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Theorizing the subject : Theodor Adorno, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak and contemporary critical discourse



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My interest is in the subject which constitutes as its object the feminine and ethnic other of the discourse of Western patriarchy and Empire. This object functions as the guarantor of the subject's self-sufficiency and difference. Given this state of affairs, the self-effacement of the subject seems a necessary prelude to the appearance of a visible and voluble object. Paradoxically, however, the very process of self-effacement which exposes the illusory mastery of the subject simultaneously denies the resistance of the object. The displacement of the subject can all to easily become a convenient ploy for withholding subjectivity from those for whom it has never been anything but an illusion. The critique of essence, identity, and authenticity does not adequately account for the experience of being bereft of all three; indeed, such a critique appropriates that experience and transforms it into a moment of self-discovery for the critic rather than a recognition of otherness. In other words, if the sovereignty of the subject is only a necessary illusion, is the power exerted in the name of that fiction of master equally illusory? Whom shall the other hold accountable for its suffering? This relevation of the nexus of knowledge and power calls precisely for, in Michel Foucault's words, " ... the usurpation of power (and) the appropriation of a vocabulary turned against those who had once used it" ("Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" 88). Instead, critical discourse seems to have reached a kind of impasse in which theorists can do no more than bemoan the inherent violence of knowledge and its product--representation. This thesis attempts, therefore, to conceive of another knowledge that involves not the annihilation of the subject but its reformulation in confrontation with a resistant object. I wish to discover a mode of representation in which the colonized or the feminine functions as more than the West's "limit-text" (Homi Bhabha's phrase). I want to ensure that "the discovery of (Western and masculine) assumptions" does not preclude an investigation into the history and materiality of other cultures (and of femininity) (Bhabha, "Difference, Discrimination ... " 196 and 197). Theodor W. Adorno's Negative Dialectics informs my attempt to articulate a mode of theoretical analysis that differentiates the process of knowing from that of violation in the interests of discovering a space from which the "other" can speak. In this regard, the contributions of Edward Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak to tracing the itinerary of the colonized's silencing are both exemplary and problematic. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)





Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)







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