Can The Subaltern Speak? is a significant piece of work authored by Gayatri Spivak, and became an extremely important essay within postcolonial theory. The piece is quite dense– the beginning sections seem to be conversations with philosophers like Deleuze and Foucault. In the concluding section, however, Spivak truly digs into the meat of her argument. From what I have gathered, with the assistance of some researched summaries (see here), Spivaks’s main argument centers around the autonomy, or lack there of, of “subaltern”, or as the video refers to it: “the least powerful groups of the most colonized people”, in telling their own stories or harnessing their own voices. When other people, namely white Western men, speak of the stories for these subaltern people, Spivak posits, they are in a sense “twisting” the story by not allowing people to speak for themselves. Related, when other people speak of these experiences in this way, they are inherently bound to end up being skewed in some way as well, by the mere nature of language via second hand representation versus first hand experience. In other words, the argument of the essay calls for a voice being given back to subaltern people, arguably those whose experiences and identities deserve and require the most protection and honesty, and in practice, are often those spoken for and of by others (which in many instances, Spivak points out, are academic ones).

The movie Unveiled (or “Fremde Haut“) is a German film about a woman, Fariba, seeking political asylum from her country for being a homosexual. In Germany, she tries to find her safety among other displaced peoples, one of whom is Siamak, also from Iran, a man who ends up committing suicide, allowing Fariba to assume his identity and find another place to stay (much more easily). Throughout the movie, she gains a job at a factory under her assumed identity, carries on her interpersonal relationships as Siamak and so forth.

Spivak would likely have interesting opinions about Unveiled. On the one hand, one could potentially argue for the representative power of marginalized groups and often little told stories, but it is also the representation and retelling of someone else’s stories. Production and directing, narrative choices, and so forth all can manipulate stories in ways that weren’t original to the organic experience of the original individual. Therefore, I believe many questions would have been made by Spivak about the essence of the story. An interesting thing to wonder is whether these questions would still remain if the movie were a documentary. The connection I draw between Spivak and Unveiled is in the retelling or representation of “subaltern” people in a way that could potentially hold misinformation or silencing of true experiencers.

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