Weekly Response: Pascale and Spivak


In Casanova Pascale’s “Principles of a World History of Literature,” the value and power of literary works are linked to belief systems and economic structures. As with Foucalt’s “What is an Author?,” Pascale argues that texts and authors function in realms other than those a based upon a work’s merit, and that critical reception possesses a power to create literary economies and national literary identities with powers palpable to those both social and economic. Pascale writes of the many facets of literary value, of how language acts in hegemonic and marginal forms to either promote or constrain literature, as well as how the agency of the critic in setting these standards of judgment. Pascale relates the role Paris, France assumed as the global focal point of literature and art, as a city representing liberal freedom. This concept Pascale labels “literary geopolitics” while contextualizing it into the overarching idea of literary value (Pascale 36).


Key Terms:




-a priori



Polyglot has a simple definition of one who speaks many languages. Pascale uses the term to describe the particular critics who set literary value. This term and idea both become important when the large number of languages spoken among human beings across the world during any examined period are considered.


Capital is defined as accumulated wealth used to produce more wealth. Pascale uses it in its simplest incarnation, as a synonym for transferable value; although, the technical definition adds another element that, in truth, is a part of Pascale’s argument. Literary value is used to produce more value, as genres, forms, and identification with certain authors are all aspects that may be used to create interest, in financial and critical terms.


Pascale’s work here is geopolitical in nature. Speaking of dominant languages and cultures, and the exclusion, inclusion, and search for marginal language literatures, and the result of those works being championed by critical voices and hegemonic cultures, the world literary landscape becomes an important part of Pascale’s message. The literary world and the physical world are connected in ways that may not be readily apparent.



“The key to understanding how this literary world operates lies in recognizing that its boundaries, its capitals, its highways, and its forms of communication do not completely coincide with those of the political and economic world.”


Pascale’s use of Paris illustrates this main point. Pascale states that Paris was a bohemian locale that allowed the artist to be fashionably impoverished if they so wished. While other powers were much more dominant on the world stage, Paris retained its title of global artistic center. The nations that held more sway, both economically and politically, were not as cultured, or perceived as such, as Paris. While this can be explained through examination of the work produced from and concerning Parisian life, it also holds a certain randomness that enabled Paris to become this center of literariness.


Question 1: When Pascale cites the “elegant and elective poverty” that Parisian artists and expatriates enjoy, is he overlooking an element of economic climate?


Question 2: How does the translator as “creator of literary value” face the difficulty of words, and ideas, that do not translate succinctly into other languages? How do the ideas and customs that may mean so much to the message of indigenous storytelling not get lost or made more palatable for the dominant language’s audience?



In “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Gayatri Chakrovarty Spivak assumes the daunting task of uncovering the Other that remains voiceless or representation-less despite (or due to) postcolonial and/or Marxist analyses. Spivak uses a conversation between Foucalt and Deleuze, to critical voices concerned primarily with power structures and their hidden representations in the physical world and in literature. Spivak argues that once the Other is posited, the true subaltern can be located, and that the true voice of the Other and the Subaltern are always misrepresented by critical voices not from their actual subsets of society. This inability for a true Subaltern representation is reflected in Spivak’s title.


Key Terms:



-machine (Deleuzean)




Suttee is the ceremonial rite referred to as ‘bride burning’ in common parlance. In Hindu cultures, a devoted widow will throw herself onto the husband’s funeral pyre in accordance with ancient custom. This self-immolation has been discovered to not always be voluntary and to have economic means behind its implementation. The bride may be forced upon the pyre by the husband’s family to lessen the financial burden of life without the male provider.


The concept of the Deleuzean machine is an idea formed in response to Freud’s theory of the subconscious. The machine, such as the desiring-machine, is not so much a hidden influence to human activity and feeling as it is one that is very visible and easily noticed if not fully understood or controlled.


Catachresis is the use of an incorrect word for a specific context, or the use of a paradoxical figure of speech. Spivak argues that Deleuze uses ‘desire’ when he should use ‘flow’ in the machine metaphor. Catachresis comes into play later as Spivak moves into Marx and representation. The word Vertretung has a connotation of substitution in its original meaning that is lost or unused in its translation to English. This difference is substantial when applied to the Other or Subaltern in need of representation.




“I have argued that, in the Foucalt-Deleuze conversation, a post-representationalist vocabulary hides an essentialist agenda. In subaltern studies, because of the violence of imperialist epistemic, social, and disciplinary inscription, a project understood in essentialist terms must traffic in a radical textual practice of differences. The object of the group’s investigation, in this case not even the people as such but the floating buffer zone of the regional elite-is a deviation of an ideal—the people or subaltern—which is itself defined as a difference from the elite.”


Here Spivak’s argument concerning the hegemony of theory can be understood. The problematic representation of any group of a society, produces a subaltern condition that essentialism can never truly grasp. Some subset of a subset will always be misrepresented or voiceless. This difference is understood as not only a difference from the elite but also a difference from the Other.


Question 1: Is Spivak arguing that theorizing about class difference creates this subaltern category, creating an empowered Other, one with, at least, representation? Is a hierarchy of Others created?


Question 2: Is the subaltern always the voiceless? Is the subaltern a creation of literature or of the essentialism of literary theory, of postcolonialism?


Works Cited

Pascale, Casanova. The World Republic of Letters. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2004. Print.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakrovarty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Print.

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