Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1942-) - Key Figures in Literary Theory

The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory - Gregory Castle 2007

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1942-)
Key Figures in Literary Theory

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak was born in Calcutta, West Bengal, and educated at the University of Calcutta. She then moved to the US, where she studied comparative literature with Paul de Man at Cornell University. She began teaching at the University of Iowa in 1965, receiving her doctorate two years later. In her long and prestigious career, she has taught at a variety of institutions, including Brown University, the University of Texas, Austin, the University of Pittsburgh, and Emory University. She is currently Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and the Director of the Center for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University.

Spivak published her dissertation on Yeats, Myself Must I Remake: The Life and Poetry of W. B. Yeats, in 1974, but her first major work was a translation of Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology (1976). Her introduction to this volume acquired a notoriety of its own for its deft handling of Derrida’s ideas and her complex and lively style. Throughout the late 1970s and ’80s, Spivak published In Other Worlds (1987) and a number of important essays, including “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism” (1985) and “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1988). These essays combined an interest in Deconstruction and Marxism with a defiant resistance to PATRIARCHAL structures of knowledge and power. Of special importance was her attention to the problems of gender and SUBALTERN IDENTITY and her development of a feminist perspective sensitive to the political and cultural conditions of colonial and postcolonial societies. She also contributed a critical edge to the revisionist historiography coming out of the Subaltern Studies Group at this time. These early works established her as something of a celebrity, much sought after by interviewers. She was a willing, articulate, and quite charming subject, and a collection of her interviews, The Post-Colonial Critic, appeared in 1990.

Throughout the 1990s, Spivak pursued diverse interests within Postcolonial theory. Of special note is her work on pedagogy in Outside In the Teaching Machine (1993) and other texts, in which she reflects on the responsibilities of educators in multicultural societies, both western and postcolonial. Some of her work in this period was taken up and reframed in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999). In 2000, she delivered the Wellek Library Lectures, published as Death of a Discipline (2003), in which she argues for a new conception of comparative literature, a “transnational cultural studies” that transcends traditional notions of nation and national boundary. In such provocative works, Spivak reminds us that the postcolonial world is our world.


Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. 271-313.

---- . A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Moment. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1999.

---- . In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. New York: Methuen, 1987.

---- . The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. Ed. Sarah Harasym. New York: Routledge, 1990.

---- . The Spivak Reader: Selected Works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Ed. Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean. New York: Routledge, 1996.