Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

The Poverty of Desire: Spivak, Coetzee, Lacan and Postcolonial Eros

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

The Poverty of Desire: Spivak, Coetzee, Lacan and Postcolonial Eros

Article excerpt


This article's point of departure is Gayatri Spivak's insistence that, if greater global and social equity are to be obtained, "an uncoercive rearrangement of desire" needs to take place. I examine what might be learnt about desire from selected works by J.M. Coetzee, finding within these texts a postcolonial interrogation of the nature of eros and a concern with its ethical underside. Such a concern parallels that of Jacques Lacan and, more specifically, relates to his reworking of the concept of sublimation. I also endeavour, through a consideration of Plato, to undo the double bind between classical notions of eros and postcolonial social realities (a double bind ostensibly supported by Coetzee's novels). Ultimately, it is the contention of this article that Spivak, Coetzee, Lacan and Plato all locate ethical potential in desire and that, perhaps, any "re-arrangement" might first require reacquainting ourselves with what it is that desire conveys about the human condition.


Hierdie artikel se vertrekpunt is Gayatri Spivak se aandrang dat 'n "dwingende herrangskikking van begeerte" moet plaasvind as groter globale en sosiale gelykheid bereik wil word. Ek ondersoek wat dalk oor begeerte geleer kan word uit gekeurde werke van JM. Coetzee en het in hierdie tekste 'n postkoloniale ondersoek na die aard van eros en 'n besorgdheid met sy etiese ondersy gevind. So 'n bemoeienis loop sy aan sy met die van Jacques Lacan en is meer spesiflek verwant aan sy verwerking van die konsep sublimasie. Deur 'n oorweging van Plato streef ek ook daarna om die dubbele band--tussen die klassieke begrip eros en postkoloniale, sosiale werklikhede ('n dubbele band wat oenskynlik ondersteun word deur Coetzee se romans)--ongedaan te maak. Uiteindelik is die standpunt in hierdie artikel dat Spivak, Coetzee, Lacan en Plato almal etiese potensiaal in begeerte vind en dat enige "herrangskikking" dalk eers 'n hervertroudraak van ons vereis met wat begeerte aangaande die menslike toestand oordra.


Gayatri Spivak, in an address given at the University of Glasgow in Spring 2007, spoke about issues concerning the funding of the humanities. She staged a speech she had recently given to her university's sponsors and then offered a translation and critique of the corporate discourse she had been forced to adopt owing to that audience and occasion. Such discourse, which claims to be able to promote development, forcibly precludes any discussion of the way in which subjects (especially those subjects to whom such "development" will be administered) perceive themselves or, indeed, how their desire is informed.

Relating an anecdote concerning her return to India to undertake development work, Spivak spoke of witnessing an enactment of what, she supposed, was broadly regarded as "development": a young Indian woman, clad in an eighties-style power-suit was screaming into her cellphone about stock prices. Spivak claimed that she had wanted to take this woman aside in order to indicate to her that the capitalist promise of equality (and satisfaction) predicated on individual financial success is, in tact, illusory and ultimately damaging to self and community. However, Spivak painfully felt her own complicity as a professional who had chosen to work in the United States. She also did not feel that she had any right to tell the woman that she ought to want different things or want differently (or that, in fact, at some stage she may have wanted differently).

Yet the question remains as to how greater social justice might be achieved if alternative objects and modes of desire are not embraced (or recovered). Spivak concluded her speech with the assertion that the only way to effectively address inequality and poverty is to bring about an "uncoercive rearrangement of desire"; the aspirations into which the oppressed are interpellated (with which they are colonised) are also directly responsible for their marginalisation as well as the effacement of otherness. …

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