Reading notes 11/1

“Colonization, resistance…”

relevance of postcolonial theory to china- the piece begins by contrasting India and Africa with China. China has not been subject to foreign occupation, excepting Hong Kong and Taiwan. (What about the Mongols? I realize that was not during the Western imperial period, but hard to see how it doesn’t count).

p. 54 discusses the idea of a self-imposed colonization. Not sure how productive this framing is. It is not clear to what extent globalization and its effects can be said to be self-imposed.

p. 55 The idea of linguistic and cultural purity is always somewhat uncomfortable. On the one hand, it is hard to fault a besieged culture for attempting to create something of its own. On the other of course, the 20th century has perhaps permanently cast a dark pallor over any talk of ‘purity’.

p. 55-57 I’m very interested in the linguistic points made here. I’d be interested in hearing what ‘mainstream’ linguists (both Chinese and Western) have to say about the claims for Chinese particularity.  I know little about the Chinese language from a technical standpoint (other than its tonality) so I can’t say much about how well ‘Western models’ can explain it, but standard models are perfectly capable of describing non-Indo European languages; Japaneses is well studied in this way. In this context, it seems like sino-superiority mixed with legitimate postcolonial considerations and I’m not clear which is stronger.

p. 60-61 He brings up the idea of cultural residue that stretches back 5,000 years. In this context, it would have made sense to discuss the Mongols as part of a colonial residue, no? But perhaps the Mongol invasion and occupation is conceived of differently within Chinese culture? After all, the Mongols mostly adopted the styles and customs of the Chinese court, if I recall correctly, rather than imposing their culture on the Chinese.

As a general point, I am always skeptical of movements that attempt to effect change in a language in some particular. Certainly, cultural changes and cultural imports change the language, but is not clear that they do so in predictable or direct-able ways.


“‘Safety’ is the appropriate term here…we are talking of risks, of violence to the translating medium” (313)

We have read other theorists who have discussed ethics and violence, but the sense of immediacy and high stakes is striking in Spivak’s writing.

“…cannot engage with, or cares insufficiently for, the rhetoricity of the original.” (313)

Which is the greater sin?

“…founding violence of silence at work within rhetoric” (314)

One of the most poststructuralist things I have ever read.

“Therefore these texts must be made to speak English.” (314)

This is an interesting conception of what the act of translation is. The text speaks rather than the translator, but I wonder if this risks undoing some of the emancipatory work of Venuti and Derrida?

“…has earned the right to become the intimate reader…” (315)

Such a fraught concept. Who is the arbiter of such decisions?

“I have been unable to catch…” (317)

Here Spivak foregrounds her own shortcomings as a translator. I think that this perhaps answers my above question about which is the bigger sin. Imperfection is perhaps inevitable in some cases, but it is pardonable if it not the result of expediency or carelessness, and the offense is perhaps somewhat mollified by the kind of self-awareness Spivak displays here.

(319) Discussion of being able to tell between good and bad literature. Seems another fraught category.

NOTE: She addresses this point later. Spivak has an interesting flow to her writing. Many times I find myself raising an objection, but then a few pages later she circles back and accounts for it.

(321) Surrender means being literal. But why? I’m not sure I can really get to the heart of the point she is making here. She difficult in a different way than Derrida. Each sentence seems simple enough and there are no words I don’t know. But often at the end of a paragraph, I am not sure that I have understood anything at all.

(323) Claims she has used examples of women but the idea applies across the board. This is another place where she has seemingly circled back to address a possible concern of the reader.

These last two sections are mostly opaque to me. As someone who is pretty familiar with Morrison and with Beloved, I still find it hard to follow Spivak’s point. That’s not to say I get nothing out of it, but it seems rather performative and evocative, more poetic than theoretical. It spurs thought, but I’m not sure what to do with in regards to more concrete discussions of translation



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.