threading a needle threading a needle

On Threading a needle thanks to Gayatri Spivak

While the writer has no intention of establishing a fidelity to an “Author” that would refer to Threading a needle thanks to Gayatri Spivak, it is the intention of the writer to trace the relationship of the work to readings of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s Other Asias (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007) and In Other Worlds (Routledge, 1998).

In the texts Other Asias and In Other Worlds, Gayatri writes an analysis of international politics and subaltern studies in terms of deconstruction, feminism, marxism and postcolonialism.  In In Other Worlds, Gayatri writes of the problem of representing a subject since any representation thereof would exclude becoming other than Self.  Any notion of Self is called into question by others since it would involve the foreclosure of becoming other.   Gayatri writes that the subaltern cannot speak because of the absence of representation. She also argues against the application “Value” as a totalizing exchange by reading Marx’s theory of value as labor-power.  In Other Asias Gayatri uses several of her essays to write on post-Soviet international politics and the rise of non-governmental organizations (N.G.O.s) in addressing human rights in the “developing world,” especially Asia.  Gayatri goes on to write about responsibility, critical regionalism, Najibullah in Afghanistan and the Moving Devi.

Threading a needle responds to its location in a way that frames the response as nothing and constitutive of an event.  Threading a needle thanks to Gayatri Spivak was completed after I had read In Other Worlds and Other Asias.  I made the work in response to wanting to make a work that has no center and does not travel. Threading a needle became a way of attempting to efface a spectacle anterior to its own making, thereby showing the subject contingent on the indeterminate determinacy of location.  The point became: to show any projection (spectacle) in space as unilaterally produced by a subject that is always already in a process of becoming other than itself by the presence of others.  I thus took photos of each of the four corners of the Green gallery at Yale University from their opposite corner.  A four feet by three feet frame standing atop a tripod placed in the supposed center of the gallery rotates to frame the dimensions of each camera frame for each exposure.  I rotated the frame to match the dimensions of the camera frame.  Prints of the photographs with sizes equal to that of the frame in the supposed center of the gallery hang from corners opposite from where their images were taken from behind the camera lens.  The photographs of corners appear flat, (de)constructing the illusion of depth from the surface of the photograph while each simultaneously imagines the space immediately behind the camera lens.  The unilateral space within the camera frame is called into question by the presence of multiple framing devices, each evacuating the center of the subject that the other intends to photograph. 

Photographs taken at different times are seen simultaneously in Threading a needle.  That the photographs of the spaces were taken at different times makes it possible to represent the anterior space of the lens (or frame).  Such a space becomes present through representation.  At the same time, the frame in the supposed center of the gallery frames a liminal subject, one that continuously effaces its position.  That one can only be on one side of the frame (or lens) makes it impossible to experience both sides simultaneously.  The framing of this impossibility becomes a subject of Threading a needle.  To experience the other side, it becomes necessary to efface one’s position.

In Threading a Needle, I attempted to make present the process of representing the space anterior to a frame (or lens), which requires a liminal frame of reference.  This process mimics the issues of representation and responsibility in international politics.  For instance, the ability to hold officials accountable hinges on the ability to represent the interests of those who would call on those officials for a response.  In many cases, however, demands for accountability become silent to those who have the capacity to meet them in the absence of proper representation. The subaltern, who cannot speak, paradoxically, must speak by effacement of the Self.  Gayatri distinguishes this notion of representation constitutive on the “being called by others” from a notion of representation as constitutive of a “will”:

 [T]here is, in general, a tremendously uneven contradiction between those who beg the question of responsibility as rights for the self and those who beg the question of responsibility as being called by the other, before will.  If we meant to place the latter—perennial victims—on the way to the social production of capital—as an old-fashioned Marxist I distinguish between capital and capitalism and do not say these words ironically—we need to acknowledge the need for supplementation there as well, rather than transform them will-nilly, consolidating already existing hierarchies, exporting gender-struggle, by way of the greed for economic growth (Spivak, Other Asias, pp. 29).

It is, I hope, apparent in Threading a needle that any representation constitutes an impure and partial projection and that, as such, the presence of others presents representation within a liminal framework where space transforms notions of anteriority from determinate to indeterminate ones, perceiving, in a way, responsiveness to a location through supplementation of the other.  In other words, Threading a needle attempts to show the ambivalence of a frame as constitutive of nothing as an event.  This evacuation of a center from the gallery space via a frame constituting nothing, this effacement of the determinacy of the unilateral subject, this liminal representation of space, supplements Gayatri’s theory of invagination:

Since each other being is the only other being, there are always two, not many.  For the dvaitin or twoness-minded, radical alterity is an impossible invagination in every instance of the other…  Invagination.  When you think anything can be contaminated by the super-natural, by alterity, “[i]t is precisely [by] a principle of contamination, a law of impurity, a parasitical economy… “ A participation without belonging—a taking part in without being a part of… the boundary of the set of comes to form, by invagination, an internal pocket larger than the whole.”  The super-natural, dvaita/advaita in action, a structure of feeling folded in, again and again, to alterity (pp. 179).

Threading a needle attempts to collapse a notion of space constructed by the architecture of the gallery in on itself.  In this way, it responds to its location in order not to sublimate its function, but to present location within a liminal frame of reference.  This practice takes note from critical regionalism, which has become a way of countering empire.  Gayatri, in assessing international human rights regimes, writes:  “[t]o think, further, “critical regionalism” rather than nationalism.  This immense imaginative labor is the only work that will sustain us in confronting the easy internationalism of the non-state networks, backed up by the UN, the newest face of the workings of capital.  It must hack away at old, tough hostilities rather than only prove guilt” (pp. 110).  Gayatri cites Armenia as an example where regional differences cause different (post)colonial situations:

The Armenian intellectual cannot stage the nation-state within “the scholarship of nationalist movements,” which requires the script of industrial capitalist colonialism àimperialism as the master model for a reactive and imperfect nationalism.  This is the requirement of the current model of postcolonial theory that is being broken in the Balkans.  In order not to remain a satellite within a great game not of its own making, “Armenia” must displace this model into a regionalism that I present in conclusion, undo a neatly balanced power-play: Russia-Iran-Armenia, US-Turkey-Azerbaijan (pp. 107).

There is no determinate and, thus, universal (post)colonial situation.  Threading a needle attempts to make apparent this indeterminacy.

Works Cited

Spivak, Gayatri, In Other Worlds, Routledge: New York and London, 1998

Spivak, Gayatri, Other Asias, Blackwell Publishing: Australia, London and Massachusetts, 2007



Threading a needle thanks to Gayatri Spivak, 2009
tripod, wood frame (3/4" X 4' X 3'), four flat corner irons, screws, washers, four digital prints (each 4' X 3'), string, eye hooks
Dimensions variable
link-stephen garrett dewyer



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