chapter  9
22 Pages

Cixous, Spivak, and oppositional Theory

ByRobert Con Davis

In what follows, I want to explore the political dimension of cultural theory. I do not mean a dogged and mechanical politicizing of aesthetics but the extent to which cultural theory needs to engage with politics in order to be coherent. I have in mind the exemplary cases of Hélène Cixous and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, theorists who consistently have addressed strategies and the potential for effective cultural change. My argument is that Cixous self-consciously advances an oppositional theory of culture that critiques patriarchal practices but does so in a way that falls short of having political significance. Spivak, on the other hand, critiques the very foundations for oppositional theory within a social context, the very context that Cixous assumes to be in place in her formulation of écriture féminine as cultural critique. When we see Cixous’ work in light of Spivak’s critique, we come out with a focus not only on the political dimension of cultural theory but on the possibility of complicity with the dominant culture that is being critiqued-on the difficulties, that is, of speaking outside of the dimensions of patriarchal values even when we aim to oppose them. The problematics of complicity with an oppressive practice, the possible inevitability of ideological “collaboration” with what is being critiqued, bear directly on the possibilities of changing culture. Cixous and Spivak, in other words, both attempt-at different levels of success-to enact an oppositional cultural theory as well as the textual practice it engenders in order to lessen the effects of, if possible to disarm, the patriarchal dimension of modern culture.