Spivak, it appeared to me, began by espousing a certain approach to reading lives and texts that is embedded in the Humanities: flagging two terms, complicity and unverifiability, and working through a method of resonance.

Neither of these two terms are embedded in anything. They are stupid. Anyone can accuse anybody in being complicit in rape and slut shaming of Environmentji because they have a dick or know someone who has a dick. Anything that is true, as opposed to paranoid nonsense, can be verified well enough for any useful purpose. 

What is odd about Spivak's speech is that she does not mention female African American intellectuals like Ida Gibbs and Anna Cooper who were both older than Du Bois. Anna was born a slave. Her PhD dissertation at the Sorbonne dwells on the seminal influence of the Haitian revolution. This was some ten years before CLR James's 'Black Jacobins. Du Bois only came around to this point of view at the end of his life- probably because his father was from Haiti and thus he had no illusions about that country.

Du Bois, like his friend Lala Lajpat Rai, was of an older more conservative generation but towards the end of his long life Du Bois did join the Communist party. However, younger females- e.g. Agnes Smedley, who was mentored by Rai, were more radical precisely because they did not have dicks even if they were White. 

The social media controversy has turned on the pronunciation of the name Du Bois (du-boys and not du-bowa) which Spivak insisted on many times throughout her lecture, and not only at the Q&A at the end of the event.

 Spivak has a habit of picking up some unimportant detail and thinking it holds the key to some marvelous new revelation vouchsafed only to her.  

The context is this, which she spent a good ten minutes on in her introductory remarks: WEB Du Bois’s full name was William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, and she paused at the history of “Burghardt” to explicate that lineage, and its implications, in his future as a Black anti-slavery activist.

There were no implications. What mattered was that he was able to get an education probably because people saw he was very very smart.  Du Bois could not have been a 'Black anti-slavery activist' because the thing had been abolished when he was two years old. 

Du Bois’s mother Mary Silvina Burghardt belonged to a free Black population of a region in Massachusetts. Her family were landowners in the state

but she had to work to support herself and her son. Her husband deserted her.  

and descended from Dutch, English and African ancestors. Du Bois attended a local integrated public school with many White schoolmates.

This was irrelevant. America had a 'one drop rule' at that time. It didn't matter whether you were light skinned and descended from landowning free people of color. You were still a nigger and, in certain states, subject to Jim Crow. 

Bizarrely, Spivak refers to Du Bois as a 'Black Dalit'. He was Black- true enough- but he was an educated upper middle-class man who served as an American diplomat under Coolidge. 

She also says 'I did make the point again and again that Du Bois had invented the modern discipline of Sociology with his Philadelphia Negro, published in 1899.' Actually, Comte coined the term in 1833. Du Bois was following a methodology which had been firmly established for decades.

From various sources, one learns also that Du Bois’s maternal great-great-grandfather was a slave, and his paternal great-grandfather James Du Bois was an ethnic French-American who fathered several children with slave women. One of James’s mixed-race sons was born in the Bahamas, immigrated to the United States and then worked in Haiti.

His son was Du Bois's father. But he deserted his family and thus has no importance at all.  

Later, Du Bois was to become part and parcel of an intellectual diaspora which could move comfortably between European Capitals, the West Coast of Africa, the West Indies and mainland America while taking an informed interest in what was happening in India and China and Latin America. It must be said, their 'Pan Africanism' was wholly useless. There was a Haitian guy who was ADC to the Ethiopian Emperor. That may have seemed a promising beginning but both the Ethiopian Empire and the Haitian Republic went down the toilet as did Liberia and Sierra Leone where ex-slaves tyrannized over indigenous people. Du Bois's pal, Nkrumah, proved a disaster for Ghana. His widow had to shift to Tanzania and then China. The odd thing is Du Bois was an early sceptic about the possibility of Blacks raising up Blacks. The fact is, he had been the US envoy to Liberia under Coolidge and could see that, contrary to Marcus Garvey's claims, that African Americans treated native Africans very badly. Sadly, during the paranoid Fifties, the FBI became suspicious of Du Bois's Lefty wife and other such connections and persecuted him and denied him a passport. That's why he ended up a Commie in Ghana. 

So, it was evident from the first ten minutes of Spivak’s lecture that she was drawing attention to WEB Du Bois’s complicated lineage,

which didn't matter in the slightest. Du Bois rose in the same way as Anna Cooper rose- viz. because he did very well in School. I suppose his German sojourn added to his academic luster. Thus, the fact is, it was only his talent which differentiated him from the untalented nine tenths of the African American population. 

 Perhaps, if his father hadn't deserted the family he would have had a more favorable view of Haiti which did have some periods of peace and prosperity. As things were, he was initially similar to Booker T Washington. However it was his empirical Sociological work which opened his eyes to more radical alternatives. Could urban African-Americans join hands with the White working class and advance their interests in that way? Sadly, the opposite was more likely. Whites might think anything Blacks received would be at some cost to themselves. But Women too faced the same problem. 

by which he was already complicit by birth and schooling in having what may be called a second-hand knowledge of slavery.

No. He wasn't complicit in shit. It wasn't his fault if he heard stories of ancestors or relatives who had been slaves.  

It was only much later when he went to Tennessee that Du Bois experienced direct racial discrimination and suffered for it.

This is unlikely. All we can say is that he, quite naturally, experienced much worse bigotry in former Slave states.  

After offering some of his background to highlight the complex nature of his later activism

It wasn't complex at all. Being highly educated, he was soft on Communism which was considered a high IQ business back then.  

against slavery,

he wasn't an activist against slavery because it had disappeared. On the other hand, it is true that he agitated for American Independence.

Spivak asked the audience whether they had knowledge of Du Bois’s work and writings, and when she gleaned that not too many did, she stated that she would pitch her talk at students who did not know about him, rather than any of the audience there who did.

Du Bois attended Fisk and thus knew of the rapturous reception given to the Fisk Jubilee singers in India. He knew that any African American who showed up in India was expected to sing Spirituals. That was a good enough reason to keep away.  The other problem was that Du Bois knew from Lajpat that the Indians were pushing against an open door but since everybody wanted to push through first, the Brits remained in place. If Africans got enslaved or Indians got conquered it was because Africans liked selling fellow African to slave traders and Indians preferred to become pensioners of the Raj rather than wait till their nephew poisoned them or their General killed them or their cousin invaded their kingdom. Still, like Ambedkar, Du Bois could gain a degree of 'interessement' by championing the cause of people he himself considered broken. By contrast, African American- or working class white women- held no such prejudices.   

She proceeded to talk about Du Bois’s place in the anti-slavery movement in late 19th-century and early 20th-century America

there was no such movement because there was no fucking slavery.  

and in the larger Afro-American context as well, marking that his lineage and his positions could not have been pristine (just like many of ours are not).

If you are not descended from slaves you are complicit in slavery. Also, if your daddy had a dick, you are complicit in the rape and sodomization of Environmentji.  

Following this track, and her method of resonance,

i.e. talking bollocks 

she immediately juxtaposed Du Bois’s growing up with her own in a Christian missionary school, Diocesan, in Calcutta, where she grew up with certain privileges.

but without a dick. Sad.  

Yet she also failed to make the entrance test to some prestigious universities abroad and did not win a scholarship to go to America to study, having, therefore, to borrow money for her fees and her passage to Cornell University in the early 1960s.

She was smart enough to get the hell out of a shithole which was about to become much much shittier.  Spivak had entrepreneurial elan and chutzpah. She deserves her success as a purveyor of paranoid, parodic, shite. 

To return to the two matrices of her lecture which performed a certain Humanities practice,

These cretins like to use Mathsy words so as to pretend they are smart.  

she spoke of complicity and unverifiability, by a method of resonance.

i.e. talking paranoid bollocks.  

Spivak, via Du Bois, was demonstrating, it seemed to me, how the Humanities teaches us to do activism and think about political unrest, differently perhaps from more positivistic disciplines.

JNU activism has been very helpful to Modi.  

She repeatedly identified herself as a teacher of the Humanities, a discipline that studies life and fiction on parallel tracks and therefore is hinged on the unverifiable.

No. We can verify if fiction has verisimilitude or if the facts of a given life match what is claimed.  

She was not valourising the Humanities against any other discipline but pointing out its “standpoint”, to use a term in the currency for identity and positionality.

She was wrong. We can check if a piece of fiction or details of a biography are plausible and fit with what is known to be the case.  

Her lecture pertained to the complicated insertion of the subject of democracy within the objective processes of democracy.

If objective processes of democracy are ongoing then people are subjects, or citizens, of a democratic regime.  

A lecture against arrogance

Interestingly, and ironically enough, in talking about the acknowledgement of complicity, Spivak’s lecture was against arrogance – the arrogance of taking an “I am Right, You are Wrong” position when the matter is contradictory and complicated – by citing Du Bois as an exemplary case.

She was right to say Du Bois preferred the English pronunciation of his name. I easily verified this. She was wrong to think this mattered in the slightest. Still, it is good to know that if you piss upon Spivak because you think she is an urinal, then it would be very arrogant of her to assert that you are wrong.  

Through a few insightful readings into his life’s trajectory, she tried to show how a person becomes political by actually living a complicated and contradictory life.

Lots of people live complicated and contradictory lives but stay the fuck away from politics. Du Bois, an accomplished academic, was a natural choice for the leadership of the Niagara movement. This would have been the case even if his life was very simple and uncontradictory.  

On the one hand, Du Bois was often apologetic about not having first-hand experiences of enslavement like some of his compatriots.

Because he was 2 years old when it was abolished. No doubt, there were older African American journalists and savants who retained memories of that dark period. It was right of Du Bois to defer to them.  

On the other, throughout his life, he became more forthright in the positions he took, which was evidenced by a most innovative bibliography at the end of one of his books, which listed citations under devised sub-headings that indicated wryly the thrust of their politics.

Like many intellectuals, he moved to the left after the Bolshevik revolution.  

Spivak named her teachers and mentors Bimal Krishna Matilal and Jacques Derrida as two thinkers who recognised the value of tentative confidence and expansive intellectual generosity.

But their thinking was shit.  

She warned explicitly against indulging in turf battles. Returning to the resonance method, she made some references to her own work in Birbhum and Bardhaman (West Bengal), in Nigeria, and her recent talk in Ukraine: always insisting on little activisms, on not offering philanthropy from above as a professor from America,

a friend gave her some money to open a school in Bengal.  

but trying in small ways to become a part of the people and places she inhabits from time to time – which we know she does quietly and with unfailing regularity in dementedly scorching summers, despite the constraints of advancing age.

We know this because she keeps telling us this. But have her schools produced any bright or successful students?  

In her second methodological approach, unverifiability, she appears to define a core Humanities that brings together life, literature and the arts.

They are already together. Literature is part of the arts and it reflects on life.  

The subject of democracy is at once confused, astute, vulnerable, greedy, anxious, jubilant –

no it isn't. It is just a matter of voters being able to get rid of a shitty administration once every few years.  

such complex subjectivities are unverifiable; they can only be sensed.

Anything sensed can be verified well enough. I think I smell shit. I check my underwear and verify that I have shat myself.  

Humanities tell us to imaginatively and intuitively occupy the other’s place, and acquire, slowly, a sense of politics by treading this path.

Children develop 'theory of mind' and empathy at a young age. In India, some of the most astute politicians- e.g. Kamraj- had no exposure to 'the Humanities' or, indeed, to much formal school education. In the old days, the Humanities made students more cultured and able to articulate complex ideas. Spivak and her ilk did the opposite.  

One takes forthright decisions, but not hasty decisions.

A decision which is speedy may not be forthright, but it may be right.  

Spivak referred to her recent book The Idea of India: A Dialogue (2023), where she is in conversation with Romila Thapar: a conversation that embodied both mutual respect and disciplinary differences.

they teach different subjects.  

Spivak occupies a Humanities position of unverifiability –

No. We can easily verify that she is writing nonsense.  

and yet the conversation had moved forward with trust and a recognition of some differences.

Both are elderly Leftists. So what?  

Later, a question from a History scholar elicited a response from Spivak in which she asked the scholar to stick to her disciplinary training of verifiability with confidence.

Historians are welcome to make conjectures even if they will only become verifiable when technology has much improved.  

In reply to another difficult question from a student who asked whether her observation that Du Bois was humanised by certain violent events he had experienced and witnessed meant that his going to war had humanised him

He was never a soldier. 

– and if so, was she supporting war – she stated unequivocally that she was a pacifist and did not support war in any circumstances.

Had she supported the Vietnam war, the US would definitely have won- right?  

The politics of pronunciation

At points in her lecture, Spivak also talked about humility, specifically the humility of learning, and about talking to students who had come to listen to her about Du Bois whom, they indicated, they did not know well (fair enough, Spivak accepted, and proceeded to outline her own learnings from his life and work at ground level), and to complicate it with current understandings of democracy.

She understands shit.  

She talked about what was happening on her own campus, Columbia University, at the present moment, in no uncertain terms condemning police and administrative action on protesting students across America and other parts of the world.

Hamas has been rewarded for raping and killing women. This fills Spivak with joy.  

She spoke too about what was to become the subject of the troll-storm, the pronunciation of Du Bois: Spivak repeatedly explained throughout the lecture the kind of politics that was implicit in pronouncing his name in the French way,

there was no politics to it at all. Had Du Bois grown up in Louisiana, he would have pronounced it in the French manner.  

when he was in fact of hyphenated Haitian origin.

His father was born in Haiti to an American born in the Bahamas. But the father deserted the family when his son was only two years old. Thus, Du Bois had no real connection to that country.

 Unlike Garvey, Du Bois was aware that Black rule could be as shitty as White rule.  This was confirmed during his sojourn in West Africa as Coolidge's envoy. 

It was a lesson well taken for me, and perhaps for some others too.

It was simply false. Du Bois was not a soldier, he did not campaign against slavery and though he had a Haitian grandmother

Anshul Kumar, the student, repeatedly pronounced the name Du Bois differently from the way Spivak had explained it should be pronounced, emphasising that it was important for us to pronounce it correctly, which was not for the elite but for anti-elite practice. Twice Anshul Kumar said, “If we are done with trivialities now…”, which appeared to rile up Spivak, who then said, “I am an 82-year-old-woman and you cannot insult me when I have been invited to your university to speak.” Or words to that effect.

Nothing wrong with that. She should have added that he had a dick. Dicks cause RAPE including rape of Enviromnentji.  

The questioner went on to name one Bihari Lal Bhaduri

who wasn't rich. He was a friend of Vidyasagar- who was a teacher when he wasn't a head clerk. Both were middle class. The Tagore's were upper class because they owned a big estate.  

as Spivak’s “great grandfather” and, from what I understood, questioned her right to talk about Black slavery or herself as “middle class” when she came from such a lineage of privilege. (In an interview to The Hindu published on 25 May, Spivak stated, "I am not Bihari Lal Bhaduri’s great granddaughter." Elsewhere, however, she has referred to Bhaduri as the father of Barahini Devi, whom she described as "“my mother's grandmother”.) It was in reply to this that she said “No…", and insisted again that the student give Du Bois his due by pronouncing his name in the non-elite way he himself had urged. When the student persisted in repeating the French pronunciation, she said she would move on to others’ questions.

Because the boy was a cretin. But Spivak and her ilk have been promoting that type of paranoid activism for sixty years.  

My reason for detailing the events at Spivak’s lecture is this. There are two dangers I can identify in what happened in the internet blitz that has erupted since the lecture. First, the propensity to jump to quick judgements without actually witnessing or knowing what happened, simply to be first off the mark on the “correct” side of a story in a pitched battle of identities.

Does having a dick push a Dalit down below a dickless Brahmin? Yes. Dicks cause RAPE! Guess who else has a dick. Modi! Mamta is Brahmin but without a dick. Are you supporting Modi over Mamta? How dare you! Is it for this taxpayer is subsidizing JNU?  

In fact, when Spivak spoke of Marx’s The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), I recalled her mentioning the same text with reference to Du Bois’s politics and hyphenated identity in her book Harlem (2012)

It wasn't hyphenated. He did have a grandmother who was Haitian but his father would have inherited American citizenship from his own father who emigrated to the US from the Bahamas. The original ancestor with that name was a white man from New York. 

– “Du Bois’s call for a state where ‘the crankiest, humblest, and poorest… people are the… key to the consent of the governed’, seeking to redress Marx’s regret at the end of The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that the lumpenproletariat could not “represent themselves”, is now being claimed by the moral entrepreneurs of the international civil society who would represent the world’s minorities without a democratic mandate.” (38-39, 2012)

Spivak's misprision is two fold

1) Marx was saying that the lumpen element had supported Napoleon III because they didn't understand their 'class interest'. They were a mere rabble ignorantly supporting a demagogue.

2) Du Bois was saying that a democracy where the White majority tyrannized over a Black minority was bound to be inefficient and wasteful. ' if the absolute monarchy of majorities is galling and inefficient, is it any more inefficient than the absolute monarchy of individuals or privileged classes have been found to be in the past? Is the appeal from a numerous-minded despot to a smaller, privileged group or to one man likely to remedy matters permanently? Shall we step backward a thousand years because our present problem is baffling? Surely not and surely, too, the remedy for absolutism lies in calling these same minorities to council. As the king-in-council succeeded the king by the grace of God, so in future democracies the toleration and encouragement of minorities and the willingness to consider as “men” the crankiest, humblest, and poorest and blackest peoples must be the real key to the consent of the governed. Peoples and governments will not in the future assume that because they have the brute power to enforce momentarily dominant ideas, it is best to do so without thoughtful conference with the ideas of smaller groups and individuals. Proportionate representation in physical and spiritual form must come.'

Essentially, Du Bois was signaling that proper enfranchisement of Blacks would bring  a valuable ally to certain causes or groups amongst the wealthy and the powerful. Nothing wrong in that. It was the smart move and it was made by a smart man. 

As for the 'moral entrepreneurs' who bang on about human rights for minorities in distant parts of the world, they are being disintermediated as China rises and America is forced to adopt a transactional approach. 

The method she enacts in Harlem is that of teleopoiesis,

Derrida's shite 

reaching out to “the other” by empathy and imagination.

and then getting slapped because the other objects to your touching her bum 

Presciently, she had adumbrated in 2012 what actually transpired on May 21, 2024, in JNU.

No. It was always obvious that some Dalit nutter would attack Spivak for being a Brahmin. Her rejoinder should have been 'dicks cause RAPE! Chop yours off immediately.'  

The second danger that I can see is that such social media trolling exacerbates the polarisation that Spivak was warning against, of thinking in binaries – us and them, right and wrong, good and evil.

We are laughing at JNU and at Spivak. Let these woke nutters scratch each other's eyes out. What matters is that Kejriwal is going to get away with having Swati beaten up- if that is what happened and she isn't telling porkies.  

This is guilt-ridden bad conscience on the part of trolls (however benign and/or righteous their tales of corroboration, and emoticons of support are) that goes against the very spirit of democracy

Nope. Spirit of democracy is cool with everybody slagging each other off for not having been born a slave or having been born with a dick.  

– and those who have indulged in it should take responsibility for fanning anti-democratic values at a critical political juncture in the country.

Elections are on-going. These stupid 'activists' are listening to an elderly lady who had the sense to get the fuck out of India sixty years ago.  

It is not a battle of the right versus the left, finally: it is a battle between being cynically judgemental and being politically and critically democratic.

but this is a battle between being a useless tosser and being a useless tosser who has no dick.  

We come then to a difficult question for ourselves here: What is the purpose of the social media outrage that followed a series of complicated thoughts from Spivak about the subjective intervention in democratic praxis, with Du Bois as a touchstone?

Spivak had silly thoughts. Du Bois and his ilk tried to build alliances with various White interest groups, Churches, political factions etc. with a clear and intelligible aim. Sadly Du Bois died before LBJ pushed the thing through.  

I am struck, most of all, by the irony of it, that what happened following the exchanges and interventions in that overheated, overflowing auditorium was exactly the opposite of what she was urging all of us in the audience to think about – our own complicity in various pulls of polity and society, the unverifiability of many events, and how not to be arrogant about “I am Right, You are Wrong” as we envision our democracies; and perhaps to consider using certain methods of the Humanities to think about resonances with one’s own and others’ lives.

What anybody who knows about African American political history will be struck with is that Spivak was completely wrong about every aspect of Du Bois life and work. True, the audience was idiotic, but they were JNU students and thus idiocy was expected of them. 

Within a few years of Du Bois's death, African American male intellectuals- Sowell, Kelly, Lowry, Clarence Thomas etc- started moving to the Right. Angela Davies- a Communist- imploded. Eldridge Cleaver, who raped Black women to get experience to rape White women- became a Mormon and a Conservative Republican.

In Bengal, a Brahmin woman kicked the shit out of the Commies and made them disappear from the political scene. Spivak is totes cool with that outcome. 

Spivak was arguing against polarisation, and offering imaginative ways of crafting democratic ideas and ideals through a fitful, engrossed reading of Du Bois in tandem with ourselves in the world today.

Nothing wrong with polarization. The Civil War was highly polarizing. That's what achieved abolition.  

And now social and news media has led this polarisation,

between whom- high caste women and Dalits with dicks? Who gives an actual fuck?  

and this failure of the imagination, joyfully and precariously down the garden path to what can be a very fascist politics of its own.

Mamta's nephew has dick. Sooner or later he will take over and rape Environmentji. Swati Maliwal will go to complain to Sunita Kejriwal (Arvind will be in jail) but Sunita will give her tight slap. The girl will howl and howl.