Student Journal

Gayari Chakravorty Spivak: The Negotiation of Third Space

One would cut through all the heavy layers of ideology that have been borne down since the beginnings of the family and private property: that can be done only in the imagination… to change the imaginary in order to be able to act on the real.


                                                                                                 - Catherine Clement   

The human imagination can significantly transform the everyday. In this sense, it can be thought of as a place of revolutionary innovation, an incubator for what might seem impossible in a given epoch. For example, Leonardo da Vinci imagined flying machines in the pages of his notebook long before the first airship or the flight of the Wright Brothers. As the writer Virgil Nemoianu claims, the human imagination is a potent resource because it can “introduce us to a series of things that have not happened in our own worlds” (Nemoianu 11).

In aggregates, such as the “collective imagination,” the human imagination is also a site for originating new forms of knowledge, identity, and subjectivity. Indeed, a collective imagination is a place in which the hopes, fears and desires of a collective are negotiated, a place where disparate ideologies and cultures encounter each other in a dialogical exchange. This chapter argues that it is such a place—specifically the third space of the Indian collective imagination—that the philosopher Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak used as the setting for situated contemplation, for the development of thought tightly bonded to, and produced with/in place. As an interstitial site of negotiation and invention between the body politic of the colonized and the imposition of colonial rule, the third space of the Indian collective imagination will be shown to have had a particular and significant impact on Spivak.

Third Space

I have borrowed the term “third space” from Homi K. Bhabha. If first and second spaces are meant to indicate those of the colonized and the colonizers, then the third space is identified as something else besides; a space that mixes elements of the two other spaces in order to map an alternative geography that remains contested and unsettled. According to Bhabha, a “third space” is also a place of hybridity and exchange. Within these exchanges there is an “emergence of interstices – the overlap and displacement of domains of difference – [in which] the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated” (Bhabha 2). It is as a “third space” – as a place of contestation and negotiation – that Spivak uses the Indian collective imagination in developing place-produced thought. In many ways, the development of Spivak’s thinking has been deeply grounded within the negotiation and re-translation—what Spivak refers to as “inventive equivalence” of the third space of the Indian collective imagination. As Spivak explains, inventive equivalence does not involve a removal of difference, but rather entails, “thinking without nation, [using] space-names as shifters, in a mythic geography” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 26) that can disturb “measures in terms of a standard at whose heart is Western European nationalism” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 30). She has utilized this place-produced thought to develop an insurgent critique of the discursive tropes of Western metaphysics and Eurocentricity. Viewed with this awareness of its integral relationship to “mythic geography”, Spivak’s philosophy can be considered as an important instance of place-produced thought.

Spivak’s philosophical development is especially noteworthy within my overall project because it includes the production of a situated epistemology with/in a place, but without an explicit terra firma. The geographical borders of India do not absolutely define the third space of its collective imagination (the locus of Spivak’s thought), as the third space is not completely defined along nationalistic, ethnic or religious lines.  As a zone of active exchange, the third space of a collective imagination can be diasporic, encompassing regions that extend beyond the borders of established nation-states (which are themselves temporal human constructs).  Thus Spivak’s place-produced thought, has not been directly imbricated with physical topography in the same manner as the other examples described in this text.

Nonetheless, by thinking of the third space of the Indian national imagination as a type of place, we can regard it within the parameters of a place as first established in Chapter One, that is to say, as a socio-historical zone of active exchange between various forces and ideologies—and therefore, a dynamic space of negotiation. The third space of the Indian national imagination functions as a focalizing locus for Spivak’s thought in the same manner that physical geographies operate in other instances of place-produced thought.

Discursive Materiality

The absence of materiality in Spivak’s place of thought might at first seem problematic, considering that materiality was so critical to the other instances of place-produced thought explored here. In fact, though, it was less the actual material or phenomena that impacted each thinker than the agency of place that those material encounters presented. These encounters are examples of the place pushing back, asserting itself against the presumptions of the thinker and the impositions of culture. This identification of the role of materiality is an important distinction because it emphasizes that the agency of a place is more than its materiality. Instead, the agency of place should be considered as a product of its stratified histories, encounters and converging forces. The sum of its agglomerated particulars is what provides place with a continuously shifting agency, not merely a singular aspect of its constitution.

The third space of the Indian collective imagination—while lacking the actual materiality that other sites of place-produced thought may possess—still has a similar force of indigenous agency, making it capable of pushing back against the presumptions of the thinker. So, while it seems like Spivak’s place of thought lacks the raw materiality of other instances of place-produced thought, even though the third space of the Indian national imagination achieves the same effects, there is still more to the materiality of Spivak’s locus of thought. By further examining materiality in place-produced thought, not only can we better explicate the character of materiality, but we can also reveal a vital materiality operating at the core of Spivak’s thinking.

Firstly, we would do well to recognize the presence of language, discourse and ideology in the materiality of every occurrence of place-produced thought. In the Walden experiment, for example, even though Thoreau perceived that by living in a cabin on the edge of Walden Pond he would be brought closer to the “essence of things,” he brought his own discursive baggage to the experience of materiality within the place. For example, Thoreau expresses that “a taste for the beautiful is most cultivated outdoors, where there is no house and no house keeper” (Thoreau 35). The possibilities for the materiality of a place are in some ways determined by the thoughts, language and capacities of the person experiencing the encounter. Baudrillard’s engagement with the material desert was undoubtedly filtered through interlocutors such as Jack Kerouac, John Ford, Reyner Banham, and pop culture representations. All of these discursive layers came with Baudrillard to the desert, injecting his experience with pre-existing notions of materiality. Each encounter with materiality is marked by the concept and perceptions of materiality that the specific person brings with them. Therefore, while other instances of place-produced thought may seem to have a more direct engagement with raw materiality, we need to remember thediscursivity of materiality particular to each thinker within the context of their encounter with place. The materiality in the same location will be experienced very differently for each individual, depending upon the background, intentions, and motivations framing his or her experience.

Secondly, even though Spivak’s thinking may not be explicitly anchored to a terra firma, there is still a material basis to the development of her thought. This includes her childhood experiences living in Kolkata, her own body, her movement(s) between the USA and India, and perhaps most importantly her encounters with Subaltern women. Even though Spivak has lived in the USA for most of her life, she has maintained close relations with various Subaltern groups. For instance, Spivak speaks about her experiences with a group of Sabarwomen and how they demonstrate within their songs, an inventive equivalence and negotiation akin to that which animates the third space of the Indian collective imagination. Spivaks notes that the inventiveness of the lyrics, which often mix fact with fantasy, are a microcosm of third space processes and productions. As Spivak explains in an anecdotal format:

Imagine the frisson of delight that passed through me the first time that I heard these women weave a verse that began:Manbhumer Man raja—‘King Man of Manbhum’—using the precolonial name of this place that nobody uses. The next line was even more delightful: Kolkatar rajar pathorer dalan —‘the King of Kolkata has a stone mansion.’ Kolkata was in the place of what I am calling ‘inventive equivalence.’ They were going to Kolkata, a little group for a fair, so they were honouring the King of Kolkata by preparing these songs. Kolkata is my hometown and I was thinking, as I sang with these women in that remote room… who would the King of Kolkata be? Kolkata is a colonial city and, unlike older Indian cities had never had a Nawab… it never had a Hindu Raja either. But the women were singing ‘The King of Kolkata has a stone mansion,’ where Kolkata occupied the place of a shifter, and who was I to contradict? (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 24-25).

Through song, these women were able to construct a narrative about Kolkata that wove together histories and invented attributes into their present collective experience of traveling to Kolkata. For Spivak, these types of encounters have provided a materiality or grounding to the play between positions or claims that characterizes the function of the third space of the Indian collective imagination. They also have revealed to her how the third space can “appropriate material of all sorts into its machine, robbing the content of its epistemic charge” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 29). That ability to become “neither the One… nor the Other… but something else besides,” (Bhabha 41) is markedly present in Spivak’s thinking and notably pronounced when Spivak proclaims: “I realized that, as for all peoples who are not the felicitous subject of the European Enlightenment, their perennially blocked path to ‘modernity’ has been hybrid, not ‘European’” (A Critique of Postcolonial Reason 28). In terms of this type of play or hybridity, the third space of the Indian collective imagination (and therefore Spivak’s thinking) echoes Jacques Derrida’s thoughts about a text. It is “at the same time open, proffered andindecipherable,” writes Derrida, “even without our knowing that it is indecipherable” (“Of Grammatology” xxxvii). When Derrida speaks about a text, he urges us to understand the inseparability of the text from context, meaning that the text is never fixed. The text operates as more of a “third space” in which diversified voices intermingle and clash in a continual play. Derrida insists that this play means that the text is “constituted by its never-fully-to-be-recognized-ness” (“Of Grammatology” xliv). There is an important connection of Derrida’s assertions to the function of the third space of the Indian national imagination, and Spivak’s thinking because it emphasizes the performative tendencies utilized to produce knowledge and meaning.

Cricket and Colonialism

Some historical context for the anatomy or framework of the Indian imagination in the 20th century is in order here. The republic of India, as it is known today, had been a trading partner with numerous European companies since the beginning of the 18th century. In 1848, British regulation of the region was strengthened when an English lord was appointed to the top position in the East India Company, which was the most powerful organization in India. The East India Company controlled trade and flexed its muscle through the use of private armies. Once the company was dissolved in 1874, England took over direct control of India, which was subsumed under colonial rule. India remained under stringent British control until 1947, when it became an independent nation. The shift for India from being a colony to being a post-colonial nation, and the exchanges between colonizer and colonized during that process, were significant in the development of Spivak’s thinking. Of particular import for her was the third space of the Indian collective imagination and its relation to British attempts to produce, maintain, and promulgate its authority in India. One of most explicit and readily understood instances of this confluence can be found in cricket.

First introduced during the 1840s as a segregated sport, one in which English and Indian players never mixed, cricket “evolved into an unofficial instrument of state cultural policy” (Appadurai 93), serving as a vehicle to further disseminate ideas about imperialist standards of character and social behavior. The anthropologist Arjun Appadurai writes that the structure, etiquette, and rules of cricket were intended to “transmit Victorian ideals of character and fitness to the colony” (Appadurai 93). As the reach and popularity of cricket flourished in India, cricket teams from England began to tour India playing matches against “Indian” teams – originally comprised of Englishmen living in India. However, as the number of highly skilled Indian cricket players increased, there was a sense of public urgency (closely tied to the rise of Indian nationalism) for Indians themselves to represent India on its national cricket teams. This demand mean that there “had to be other parallel entities in the colonies against which the English nation-state could play: thus, ‘India’ had to be invented, at least for the purposes of colonial cricket” (Appadurai 98). Through its growing popularity and its representation of a collective identity, Indian cricket became firmly established in the realm of the national imagination. Once a part of the national imagination, cricket became subject to the agency of the social collective, molded at the interstices of heterogeneous cultures and ideas. Through representations in the national imagination via cultural outlets such as mass vernacular literature, public broadcasting, popular cinema, and increased indigenous patronage, Indian cricket was presented as a “critical instrument of [Indian] subjectivity and agency in the process of decolonization” (Appadurai 105).

Indian cricket grew into a means of actively playing out, in a physical and visual manner, the ideological and political conflicts swirling within the third space of the Indian national imagination. As a form of ideological play, cricket can be considered as a “microcosm of the fissures and tensions of a deeply divided society: fissures that it both reflects and plays upon, mitigates as well as intensifies” (Guha139). As a visualization of the operation of the third space of the Indian collective imagination, cricket served as a source of Indian identity and subjectivity formation. Appadurai writes that when “Indians from various linguistic regions in India see and hear the cricket narratives of television and radio, they do so not as neophytes struggling to grasp an English form but as culturally literate viewers for whom cricket has been deeply vernacularized” (Appadurai 104-105). Thus, cricket transformed, and a colonial trope became a new form of “inventive equivalence.” A key aspect of this inventive equivalence was the tangible subversion of caste hierarchies and the challenge to Western constructs of the Subaltern subject.

As early as 1906, the victory of a mixed caste Indian cricket team over a group of European cricketers was celebrated by the Indian Social Reformer newspaper as having “done far more to liberalize the minds of thousands of young Hindus than all other attempts in other spheres” (Guha 113). As Ramachandra Guha also writes, these types of victories “were seen variously as a triumph over caste prejudice and an assertion of a suppressed national spirit” (Guha 115). That a game might have such far-reaching consequences is not unreasonable. Roger Callois has suggested that “the competition and simulation [acted out in games] may and indeed do[es] create cultural forms to which an educational or esthetic value is ascribed” (Caillois 76). It is the notion of cricket as a site in which third space conflicts and contestations are enacted that creates a crucial connection to Spivak’s thinking. There is a comparable subversive process and assertion of subaltern subjectivity, which is inscribed in Spivak’s thinking about the critique of Western metaphysics andEurocentricity.

Beginning as a symbol of, and instrument of, colonial power, cricket was transformed in the Indian context into something quite different. This production of an “inventive equivalence” amounted to a cultural re-visioning. Indian cricket became clearly distinct in its character, process, and presentation from the colonial English model of cricket, while still maintaining a historical connection to its British roots. Appadurai cites that “the impact of media, commercialization, and national passion have almost completely eroded the old Victorian civilities associated with cricket. Cricket is now aggressive, spectacular” (Appadurai 107). Or as Ghua more generally states, “the game has come to mean something quite different here from what it did, and often still does, in its original home” (Guha 339). The journalist Soumya Bhattachary also describes how the game of cricket was re-visioned in India, particularly after the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1983, as it became the symbol of a “New India, a Young India, a Fearless India” and the “delirious staple of Indian public life and discourse” (Bhattacharya 12). The fervent embrace of cricket as a national passion in India is demonstrated by their role as a major player in world cricket since the 1970s, winning the World Cup twice within that span. Cricket has been re-territorialized; in its contemporary manifestation, English cricket has been transformed in India into “something else besides” – not just a leftover from a colonial oppressor. As the journalist Shadra Ugra maintains, “India sees cricket – and indeed an image of itself on a global scale – through its cricket team” (Wagg 78).

In the transformation from “cricket played in India” to “Indian cricket,” a crucial indigenous modification occurred which enabled Indian cricket to become a forum for the negotiation of national consciousness and agency. This shift transpired when the challenges within the game of cricket were presented as the personal struggles of some of its most famous cricketers. These narratives of personal struggle came to stand as metaphors of the national struggle for subjectivity and identity. Once this shift occurred, Indian cricket was no longer merely a game. In describing the famous cricketer Gundappa Vishwanath (Fig.1), the writer Anandam P. Kavoori details how he would will “the public, his partner (so to speak), to reach more fully into themselves, to participate with increasing abandon” (Kavoori147). The viewing public for cricket came to feel as though the struggles and victories of the individual cricketers were also their own struggles and victories. By becoming a metaphor of collective identity, cricket ceased to be an extension of colonialism, became instead a “social practice that forms the background of everyday life” (Majumdar and Mehta xivii). As Guha claims, cricket was instilled in the collective heart of Indians because it acted out the concerns of the collective on the playing field.


Figure 1. The famous cricketer Gundappa Vishwanath at bat. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Liminal Philosophy

As mentioned above, the act of translating cricket from a colonial instrument of power into a representation of passionate collective subjectivity is a critical illustration of the operation of the third space of the Indian collective imagination. However, it’s worth noting that Spivak never explicitly writes about cricket. [1] This may initially seem like paradox, but it doesn’t matter that Spivak never directly references the development of cricket in India, because in this analysis it is being utilized as an exemplar of how the power of the third space of the collective imagination can negotiate and alter existing forms of subjectivity and knowledge. Spivak’s thinking is connected to Indian cricket in the shared reliance on the third space of the Indian collective imagination. It is the transformative and negotiativeability of the third space of the Indian collective imagination that is most indelible for Spivak, rather than any of its individual productions such as cricket. 

Perhaps Spivak does not address cricket because of its striking gender differentiation and exclusion. Although Indian cricket has emerged as a significant product of the third space of the Indian collective imagination, from the beginning it was clear that cricket served as a platform for producing male identities. Cricket became “an emblem of Indian nationhood at the same time that it became inscribed, as practice, onto the Indian (male) body” (Appadurai 112). Just as the gender differentiation within cricket has been exposed as culturally constructed, Spivak’s various critiques also demonstrate how “traditional European ethical philosophy simply disavows or benevolently naturalizes its sexual differentiation” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 38). Rather than cricket, Spivak is much more drawn to the third space of the Indian collective imagination in the oral-formulaic traditions of endemic storytelling and folk songs. “I am not asking us to imitate the oral-formulaic,” claims Spivak, “I am suggesting that the principle of inventive equivalence [drawn from the oral-formulaic] should be at the core of the comparativist impulse” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 30).

Spivak’s connection to the oral-formulaic and the Indian collective imagination has a long history. Born in what was then called Calcutta in 1942, Spivak studied and lived there until the early 1960s when she came to the USA to continue her education at Cornell. Despite moving her main home to the USA more than 50 years ago, Spivak has continued her engagement with India by returning to India to teach and work with various groups there. It is Spivak’s sustained efforts to think with/in the Indian collective imagination that has enabled her to maintain a symbiosis, both working with, and learning from, the power of the third space. These encounters have helpedSpivak to invigorate her connection to the collective imagination, as well as provide a materiality for it in the form of tangible bodies and subjects. The Indian Independence of 1947 marked a tremendously influential moment in the development of Spivak’s thought. Indeed, at a lecture given at the Centre for Advanced Study in Sofia, Bulgaria, and later published as a book entitled, Nationalism and the ImaginationSpivak spoke of the impact of Indian independence:

Elation in the conversation of the elders, interminable political discussions. Remember, we were 300 years under the Islamic empire and then 200 years under the British. So it was big… The important event was Partition, the division of the country… Overnight Kolkata became a burdened city; even its speech patterns changed. If these were the recollections of Independence, the nationalist message in the streets created schizophrenia. (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 9).

The feeling of schizophrenia that Spivak describes came about mainly through the Indian Partition. As nation-states were geographically reorganized and manifested, many people seemed to lose the “comfort felt in one’s corner of the sidewalk, a patch of ground… which the nation thing conjures” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 15). As Spivak continues, “when this comfort is taken away, there is a feeling of helplessness, loss of orientation, dependency, but no nation thing” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 16). Without a specific parcel of land in which to anchor and ground the sense of nationalism, the third space of the Indian collective imagination became a key site for the negotiation of Indian identity and subjectivity.  The schizophrenia that Spivak refers to is the uncertainty and open-endedness of Bhabha’s “intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness” as it is negotiated within the third space of the collective imagination.  Therefore, for Spivak it has been the re-visioning function of the third space of the collective imagination that has been most profound, rather than the act of Independence or Partition itself. Due in part to her experience of Indian Independence and Partition, Spivak more enthusiastically embraces a form of nationalism that “is the product of a collective imagination constructed through rememoration” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 40).

Near the end of the lecture, Spivak reiterates one of the main lessons that she has learned from the “rememoration” or re-visioning of the state by the collective imagination, in the formation of an identity for itself as part of the Independence process: any collective imagination “trained in the play of language(s) [what we have been calling negotiation in the third space] may undo the truth-claims of national identity,” affirms Spivak “thus unmooring the cultural nationalism that disguises the workings of the state—disguises the loss of civil liberties” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 50). The crux of our argument is that Spivak’s own development of thought is rooted within the play of language and negotiation of difference of the third space, and its function in the dialogical formation of nationnessand identity in post-independent India. Spivak hints at the site-specificity of her thinking/speaking when she notes, “I tend to always speak in context. I always carry the trace of what I do, where I am” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 82).

In many ways, Spivak’s place-produced thought is a form of critical regionalism, sharing tensions between the local and the global that are evident in all forms of place-produced thought. Just as Spivak’s critical regionalism attempts to be “free of the baggage of nationalist identitarianism (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 48) and moves beyond national boundaries, the overall notion of place-produced thought that we have been exploring also endeavors to do something comparable. As Spivak’s project demonstrates, place-produced thought is often able to chip away at the legacy of Platonic binarisms in Western philosophy because it often attempts to “undermine possessiveness, the exclusiveness, [and] the isolationist expansionism of mere nationalism” (“Nationalism and the Imagination” 32). Spivak’s place-produced thought is reflective not only of post-coloniality, but also the post-national. The emphasis of critical regionalisms over any essentialized concept of nation was largely derived from Spivak’s experience with the localized manifestation of the collective imagination in indigenous stories and song.

For Spivak, the product of situated contemplation in the third space of the Indian collective imagination has been a type of liminal philosophy, a method of thinking that opens “something else besides” between two positions. As described above, the translation of cricket through the third space created a dialogical hybrid that was not purely a representation of colonizer or colonized.  This type of “in-betweenness” is still present within contemporary Indian cricket. As Ugra writes, “Indian cricket today stands for both First World market domination and Third World aspiration; inclusion and insularity; arrogance and open-mindedness” (Wagg 78). This same type of in-betweenness has also marked much of Spivak’s philosophy. The nurturing of a liminal philosophy has been crucial for Spivak because it provides the possibility for mounting a critique from both inside and outside of a discourse.

This position is related to Derrida’s thoughts on the parerga/ergon relationship. In the context of painting, the ergon is the painting itself, whereas the parerga is everything outside of the painting: the mat, the frame, the wall text, etc. In his analysis of theparerga/ergon correspondence, Derrida reveals how the parerga still acts upon and provides a fundamental supplement to the ergon, even from its exterior delineation. Just as Derrida describes how the exteriority of a work of art still “touches and cooperates within… from a certain outside. Neither simply outside or simply inside” (“The Truth in Painting” 54)Spivak’s liminal philosophy similarly provokes questions about what and who has traditionally been outside of certain discourses, forcing one to consider the ideological and discursive motivations for those exclusions. Much of the thinking and methodology that Spivak has derived from the third space of the Indian national imagination has been constructed as a critique of Eurocentricity, hegemony, gender, and the elitist presumptions of Western thought. Spivak has mounted these critiques not only through the expansion of post-colonial studies, but also through a deconstructionist negotiation of the major philosophical works in Western metaphysics.

Spivak herself has been transformed through the creation of place-produced thought. She has adapted the functions of the third space of the Indian national imagination, such as inventive equivalence, liminality, the interstices of difference, and the undermining of power, into a distinct mode of discourse analysis, cultural study and mode of being. Indeed, Spivak maintains liminality between the worlds of privileged Western Ivy league academia and the materiality of her identification as an Indian rooted in the third space of the Indian national imagination.

A Postcolonial Critique

Spivak recognized the transformations and negotiations occurring in the third space of the Indian national imagination as a form of discourse. By thinking of the third space of the Indian national imagination as a discourse, one can see how they (re)produce subjects and epistemologies. In fact, in Benedict Anderson’s influential text, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, he describes how the development of nationalism or national consciousness is “conceived in language, not in blood” (Anderson 145). In Anderson’s view, collective identities are constructed like a discourse because they entail a “re-presentation and negotiation of consciousness” (Anderson 44). This concept of an identity formed through language is also related to the theories of Jacques Lacan. In many ways, Anderson’s claims about collective identity formation are derived from Lacan’s views about the emergence of individual identities. For Lacan, language is a Symbolic order that precedes and makes possible human subjectivity. Reality is interpreted through the mediation of language and instigates the formation of the subject. The writer Philippe Julien describes the influence of the Symbolic order as such: “Even before birth, the child is inscribed in a symbolic universe that determines its place” (Julien50). The determination of identity through language and discourse is echoed on a larger scale by Anderson’s evolution of imagined communities into a sense of nationality.

Of course, the association of the third space of the Indian collective imagination with a form of discourse is also heavily guided bySpivak’s kinship for the deconstructionist texts of Derrida. Spivak first gained critical prominence in 1976 by writing a pensive and celebrated preface to the English translation of Derrida’s 1967 text Of Grammatology. Since then, Spivak has incorporated Derrida’s teachings, especially deconstruction, into her own thinking. Spivak has been particularly drawn to one of the tasks of deconstruction—to expose the unfinalized play between oppositional positions within a discourse.

Herein lies a critical connection between the third space of the Indian national imagination and discourse. Just as deconstruction posits discourse as “a play of presence and absence, a place of the effaced trace,” the third space of the Indian national imagination can also be considered as a place that is indeterminate and interstitial. For Derrida, writing (or discourse) can be anything or “all that gives rise to an inscription in general” (“Of Grammatology” 9). By considering the operations of the third space as a form of discourse, Spivak has been able to take the same sort of transformative and negotiative functions found in the third space and apply them in numerous critiques, including the canons of Western philosophy.

One example of this thinking is Spivak’s A Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Within this critique, Spivak mounts a deconstructionist negotiation of three of the major figures in the tradition of Western philosophy: Kant, Hegel, and Marx. As Spivak claims, her goal for the critique is to “examine the structures of the production of postcolonial reason” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” xii). What Spivakreveals throughout this critique is the Eurocentric and normative epistemic presuppositions embedded within the philosophy of these three thinkers. Spivak then demonstrates how the Other or “native informant” is a necessary construct for the logic and production of thought by these three heavyweights. [2] As she details, each of them essentializes and constructs the trope of the native informant as a means of otherization that forecloses and dismisses the possibility of agency and subjecthood for the native informant. By deconstructing this foreclosure, Spivak’s aim is to provide a “counter narrative that will make visible the foreclosure to the position of the narrator” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 9).


Beginning with Kant, Spivak examines how the third CritiqueThe Critique of Judgment, is predicated upon a geopolitically differentiated subject. Spivak insists that Kant’s subject, (the one who holds the power of the critique of judgment) is “generally dependent upon the rejection [Verwerfung] of the Aboriginal” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 26-27). Spivak’s claim is based upon her reading of a particular passage from the third Critique that is reproduced here with her notes included:

Grass is needful for the ox, which again is needful for man as a means of existence; but then we do not see why it is necessary that men should exist (a question which is not so easy to answer if we cast our thoughts by chance [wenn manetwa… in Gedanken hat] on the New Hollanders or the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego). Such a thing is then [alsdem ist einsolches Ding] not even a natural purpose; for it (or its entire species [Gattung—the connotation of “race” as in “human race” cannot be disregarded here]) is not to be regarded as a natural product (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 26).

Spivak acknowledges that this particular reference to “New Hollanders (Australians) or the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego” has historically been brushed aside in the discussion of Kant, as an “unimportant rhetorical detail” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 26).Spivak asserts that this phrasing should not be left unexamined, as it reveals a critical geopolitical differentiation of Kant’s subject. “Its crucial presence in The Critique of Judgment cannot be denied” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 27), stresses Spivak. Through her analysis, Spivak illustrates the necessity of the native informant within Kant’s rhetoric, produced as the parerga to the ergon of the Western world. As a certain outside to the ergon, the native informant intrinsically operates in relation to a lack within that ergon. “If the third Critique is read as the indirect orchestration of a universalist teleology,” states Spivak, “the parergon that it yields is the raw man [native informant] (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 34). As such the raw man (New Hollander or Fuegan) plays an integral role in the transformation of the raw into the philosophical by the Western subject of reason. The raw man exists, as an empty space that can be inscribed by the Western subject, which Spivak believes is Kant’s global project for the Western subject. [3] This project of the European subject, to bring the raw (East) to the philosophical (West), is the thinly veiled specter of “imperialism as social mission” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 36). Throughout her reading, Spivak demonstrates Kant’s complicity in that form of imperialism by differentiating the native informant as raw, unnatural, and non-subject. Spivak’s intent is not to merely “diagnose Kant’s hidden ‘beliefs,’” but rather to utilize the re-visioning inherent in the thinking developed with/in the third space of the Indian collective imagination (and the teachings of deconstruction) to render a “something else besides” – an alternative reading of Kant.

As previously noted, the influence of Derrida on Spivak’s thought is significant. However, my argument has been that the thinking developed within the third space of the Indian collective imagination has been just as vital for Spivak in the production of a liminal philosophy. This has enabled Spivak to work within the customs of Western philosophy, but at the same time, turn away from its prescriptions, generating a “re-articulation, or translation, of elements that are neither the One… nor the Other… but something else besides, which contests the terms and territories of both (Bhabha 41). Being “neither the One… nor the Other… but something else besides” is a position that Spivak has attempted to maintain throughout her life as she openly acknowledges her Indian roots as well as her place of privilege teaching and living at one of the elite Western academic institutions. Yet, just as a the third space of the Indian national imagination is constantly being negotiated and contested, Spivak continues to think (and exist) within the indeterminate “by learning to unlearn her privileges as a prestigious academic residing in the USA… [and by] learning ‘to speak to (rather than listening to or speak for) the historically muted subject of the subaltern’” (Sakhkhane 43). This is one of Spivak’s main tasks in her critique of Kant, Hegel, and Marx; to speak to the Subaltern within the writings of these three men, but also to not allow their ideas about the Subaltern to become codified and naturalized by the passage of time and their popular acceptance in the study of philosophy. Instead, Spivaklearns and unlearns their theories, pulling them apart to reveal the problematic complicities within each philosopher’s logic.


Just as Spivak does with her analysis of Kant’s third Critique, she attempts to expose the implicit foreclosure of the native informant in Hegel’s reading of the Srimadbhagavadgita.  Within this critique, Spivak demonstrates how two very different inscriptions by dominant forces, one originating from inside India, and the other from outside (Hegel), both share “structural complicity” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 39). By demonstrating this similarity, Spivak intends to avoid “some of the too-easy West-and-the-rest polarizations sometimes rampant in colonial and postcolonial discourse studies” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 39). Therefore, rather than placing Hegel’s text in stark opposition to an Indian nationalist reading of the Gita, which really only serves to legitimatize colonial difference, Spivak attempts to navigate the oppositional difference between the two readings. Spivak’s goal is to illustrate how both readings are strategic examples of dominance that foreclose the subjectivity of the native informant. In Spivak’s critique, each of the texts achieves this foreclosure through a “manipulation of the question of history in a political interest” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 58). Through a close reading of a specific passage from Hegel’s Lectures on Fine ArtsSpivak illuminates how his reading of theGita interprets the Spirit in India as stagnant and unprogressive. Here is an excerpt from the passage that Spivak references:

         I am the taste in flowing water, the splendour in the sun and the moon, the mystical world in holy scriptures, in man his manliness, the pure fragrance in the earth, the splendour in flames, in all beings the life, contemplation in the penitent, in living things the force of life, in the wise their wisdom (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 43). 

Spivak’s interpretation of Hegel’s reading of Krishna’s list is that the Spirit never changes and remains the same in all forms. According to Spivak, Hegel “needs to say that the Spirit-in-India makes monotonous lists in a violently shuttling way” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 44). “Hegel’s conclusions from these rather difficult passages” claims Spivak, is that the Spirit-in-India is “extremely monotonous, and on the whole, empty and wearisome” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 44). This unchanging spirit does not fit into the Hegelian morphology of the Spirit that evolves over time. In Hegelian philosophy, if the Spirit never transformed, then it would never reach its telos of a fully self-conscious realization. Therefore, in Spivak’s explication of Hegel’s reading, she indicates how the native informant is foreclosed as part of the great realization of the Spirit by quoting Hegel directly: “The Indian knows no reconciliation and identity with Brahma [the so-called Hindu conception of the Absolute] in the sense of the human spirit’s reaching knowledge of this unity (Hegel’s italics)” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 42). Hegel’s claim is even more plainly stated here: “Indians cannot move history” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 48).

Along with a critique of Hegel’s reading of the GitaSpivak demonstrates how a nationalistic reading also serves to inscribe the Law onto the native informant. Spivak points to how some nationalistic groups have used the Gita as a tool for identifying and preserving “national continuity” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 65). For these groups, the Gita is supra historical, representing a “permanent truth” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 63). As Spivak points out, many of these groups use their interpretation of the Gita to delimit the identity and agency of the native informant. In the form of a regulatory device, the Gita is utilized as body politics, placing normative inscriptions upon the Indian subject. Spivak argues, therefore, that just as Hegel does with his reading, the nationalist interpretation attempts to insert a specific figuration upon the native informant—serving the particular needs and authority of each type of reading. “Nationalism is in many ways,” contends Spivak, “a displaced or reversed legitimation of colonialism” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason”62).


In the final portion of Spivak’s overall critique of these three key figures in the Western philosophical tradition, she takes aim at the philosophy of Marx. As with Kant and Hegel, Spivak details evidence of how Marx creates a complicit foreclosure of the native informant. For her analysis, Spivak focuses on the “implications of a notorious phrase that Marx probably used only once: ‘the Asiatic Mode of Production [AMP]’” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 71). Marx’s motivation for differentiating an Asiatic mode of production from a European one was to explain why Asia had not experienced the same progression from feudalism to capitalism that has marked European history. As Spivak points out, Marx’s postulation of an AMP is wrought with Eurocentricity, as it is based upon a historical narrative of progress grounded in its own history, and the assumptions of capitalism as the telos of modern society. By doing so, Spivakexposes the foreclosure of the native informant in which the “extraordinary achievements of the pre-capitalist imperial civilizations are generally ignored” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 91). This figuration by Marx is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that “makes visible the fault lines within the account of history as (European) modes of production” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 96). Just as it did in the works of both Kant and Hegel, the foreclosure of the native informant here satisfies a certain philosophical interest. Within her exposition of Marx, Spivak demonstrates how the “AMP has revealed itself to be neither historico-geographically ‘Asiatic’ nor logically a ‘mode of production’” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 82).

In her reading of all three of these figures, Spivak maintains an approach that is careful not to attempt a resurrection of the lost voice of the native informant. Rather, Spivak points towards the impossibility of such a task, especially in the figuration of the native informant by these three. Instead, Spivak anticipates the opening of a third space, in which “active interception and reconstellation” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 50) can occur, much like what occurred with cricket in the third space of the Indian collective imagination. Spivakalso reminds us that none of her critiques are intended to be damning or accusatory. Instead, she hopes to “produce something that will generate a new and useful reading” (“A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” 98). My aim throughout this chapter has been to connect this type of thinking and tactical critique back to the thought produced with/in the third space of the Indian national imagination. By utilizing this place-produced thought, Spivak has been able to deploy inventive equivalence and negotiation of difference as a critical method of re-visioning – of producing a “something else besides” –not only for the Subaltern subject of the native informant but also for the looming shadows of thought cast by the legacy of Kant, Hegel, and Marx on the history of Western metaphysics.

Speaking to the Subaltern

A recurring concern in these examinations of place-produced thought has been the ontological shift that occurs for both thinker and place in the process of developing place-produced thought. In the case of Spivak and the third space of the Indian national imagination, an argument can be made for a similar type of transformation. While we have already addressed the bearing of the third space uponSpivak’s development of thought and mode of being, we have yet to consider the ontological shift in the third space itself that were precipitated by her place-produced thought. One means of gauging this transformation might be to study one of Spivak’s most celebrated lines of inquiry: Can the Subaltern Speak? Spivak has revealed the complexity of the answer—much more than a straightforward “yes” or “no”—through her work in post-colonial and Subaltern studies.

Through writings such as Other AsiasIn Other Worlds: Essays In Cultural PoliticsOutside in the Teaching Machine, and A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, Spivak has shown how the subaltern subject and native informant have been foreclosed upon and shut out of the processes or logic within traditional Western hegemonic discourses. Calling for a re-visioning of the Subaltern subject(s) by “wrenching them out of their assigned functions” (“In Other Worlds” 236) Spivak has helped to push the consciousness and scope of the third space of the Indian national imagination toward remapping its territory—to continue and expand its negotiation of national consciousness, the nation-state and subaltern subjectivity. Through this continuous negotiation within the third space, some conceptualizations of Indian nationalism have begun to move away from the solidarity of the nation-state toward a mutating collective of critical regionalisms. Within this non-essentializing view of nationality, there is a deconstruction of the cohesive nation-state (Indian or any other). Instead, as Spivak argues, national consciousness has realized that “we can’t make a clear-cut distinction between self-determination and nationalism, regionalism and nationalism. There must be a persistent critique that operates during and beyond the rational arrangements” (Spivak and Butler 108).

One of the best indicators of the impact that Spivak’s contributions have had on India may have come in early 2013 when she was awarded the Padma Bushan. The award is given annually by the government of India to honor notable service to the Republic of India. The award is the third highest award given to a civilian by Republic of India. However, beyond questions of Indian nationalism and national consciousness, perhaps Spivak’s place-produced thought has been most valuable in initiating new interest in the formation and ontology of the Subaltern subject. Without resorting to strict authenticity politics, Spivak has raised a challenge—channeled through the foundational influences of Derridean deconstruction and the powers of the third space of the Indian national imagination—to produce radical analyses and newly imagined possibilities for the Subaltern subject.

Perhaps this challenge is best illustrated by the growth of Subaltern Studies as an important field of study. As David E. Ludden claims, “In the 1990s, Subaltern Studies became a hot topic in academic circles on several continents; a weapon, magnet, target, lightning rod, hitching post, icon, gold mine, and fortress for scholars ranging across disciplines from history to political science, anthropology, sociology, literary criticism, and cultural studies” (Ludden 1). One of the outcomes of these studies has been the re-visioning of the Subaltern. Yet, rather than trying to speak for the subaltern, most of this new discourse attempted to speak to them, and to assist in vitalizing the “integrity of indigenous histories that appear naturally in non-linear, oral, symbolic, vernacular, and dramatic forms”(Ludden 13).

There is evidence that this increased re-visioning and shift in ontological status continues. In 2012, the international edition of the New York Times published an article on the increased number of publications produced in India. Kanishka Gupta, the founder and managing director of Writer’s Side, claimed in 2012 that there is a “new breed of writers who wanted to write books that connected to the average Indian reader… Publishing houses committed to publishing such books sprang up all over the country and big multinationals had to shed their elitism and enter this space” (“As Book Sales Grow, Publishers Flock to India”). While Gupta is specifically referring to the “watershed moment” of the publication of Chetan Bhagat’s novel Five Point Someone, the resonance that Spivak’s (and others) thought has had on these type of developments within India can’t be underestimated.  The negotiation of the Indian subject continues as an ongoing discourse in the third space of the Indian national imagination, due in large part to Spivak’s place-produced thought. Several recent publications, such as New Subjects and New Governance in India by Raṇabīra Samāddāra and Suhit SenAppropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a New Transnational Class by Smitha Radhakrishnan, and The New India: Citizenship, Subjectivity, and Economic Liberalization by Kanishka Chowdhury, demonstrate the continued negotiation and investigation of the formation of the Subaltern subject. Each of these recent critiques is marked with the epistemic and ontological trace of Spivak’s place-produced thought.

Works Cited

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[1] Indeed, several writers including Ben Carrington and Stephen Wagg have noted the absence of sport analysis in the post-colonial discourses of Spivak and HomiK. Bhabha.  The argument for this lack is the predominant linguistic framework employed by these writers, leaving a deficiency in the analysis of the role of sport in post-colonial discourse.

[2] Spivak uses the ethnographic term of “native informant” to indicate a non-subject in the tradition of Western philosophy in contrast to the subject of the Western world, implying the foreclosure of becoming a subject for the native informant. In the arrogance of Western philosophy, the native informant only gains identity through inscription by the West.

[3] This type of supposed relation also seems easily associated with Hegel’s master/slave dialectic, especially in the sense that the presence and function of each one helps to define and form the other.