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Conclusion: Can the Subaltern Speak? Language Itself Speaks

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2024

Vijay Mishra
Affiliation:
Murdoch University, Western Australia
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Summary

When the subaltern finally speaks, she stumps theory or at least challenges theory to find ways of accommodating her voice. Her texts explore heterogeneous life practices, those forms of knowledge that refuse dissolution into a grand post-Enlightenment narrative of reason. The life worlds of gods and spirits require cultural investment of a very different kind. Subramani's novels in the Fiji Hindi demotic finally say to postcolonial theorists, ‘the subaltern has spoken, or this is how she will speak if only you would depart from your own source texts in metropolitan languages and read her in her own language’. What this book has claimed is that these extraordinary novels are defining texts of the subaltern, in fact great performative texts through which we can rethink the incomplete project of postcolonialism, enter into alternative, nontotalizing historicities and explore traces that have eluded received modes of historical expression. To understand the theoretical ramifications of the subaltern voice that comes across loud and clear in the comic-realist mode in which these novels are written, I want to return to the challenging essay from which I have borrowed the question, ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ that heads this Conclusion. The author of the question, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, published the original version of the essay in 1985. The essay, expanded, was re-issued in 1988. Eleven years later, again modified and extended, it formed the core of the ‘History’ section of Spivak's most important work on postcolonial reason.

I began this book with an autobiographical note about an encounter with Subramani's first novel that provided me with a different kind of literary experience. It was an experience that was linked to my body, to a language that had remained hidden within me, a language of which I was ‘deprived’ but which had not found a proper aesthetic outlet until the arrival of Ḍaukā Purān. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's essay had appeared some years before its publication, and the novel, together with Subramani's second, Fiji Maa, is in many ways a response to the challenge posed in Spivak's essay. As it appears in the ‘History’ component of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, the essay is prefaced by two interconnected prefaces: the first on the location of the subaltern within the Law of Reason and the second on the elisions in colonial archives.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2024

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