Moving Devi

  • Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Abstract

On page 18 of Derrida’s brilliant “Future of the Profession” in this volume is a dig at Cultural Studies: “These Humanities to come will cross disciplinary borders without dissolving the specificity of each discipline into what is called, often in a very confused way, interdisciplinarity, or into what is lumped with another good-for-everything concept, ‘cultural studies.’ ”This is now a common gesture among serious deconstructive Europeanist Comparative Literature academics. I think it might be more advisable to try to mend Cultural Studies than to think that a better model of interdisciplinarity will spring up in the general field called Humanities at the U.S. university. The U.S. university was of course originally based on a European model, but now it has developed distinct twists and turns, which are in turn copied by the Europeans. In the United States, Humanities are literature and philosophy. History is institutionally a “social science” Philosophy is not noticeably an interdisciplinarity subject. And it is in literature departments that the suspect interdisciplinarity of Cultural Studies finds a home. If by Humanities is meant the French Human Sciences—Anthro, Poli Sci, History—and this French conception provides the model for “specificity of disciplinary borders,” which Derrida wants to maintain, then Cultural Studies, properly reconceived, brings something to the table.

Keywords

Decon Topo Nial Indonesia Metaphor 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    The very first sentence encourages us to think of the possibility of counterfeit and perjury: “No doubt like …,” and continues to present the essay as a representation of reader participation in a contradiction of the body of thought “Derrida.” This is also a reference to an undermining of his relationship to Rousseau (“like a profession … traitor to his habitual practice”), who, in turn, places his (?) “profession of faith” in a doubly fictive episode, in the name of another, of “the truth” of which he gives a fictive “guarantee,” in a novel where he engages the question of an education that repudiates the institution: “We can be men without being scholars. Dispensed from consuming our life in the study of morality [la morale], we have at less expense a more certain guide in this immense maze of human opinions.” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau [1979]. Emile, or On Education. Translated by Allan Bloom [NewYork: Basic Books], p. 290). Derrida’s “habitual practice” with Emile is elaborated in Of Grammatology (Translated by Spivak [1976]. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press). His traffic with Rousseau continues through his recent work on Paul de Man. How is Derrida asking us to permit him to be unfaithful to such habitual practice? Would that be professing with or against? Without venturing up to that perilous necessity, I ask if it is legitimate to (mis-)quote the profession of faith of the vicar of savoy: “One must begin by learning how to resist [nature] in order to know when one can give in without its being a crime.” (Emile, p. 267). As recently as “Faith and Knowledge,” (in Gil Anidjar [ed.], Acts of Religion [NewYork: Routledge, 2002], pp. 42–101) Derrida has tangled with Kant’s “Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason” (Religion and Rational Theology [Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996).And there we read:“any such profession of faith can well be hypocritically feigned” (p. 177). In a final passage, having connected professions of faith with the grounding principle of dishonesty or Unredlichkeit, Kant outlines the safe position regarding professions of faith. Of course Kant speaks of religion and Derrida of university. Yet for Kant Christ as model for reason is invariably and repeatedly a teacher. The connection may be a little stronger than a simple mutatis mutandis: “The genuine maxim of safety, alone consistent with religion, is exactly turned around (umgekehrt): what, as means and conditions of blessedness, can be known [bekannt]not through my own reason but only through revelation, and can be received [aufgenommen]into my profession [Bekenntniss]solely through the intermediary of a historical faith, does not contradict pure moral principles—this I cannot indeed believe and assert as certain, but just as little can I reject it as certainly false” (p. 205; translation modified).This proto-deconstructive position is what I hope Derrida guards in his “profession of faith,” rather than the European competition with the United States in the name of a Kant I do not recognize, which is a later manifestation. (The phrase in the first Kantian passage I cite is translated “confession de foi,” in the most commonly used French edition; in the second passage the translation is “profession de foi,” Kant [1986]. Oeuvres completes [Paris: Gallimard], vol. 3, pp. 183, 227.)Google Scholar
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    I have discussed these passing interventions in “Deconstruction and cultural studies: Arguments for a deconstructive cultural studies,” in Nicholas Royle (ed.), Deconstructions (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 14–43 and Death of a Discipline (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), pp. 5–6.Google Scholar
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    My vulgarized analogy is with Emmanuel Levinas (1997). Otherwise than Being: or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press), pp. 59, 72–73.Google Scholar
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    C. Mackenzie Brown (1990). The Triumph of the Goddess: The Canonical Models and Theological Visions of Devi-Bhāgavata Purāna (Albany: State University of New York Press), p. ix. It is still appropriate to make such statements in a disciplinary textbook. For a somewhat more scholarly register, see Thomas B. Coburn (1984). Devi-Mahatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass). No academic could be against disciplinarization.We are interested in what is left out when the discipline consolidates. These remains cannot become disciplinary authority as “experience.” They can only interrupt knowledge to indicate its vulnerability and to signal pathways for the imagination, as dangerous as they are challenging. An inventory without traces.Google Scholar
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    Kalikapurana 17.16, in B. N. Shastri (ed.), The Kalikapurana (Delhi: Nag Publishers, 1991), Pt. I, p. 179.Google Scholar
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    The list is available in Thomas B. Coburn’s good translation, Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devi-Mahatmya and a Study of its Interpretation (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991), pp. 53–54.Google Scholar
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    Subroto Kumar Mukhopadhyay (1994). Cult of Goddess Sitala in Bengal (Calcutta: KLM), p. 50.Google Scholar
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    Jacques Derrida (1997). Politics ofFriendship. Translated by George Collins (NewYork:Verso), p. 69; translation modified. It is not a good idea to describe a phenomenon as an unmediated example of deconstructive discourse. But this old settler colony—India—requires from me a bolder and more “mistaken” descriptive gesture than the more visibly violent examples of Australia or South Africa.Google Scholar
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    Shambhunath Gangopadhyay (1994). Madhyayuger Dharrnabhavana o Bangla Sahitya (Calcutta: Sanskrita Pustak), p. 27; translation mine. I have tried to keep to the sense of tal in “error” as mistake and wandering. I have also tried to keep to the polysemous relationship between teacher and student—whether the teacher can only speak to students who are deaf, whether when the teacher says this the student is deaf, and the like.Google Scholar
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© Peter Pericles Trifonas and Michael A. Peters 2005

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  • Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

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