planned resistance as futile, seems to rely on a conservative precapitalist coding of the sexual division of labor. … Douloti’s affect for her home is thus staged carefully by Mahasweta as the “residual” bonding that works against social change and, ultimately, against the achievement of national social justice, a project in which the author is deeply involved as an activist. Mahasweta dismisses neither side, but presents Douloti’s affect and, ultimately, Douloti herself, as the site of a real aporia. You cannot give assent to both on the same register. (92-93)


This is all true; Spivak’s aporetic reading of the ending is powerful and persuasive. But by thematizing affect in the story as Douloti’s affect, and by implicit extension as the sanctioned body state of subaltern women, she also misses the more pervasive and more complex operation of affect in the men as well, not merely the tribals who have broken free of bond-slavery and joined the party of decolonizing nationalists—“Prasad roared out, ‘That’s enough, get out of here’” (84), “It is only Uncle Bono’s breast that’s bursting with an equal pain” (87)—but the stubbornly exploitative bond-holders as well, who are trapped by traditionalizing affect in the moils of their own destructive economic power. That this authoritarian male affect is another form of “‘residual’ [or, in the original article (126), ‘regressive’] bonding that works against social change and, ultimately, against the achievement of national social justice” should be obvious but isn’t, to Spivak, because she recuperates in her reading the patriarchal affective value-coding that assigns affect to women and reason to men.[2]

Restricting her thematization of affect to Douloti’s nostalgic sentimentalism also numbs Spivak to the affective impact on the reader of the ending’s aporetic speech act: “You cannot give assent to both on the same register. I am also arguing that, in terms of the general rhetorical conduct of the story, you also cannot give assent, in the same register, to the evocation of a space prior to value-coding, on the one hand, and the sympathetic representation of Douloti as a character, recognizable within an earlier discursive formation, on the other” (93). I think this falls apart, in fact. You can give “assent” to these cognitive structures, evocations of spaces and sympathetic representations, even in the “same register,” since registers are just more cognitive structures that can quite easily tolerate this kind of dissonance. What Mahasweta does to us in portraying Douloti is not just to “evoke a space prior to value-coding” or to “represent” her sympathetically: rather, she gets us to identify with her, to simulate her body-becoming-mind states affectively, and thus to feel with her as her body is progressively ravaged by venereal disease and finally she dies—but dies not angrily, not bitterly, not rebelliously, but gently, kindly, naively, acceptingly, infecting us not just with her death but with her sentimental acceptance of her death and of the system that caused it. The affective aporia Mahasweta is inflicting on us is nothing so statically representational as the evocation of a space, a space of difference or displacement or decolonization or anything so abstract; it makes us feel the ponderous polynormativity of the decolonizing counterregulation, the slow inertial grinding of the nationalists’ decolonizing rage at injustice against everyone else’s conditioned acquiescence to that injustice. What Mahasweta infects us with, in fact, is not just an aporia, an “undecidable in the face of which decisions must be risked” (Spivak 93), but radically opposed regulatory affects, social evaluative feelings that incline us to move in opposite directions, toward activism and toward quietism, toward the bringing about of a utopian world where Douloti would not have needed to die horribly at the age of thirty and toward a surrender to the status quo as not so bad after all. In this sense Spivak is quite right to say that for Mahasweta subalternity is “a representation of decolonization as such”: in Douloti she feels, and tries to get her reader to feel, the clash of decolonizing normativities.


Works Cited


Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.

Devi, Mahasweta. Imaginary Maps: Three Stories by Mahasweta Devi. Translated and introduced by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. New York and London: Routledge, 1995.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skins, White Masks. 1952. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press, 1967.

JanMohamed, Abdul R. “The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature.” Critical Inquiry 12.1 (Autumn, 1985): 59-87.

Shetty, Sandhya. “(Dis)figuring the Nation: Mother, Metaphor, Metonymy.” Differences 7.3 (Fall 1995): 50-79.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Woman in Difference: Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Douloti the Bountiful.’” Cultural Critique 14 (Winter 1989-1990): 105-28. Reprinted as “Woman in Difference” in Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine, 77-95. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.





[1] I quote here from the original version of the article in Cultural Critique, because in this one case Spivak’s editing for the reprinted version in Outside seems to me to have introduced unnecessary syntactic confusion: Mahasweta, she writes there, “lingers in postcoloniality and even there in the space of difference on decolonized terrain in the space of difference” (77). The remainder of the quotations from this essay are taken from Outside, and page citations reflect that pagination.


[2] See also Shetty’s passing remarks on Spivak’s reading of “Douloti the Bountiful” (71) as a counterpoint to her discussion of motherhood as an “allegorical seme” in Mahasweta’s “Stanadayini” (67-73), and Judith Butler’s reading of Spivak on Devi in Undoing Gender (229-30). That book concludes with an essay whose title seems to promise a philosophical rethinking of Spivak’s essay—“Can the ‘Other’ of Philosophy Speak?”—but it is an autobiographical reflection on Butler’s own theoretical speaking from outside philosophy, and does not even mention Spivak.