Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beverly Chapter 4

Beverley Chapter 4

“Hybrid or Binary? On the Category of “the People” in Subaltern and Cultural Studies”

This chapter was super interesting and made a lot more sense with the second reading. The part I find to be really intriguing is his bit on Cultural Studies as being built within a certain economic period.

He states:

· “That is because cultural studies is itself in part the consequence of the deconstructive impact of capitalist mass culture on the human sciences via the same process of comodification that postmodernist aesthetic ideology celebrates (or diagnoses) in its sense of the breakdown of the distinction between high and mass culture” (109).

sf It is incredibly interesting to think of cultural studies as being part of a long history of the Popular Front and this debate between the heterogeneity of the popular. Beverly's history really puts into perspective the long course of subaltern studies.

So, some questions:

Are we in a post-hegemonic age? How can we examine subaltern studies from a non-binary perspective? If no one can get out of ideology, then how should we study these texts?

· Ranajit Guha adds to his definition of the subaltern by saying “We recognize of course that subordination cannot be understood except as one of the constitutive terms in a binary relationship of which the other is dominance” (85).

· Inherently, he creates a binary relationship for the subaltern group and the dominant one.

· On the other hand, Homi Bhabha argues that resistance comes out of the margins of fixed identity. “The complex strategies of cultural identification and discourse address that function in the name of ‘the people’ or ‘the nation’” are “More hybrid in the articulations of cultural differences and identifications-gender, race or class-than can be represented in any hierarchical or binary structuring of social antagonism” (86).

· So is a subaltern identity hybrid or binary?

· “Isn’t the whole point, as the passages above suggest, to undo the binary taxonomies that were instituted by previous forms of colonial or class power?” (87)

· Guha notes that colonial elite can be subdivided into 3 categories:

o Dominant foreign groups

o Dominant indigenous groups

o Elites at regional or local levels

· So, already there are some holes in Guha’s argument.

· “As Spivak notes, Guha’s identification of the people and the subaltern is the product of what is in effect a subtraction, rather than a positive identity that is internal to the people-as-subaltern” (88).

· Guha uses the term ‘the people’ which stems from the Popular Front (led by 1935 Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov – it wanted to fixs the error of class against class line during the depression)

· “To combat the rise of fascism, Dimitrov argued, the broadest possible unity of democratic forces was needed, which required alliances with a wide variety of social forces, organizations, and political parties” (89).

· For Dimitrov – the category of the people is heterogeneous rather than unitary.

· He wanted a United Front style of government.

· Is the problem the idea of hegemony? – this is important

· “For Bhabha it is precisely the arbitrary or “ungrounded” character of signification revealed by semiotic and structuralist theory that permits subaltern resistance in the first place” (98).

· Bhabha speaks of a third space, “which represents both the general conditions of language and the specific implications of the utterance in a performative and institutional strategy.” The third space is the hybrid space.

· The subaltern knows that power is an effect of the signifier, if it didn’t it wouldn’t resist. – SUPER INTERESTING!

· “The negation of the dominant ideology is accompanied at the same time by the composition of another ideology, which posits as authoritative, authentic, and true other forms of identity, custom, value, territoriality, and history” (100).

· Spivak – subaltern studies cannot produce the subaltern as a full presence.

· For Spivak – subaltern studies can happen only in a process of continuous deconstruction that subverts binaries.

· Can subaltern studies contribute to a new form of hegemony from below?

· Cultural studies - “The popular front Marxism was more congenial to the development of cultural studies than Frankfurt School critical theory” (106).

· “That is because cultural studies is itself in part the consequence of the deconstructive impact of capitalist mass culture on the human sciences via the same process of comodification that postmodernist aesthetic ideology celebrates (or diagnoses) in its sense of the breakdown of the distinction between high and mass culture” (109).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Subaltern what?

I never realized how complicated subaltern studies was until I read some of the articles for today's class. My own understanding of the field was through readings of Spivak and Bhabha in my undergraduate theory classes. I find it interesting that the history of subaltern studies wasn't really emphasized, especially in terms of the connection to the Indian academic movement. If anything, we would read a bit by Gramsci, some Indian writers and not really make any connections between the different schools of thought within the field.

I found both of the readings for this week to be difficult for different reasons. Patnaik seems to weave together a lot of the history surrounding the grown of a subaltern ideology, specifically the growth into Gramsci. I found it really interesting when he was discussing how the enlightenment viewed the lower classes. It made me think of Plato and the idea of the philosopher kings being the only ones that should be able to control the government and leadership. Even Aristotle believed that only certain groups of people should be able to voice their opinions in a democracy. The western enlightenment, which is so celebrated by American history, actually was very harmful in many ways. Specifically here, the enlightenment pushed the subaltern completely out of the picture. Only the brightest and those that could understand philosophy, art and science could possibly have anything useful to say or experience.

The part that I get a little bit confused with is the idea of common sense. I kind of feel like the article jumped around with the narrative about the people in India with the goats. It was interesting that the people were not listened to, even though they were right, but I am confused about the idea of original thought and common sense. This may be because I read this article too quickly, but it seems like his critique is set up against Marx because Marx was too centered on enlightenment ideologies, but through Gramsci we can overcome some of these shortcomings. He talks about praxis and hegemony, but perhaps I need to re-read in order to understand this better.

The second reading, the Ludden introduction was full of many typos that were kind of distracting. However, the historical background was very useful. I think it would be good to talk about this out loud in class because it got very complicated with the different schools of thought within subaltern studies. It would be nice to see some sort of timeline that would help us bring these ideas together. It seems that perhaps subaltern studies is hindered by the amount of in group out group politics going on. One got the feeling that scholars were very interested in placing themselves within certain schools of thought. I don't know how useful this is to an overall subaltern project.

Some thoughts:

I am interested in how Edward Said's Orientalism plays a role in all of this. I know that subaltern studies is partially in response to post-colonial studies, but how do these theories work(or not work) together?

How was Marx used or ignored by Indian subaltern scholars?

How does cultural studies view subaltern thought today?