III Balvant Parekh Distinguished Lecture by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

“Teaching Literature Today”

11 February 2011  

The event commenced in the packed auditorium with the welcome address by Professor Kar who gave an overview of the activities of the Centre and briefly introduced the eminent speaker Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University, New York City . Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak began by mentioning the enlightened use of capital for social productivity which poses a challenge to subalternization as exemplified by the activities of Balvant K. Parekh. She prepared the ground for her analysis of teaching literature in the present globalized India by explaining the politics and process of corporatization of education and the subversive movements in Britain initiated by students. She explained how her insights about the need to emphasize primary education before attempting ambitious leaps in secondary or tertiary education come from the experiences of getting involved in grassroots education in rural India and other poor regions across the globe through her Foundation. According to her, giving primacy to the teaching of the humanities is necessary for the epistemological and ethical healthcare of a people. Her reading of the disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity as far as the humanities are concerned was powerfully illustrated by several instances from the symposium wherein she discovered realms of confluence between genomics and her own concerns and intellectual pursuits. Spivak unsettled the complacent notions about philanthropy by discussing the shortcomings of giving education as if it is a kind of charity. Functional education and the education that enables one communicate with the stars and partake in the governance of the country are poles apart. She discussed the nuances of the ‘poetry of the decimal system.’ She  discussed  the insuppressible nature of knowledge that challenges authority by giving the example of Gramsci. The agenda to prioritize certain disciplines in the curricula, she observed sarcastically, is based on rational choice and then went on to elucidate the limitations and pitfalls implied in rational choice. Throughout the lecture Spivak supplemented her arguments by commenting and critiquing on the presentations during the ongoing Symposium. The paradox of regionalizing a writer like Tagore who has global appeal was illustrated by showing how Bengali middleclass women relate to Rabindra Sangit and how their soul shaping is influenced by it. Reflecting on the nuances of the notion of ‘provincializing’, she dismissed the term by referring to its colonial connotations and said she would prefer the term, “regionalize.” Her analysis of the film, Sthaniya Samvad and its messages that are of relevance in the present scenario interpreted the loving irony implied in regionalizing Tagore who is famous for his cosmopolitanism. She concluded by repeating the need to revive the interest in the humanities and interdisciplinary studies.  

The packed auditorium