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The Dilemma of Sati

Gayatri Spivak pointing out the paradoxical position of Subaltern, or in particular women subaltern, she criticise the ideal western philosophers that grouped the working class together as another type of subjectivity, therefore isolate classes and reassure global capitalism more, and the trap of International feminism that can fall into patriarchic thoughts and lost the voice of women as in undecidable space. She attempts to deconstruct “White men saving brown women from brown men” by using the example of the practice of Sati in india, to argue that the voice of the women is completely effaced and erased, from a concealed patriarchy ideology of sacrifice and being a good wife to a patronising western way of  being civil and “reasonable” , therefore women become modernised and “developing”. To put this in a more simple way, I think of it as a dilemma and lack of choices for especially women in “developing countries”, that they either have to part with “coloniser" or “patriots”, and non of them is their own vision,  and both ideologies exist together makes global capitalism works, people get caught up into their subjectivity they ignore the basic facts. I think of this issues as the strength of voices, the one with the most power can become the perpetrator of the narrative, and in this condition the weaker voices is going to be ignored, plus the paradox of the reason of being minority means they are not group-able, the paradox of how to combat the tendencies of generalisation without being generalised. I have this question in my head for a long time , and unfortunately this book does not have answer too.


In Spivak’s example of sati, no matter what the widow do it fits into either one’s narrative, not her own, and her example of Bhubaneswari’s suicide during menstrating period as a way for subaltern to speak using her body make me feel very conflicted. While I do understand Bhubaneswari escaped the narrative of both sides( while women still fail to hear her in Spivak’s essay), the way the stakes is much higher for such individual is problematic. Being a subaltern doesn't simply mean you are discriminated or exploited, it is the level of obstacles you have to overcome to have some dignity, if the only choice of one to break the story that is forced upon them, is to commit suicide yet not obeying the ideology of suicides for women, it is in itself problematic. Just like I struggle to comment on Spivak’s essay and struggle to answer the question of “can the subaltern speak” , the stakes are already too high before I even attempt to solve anything. I have to be careful not fall into the trap of siding with any voice that is not my own, and if I want to critique I face the danger of oppressing already unheard female voice, or the opposite, make feminism in to another generalisation. I feel the dead end in either path. 

 Is the level of difficulty already too high to even write about it? What is the danger to worry about falling into traps that one even cannot walk?  And for a individual struggling on everyday life, do they even have time to think about it before their actions, and I don't think anyone can speak of such issues without acknowledging they are very much in it at the same time. Which is the problematic aspect of the transparency of intellectuals when criticising such issues, it is easy to point out such issues when it is others but almost difficult to realise one self 's action of the same traces. I can't help but think this endless debate is just re-securing the state of problem too. 

Since I can not speak for others, the question with me is how do I tackle what I am dealing with, given the already dead ends, I think the attempt is most important, even with the understanding  that it is very difficult and paradoxical, I still try, the status of knowing but still try is important. I show the struggle as I try, in it self making some noise of my own and does not left my self out of the situation but instead ironically acknowledging I am very much in the situation too. I have my voice by the moment that I acknowledge I don't have my voice.


Morris, Rosalind C., and Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Can the Subaltern Speak? : Reflections on the History of an Idea. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

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