About the Reading Group

As part of our research at St Paul St gallery into the politics of educational and artistic institutions, Local Time will be running a daily open reading group on Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s new book An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (Harvard, 2012), over twenty-three sessions beginning on Monday 16th April. The reading group will cover a chapter each weekday from 10:30am until 12pm in Gallery Two, with a double session on Saturdays 10am-12:30pm. There will be no session on Sundays. Participants can come to one or many sessions. The reading group will be led by Danny Butt, who is not expert in Spivak’s work but has worked with her writings for the last 10 years. He introduces the group as follows:

“Gayatri Spivak has built one of the most wide-ranging and committed intellectual practices of the modern/postmodern era, unafraid to take on the historical core of Western philosophy on its own terms, while reading it against and alongside the lineages of knowledge-making practices that philosophy has excluded: from the feminist tradition, to “postcolonial” literatures, to indigenous knowledge-systems — all with an eye to their imbrication in the gendered political and economic circumstances that constitute colonial capitalism. Her 1999 work A Critique of Postcolonial Reason addressed the constitutive exclusions in Kant’s aesthetic philosophy, noting that perhaps they held a more important key to contemporary political economy than his “political” writings. Her subsequent work, much of it revised for this book, further extends the critical importance of “aesthetic education” as training the imagination for epistemological performance. This education is the mechanism by which we can enter the world of another, an impossible but necessary ethical principle that must underpin any political democracy worth its name. This argument can be mobilised to give critical support for visual artists’ modes of enquiry, and although Spivak says she is “a reader of words, not a drawer of foregone conclusions from images read as if evidentiary,” she gives productive readings of artists Alice Attie, Anish Kapoor, and Chittrovanu Mazumdar in the book.

Spivak’s specific linking of capitalism, colonial knowledge, subalternity, and the politics of indigenous cultural expression gives her work particular resonance in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her more recent willingness to discuss her twenty-five years of experience/experiment in education for the poorest part of the citizenry in rural India, alongside her teaching at Columbia University, grounds her writing in the gritty interface between theory and practice.

The breadth and depth of Spivak’s enquiry can make her work intimidating, and any reader will find that there are different parts to her project that resonate, while others do not on first reading. The aim of this group is to provide an opportunity for all of us to learn from the experiences of others as we enter the text. No special academic preparation is required other that a willingness to sit with what may not be easily digestible. Spivak is insistent that critique should not just write “about” the object of enquiry, but demonstrate its own movement into the singularity of language. We must meet the text by seeing our own limits to reading as being productive rather than disabling.

The group is free and open to all, and there is no requirement to attend every session – if a particular session catches your eye please feel free to come along even if you haven’t attended any others. The only requirement is that anyone contributing is expected to have read the chapter under discussion, but listeners are also welcome. Other principles for the group will be discussed in the first session.

The daily sessions will discuss each chapter in sequence according to the schedule below, except that the Introduction will be covered in the final session. The very first session will discuss two reviews of Spviak’s A Critique of Postcolonial Reason by Mieke Bal (“Three-Way Misreading” – 4.4MB PDF) and Terry Eagleton (“In the Gaudy Supermarket” – LRB website) as a way of preparing to engage the mode of Spivak’s work.

A few copies of the book will be housed in the gallery, and you are welcome to hang out there to read during gallery hours during the course of the reading group. PDF copies of the book are also available on request – please email <danny@local-time.net>.

Looking forward to the discussions!”

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Mon 16th April – Mieke Bal, “Three-Way Misreading”, Diacritics, 30:1, 2001: 2-24. and Terry Eagleton, “In the Gaudy Supermarket.” London Review of Books 13 May 1999: 3: 5–6. Discussion of reading group process.

Tue 17th April – Chapter One – The Burden of English – “the import of the task of teaching and studying English in the colonies.”

Wed 18h April – Chapter Two – Who Claims Alterity? – “the cultural politics of alternative historiographies”

Thu 19h April – Chapter Three – How to Read a “Culturally Different” Book

Fri 20th April – Chapter Four – The Double Bind Starts to Kick In – “how is it possible to reconcile what I learn in the field with what I teach for a living?”

Sat 21st April – Chapters Five and Six – Culture: Situating Feminism, and Teaching for the Times – “every definition or description of culture comes from the cultural assumptions of the investigator.”



Mon 23rd April – Chapter Seven – Acting Bits/Identity Talk – “if you fix on identity, it gives way”

Tue 24th April – Chapter Eight – Supplementing Marxism – “in Marx, the source of our most analytical theory of collective practice, a double bind comes to inhabit the ‘social’.”

Wed 25th April – Chapter Nine – What’s Left of Theory? – “cut off from ordinary lines of mobility, [the subaltern group] is being touched directly by global telecommunication: the spectrality of indigenous knowledge, the databasing of DNA-patenting of the most remote groups, the credit baiting of the poorest rural women.”

Thu 26th April – Chapter Ten – Echo – “I turned to Freud and found that he too had located the richest examples of narcissism among women, especially women unfulfilled by the secondary narcissism of motherhood. Where was Echo, the woman in Narcissus’s story?”

Fri 27th April – Chapter Eleven – Translation as Culture – “the human infant, on the cusp of the natural and the cultural, is in translation, except the word ‘translation’ loses its dictionary sense right there.”

Sat 28th April – Chapters Twelve and Thirteen – Translating into English, and Nationalism and the Imagination. “Why is the first learned language so important? Because it activates the public-private in every human infant, allows the negotiation of the public and the private outside of the public-private divide as we have inherited from the legacy of European history.”



Mon 30thApril – Chapter Fourteen – Resident Alien – “An unwitting member of the imperial race goes native. When he discovers his racial affinity, he becomes an enlightened secular citizen of the colonized space.”

Tue 1st May – Chapter Fifteen – Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching – “although on the literary register, the register of the singular and the unverifiable […]the suggestive smile, directed by indirection and a shared experience, is a good event; it has no significance in terms of the public sphere, to which education should give access.”

Wed 2nd May – Chapter Sixteen – Imperative to Re-imagine the Planet – “the heritage of the public use of reason-shorthand for Enlightenment-model social engineering on the Left as well as the liberal-capitalist center…cannot think responsibility and right together.”

[Special Extra session with AUT visual arts students – 1pm-3pm – Chapter 19 – Harlem]

Thu 3rd May – Chapter Seventeen – Reading with Stuart Hall in “Pure” Literary Terms – “a reading of Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy, based on the conviction that rhetorically sensitive approaches to literature enhance rather than detract from the political.”

Fri 4th May – Chapter Eighteen – Terror: A Speech after 9/11 – “a feminist critical theory must repeat that expanding the war endlessly will not necessarily produce multiple-issue gender justice in the subaltern sphere.”

Sat 5th May – Chapters Nineteen and Twenty – Harlem, and, Scattered Speculations on the Subaltern and the Popular – “Culture as the site of explanations is always shifting. The cultural worker’s conceptualization of identity becomes part of the historical record that restrains the speed of that run. It feeds the souls of those in charge of cultural explanations, who visit museums and exhibitions.”



Mon 7th May – Chapter Twenty-One – World Systems and the Creole – “in order to do distant reading one must be an excellent close reader. Close reading for distant reading is a harnessing of aesthetic education for its own counter-example.”

Tue 8th May – Chapter Twenty-Two – The Stakes of a World Literature – “Thinking gender at the end is often my custom because reproductive heteronormativity is the world thing with which we have always secured the space between making and need.”

Wed 9th May – Chapter Twenty-Three – Rethinking Comparativism – “Think of all languages as having the mechanism to prepare an infant for the world, therefore equivalent; learn comparativism not only from texts of disciplinary method but reach-out techniques in material studied.”

Thu 10th May – Chapter Twenty-Four – Sign and Trace – “In a certain sense the nonverbal visual traffics always in traces. In another sense it is ever tempted, in its allegorical reaches and tendencies, to usurp linguisticity. Kapoor is a major player in this double adventure.”

Fri 11th May – Chapter Twenty-Five – Tracing the Skin of Day, and Introduction. “I move into visual material in conclusion, for this has been in the patronage and investment circuit for rather a longer time than electronic globalization.”