Gayatri Spivak

Professor at The European Graduate School / EGS


Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Professor at The European Graduate School / EGS

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (b. 1942 in Calcutta, India) is University Professor at the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and a founding member of Columbia’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.

A proponent of a “practical deconstructivistfeminist-Marxist position” (as developed in In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics, 1987) Spivak gained international recognition with her translation and extended introduction of Jacques Derrida’s De la grammatologie (Of Grammatology, 1976).

Spivak received a BA in English from Presidency College, Calcutta (1959), an MA in English (1962) and a PhD (1967) in Comparative Literature from Cornell University (1967). Her dissertation on W.B. Yeats was supervised by Paul de Man and a revised version was published as Myself Must I Remake: The Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1974).

In 1965, Spivak was appointed Assistant Professor in English at the University of Iowa. There, she founded the MFA in Translation in the department of Comparative Literature in 1974 and, one year later, became Full Professor.

Before joining Columbia University in 1991, Spivak taught at numerous universities (including Brown, Université Paul Valery, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Goethe University Frankfurt, Riydah University, Stanford, and Emory, to name but a few) and held the Andrew W. Mellon Professorship of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Editorial board member of several journals—such as differences, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Cultural Critique, and boundary 2—Spivak has published extensively.

“Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1988) is her perhaps best known essay (concluding that “[t]he subaltern cannot speak. There is no virtue in global laundry lists with ‘woman’as a pious item. Representation has not withered away”); some of her earlier books are The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Diaogues (edited by Sarah Harasym, 1990), Thinking Academic Freedom in Gendered Post-Coloniality (1992) and Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993).

Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present (1999) is considered to be Spivak’s “first full treatment of postcolonial studies, a field that she helped define[…] It ranges from Kant’s analytic of the sublime to child labor in Bangladesh. Throughout, the notion of a Third World interloper as the pure victim of a colonialist oppressor emerges as sharply suspect: the mud we sling at certain seemingly overbearing ancestors such as Marx and Kant may be the very ground we stand on. A major critical work, Spivak’s book redefines and repositions the postcolonial critic, leading her through transnational cultural studies into considerations of globality.”

Other books include Death of a Discipline (2003), Other Asias (2008), An Aesthetic Education in the Age of Globalization (2012), Readings (2014), and Du Bois and the General Strike (forthcoming); among her more recent articles are “General Strike” (2012), “Crimes of Identity” (2014), “Our World” (2014).

Spivak is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and of a Tagore Fellowship at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, as well as of numerous other prestigious fellowships from institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Humanities Research Center at the Australian National University, the Center for the Study of Social Sciences (Calcutta), or the Davis Center for Historical Studies (Princeton).

She was awarded numerous honorary doctorates, among others from the University of Toronto, Universitat Rovira I Virgili, Rabindra Bharati, Universidad Nacional de San Martin, University of St. Andrews, Paris VIII, Yale University, University of Ghana-Legon or Universidad de Chile (2016).

Spivak received a Lifetime Scholarly Achievement from the Modern Language Association of America (2018), the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy (2012) and the Padma Bhushan, awarded by the Republic of India (2013).

The translator of several works from Mahasweta Devi, Ramprasad Sen and Aimé Césaire, she received a translation award by Sahitya Akadami, the Indian National Academy of Letters (1997).

A member of the “Subaltern Studies Collective”, Spivak has been an educator and activist in social movements for over 30 years. With a donation from Lore Metzger, Spivak in 1997 created the Pares Chandra and Sivani Chakravorty Memorial Foundation for Rural Education.