Philosopher working to decentre power structures
Among the world’s leading postcolonial intellectuals, Spivak has long preached an ‘interventionist’ criticism that moves beyond academic enclosures and into wider society. The cofounder of Columbia University’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society and the first translator of Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1976) into English, she uses deconstructive methodologies to critique imperialist, phallocentric and bourgeois histories. However recondite that sounds, the point is to break up the structures of power in order that they might be reclaimed. ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1983), which adopts for postcolonial studies Gramsci’s term ‘subaltern’ – describing marginal groups denied a voice within a society’s dominant discourse – is increasingly cited by curators working in the field. Neither is Spivak shy of controversy, having recently turned her fire on ‘bourgeois’ Western feminists. Her influence in the artworld might partly be attributed to the impulse to decolonise and decentre, but also to her willingness to put theory to the service of action.