The Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California Irvine hosted a public lecture by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

GLOBAL AND UNIVERSAL: Another Try at Teaching Reading

June 9, 2017, 5-8 pm, HG 3341, UCI campus

This public lecture follows the tradition of Professor Gayatri Spivak’s holding the last class of her seminar as a public event.

Abstract from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak:

Here is deep background for my talk.  I will not refer to this in the actual presentation.  This is simply to show how I have learned to say what I will say:

A French journal recently asked me to write 500 words in answer to the question “So, what’s your proposition to save the world?”  I was the token woman of color on the list (look if you like at the wonderful 1979 commencement address by poet Adrienne Rich, where she cautioned woman students of color against flattery and tokenization); anyway, I felt I was the token woman of color on the list – the others being the white male philosophers Alain Badiou, Jacques Ranciere, and Slavoj Zizek.  I knew the guys would be pontificating, as men must, so I sent in a true but tongue-in-cheek table of contents.  It might amuse you to know that it was dictated at speed to my brilliant friend and coordinator Kristen Reichardt, while I was bolting the excellent pasta provided by the Institute for Research on African-American Studies after a workshop on the great historian-sociologist, W. E. B Du Bois.

Here is part of the table of contents sent to Paris at speed, my alternative to entrepreneurship, a patchwork of failures, a painful set of challenges, but the source of my joy 50 years after the Ph.D:


  1. Trying to develop the intuitions of democracy in the children of the landless illiterate by running five elementary schools on the border of two “backward” states in India, training teachers hands-on how to teach the state curriculum. This can help voting and entering the mainstream. I think of this work as paying ancestral debts rather than changing the world.
  2. Training the global classroom – diasporic or otherwise – at an elite Research1 university in the world’s financial center – Columbia University,– how to prepare oneself for “helping.”
  3. Working at a rural state university in Nigeria to establish a consortial African multi-portal database of unsystematized first languages. This will help the so called “developers” learn to work with the so called “developees.” This work is supported by
  4. a project at two great colonial African universities from West Africa and East Africa – where, by learning how to approach the rural-urban interface through story-telling and listening, we are trying to influence the R(esearch) wing of R(esearch) & D(evelopment). We are also questioning the divisive regionalism of Africa today.
  5. Fieldworking with the World Economic Forum, attempting to institute reality-checks on their convictions regarding world-change.
  6. Giving practical advice to some displaced former leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement as it changes shape. [I add a number 7.  Editing two series: translations of theory from “the rest of the world;” and launching a Loeb classical Library model of critical translations from Bengali texts of the last few centuries in order to combat unexamined metropolitan-diasporic identity-culturalism.]  These activities all relate to mind-set change. How to construct oneself (as knower) and the world (as known) in order to participate in the possibility of democracy.

This requires learning to read.  We must harness the humanities. I hope my talk will be an example of this, however inadequate to the task.  I hope to learn from the attempt to put it together and be instructed by your questions.  My way will be to see how categories are manipulated on the page.  As of now, it looks like I’ll read the use of fiction in Book 8 of the Republic — since my general focus is democracy — and the harnessing of fiction with reference to three novels, Nigerian, Kenyan, Bengali.  Since the lecture is the last session of my seminar, its shape will be somewhat determined by what happens in the June 7 session.