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?

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