Nationalism and the Imagination
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has distinguished herself as one of the foremost scholars of contemporary literary and postcolonial theory and feminist thought. Known for her translation of Derrida’s On Grammatology and her groundbreaking essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” Spivak has often focused on subaltern, marginalized women and the role of essentialism in feminist thought to unite women from divergent cultural backgrounds. In Nationalism and the Imagination, Spivak expands upon her previous postcolonial scholarship, employing a cultural lens to examine the rhetorical underpinnings of the idea of the nation-state.
In this gripping and intellectually rigorous work, Spivak specifically analyzes the creation of Indian sovereignty in 1947 and the tone of Indian nationalism, bound up with class and religion, that arose in its wake. Spivak was five years old when independence was declared, and she vividly writes: “These are my earliest memories: Famine and blood on the streets.” As well, she recollects the songs and folklore stories that were prevalent at the time in order to examine the role of the mother tongue and the relationship between language and feelings of national identity. She concludes that nationalism colludes with the private sphere of the imagination in order to command the public sphere.
Originally given as an address at the University of Sofia in Bulgaria, Nationalism and the Imagination provides powerful insight into the historical narrative of India as well as compelling ideas that speak to nationalist concerns around the world. Also included in this book is the discussion with Spivak that followed the speech, making this an essential and informative work for scholars of post-colonialism.
Read Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s conversation with historian Romila Thapar on “The Idea of India,” at the History for Peace Conference organized by the Seagull Foundation for the Arts in August 2017, where both scholars discuss different facets of nationalism.
“At a time when the humanities are expected to genuflect before the sciences and privatization and professionalization displace knowledge, Spivak urges us not only to stand tall but to insist that ethical solidarities are only possible through the rigorous training of the imagination.”—Angela Davis
“Spivak’s is a unique voice of courage and conceptual ambition that addresses public life from the perspective of psychic reality, encouraging us to acknowledge the solidarity and the suffering through which we emerge as subjects of freedom.”—Homi K. Bhabha
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