chapter  8
Is feminism translatable? Spivak, Taiwan, A-Wu
BySHU-MEI SHIH
Pages 21

My story begins with the late morning encounter in 2002 between the worldfamous post-colonial theorist Gayatri Spivak and a group of local Taiwan feminists in a traditional teahouse in Taipei. After 40 or so minutes of pleasantries in a casual and friendly atmosphere, Spivak asked the people gathered how to proceed to a discussion, giving the locals the chance to set the tone. One local feminist jumped in and asked for elaboration on Spivak’s earlier, casual but extremely humble remark about how she was no longer sure if she knew anything at all. Spivak responded that she would not mind the Q and A format for the discussion, and began taking out one printed article after another from her bag, each representing a different feminist agenda from a different geocultural location. The last item she took out was Roman historian Livy’s History of Rome, and she asked her audience whether anyone knew why she brought this item up in this context. Sensing the awkward silence around her, she started to explain her thoughts, when she was interrupted by a latecomer into the room. After one more introduction and a patient reiteration of what she had just explained to the newcomer, she began to fall into the discursive mode again. Just then a woman stirred and Spivak asked what the matter was. The woman was concerned about tea service being tardy, and Spivak responded by saying that she did not mindwaiting for that issue to be resolved. When she picked up the discursive voice again and was again frustrated by someone whispering or some such thing, she froze, her facial expression hardened, and she said in a testy voice, “Would you like me to pass onto another question instead?” What followed was Spivak’s three-minute tirade, chiding those present that they

had shown no respect for her talking about an “important question” that she would like them “to attend to.” She called the situation “nuts” with people “talking and stuff,” while they should instead have been “absolutely silent” when “the older guest is presenting the story of her life.” She said that by becoming professors (all local people present were academics and graduate students), Asians had lost what they used to know, i.e. respect for their elders. It took the audience at least one minute to realize what was really going on, as there was still intermittent, light-hearted laughter even while she was chiding them.