Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is University Professor of Humanities at Columbia University, USA, and a founding member of its Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.
According to the first note to this essay, a version of the text was presented as a paper in Kolkata on 10 February 2003. This was the first day of the two-day S.G. Deuskar lecture delivered by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak at the CSSSC. Fifteen years after that event, the essay still makes points expansive and important enough to retain contemporary relevance in multiple ways. Like many of Spivak's other pieces, the arguments move in a tortuous path-with perfect clarity, in spite of a few condensed articulations-that may need some elaborations to help navigate its course. Introducing a Spivak text is always a daunting task which, like the proverbial fools, only a few would undertake. What I try to do is to follow the overall movement of the arguments as I understand them, and put in an explanatory note here and there. I do not summarize the arguments. This introduction does not have a spoiler alert.
To begin with, as the title indicates in so many words, this is an essay on ethics and politics. It is, at the same moment, throughout infused with a concern to bring forward the way the literary works in the production of that ethics and politics. Of course, the notion of ethics operative here is far removed from an inventory of moral principles to be followed in action. To speak in relation to the pragmatic solutions to problems of behaviour, the ethical, here, is something like a much broader notion of a mentality or sensibility, which remains part of one's being. One has to remember that to express it in this manner is to go against the spirit of what is ethical in this sense. For, the expansive notion of the ethical put to work in the present context is an 'experience of the impossible', not reducible to a sensibility, or to a mentality. It indicates an opening out to the `other' across an incommensurable divide. As the separation is, by definition, non-bridgeable, one cannot really reach beyond the divide. Yet the reaching out is an inalienable condition of one's being. Hence, the 'double bind' of bridging the unbridgeable.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
Art & Culture (744)
Emperor & Queen (484)
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