CriticaLink | Spivak: Echo | Terms

mortiferous self-knowledge

Spivak develops this term on the basis of the Narcissus story. Teiresias's prophecy for Narcissus is that he will live as long as he does not "know himself." She applies this prophecy to theorists who have an investment in thinking and writing about others who are in historical and political situations different from their own. In this essay, as in much of Spivak's work, the focus is on feminists' relationship with women in the "South," regions of the world whose economies and political systems have been devasted by colonialism and globalization.

Mortiferous self-knowledge represents a kind of dilemma for these thinkers. They have to recognize their own privileged positions; they are ethically bound to do so, and any knowledge they develop about others will be faulty if it does not include a rigorous account of the position of the observer. If they actually achieve such self-knowledge, however, they will be paralyzed in their efforts to understand and communicate with the other.