Literature can be global
Padma Bhushan Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is an accomplished Indian literary theorist, philosopher and Professor at Columbia University. She says, "We cannot give up what makes the globe a world, which is language" Vijaya Chandra Babu Menda Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is one of those people who has changed the way we think about literature, about colonialism, about relationship between colonialism and literature and about how these relationships of powers importantly continue to affect us in the present. One important aspect of her work is that she has constantly revised it in relation to the world as we know it today, said Anjum Hassan, a prominent critic and well known writer of Indian literature while introducing her to the house during Jaipur Literature Festival this year. Recently Gayatri has written a book "Aesthetic Education in an Era of Globalisation". Gayatri was 23 when she went to the United States, to teach, English to Americans and in due course of time achieved unprecedented heights in her career. Today in her seventies, she dedicated her life to the subalterns in her home state West Bengal, where she teaches the down trodden the 'Aesthetic Education'. "Aesthetic education in my way of doing is - how to train your imagination, so that your mind can change the way you think. It is an epistemological performance. It leads to change of your own self." About importance of literature in Universities, Gayatri said that place of literature in Universities is drier because of the way we emphasise on speed. "I don't think you can learn to read literature by emphasising speed. And so to an extent literature and humanities are themselves trivialised. Reading literature is to hang out in the space of books that one is reading. One has to be ethical in reading." Being ethical is not like being an ethical lawyer, who practices everything in ethical principles. To practice the ethics is like learning to ride a bicycle. Gayatri gave her own example. "When I was 21-year old my friend Spivak, who later became my husband, held me when I tried to ride a bike, and then he let me go. I went and fell and then he would sit there and laugh. We tried many times and at one time he let me go and I was moving. That is what I mean when I say practicing for the ethical. It is like athlete practicing for his games. Ethical means in literary terms, the relationship between Captain Ahad and Moby Dick. Ethical practice and practicing for the ethical are two different things." Commenting on the globalisation of literature, "I feel that we must protest the fact that literature cannot be global. It cannot be global. We cannot give up what makes the globe a world, which is language. We cannot give up the world's wealth of languages. I know English well. I am bilingual- in Bengali and English. While I am trying to teach children, I realised that I knew Bengali better." By learning a new language actually, we are supplementing globalisation. There can be good globalisation- democratic, socialistic by peaceful means. I love English. But it is not going to give any clue to globalisation. Even English is not globalised, she added. As for translations, Gayatri feels that actually we don't want to learn other language but to transform it into our own. This is a human failing. "My mother, whom I adore, is a very powerful intellect that I knew. When for the first time she went to London, she tells me, hello Gayatri, London is a lot like Calcutta!"- That is what happens to languages. We are constantly trying to bring it back into our language. We always want to bring every language into the one language we know. To an extent we have to learn to let go of the mother tongue and get into the wordiness. About her work "Critique of Post Colonial Reason" she says, "During that period I was afflicted by a kind of autobiographical English, which often afflicts well placed metropolitan migrants in the United States, specially if they are in the literary field. I found that I was being considered as an expert on Constructivism. I wrote three pieces. 'French Communism in International Frame', 'Can a Subaltern Speak' and the 'Critique of Post Colonial Reason'. This book was published in Harvard University Press. Actually my title was 'Don't Call Me Post Colonial Exclamation Point'. But Amartya Sen read the copy before the publication and said, Gayatri this is a serious book, you don't want a trivial title, and your first chapter is about Kant. It was not about Critique of Pure Reason at all! It was Critique of judgment. Who cares? He said, why don't you call it Critique of Post Colonial Reason? I was too scared to say anything. But that is what the book is called." The book "Critique of Post Colonial Reason: Towards History of Vanishing Present" brought Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak to the centre stage of Post Modern philosophy in the world on par with Edward Said, Homi K Bhabha, Derrida, Helen Cisox. "I found out later after these things emerged that I somehow put my finger on the pulse of the moment. And these were post colonial pieces. I immediately became the critique of the Post Colonial. What was happening was that mostly South Asians were claiming this at home in India, at home in Algeria, at home in big Post Colonial spaces where decolonisation has caused terrible tragedies in many ways. In the United States people have claimed Post Coloniality in a kind of superficial way." When I gave my compliments on her on being accorded with Padma Bhushan on January 26, she said "It seems you are the only one who knew who I am !". Then I informed her that the book "Breast Stories" of Mahesweta Devi which she translated into English was made into an Italian film titled "Gangor" and is now on a winning spree all over America and Europe, she seemed surprised. "Well, I did not know that," she smiled.