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Teaching Humanities

Par Gayatri Spivak
Publié par Clifford Armion le 05/06/2015
Fifty years of institutional teaching has brought me this lesson: try to learn to learn how to teach this group, for me the two ends of the spectrum: Columbia University in the City of New York and six elementary schools on the border between West Bengal and Jharkhand. Everything I say will be marked by this. I take my motto from Kafka: “Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: Impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.”

Tous droits réservés 
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Inde/États-Unis), théoricienne et critique, enseigne la littérature comparée à l’Université Columbia (New York), où elle est membre fondateur de l’Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. Elle est principalement connue pour son essai Can the Subaltern Speak ? considéré comme un des textes fondateurs du post-colonialisme. Elle est par ailleurs investie dans des projets à portée éducative au Bengale. En juin 2012, elle reçoit le Prix de Kyoto pour son travail.
> Nationalisme et imagination (Payot, 2010)



Fifty years of institutional teaching has brought me this lesson: try to learn to learn how to teach this group, for me the two ends of the spectrum: Columbia University in the City of New York and six elementary schools on the border between West Bengal and Jharkhand. Everything I say will be marked by this.

I take my motto from Kafka: “Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: Impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.”

Santosh Karmakar, a rural intellectual, a high school teacher in my subaltern place of work, always asks me one big question every time I am in that area. On October 19, his question was: why is a specter of terrorism stalking the world today as the specter of Communism was stalking Europe in 1848? I gave him a general answer in terms of the subduing of Byzantium, with the Sykes Picot Agreement (1916), by which the French and British wrote the map of the modern Middle East, as a major recent landmark.[1]

When I spoke at the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) on September 25, I had remarked that the specter of terrorism (I transplant Santosh Karmakar’s later remark) teaches us how political economy, using the ideology of race, can destroy teaching and learning. In so far as decolonization takes the form of national-capital formation, that same mechanism is at work. Today, the “rule of law” arises because barriers between national capital and global capital are removed, and the state is run to manage the global economy, rather than specifically to look after its citizens. That is the rule of unconstituted global law. The name of that is neo-liberalism. And it is this “rule of law” that dictates the kind of toolkits represented by the Quality Enhancement Project. That project was my specific concern, because I was keynoting at UKZN. But this kind of initiative exists in selected places everywhere, globally, today. 

The quotations are official descriptions of this project:

In 2009 an external evaluation of the HEQC recommended that in the next quality assurance cycle the focus should be on quality promotion (http://www.che.ac.za/sites/default/files/publications/external_evaluation_HEQC_report_february_2009.pdf). While the first cycle of institutional audits was being completed, the CHE held initial discussions with HEIs on how best to do this. This led to a consensus that there should not be another round of comprehensive institutional audits over the next few years. Instead, there should be a national focus on improving teaching and learning, particularly at the undergraduate level, which accounts for over 80% of student registrations. This focus is necessitated by the combination of low participation rate, only 17% of 20 to 24-year olds in 2011, low throughput rates and stark racial bias in student success. . . [a good goal!]. By the end of the year, after several months of background research and intensive discussions within the CHE and HEQC, agreement had been reached that the next cycle of activities would be formulated as the Quality Enhancement Project (QEP), with a focus on student success across the entire higher education sector. . . .

Although John Kotter’s work was developed within a business context, much of it can be adapted to a higher education context. Kotter identifies eight steps for leading change:

1. Establishing a sense of urgency

Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.

2. Creating the guiding coalition

Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team.

3. Developing a change vision

Create a vision to help direct the change effort and develop strategies for achieving that vision.

4. Communicating the vision for buy-in

Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.

5. Empowering broad-based action

Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision and encourage risk-taking and non-traditional ideas, activities and actions.

6. Generating short-term wins

Plan for achievement that can easily be made visible, follow through with those achievements and recognize and reward those who were involved.

7. Never letting up

Use increased credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t fit the vision. Hire, promote and develop people who can implement the vision. Reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes and change agents.

8. Incorporating changes into the culture

Articulate the connections between the new behaviours and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.[2]

After this comes the typical diagram: “Process for each phase of the QEP [indicating] institutionally-based . . . and nationally-coordinated activities.”

Quality and development are compromised and existentially impoverished by a complete confidence in so-called toolkits and templates. The desire for such speedy solutions must be rearranged with the training of the imagination to understand that the toolkit closes off the contingent and therefore change. One must teach how to make toolkits as halfway houses to be undone by the contingent rather than offer toolkits for a solution to the problem of action. A “dangerous supplement” must persistently (important word) be put on these kinds of successful systems – successful because mindless and easy -- in order to bring in the incalculable because toolkits stop the contingent and there is no computer that can catch the contingent.[3] One of the problems with toolkits is that they make teaching “easier.” Way away from radical solidarity tourism, teachers of language, as well as the teachers of literature from whom they are hierarchically separated, no longer confront the challenge of the unexpected. We might want to remember that the teachability of literature is not only in its categorizability, but in the fact that it can open us to a contingency that escapes all knowledge management. – I am not a romantic. I certainly do not suggest that we go back to the primitivism of emoting over global communities that I witness at many international conferences where I am invited because I am seen as a “postcolonial” person. We want to combat orthodox Linguistics and Anthropology, colonial disciplines, in the same way that I am trying to combat from the inside the discipline of literary reading becoming colonial as it allows itself to be quantified, rather than rise to the insistent defense of the humanities as instrument and weapon.[4]

Knowledge management is not the way that the imagination will be trained for epistemological performance so that unconditional ethics can be introduced to move capital into social justice.
These are words that I spoke to the World Economic Forum, whose New Social Covenant also has a series of apparently good goals.[5] Indeed, as an enormous “non-profit,” it has become an inchoate critic of the connection between fundraising “non-profit”-s and the corporate world. In this larger context, the word “non-profit” –educational institutions, human rights initiatives, international watchdogs and large and small civil society and philanthropic undertakings– has lost its meaning. The World Economic Forum has realized that it is the “profit” sector that must be shifted. “The realization of a hegemonic apparatus, in so far as it creates a new ideological terrain, determines a reform of consciousness and of methods of knowledge.”[6]

As in John Kotter’s list, so here, there are two kinds of items: one talking the talk (basic human values), the other walking the walk (‘good’ jobs for non-graduates; strong technical education opportunities; apprentice schemes, a pro-active tax and incentive system and 21st century industrial strategy). One cannot walk the walk by merely agreeing to do so. It is a collective decision, not merely something enforced from the top. You have to learn the habit of thinking about other people as equal though not same, exactly the situation between the reading pupil and the one who produced the literary work. 

Let me explain this last statement. I am a teacher of literature as well as a member of the Council on Values, so perhaps I emphasize literary reading too much. But I have also given time and skill (not just money and site-visits) for 30 years, training teachers and children at 6 small elementary schools established by me among the landless illiterate Dalits in western West Bengal, as I mentioned at the outset. So however impractical I may seem, hear me out.

Normally our desire is to do things ourselves or for ourselves. In good literary teaching, the student is taught carefully to hang out in the space of the other – understand what s/he confronts in terms of the unknown person who wrote what s/he confronts. This is the secret of the ethical and the democratic. One has to stay with it, not follow easy steps so that one can say "I have helped you." The long-term implementation of the Covenant’s values (which increasingly does not seem to be on their agenda), in addition to persuading CEO-s and heads of state, calls for the teaching of the humanities at all levels and in all places so that the desire for social justice, spelled out in the various items of the Covenants, rather than only be taken for granted if one joins up, can inhabit souls long-term, not always susceptible to evaluation by checking statistically how each item on a list is institutionally fulfilled. Huge and detailed country by country statistical tables are no doubt useful, but, in terms of sustaining an improved world, we have to look at the fact that nations are not monolithic abstract averages, and that evaluations are remote fact-gathering which often do not reflect everyday reality. 

We teachers of the humanities – literature and philosophy – at our best train the imagination into knowing ourselves differently, and knowing the world differently, so that our students and we ourselves want to do the good things contained in the Covenant rather than have to be checked following enforcement. 

Today the emphasis in education is acquiring digital speed. In order to be able to use the digital for social justice, the soul has to be trained slowly, and that is where literary training as I have described it comes into play. Recently, at the celebration of the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe's life, the positive effect of his literary writings was repeatedly emphasized. With my experience of work in Africa, I was obliged to say that, below a certain class line, Nigerians had no idea who he was and what he wrote. The task therefore was to expand the circle of Nigerians who could not only read, but also learn from the literary. For this, reading literature with the subaltern is an activity that may be a feel-good activity for the feudally benevolent elite. 

I am remembering the tremendously bright student Rahul Lohar in Shahabad whom I kept pushing to make his head work to think of what it was that the measurements in feet, used to calculate its area -- what indeed it was that these units measured. To engage one’s head for intellectual labor when it has not been millennially allowed to one’s social group is indeed comparable to accessing the text of the other in oneself. It is the “literary” practical for the ethical, quite distinct from the internalized obligation to serve and from conscientized violence. It does not resemble the “literature” that the dominant assigns as a proper name. I would not push the student of middle-class parents in this way. Intellectual labor is historically available there, and can be joyful. But this is a son of landless illiterates and his entire life is lived on other terms. And indeed I believe from his extraordinarily impulsive responses, interrupting other teaching, that he was fully alive to this. This is the “literary” for the child because it gives the same practice as does literature for trained elite readers like ourselves and our elite students.

Here is an example of why feel-good feudal benevolence is a waste of time. My least successful rural school is taught by two caste Hindu men. The junior teacher, hardly capable of teaching Classes Infant, One, and Two, has just bought a B.Ed degree for 100,000 rupees. He will go on “training" for two months and hopes to slide into a job of high school teaching through this bribe, although the job actually costs between Rs. 1,500,000 and Rs.1,600,000, as he innocently told me. The very evening that I got this news, I was dining with Santosh Karmakar, and his daughter, who is also getting a B. Ed. Degree, at Viswa Bharati University (established by the national hero Rabindranath Tagore) told me that her training required 1400 hours of exams during the one year course, two months of practice teaching at a high school, to be observed by a registered examiner, and so on. Much harder than the B.A., she told me. Now you see how the teachers of the children of the gentry are prepared, for quality (although corruption has entered even here); and how the subaltern children’s “teachers” are prepared – these are the years of schooling that are counted on the Human Development Index to assess a country’s “development.” The subaltern must be kept in a situation of only manual labor – bribed with sports and the famous hundred days of employment program – so that we can keep the largest sector of the electorate as victims of epistemic and physical violence, in order to produce votes. Democratic judgment in the marginal or subaltern is a fearful thing.[7]

“Why is there such an upsurge of interest in knowledge?” asks Laurence Prusak, editor of Knowledge in Organizations and cites the Pre-Socratics. Such a question ignores the plain fact that the word “knowledge” has changed since the Pre-Socratics. (There was of course no English at that time. And, if we are thinking the world, we must – absolutely – remember the many languages that make meaning for its peoples. As a doctor working in Kenya who refuses to be a top-down health worker remarked: “The people will understand Swahili, but you can’t speak to their heart unless you speak their language: ‘I’m getting what you’re saying, but I’m not taking it in.’” That is a basic human value: talking to the heart. If you think it is inconvenient, as it is, indeed, don’t dream of improving the world.) Real knowledge depends on cooking the soul with slow learning, not the instant soup of a one-size-fits all toolkit. The world is not populated by humanoid drones. – You cannot produce a toolkit for “a moral metric,” or if you do you will be disappointed.

In Njgeria and Kenya, I facilitate a project for databasing all the unsystematized mother tongues of sub-Saharan Africa. I know the situation in South Africa is different. But I would like to share with you some of the things we think together.

Intellectual labor begins with the training of children, slowly. It has been abundantly demonstrated that, an at least bilingual primary education lays the foundation not only for learning other languages (including mathematics, digitality, English, of course, and the like); but also connects the world of social justice and social welfare with the earliest stages of a child’s development. The “global” languages are first language to only a part of the world. They have an intrinsic connection to them. Others, and we are talking race, class and gender here, suffer a loss of connection with their infancy language and this is an ethical loss as significant as climate change for the world’s future.

These languages are not dying and in need of preservation. They are flexible – because not separated by 19th and 20th century colonial disciplines of linguistics and anthropology, alive and inter-comprehensible, and in use for electoral campaigning. We make use of this existing resource, quite distinct from the past-oriented preservation of endangered languages. We give health, education and agricultural workers future-oriented access to these crucial instruments of successful delivery; the living mother tongues of Africa. The goal of our longitudinal research is to create a multi-portal global access platform, which allows researchers to document, explore and provide portals for the community and for the workers in the field. Its broader consequences will embrace innovative legal research in access portals and international research in oral history and language study.

Higher-education based on such bilingual primary education is richer and appropriate to the effort to break the old class-solidarities. The impossible goal is not to keep reproducing the old class solidarities through access to higher education but to expand its scope by integrating it with a holistic and classed vision of the entire education spectrum.

(From here on down, this essay has the broad stroke structure of a series of answers to questions tabulated in an abstract. The paragraphs above are an answer to the question: what is the consequence of compartmentalizing higher education?)

How can the humanities produce the intuitions of democracy in the broadest possible race, class-, and gender-diversified sector of the population? No society "develops" if its inhabitants are not introduced to the practice of freedom, which is rather different from the establishment of rights by intervention on the part of elected representatives, agitation by constitutional activists, or public interest litigation through national or international interest. However poor and oppressed the groups you teach, the contradictory habits of no competition yet class struggle, absolute equality yet gender preference, no encouragement to leadership yet problem-solving in every detail of classroom practice, all, all of these must be encouraged. They change as we go up in level, of course. Teaching justified self-interest – as in collective bargaining, human rights interventions or Occupy Wall Street -- does not necessarily lead to a just society.

What is it to teach the humanities? Democracy is now equated with an operating civil structure, the functioning of a hierarchized bureaucracy, and “clean” elections. We have plenty of examples around the world, that unrelenting state violence on the model of revenge and retaliation can co-exist with so-called democracy. Revenge is indeed a kind of wild justice that proves that no retribution is just to the outlines of the tribute. It has nothing, however, to do with a vision of social justice, which builds itself on its own indefinite continuation. It nests in all children’s, and therefore everyone’s, capacity to use the right to intellectual and imaginative labor, not just in ease and speed of learning. This is why it is not enough to compartmentalize “higher education,” which also preserves class. And, in order to be supple enough to become “real” rather than merely powerful, statistical evaluation by way of toolkits should not be replaced or opposed, but supplemented, by the humanities style reading skills, not confined to a charmed circle, circulating in its own circuit, quite apart from R&D and policy, also circulating in its charmed circuit, apart from the readers. Humanities in my sense is a form of imaginative activism that must permeate qualitative and quantitative welfare and economic disciplinary training as well as human rights training. Currently, it is the last group that shares something with the humanities, at least in select elite universities in the United States. In these programs, human rights legalisms trump the slow reading skills of the humanities. 

What is the in-built aporia of democracy? An aporia is a situation where two right solutions cancel each other out. Yet one solution must always be(come) chosen in every contingency. This is the in-built and definitive aporia within democracy: it is autonomy (freedom from), liberty; and others (freedom to), equality: us and them. Irreducibly, democracy is the aporetic site of liberty and equality and the children in democracies must be trained into it. There is nothing but obstacles in its way. I speak of class apartheid, of which I have given a concrete example above. Look now at an example from the top: when I explained to a graduate student from a Latin American country that the so-called “terminal M.A.” (no financial aid, no access to the Ph.D. stream) at U.S. Research1 universities was a fundraising mechanism, he told me “with globalization everything has changed, we don’t mind buying the brand name for future advancement.” This is why I chose, in my own home state of West Bengal, as title for an oration in the name of the ancestor worship of a nationalist hero: “Freedom After Independence?” Freedom to, after Freedom from. 

Otherwise, a regenerated Khilafat movement (1919-1924) legitimizes the politics of the Sykes-Picot by reversal and the complex history of metropolitan minority identitarianism and heritagism draws thousands of “democratic” Arab Spring Tunisians and Muslim Europeans/Americans, and women into it. No awareness of aporia here. Only liberty as identity. Our task is rather to rearrange the desire for the transcendental persistently (important word) from belief to imagination, from rational choice to the class-specific diversified literary rather than offer “clash of civilizations” style comments such as “they do not share our values” (Canadian Foreign Minister on CNN) or “they have no human values” as offered by a Silicon Valley executive and a politically correct female staff member at a Council on Values meeting.[8] The New Social Covenant wants to perform some movement of change in an altogether confused way (giving them the benefit of the doubt). It therefore requires the literary – as training for the ethical – as a method. In a world of the denial of intellectual labor -- in a recent Education Supplement of The New York Times, a piece advising recent graduates on entering the professional schools begins with the words: “We are not talking humanities” – its fashioners will not accept this.[9] Development can be in any direction, it does not bring with it a value system -- it is an unconditional thing, but is always constrained by conditions, and in our world by economic considerations. It is what I call "sustainable under development," because it is often the level of development that is kept at a minimum so that profit maximization can be sustained. The word “sustainable" is also open-ended and does not carry any conditions within it. As for democracy, it is the only system of government that is hospitable to all ways of thinking and therefore cannot be driven if the electorate is not educated in a judgment that can be directed toward others. This, again, is the aporia or double bind between liberty, which is supposedly unconditional, and equality, which imposes a condition to be aware that others, even completely unlike you, are supposedly imaginable by you as equal. When I work this through the formula "other people's children," I am told that that is a liberal bio-political notion. But we should be able to think the child as absolute event without compromising reproductive rights or human beings’ right to choose. The first is unconditional, like justice; the second, an important condition, like Law.

How do we confront the inevitable corporatization of the entire education system?

By the persistent construction of a critical mass. Antonio Gramsci’s “New Intellectual” is a permanent persuader. We must continue to speak out; that humanities training will never generate income for the university directly. It is rather an epistemological and ethical health care for the society at large. These are the fully prepared global citizens and leaders that one imagines as all philosophers assume a rational being. Material conditioning of the intending subject cannot otherwise be grasped. The relationship between the imagination and intention hosts the right to abstraction, so long denied to the subaltern and so fast disappearing under rational choice, behaviorist economics and knowledge management among the elite. Resources should be spent to make the humanities a more attractive choice for interested students so that the number of such persons in society increases significantly. If international socialism died of an ethics-shaped hole –in other words, no development of a new approach to the ethical– global capitalism, although it is not as embarrassed to talk the ethical talk, will continue to live with the same terminal disease –an ethics-shaped hole, while millennial history is legitimized by reversal.

Let us get back for a moment to the World Economic Forum, wanting to turn capitalism toward social justice. I have pointed out already that their good goal, in itself revealing more and more ideological roadblocks, has inadequate imaginative resources but they do acknowledge complicity – we alone have done this. Unfortunately, the strongest tradition of amelioration is what any serious examination must call sustainable underdevelopment, which is what quality promotion by knowledge management helps sustain further. Sustainable underdevelopment. Education by statistic.

What is the role of the curriculum? Not much. Because of the stratification of society, a regularized curriculum is only good for mainstreaming. But a customized curriculum is also a waste of time. It is the method of teaching/reaching that is important, – an uncoercive re-arrangement of desires – reaching the cognitively damaged epistemic instrument.

Of new textbooks? How not to use the computer. Let me tell a story from West Bengal here, although it will not travel to South Africa – the subaltern is not generalizable. The West Bengal State Education Commission has produced an excellent set of primary school textbooks. Subaltern teachers find them very hard to teach because they do not resemble the old awful ones. I went to the director of the textbook program to help him with news from below. He said we are trying to win back the English-medium school children, the children,in other words, of the rich and of the upper middle class. No time for the subaltern.

What are the limits of economic empowerment? – The inability to think of income as instrument, and not only for self-enhancement. “Development” is the economic transition into the circuit of capital with insufficient attention to subject-formation.

Ethics as such cannot be practiced after business, or the business of medicine-as-triage, has been sustained. Ethics are unconditional. God demands the sacrifice of your son. He stays your hand and your unconditional ethical commitment is turned into a covenant; circumcision of the male body into a circumcision of the heart.

How are we to approach indigenous knowledge systems?

By entering their protocol and earning the right to rearrange from within, learning from mistakes.

How do we gauge “authenticity” in knowledge? By noticing the manner of production of detail.

What is the relationship between quality in education and the democratic imperative?  Content and form.

What is the relationship between class, race, and liberal education in our countries?

Liberal education is a place of struggle. Within the colonial system liberal education was imitative, class-divisive. With no unmediated control over the national system it produced a useless class. We undo poison with poison here. Poison can become medicine. This is not a ‘critique of Eurocentrism’. In the rural schools I try to make the groups friendly with the wretched map of the world on the back cover of the geography book. (Ujjwal Lohar, the education in-charge, charged me for better maps at some point. I have seen them, but I have never seen them in use. I do not “tell” students to do things.) I point at the northwestern corner of the huge Eurasian continent on the terrible map and tell them that that is Europe and that though so small, they won. I discuss with them how they won (since capital-production is not a crime) and even use such mid-Victorian examples as James Watt watching the lid dance on the pot of boiling water. I remind myself not to be an “improver” like the colonialists and discuss with the co-workers (male and female teachers and supervisors) from the community the fact that I am not drawing profits from the work for and with them. Although they are not well acquainted with the world map and know nothing about colonialism, and have not seen any factories of any significant size, they do understand what profit or munafa is. I try to give them the sense of the cultural capital I do acquire and try moralistically from its extreme results by not having a webpage.

What is the relationship between a will to social justice and enforcement?

The first has to be produced long-term, customized, and full of uncertainty. The second is a short-term necessity ultimately productive of a culture of fear and fully compromised when the enforcers on the ground are victims of class apartheid.

What is it to interpret a history of violence and use it without accusation or excuse within the broadest interpretation of the academy?

The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, himself a strong anti-colonialist among the colonizers, read the book Fanon wrote in the last 10 weeks of his life, knowing that he was marked for death by acute leukemia, even as he was being hounded by the colonizing government of France, as an endorsement of violence itself -- not reading between the lines, where Fanon insists that the tragedy is that the very poor is reduced to violence, because there is no other response possible to an absolute absence of response and an absolute exercise of legitimized violence from the colonizers.  Their lives count as nothing against the death of the colonizers: unacknowledged Hiroshimas over against sentimentalized 9/11-s.  Here the lesson of Gandhi regarding the power of passive resistance and the contrastive lesson of Israel in the exercise of state legitimized violence drawing forth violence in extremism is useful today. It is in this context that we remember that after the struggle against Portugal, the new nations of Angola and Mozambique fell into civil war, and disproved the dream of the very poor that decolonization would bring a new day.  Mozambique has joined forces with capitalist globalization.  This is the rule rather than the exception.  Fanon’s own warning is contained in A Dying Colonialism.  Against the grain of his optimism of the will, he writes: “it is no longer the age of little vanguards.”[10]

Why is national liberation not a revolution?

Working within the problems created by a postcolonial nation which brings back the pre-colonial problems that the great historian Fernand Braudel called longue durée or long term: “structures which lie invisible below the surface of social activities,” many of us think that the real disaster in colonialism lies in destroying the minds of the colonized and forcing them to accept mere violence -- allowing no practice of freedom, so that these minds cannot build when apparent decolonization has been achieved. From the example of mature leaders such as Du Bois and Mandela, we know or can at least have the feeling that Fanon would have gone in that direction.

In the postcolonial world, hero worship and ancestor worship stand in the way of the production of the will to social justice. Those of us interested in building postcolonial democracies think that these heroes should be slowly and carefully transformed into teaching texts. In the case of Nelson Mandela, for example, the strongest teaching element is the unconditional ethical – the risky imaginative activism that dares to say yes to the enemy. If one enters the protocol of the heroic life with critical intimacy, reading its text as the symbolic -- telling us about the subject’s relationship to the imaginary – the greatest collective imaginary of colonial oppression being precisely the dream of liberation – it is possible, again with the greatest care, not to exclude the transformation of the longue durée into historical symptomaticity of even the most extraordinarily heroic among us, to make the hero a human warning for those of us who are merely human without the heroism. This is a transformation of the imitatio Christi idea of role-model, today emphasized in faith-based leadership initiatives. We cannot forget that this is the substance of the greatest genre the world has, not confined to Hellenic culture alone: tragedy, the tragic hero of history. The leaders of liberation are obliged to produce an “orientalist” version of the new nation, today spawning an unscrupulous use of the idea of homeland, heritage and history to justify and legitimize xenophobia, tyranny and the doctrine of ethnic purity for which women are often asked to bear the responsibility.

What I am insisting on, then, is that consciousness is material. Epistemology – the way we know – is historically affected. The vanguard cannot instil class consciousness among the masses as if the masses are a monolithic blob. Quality promotion knowledge management style legitimizes this by reversal. To pay attention to this is not an academic luxury. On the contrary, to think of the education of the largest sector of the electorate as if their millennially ravaged epistemologies resembled that of the middle class activist or the elite philanthropist is mistaken and/or a sure road to celebrity. This is a material lesson – routinely dismissed by mechanical leftists as too “nuanced” or “individualistic,” and by the knowledge managers as impractical, inefficient.
What is the role of epistemological change clustered within education in notions of identity and the broader public? I don’t know.

How do we combat the Anthropocene? 

By assuming that the literary-ethical suspension in the space of the other is to de-humanize, because the “natural” tendency of human activities is to accelerate the rate of species extinction,unless we want to mooch over being-human in the face of the anthropocene. Kant is supposed to have inaugurated modernity by binding free will, rewriting fatalism by a rearrangement of the desire for philosophy, which desired the danger of the entire mistake, declaring free will by determined necessity, leaving fatalism unguarded in the longue durée of history.[11] That counter-intuitive mark of the modern largely misfired. What took its place was the race-class-determined binary opposition of free will and fatalism that runs our world today, with the so-called abstract workings of capital running a deconstruction, which is called “development” by way of alibi.

Over against this, I focused on “planetarity” because it reduced the importance of the human.[12] Laurie Anderson.

In summary, then,my envoi: supplement your teaching and learning skills with the dangerous incalculability of education in the humanities.


[1] Available digitally from the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale University.

[2] Diane Grayson, “The Quality Enhancement Project: A systemic intervention for improving teaching and learning,” Council on Higher Education, South Africa.

[3] The phrase is from Rousseau, rewritten in the early work of Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie (Paris: Minuit, 1967), p. 221.

[4] The last six sentences are from “Resisting Trivialization,” Profession 2014 (forthcoming).

[5] I have been unable to get a one-on-one audience with the Forum’s founder for over a year now, even as I faithfully attend, and am increasingly dismayed by the sentiments expressed in, the collective meetings.

[6] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, tr. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Noel-Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1972), p. 365. Quoted in Spivak, “Global Marx?,” unpublished paper delivered at the Universidad de San Martin, Buenos Aires, November 2013.

[7] Last paragraph quoted from “Margins and Marginal Communities: A Practical Keynote,” forthcoming in anthology edited by Nandini Bhattacharya Panda.

[8] I began this line of thinking with “Imagination, not Culture: A Singular Example,” William James Lecture, Harvard Divinity School, April 10, 2008, where I tried to think of Saradamani Mukhopadhay in this way.

[9] “Going Professional: The Ins and Outs,” in The New York Times Education Supplement (Aug. 3, 2014), p. ED6.

[10] Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism (New York: Grove Press, 1965), p. 1.

[11] Foucault hailed Kant as the inaugurator of modernity for a somewhat different reason ("What Is Enlightenment?” in Political Writings, tr. H. B. Nisbet, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991, p.54-60.).

[12] “Planetarity,” in Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, ed. Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2014).

Pour citer cette ressource :

Gayatri Spivak, "Teaching Humanities", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), juin 2015. Consulté le 21/05/2018. URL: http://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/teaching-humanities