The Art and Politics of the Subaltern: Some thoughts on Contemporary Literature and Theory
Taking my cue from the way that in various recent fictions the figure and the predicament of the assistant, the second-in-command, or the admin doubles as the figure of the artist/writer, I argue that these individuals—subalterns in the more traditional sense of the word—mark the conditions and the horizon of much current critical and creative practice. On the one hand, these figures are haunted by the possibility that their only grievance with the current order is with its denial of their deserved place within it, and that their art may be little more than an instrument to compel recognition against the invisibility and obscurity that would otherwise attend their social roles. On the other hand, fueled by the belief that the conditions of their social being demand that their true incorporation will necessarily entail the overthrow of the prevailing order, they attempt to harness, uneasily and incoherently, the autonomy of the work of art and the putative inassimilability of the Other (the subaltern in Spivakian terms) to a project that assumes on the one hand the inadequacy of class politics and on the other the radicality of “blackness.”
About the American Literature Seminar Series
The American Literature Seminar, active since 2013, provides a forum for works in progress that explore the history of American Literature.
The seminar is sponsored by the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. The seminar’s co-coordinators are Walter Benn Michaels (UIC) and Kenneth Warren (University of Chicago).