Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, geboren 1942 in Kalkutta, ist Mitbegründerin und Direktorin des Institute for Comparative Literature and Society der Columbia University in New York. Maßgeblich bekannt geworden durch ihre viel beachtete englische Derrida-Übersetzung „Of Grammatology“ (1976) sowie durch den postkolonialen Grundlagentext „Can the Subalterns Speak?“ (1988), gilt sie heute als eine der führenden ForscherInnen weltweit an der Schnittstelle von Feminismus, Marxismus, Dekonstruktion und Globalisierung. Neben ihrer akademischen Profession ist Spivak in zahlreichen sozialen Bewegungen aktiv und bildet LehrerInnen in ländlichen Gebieten Indiens aus. Das Gespräch fand im Oktober 2010 in New York statt und wurde im März 2011 um wenige Verweise (im Text ersichtlich) auf die aktuellen politischen Entwicklungen in Nordafrika ergänzt.
>Powision: The financial crisis which was triggered in 2007 is considered by economists as the worst economic crisis since 1929. Over months we could witness surprisingly open debates discussing measures that weren’t imaginable some months ago and indicating that something essentially new could emerge. Today we know it didn’t. What is remarkable in this context was the self-referentiality of these debates in Europe and in the US who primarily took the crisis as their crisis, with the decisions and consequences only on their sides. How was the crisis perceived outside the American and European centre? What could a postcolonial perspective tell us about the self-referentiality of the debates?
>Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: I cannot speak for the whole world. What I can say is that it is a very class-fixed reaction. In the rising Asian countries and in some Latin American countries, the effect was felt but managed among those who were themselves financially involved. The middle and working classes were just as nationalistic as elsewhere. The fact that they are suffering from the world class system does not make them particularly non-nationalistic. I think we must stop thinking about the rest of the world as somehow politically advanced and the fact that the Euro-US is criminal does not make them in any sense more advanced. That is some kind of reversed racism. With regard to the people about whom I really know something – the very poor villagers in India: They had no clue of it because they suffer all the time. A small example which can be given and which nobody ever thinks of: Due to the rise of the oil price the children in the villages can no longer study in the evening because obviously they cannot afford oil, thus they cannot study after sunset anymore. Nobody ever thinks about these things – whether they are nationalistic or not. So you must realize that a) I do not have a very positive view of the rest of the world because Europe and the US are the devil; b) I don’t know about the rest of the world; and c) the people I work with really are not in touch with world news. This might be an unsatisfactory response, but it is a realistic response. I no longer have a postcolonial perspective, I think postcolonial is the day before yesterday.
>Powision: There were no movements emerging out of the crisis disposing of a language beyond the nationalistic discourse?
>Spivak: Only those who are in touch with the Euro-US lobby and who speak of the so-called multitudes and the like. They are called forth by elite urban radicals in the rest of the world. You see this is the problem: They are perceived as the rest of the world. And you have answered your own question. That’s the answer you wanted from me. You are not going to get it from me. The so-called Tunisian and Egyptian and Libyan “revolutions” had not yet taken place when we spoke. I want to have the courage of Marx to write an “Eighteenth Brumière”.
>Powision: So the call for change is either not expressed or not heard?
>Spivak: Whose call for change?
>Powision: The call of people who got most affected by the crisis and who suffer the most from the international division of labour.
>Spivak: Who are they?
>Powision: For example the poor villagers you mentioned, or workers somewhere in the third world.
>Spivak: Working-class people in the third world? I am talking about changing the Euro-US. They are so completely sure that with the exacerbation of global labour division (e.g. outsourcing) these kinds of things will happen. It is only in the aftermath of Seattle that people from the 1st world, actually good-hearted people, wanted to organize for change. But that is not a serious thing for international capital. I am not a digital idealist.
>Powision: Don’t you see any attempts trying to trans-nationalize a critique of global power structures like, for instance, the Green movement in Iran? Do you think that this movement has anything to do with the financial crisis?
>Spivak: It might. Many movements are affected in one way or another by the financial crisis. But I don’t buy the idea that it is going to make a global impact. With regard to these local movements, it has more to do with their nationalist sense of how bad their own political scene is. Nationalism is very far from gone. The main impact of the financial crisis has been the exacerbation of the difference between the rich and the poor. And the middle class is not particularly very young, and not even interested in paying taxes. I am not a very hopeful person. Besides some well-placed urban radicals no one really has a sense to substantially change the world.
Now we have to think of “the Arab world”, “the African world”, as having “revolutions”, but nation-state by nation-state, dictator by dictator. If there is regionalism, let us wait for its vanguardism, its geopolitics.
>Powision: Why are you so sure about the fact that nobody could make a difference?
>Spivak: You see, I am not a leader. To be a leader at this point is a kind of a boy thing, as feminists from the 60s would say. I’ve been working for a very long time to re-arrange the desires of the poorest of the poor sections of the electorate. Let’s face it: China crumbled against capitalism, the Soviet-Union crumbled after 70 years, and now, suddenly, these self-selected moral entrepreneurs – mainly from the radical elite youth – should be able to organize against capitalism? The current “revolutions” are freedom “from”; how they will negotiate freedom “to” build against capitalism is anybody’s guess. The following words, from the original interview, refer to the international civil society: I consider it rather important to thoroughly examine what actually happens when these international civil society groups are organizing. I think it’s fine, it’s better than “shop till’ you drop”. But it needs a reality check.
>Powision: For some commentators the economic crisis is indicating that Fukuyama’s end of history in fact failed twice – economically with the financial crisis; politically with 9/11 – and that the last remaining superpower is getting more and more undermined. Why is this systemic tendency, the double failure of the only politico-economic superpower, not triggering an opportunity for seriously challenging it?
>Spivak: This book you mentioned was a journalistic piece written for people who read political journals. I don’t think that people who are involved in thinking about the world were taken for a minute by that stupid argument. That was part of an academic debate because people have time to waste. Nobody ever thought that history would have come to an end because Fukuyama was writing about it in that way – not even in the Euro-US. With regard to 9/11, I can tell you that I was in New York at that time, and I was very emotionally caught by it. But the only reason why it was so unusual was because it happened so spectacularly in the United States. World-historically, I don’t think that this has profoundly changed the perspective of anything. In contrast, when one thinks about the millions of people at the bottom, for instance the people in India I work with: They don’t even know about 9/11. The only thing that was said to me when I went there after 9/11, was said by a very smart old woman: “I hear where you live there was a kind of a problem?” Thus, it has to be set in proportion. It has been so used, commercially, sentimentally, in terms of communication media etc. and it was kept alive as this cataclysmically world-changing event. It will remain as a kind of effect, but because it happened in the United States. When I am thinking rather than emoting – because I am a New Yorker – I can’t be taken by that argument. No one ever thought about Hiroshima or Nagasaki in this way. There: more than 200.000 people and here…I am sorry, but I really don’t want to think about this again.
>Powision: Despite the fact that 9/11 has been discursively elevated to a unique global event: It, however, has affected many people in the world, maybe not in India, but…
>Spivak: Not “the people in India”! India has a billion people, and most of the people, even the NGOs encounter, are above the radar that I am speaking about. Let’s not generalize India. We are not talking about India, I am talking about a class.
>Powision: Let me give you another example. What about Afghanistan or Iraq?
>Spivak: These are two countries that are militarily managed by the United States. Of course, anything happening in the US, even a cough, has a huge influence on Afghanistan and Iraq. They are totally, to quote a book, “beneath the United States”. But there is a world which is not being directly militarily managed by the US and where people don’t think about 9/11 as having changed a lot unless it’s in a class. I’m sure some Delhi radicals will agree with you because they have their international networks. But I am not interested in those kinds of groups.
>Powision: But 9/11 has triggered a huge reaction within international relations which – potentially or de facto – affects people in large parts of the world, even if those countries were hardly concerned with the political crisis in the aftermath of 9/11.
>Spivak: What part of the world are you talking about? Chad?
>Powision: Rather about countries like Yemen or Pakistan.
>Spivak: Yes, but those are all within that circuit of the war. If you just want to talk about the military sphere of influence of the US, I am with you. You are contradicting me because you want to get some answers. You want me to say certain things, but I am not saying them. Certainly, I will agree with you that within the military sphere of influence, there is a great deal of influence. Also within the US – as I said it is a very class-fixed thing – it has added to Islamophobia. But if you are really thinking about the whole world, as far as I can think it, this large particular group that we are talking about is not metonymically representing the whole world. Because that mistake is made, a lot of time is wasted. In contrast, nobody ever talks about what really started this: The Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916. 9/11 is an epiphenomenon, very spectacular, and, because located in the US, to be taken very much more seriously than all the other things, including the only atomic invasion. I can’t give you the answer you want. Anyway, disagree. Now defend yourself.
>Powision: I agree partly with what you said. However, I can hardly imagine any event that affects the whole world. There is no such event.
>Spivak: If there was a nuclear holocaust where people wouldn’t have to think about anything, it might affect perhaps not everybody in the world, but certainly a much larger section of the world population. It is absolutely true that the world is divided in terms of what people can think. So therefore, if one just takes the persons one kind of imagines as having more or less the same sort of mind-set, then one generalizes irresponsibly. Thus, I would agree with you that, due to the class apartheid in the world, not everybody can think about this in the same way and therefore people are not affected in the same way. The fact that every little person is affected somehow objectively: that’s the story about the children in the villages. Yes, sure, they are affected. But that does not mean that they can think about it and make a change. They are excluded from that argument. The women in Saudi-Arabia who are working in the dirt are not thinking about how to organize against the US just because the latter are influencing their country. This is cognitive damage. I am not calling them unintelligent. Most bourgeois radical ideologues can’t even think this. They presuppose that intelligence is just some given thing. The cognitive damage is a very serious thing and we are not allowed to generalize about the whole world. It is not a pleasing answer, but, revising, I can say that capital subsumes the world, abstractly; global warming subsumes the world, non-cognitively.
>Powision: I am not talking about the US-military sphere of influence only, but rather about the fact that a discourse was opened by 9/11 that structurally can affect any country – and anyone in the world. By placing in position the argument that certain universalized norms should be applied globally, interventions into any other societies are made possible. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it has happened several times before. But this box was opened one more time and is about to spread further.
>Spivak: Sure. No problem there. I totally agree.
>Powision: Generally speaking, crises can produce opportunities in different ways. For instance, they can be perfectly instrumentalized by hegemonic discourses, but, at the same time, can be symbolically occupied by non-hegemonic or oppositional discourses. Can a crisis be used as an opportunity to build infrastructures for subalterns – who by definition cannot speak or rather: can’t be heard – which helps them being recognized?
>Spivak: Who is a subaltern? I have to know what you mean by that word.
>Powision: Someone who is cut off from any means of social mobility.