Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Early Life and Education
Born in Calcutta, India, she received an undergraduate degree in English at the University of Calcutta in 1959, graduating with first class honours. After this, she completed her Master's in English from Cornell University, and then pursued her Ph.D. while teaching at the University of Iowa. Her dissertation was on W.B. Yeats, directed by Paul de Man, titled Myself Must I Remake: The Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats. At Cornell, she was the second woman elected to membership in the Telluride Association. She was briefly married to Talbot Spivak in the 1960s.
On Grammatology and Postcolonialism
In 1967, Spivak included a translator's introduction to the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida's 'On Grammatology': this has since been described as "setting a new standard for self-reflexivity in prefaces." After this, she carried out a series of historical studies (as a member of the "Subaltern Studies Collective") and literary critiques of imperialism and international feminism. She has often referred to herself as a "Practical Marxist-feminist-deconstructionist,". Her overriding ethico-political concern has been the tendency of institutional and cultural discourses/practices to exclude and marginalize the subaltern, especially subaltern women.
Spivak's essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?", published in 1988, reflects Spivak's interest in the processes by which postcolonial studies reaffirm neocolonial discourses - As Spivak argues, "by speaking out and reclaiming a collective cultural identity, subalterns will in fact re-inscribe their subordinate position in society." (B. Graves).
Spivak coined the term "strategic essentialism," which refers to a sort of temporary solidarity for the purpose of social action. For example, the attitude that women's groups have many different agendas makes it difficult for feminists to work for common causes. "Strategic essentialism" is about the need to accept temporarily an "essentialist" position in order to be able to act.
Books: Myself Must I Remake: The Life and Poetry of W. B. Yeats (1974), Of Grammatology (translation with critical introduction of Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie, 1976), In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (1987), Selected Subaltern Studies (ed., 1988), The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (1990), Thinking Academic Freedom in Gendered Post-Coloniality (1993), Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993), Imaginary Maps (translation with critical introduction of three stories by Mahasweta Devi, 1994), The Spivak Reader (1995), Breast Stories (translation with critical introduction of three stories by Mahasweta Devi, 1997), Old Women (translation with critical introduction of two stories by Mahasweta Devi, 1999), Imperatives to Re-Imagine the Planet / Imperative zur Neuerfindung des Planeten (ed. Willi Goetschel, 1999), A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present (1999), Song for Kali: A Cycle (translation with introduction of Ramproshad Sen, 2000), Chotti Munda and His Arrow (translation with critical introduction of a novel by Mahasweta Devi, 2002), Death of a Discipline (2003), Other Asias (2005), Red Thread (forthcoming). Significant articles: "Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography" (1985), "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" (1985), "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (1988), "The Politics of Translation" (1992), "Moving Devi" (1999), "Righting Wrongs" (2003), "Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching" (2004), "Translating into English" (2005).