Gayatri Spivak’s seminal essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” assumes that subaltern speech can be physically produced but cannot be “heard” or circulated without becoming complicit in the task of imperialism. How then, can we understand the inability to physically produce articulate vocal utterance within the postcolonial context? If the voice, or the ability to articulate coherently is privileged, what then, is the place of inarticulations in a landscape fixated on retrieving and rehabilitating the articulate voice? How is language implicated in silence or in inarticulate vocal expression such as the incoherent cry or wail? This paper examines the question: can the subaltern physically speak? By interrogating how the disruptive forces of aphasia, aphonia, and “alternate articulations” work within the polyphonic narrative technique of L’amour, la fantasia (1985) by Assia Djebar, this paper argues that focusing upon physical (bodily) processes of producing inarticulate utterances and silence intervenes in the task of speaking and writing in the colonizer’s language.
Zhe Geng is a third year PhD student in the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. She works on Transnational Anglophone, Sinophone, Japanese, and Francophone literature with a focus on Asian American literature.