Teaching Spivak—Otherwise

A Contribution to the Critique of the Post-Theory Farrago

by Jerry D. Leonard (Author)
Monographs XX, 104 Pages
Series: Education and Struggle, Volume 19


Grounded in the revolutionary Marxist view that "theory … becomes a material force when it has seized the masses," Teaching Spivak—Otherwise: A Contribution to the Critique of the Post-Theory Farrago activates the practice of critique as a mode of "teaching otherwise" for transformative social change. Taking the post-theory teachings of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak as its central focus, author Jerry D. Leonard meticulously unpacks Spivak’s fashionably dense writings and "talks." His analyses reveal that what passes for "radical" thought in the dominant humanities is actually a sustained mystification that attempts to erase class struggle and class critique from the realm of knowledge. One of the book’s most significant interventions is its powerful appropriation of "close reading" as a strategy in the broader project of ideology critique. Teaching Spivak—Otherwise does for Spivak what Frederick Engels did for Eugen Dühring and Mao Zedong did for Deng Xiaoping: it teaches the class lesson that Spivak’s thought is a complexly obscured articulation of "new" ruling class ideas in what Lenin called "a farrago of contrasting principles …, an urge to rise verbally to the higher spheres and conceal the conflicts between the historical groups of the population with phrases." This book will be a useful supplementary text for undergraduate and graduate courses in contemporary critical theory and pedagogy.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Teaching Spivak—Otherwise
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface: A Kind of Middle Line Star
  • Chapter 1: Lesson One: The End(s) of Reading
  • Chapter 2: Lesson Two: Parenthetishism
  • Chapter 3: Lesson Three: Under Erasure
  • Chapter 4: Lesson Four: “An Aesthetic Education” in 197 Lines, or, Keeping “Even Pace With … Dissolution”
  • Afterword: Teaching Docility, OK?
  • Name Index
  • Series Index

← vi | vii →


I would like to thank Peter McLaren, Deborah Kelsh, and Megan Madden for their support of this book. I also would like to thank Jane Gallop and Patrice Petro.

Chapter Three is a revised version of my essay entitled “Whose Imprimatur?,” which was originally published in the journal Cultural Logic: Marxist Theory & Practice (2005). https://clogic.eserver.org/jerry-leonard-veils-engaging-spivak-whose-imprimatur. Contents copyright © 2005 by Jerry Leonard. I thank the Editor of Cultural Logic for permission to reprint portions of the essay here.

Figure 4.1 in Chapter Four is published here by permission of the Author. ← vii | viii →

← viii | ix →


A Kind of Middle Line Star

The [intellectuals] occupy a special position among the other classes, attaching themselves partly to the bourgeoisie by their connections, their outlooks, etc., and partly to the wage-workers as capitalism increasingly deprives the intellectual of his independent position, converts him into a hired worker and threatens to lower his living standard. The transitory, unstable, contradictory position of that stratum of society … is reflected in the particularly widespread diffusion in its midst of hybrid, eclectic views, a farrago of contrasting principles and ideas, an urge to rise verbally to the higher spheres and to conceal the conflicts between the historical groups of the population with phrases—all of which Marx lashed with his sarcasm half a century ago.

—V. I. Lenin (“Review” 202)


Gayatri Spivak’s “special position,” as Lenin puts it, in the institutional hierarchy of the contemporary humanities is well known. As Spivak herself characteristically remarks in a 2011 interview, her 1976 English translation of Derrida’s De la grammatologie, along with her “monograph-size” preface, “really kind of made me into a kind of middle ← ix | x → line star, didn’t it?” (Lahiri, “In”) Or as Spivak points out in response to a question from the audience at a 2008 lecture, “I’m a person, you may not know anything about me, I’m a person with some institutional power” (Spivak, “More”).

In this book I will offer a series of arguments to demonstrate that Spivak’s “kind of middle line star” is significant as an ideological (re)articulation of the capitalistic humanities which, again as Lenin says, are governed by the need “to conceal the conflicts between the historical groups of the population with phrases.” In other words, as Roland Barthes writes in his 1957 preface to Mythologies, Spivak’s “star” is a sign of capitalist “common sense” which “dress[es] up a reality” so as to appear “in the decorative display of what-goes-without-saying” (Mythologies xi). The point of Barthes’ demystifying readings, of course, is to reveal how and why the “dressed up reality” of “what-goes-without-saying” is actually an “ideological abuse … hidden there” (xi). Spivak’s “institutional power” says a great deal about the kind of inquiry which is not only acceptable in capitalist society’s humanities institutions, but moreover the sort of inquiry that is hailed as a nec plus ultra (nothing more beyond) intellectualism. Especially since Spivak has come to symbolize (or more precisely, mythologize) a knowledge of the traditions, interpretations, and reinterpretations of Marxist, socialist, communist and revolutionary thought, the Spivakian star is all the more important to bear in mind from the outset.

Typical of the Spivak star is a report of Spivak’s appearance for a lecture at the University of Arizona in January of 2012, where more than “600 people packed the auditorium” (“Gayatri Spivak” 2012). In 2018 Spivak was presented with the MLA’s Award for Lifetime Scholarly Achievement (“Gayatri Chakravorty” 1). Numerous intertwining accounts of Spivak’s “remarkable career” (“France Honors” 2017) have established a rather strange, almost “untouchable,” image and aura of Spivakian thought and practice in a dual register: on the one hand, an absolute uniqueness, and on the other, a seemingly omnipresent scope and sweep. It is in this mixed sense that Sangeeta Ray, in her 2009 book on Spivak (In Other Words), invokes the image of a “vast subject” and refers to “a” Spivak (Ray 1). In a similar way, Rosalind Morris in 2010 ← x | xi → (Can the Subaltern Speak?) speaks of “a vast movement” in Spivak’s thought occurring between the original 1985/88 version of this “episteme-changing … landmark” essay—“Can the Subaltern Speak?”—and its revision in Spivak’s 1999 book, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, and still further in Spivak’s updating “response” at the end of the Morris collection. Ceremoniously, Morris refers to “the consciousness of … debt to an extraordinary essay” and what she calls “Spivak’s writing’s movement” (Morris 14, 11, 1).

In like fashion, Stephen Morton, in his second book on Spivak (Ethics, Subalternity and the Critique of Postcolonial Reason) appearing in 2007, cautions against the “rather reductive” characterization of Spivak as a postcolonial studies pioneer and critic, since her “critical corpus” also includes “a wide range of topics.” According to Morton, while Spivak’s “critical corpus” may be all too “easily reduced” to postcoloniality, “her critical work is extremely difficult to define” because Spivak “constantly revises her arguments in order to effectively refuse identification by any single category or label such as ‘postcolonial,’ ‘feminist’ or ‘Marxist.’” This is Spivak’s “resistance to interpretation,” he says (Morton 1, 15).


XX, 104
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XX, 104 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Jerry D. Leonard (Author)

JERRY D. LEONARD teaches English at Lanzhou Jiaotong University in China. He received his PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and his JD in law from Syracuse University. He is also the author of Mo Yan Thought (Peter Lang).


Title: Teaching Spivak—Otherwise