Kant’s ‘raw man’ and the miming of primitivism

Spivak’s Critique of Postcolonial Reason

RP 105 () / Article

In the first part of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak traces the necessity for and foreclosure of what she calls the ʻNative Informantʼ in inaugurating ʻthe name of Manʼ in those key texts of German philosophy (Kant, Hegel, Marx) which were to found the ethical, political subject of European Enlightenment. The Native Informant, on rent from anthropological fieldwork, comprises many theoretical gestures. It will consume the many postcolonial theorists who are both maintained by Spivakʼs work and unsystematically abjured within it. Spivak claims that the foreclosure of the (imaginary, ʻ(im)possibleʼ) Native Informant is the condition of possibility for the encrypting of the ʻName of Manʼ that launches foundational humanism and rationalism. The Native Informant is imagined atemporally. It is also a prosopopoeia, a strategic ʻpersonificationʼ as well as a ʻcharacterʼ that substitutes for an imaginary or absent figure (OED), which allows Spivak to undertake a reading of both the ʻgreat textsʼ of Enlightenment humanism and those of elite Hinduisms. The Native Informant is also ʻa blankʼ that only ʻthe Northwestern Europeanʼ tradition and its ʻWestern-model disciplinesʼ commencing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could inscribe. However, she argues, today various other figures such as ʻbenevolent cultural nativistsʼ, ʻself-marginalizing migrantsʼ, and ʻpostcolonialsʼ are masquerading as native informants. The Native Informant is, like Spivakʼs other sophical figures, an unrestrained accumulation of theoretical consequences that drives forward the claims of postcolonial theory, even as she pushes away from a fairly extensive cross- and sub-institutional discipline of postcolonialism, excoriating its academic practitioners, whom she brackets as a transnational group, often diasporic. Instead of postcolonial discourse studies, she proposes a kind of transnational cultural studies or transnational cultural literacy as discipline.

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