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11 of 46 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Senseless Spivakese, 10 Oct. 2007
This review is from: A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Paperback)
I was astonished by this book. The title 'A critique of post-colonial reason' leads us to expect something along the lines of Kant's critique of pure reason or Satre's critique of dialectical reason. Kant thought Newton's laws were true and needed to show how this could be and what the implications were for the project of being free. We now know better but still the Kantian project is an example of what philosophers should be doing. Hegel, also mentioned by Spivak, who knew virtually no history, believed Cuvier had said the last word on Biology. We know different, still Hegelian thinking is of historical interest because of its influence of Strauss, Fuerbach, Marx, Plekhanov, Satre etc. down to our own time. Satre's critique of dialectical reason- though badly written (he was strung out on amphetamines) nevertheless is thought provoking and full of drama. Moreover, ever since the Problem of Method, Satre had shown himself opening (a little) to breakthroughs in Psychology and the Natural Sciences. What then of Spivak? Has a crisis occurred, a radical aporia arisen, in 'post-colonial reason'? Of course it has. De-colonisation occurred at a time when the West had succumbed to the worst sort of fetishistic worship of the nation-state.
Consider the following- Hello, Tibet calling, we're being invaded. Hello, Tibet, are you a nation-state? Of course we are! Really, then how come you don't have a seat at the U.N and embassies in Washington etc.? Clearly, you aren't really a state- you don't exist- your territory is a terra nullis. Incidentally, the same goes for Kurds, Darfur, Timor and so on.
Western reason developed by chewing upon the independent and mutually conflicted origins and trajectories of state, church and commons. In the panic following the end of the second world war- the West's military exhaustion- a simpler mantra was devised. Draw some lines on the map and suddenly you are supposed to have sovereign Nation States with solid mutually reinforcing Estates created sui generis. These States are then supposed to be able negotiate their 'development' with appropriate super-powers and international organisations in an uproblematic way with the result that History ends and we can all go back to sleep.
Things didn't pan out that way. The fact that post-colonial reason was not reason but sheer wishful thinking- self serving wishful thinking more often than not- was soon made blindingly obvious to 'the post-colonial subject'. The 'native informant' packed his bags for the West, only to resurrect his ethnic identity 'for export only'. For second or third generation diaspora Muslims, however, Islam is clearly superior to the West in politics because State, Church and Commons have a common origin, a common trajectory and involve every member of the Ummat. Islam has an international dimension which Hinduism and Confucianism have not. However, there are important liberation struggles among peoples all over the world which want to overturn the 'post-colonial state', repudiate their status as 'post colonial subjects' and emerge from the terror of being imaginary (imagined by an exhausted other) to being real people making real- as opposed to post-colonial- history.
So, yes, there is a crisis of post-colonial reason coz everywhere we hear of failed states. Taliban Afghanistan- okay maybe, Iraq?- ok, I'll give you Iraq- but Pakistan? Iran? India? where do you stop?
Spivak doesn't talk about any of this. Sure, she's suspicious of globalisation- coz that's like exploitation?- and she witters on about Derrida and anything else that comes into her magpie head. Ludicrously, she tries playing the 'I'm Indian' card. Yet she says (about the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992) that she had thought 'it can't happen here.' Really? Which planet do you come from actually? At one moment she talks about the Gita, resurrecting Hegel on Antigone, and you think that maybe she has been doing a little swotting but then later on, towards the end of the book, she tells us in an irrelevant footnote that India is named after 'the younger stepbrother' of Lord Rama. This is extraordinarily ignorant.
What's wrong with Spivak? Is she an intellectual bulimic? Did the cramming and regurgitation required of her at Calcutta Uni. condemn her to this horrible 'hunger artist' life on the catwalks of fashionable Academia? Is she dying of intellectual inanition, her vomiting reflex getting in the way of ever digesting information? There is a certain spurious intellectual clarity with which she creates a space for her multitudinous vomiting. There are moments when her grandiose self-celebration must wear the mask of puckishness to recuperate its powers. Yet even such slender evidence as her tomes evince of clarity and wit are so swiftly effaced by a paranoid vomiting, a vomiting upon vomiting- to keep at bay the interlocutor misjuged to be a potential assailant. Why? Is it all the fault of Derrida? No coz Derrida could do reasonable lit crit on Joyce- anyway France and Germany are allies, so his style can be excused on those grounds alone.
But if Derrida isn't the bad guy here, who is? Ivy League political correctness? Bengali bhadrolok clannishness? I don't know.
Honestly. I give up. What a waste of time!
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