The following is a guest post by Stephen Squibb, blogger at the novel fugitive ethical.
- Let's say there is a European staying in my apartment. Looking up from his work the other day, he asks what I am reading. I do that awkward combination of gestures and words that one does at someone who speaks mostly foreign languages, simultaneously muttering and pointing, Spivak, Scattered Speculations, etc. He replies earnestly and in broken English that it looks interesting, and goes back to work. Today, as I sit down to write this, he asks to borrow the essay when I am through. I say yes. I make no mention of its content, its difficulty, its eclecticism, indeed and honestly, how could I? He will simply understand it, or he will not, or, perhaps his encounter will defy reduction to something as simple as all that. It is not for me to speculate on his level of comfort with written English, much less with certain, hyper-syllabic theoretical vocabularies. Nor is it for me to apologize in advance for the peculiarity of the offering: he has shared with me his work, and I will share with him this essay. That, on some level, is all.
- But on another level, it is not. This man is a graffiti artist; he works in images optimized for circulation, created, that is, with circulation in mind. If one were to speak of something like value in connection with his work, one would have to mention its reproducibility, its consistency and its ease and speed of recognition. These traits are paramount for graffiti. Whatever his response to Spivak, it is clear that she is working, in some sense, in an opposite direction. (Two nights ago he was up late into the night, scribbling his trademark "Chat" onto American dollar bills.)
- Spivak is notorious for her style, which is often called eclectic, irresponsible, and difficult. Indeed, as I have picked up bits and pieces from this community over the past weeks, it has appeared that her style is precisely the issue here, the motivation for this symposium. Spivak’s name itself is inseparable from questions of style; no one is as difficult as Spivak, no one represents more the indulgences of a certain academic community better than she and perhaps "Butler." To engage Spivak is to engage not only her style, but style itself. The subaltern and strategic essentialism aside, Spivak’s own question of value is the question, Spivak-style (?).
- No one is allowed to know my guest’s name. He operates under the pseudonym "Monsieur Chat." I am told that he is fairly well known in certain circles, and that there would be a great deal of money waiting for him if he ever went public, so to speak. This last is due to the fact that everybody knows his work, having recognized it all over the capital cities of Europe. Monsieur Chat as a name is inseparable from the work which is in turn inseparable from its circulation, which it owes to its simple consistency and ease of understanding. The only missing step, it would seem, is widespread knowledge of Monsieur Chat’s legal identity, so that he could be properly feted, fined, jailed, rewarded, or what have you.
- All of this is to say that (pardon the pun) there is more than one way to skin a cat. And those questions of value, as "Spivak" so brilliantly demonstrates, are bound in chains of circulation, which can perhaps be broken in both directions.
- Still, and following, I find myself wondering if we are doomed to these divine partialities, and whether this discomfort is my own failing, an inability, perhaps inevitable, to recognize a certain vulgarity in what I am using as the form of the whole (the whole of the form), which neither Spivak, nor my imaginary guest, are willing to fill. Is it, as it were, that circulation circulates too, and that the concept itself remains unthought? Or is it unthinkable?