Does the Subaltern Have a Theory of Mind? Revisited

I finally wrote that paper asking “does the subaltern have a theory of mind?”  The one-page handout is available here [pdf].

The answer, in short, is “This question continues to be incoherent because Theory of Mind is incoherent.  The operative question is “do either theory of mind or subalternity have any use as concepts or metaphorical constructs?”  I do not answer this question in the paper.

As far as Spivak’s subaltern goes, I hypothesize that the concept may still be useful, but only in the context of a materialist analysis.  Put another way, I think there may be some value in tracing who is so far outside the means of production that the very discourse of production is itself impenetrable (and unpenetrated).  I also think, tentatively, that this may be in some ways analogous to the question of how non-autistic material and cultural conditions disable autistic people.  “Mindblindness,” then, would be not an empirical fact of neurology, but a product of social pressure.  And since autism and subalternity are both essentially narrative conditions, I think there is value in recalling us back to the narrative position.

What I find increasingly incoherent, in either context, is the idea of any figure who is genuinely unable to speak, who is forever outside the bounds of rhetoric and thus forever outside the bounds of the human.  To try to site this in anyone we might otherwise think of as a “person” – to posit that people who are really mindblind or really subaltern, in some essential and unchangeable way, actually exist (whether or not we think that fact then compels “us” to do something about “them”) – seems both impossible and dangerous to me.


About Dani Alexis

Dani Alexis is the Legal Coordinator at Autonomous Press as well as a freelance writer. When she's not working, she coaches winterguard and waits on the whims of two spoiled cats. Check out her most recent work by subscribing to her Patreon:
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