Throughout her distinguished career, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has sought to locate and confront shifting forms of social and cultural oppression. As her work shows, the best method for doing so is through extended practice in the ethics of reading.
In Readings, Spivak elaborates a utopian vision for the kind of deep and investigative reading that can develop a will for peaceful social justice in coming generations. Through her own analysis of specific works, Spivak demonstrates modes in which such a vision might be achieved. In the examples here, she pays close attention to signposts of character, action, and place in J. M. Coetzee’s Summertime and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. She also offers rereads of two of her own essays, addressing changes in her own thinking and practice over the course of her career. Now in her fifth decade of teaching, Spivak passes on her lessons through anecdote, interpretation, warning, and instruction to students and teachers of literature. She writes, “I urge students of English to understand that utopia does not happen, and yet to understand, also, their importance to the nation and the world. Indeed, I know how hard it is to sustain such a spirit in the midst of a hostile polity, but I urge the students to consider the challenge.”