So I've been reading a lot of work by post-colonial scholars recently. Mainly:
- Edward Said's 'Orientalism'
- Gayatri Spivak's 'Can the Subaltern Speak?'
- Frantz Fanon's 'Black Skin, White Masks'
There are reviews and summaries of these books over in the Book Reviews tab of this blog, if you fancy having a peek.
These scholars, as well as being hugely important and foundational, have some really phenomenal penmanship. I don't know what it is about post-colonial intellectuals, but they can really smash out a fantastic quote.
So I thought I'd share some of my favourites, because I'm exactly the kind of nerd who loves a good quote, and finds writing about Gayatri Spivak on a Friday night a good time.
So without any further ado.
"Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort.
And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn't trust the evidence of one's eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilize." (2003; xvi)
Everyone has that that right-wing mental rich person they know that claims colonizing whole continents has "some positives" - and this is exactly the quote you need to punch them in the head with.
The "chorus of willing intellectuals" is really fantastic too. What a piercing reminder for us to not fall into those the traps. The traps of
a) going along with whatever is socially easy to at the time, regardless of morals or evidence and
b) to not allow government bodies to use your credentials as an excuse to kill and abuse people
On to out next badass: Frantz Fanon. So his book, Black Skin White Masks is so far apart from any other academic text I've read. This book just breaks out into song, or poetry, or literary analysis. All interspersed with colonial critique. It's so emotive and compelling and fascinating. Unsurprisingly, it is littered with brilliant quotes.
"There are too many idiots on this Earth. And now that I've said it, I have to prove it." (2008:1)
“[Educated blacks] Society refuses to consider them genuine Negroes. The Negro is a savage, whereas the student is civilized. "You're us," and if anyone thinks you are a Negro he is mistaken, because you merely look like one.”
"The crippled soldier from the Pacific war tells my brother: 'Get used to your color the way I got used to my stump. We are both casualties.'
Yet, with all my being, I refuse to accept this amputation. I feel my soul as vast as the world, truly a soul as deep as the deepest of rivers; my chest has the power to expand to infinity. I was made to give and they prescribe for me the humility of the cripple. When I opened my eyes yesterday I saw the sky in total revulsion. I tried to get up but the eviscerated silence surged toward me with paralyzed wings. Not responsible for my acts, at the crossroads between Nothingness and Infinity, I began to weep."
What absolutely gorgeous writing. Can you believe this is in an academic text? Find a copy of this, and then whenever you get sick of Foucault or Marx open it up and remember that not all intellectual reading has to feel like some nuanced form of self harm.
For our final act: Gayatri Spivak.
I actually found 'Can the Subaltern Speak?' pretty hard work. And far less quotable than the above authors (which is fair really, these people didn't dedicate their whole lives and thousands of hours of research to have their words appear on a poster, taped in a student's dorm room). I found her interviews really delicious though, so enjoy:
"I moved away from my own class and my own agenda when I began to learn what subaltern meant. And I went into subaltern groups in India, which is where my schools are. These are people who have been millennially denied the right to intellectual labor by my own ancestors."
"I have known two or three illiterate people from this community over the last 30 years with whom I have been able to speak as intellectual equals because they have not been ruined by bad education."
Both of those gems are from her interviews with Steve Paulson, which he published in a journal article (referenced below).
So those were the quotes I loved. I hope it inspires you to pick up one of their books - despite the endless pages of jargon and impossible sentence structures, there really are some magnificent remarks.
Frantz, F. (2008) Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Philcox, R. New York, Grove Press
Paulson, S. (2018) Critical Intimacy: An Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Qualitative Research Journal, 18(2), pp. 89-93
Said, W.E. (2003) Orientalism. 3rd ed. London, Penguin.