Last week I attended the symposium Relocating Subalternity organized by Sara de Jong and Jamila Mascat in Maastricht. Once I arrived the city on the morning of April 6 Friday, I was impressed with the petit French cafes around, a different accent than the one I am used to hear in Amsterdam and German or Belgian style streets on my way to the symposium room. The Jan Van Eyck Academie is a small building with big projects. It is a post-academic art institute providing facilities and offering opportunities to artists, designers or theorists to develop their abilities. The institute with its multi-disciplinary attitude was a perfect location to host brilliant academics from all around the world.
Can a Subaltern Speak German?
Despite all the interesting presentations it is impossible to mention them all here. Therefore, I would like to briefly write about some of the presentations which are very challenging for me. In her speech Nikita Dhawan, Junior Professor for Gender and Postcolonial Studies in Goethe-University Frankfurt, discussed who the subaltern is within the German context and if the postcolonial theory is applicable to analyze the German case. For her, postcolonial migrants are subalternized by the dominant culture through different discursive colonization techniques in the nation state. However, subalternity is not existing only within the boundaries of the nation state.
At that point, the way in which she frames Gayatri Spivak`s notion of subalternity is particularly interesting. As she suggests Spivak highlights the cultural mobility in subalternity and the production of ‘differentiated migrant’ based on race and gender in the metropolitan space. Postcoloniality and subalternity are reduced to the metropolitan space. So the unquestioned subalternity in the rural or at the international level remains unquestioned. Within this framework, Dhawan discussed that it is impossible to reduce the scope of subalternity into the national boundaries of Germany or the question ‘can a subaltern speak German?’.
‘We Want to Die, Not to Be Saved’
Dhawan`s impressive presentation prompted me to think about the position of language itself. Is language a tool for subalternizing the people who cannot speak that language or is it to communicate? The question of ‘English as a global language’ arises no matter at which corner of the world you are. Dhawan`s example is worth to mention here: it was a prerequisite for the people in Haiti to use English language to be eligible for the help from UN soldiers. So, they simply wanted to die rather than to be saved. Once communication is reduced into using words, the disability to talk is neglected. Thus, the position of the speechless person as the subaltern cannot be limited with the boundaries of the nation state.
A Perfect Review by Jasbir Puar
On the second day the symposium hosted a wonderful presentation from Jasbir Puar. She is a queer theorist, a professor of Women`s and Gender Studies, a core faculty member of Rutgers University in USA and the writer of the book Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Her speech was a mind-blowing discussion of subalternity through a brief review of post-structuralism, post-humanism and new materialism. Moving among Foucault, Deleuze and Spivak she stressed on what the subaltern is and does.
This question opens on to the position of women, LGBTQ people, paperless people and the mad as the subaltern. Puar suggests that though the role of language is important in the signification of the subaltern it is also important to avoid linguistic essentialism and to think through the place of language itself. Performativity, either in terms of performing a gender or performing a language without words, could simply turn into the subaltern if we look through the lens of linguistic essentialism. Constructing women or LGBTQ people as the subaltern brings along the question of equal representation which again cannot be thought only within the limits of the nation state.
Apparently, the meaning of the subaltern varies and travels from one culture to another or from one context to another. As long as ‘the proper identity to be fixed into’ is produced, the subaltern will keep on being produced again and again. A migrant woman as the subaltern, a black gay as the subaltern, the poor, the uneducated, the prostitute, the disabled…
Then, who is the non-subaltern?
Me, as a subaltern in many senses, was going back to Amsterdam after experiencing Maastricht`s windy weather but an awesome symposium. I want to thank Sara de Jong for inviting me and providing a roof on the top of my head during the cold Friday night!
PIRIL KAZANCI is a research intern at Aletta and working within the framework of project FRAGEN