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Guilt can be just as disabling as arrogance, however. The political good which Spivak has done far outweighs the fact that she leads a well-heeled life in the States. If complicity means living in capitalist society, then just about everyone but Fidel Castro stands accused of it; if it means ‘buying in’ (as the Americans revealingly phrase it) to something called Western Reason, then only those racist or non-dialectical thinkers for whom such reason is uniformly oppressive need worry about it. … In any case, Spivak is logically mistaken to suppose that imagining some overall alternative to the current system means claiming to be unblemished by it. To imagine that it would be nice to be in Siena is not necessarily to disavow the fact that I am in Scunthorpe.
These lines are from Terry Eagleton’s review of a book by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, called A Critique of Post-Colonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. I’ve heard of Spivak but the other two names in the previous sentence I admit ring no bells. And more than that the contents of the book (i.e. the lines quoted by Eagleton in his review) bounce off my head like raindrops off a Teflon boulder. To be sure, Eagleton’s review is about how Spivak is good at what she does but somehow her admiration of political writers past overlooks the lucidity of their writing, having written the book in “overstuffed, excessively elliptical prose”. (However, the word ‘unreadable’ doesn’t show up anywhere in the review.)
Anyway, the acknowledgment in the first half of the third line from the quote above was interesting to read. It’s something I’ve had trouble reconciling with, with Arundhati Roy as a popular example: how do you rile against the sort of passive injustice exemplified by oppressing the so-called ‘lower classes’ from the balcony of a palatial home? The second half of the same line is worse – I still don’t get it (although I am embarrassed by my ignorance as well as by my inability to surmount it). My problem is that the sentence overall seems to suggest that enjoying the fruits of a capitalist society is not complicity if only because it implicates a majority of the elite.
I’m wrong… right?
With love from Jahnavi Sen