Saturday, 16 March 2013

homi bhabha - postcolonialism

theories of colonialism and postcolonialism

Homi Bhabha

the location of culture!523

Homi K. Bhabha: an Overview

Benjamin Graves '98, Brown University

In "The Commitment to Theory," an essay collected in The Location of Culture (1994), Homi K. Bhabha foregrounds the unfortunate and perhaps false opposition of theory and politics that some critics have framed in order to question the elitism and Eurocentrism of prevailing postcolonial debates:
There is a damaging and self-defeating assumption that theory is necessarily the elite language of the socially and culturally privileged. It is said that the place of the academic critic is inevitably within the Eurocentric archives of an imperialist or neo-colonial West.(19)
What's ironic is that Bhabha himself--perhaps more than any other leading postcolonial theorist--has throughout his career been susceptible to charges of elitism, Eurocentrism, bourgeois academic privilege, and an indebtedness to the principles of European poststructuralism that many of his harshest critics portray as his unknowing replication of "neo-imperial" or "neo-colonial" modes of discursive dominance over the colonized Third World. By means of a complicated repertoire of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Postmodern notions of mimicry and performance, and Derridian deconstruction, Bhabha has encouraged a rigorous rethinking of nationalism, representation, and resistance that above all stresses the "ambivalence" or "hybridity" that characterizes the site of colonial contestation--a "liminal" space in which cultural differences articulate and, as Bhabha argues, actually produce imagined "constructions" of cultural and national identity.
Bhabha's Nation and Narration (1990) is primarily an intervention into "essentialist" readings of nationality that attempt to define and naturalize Third World "nations" by means of the supposedly homogenous, innate, and historically continuous traditions that falsely define and ensure their subordinate status. Nations, in other words, are "narrative" constructions that arise from the "hybrid" interaction of contending cultural constituencies. In The Location of Culture, Bhabha extends his explanation of the "liminal" or "interstitial" category that occupies a space "between" competing cultural traditions, historical periods, and critical methodologies. Again utilizing a complex criteria of semiotics and psychoanalysis, Bhabha examines the "ambivalence of colonial rule" and suggests that it enables a capacity for resistance in the performative "mimicry" of the "English book." Discussing artists such as Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer, Bhabha seeks to find the "location of culture" in the marginal, "haunting," "unhomely" spaces between dominant social formations.

Homi K. Bhabha: the Liminal Negotiation of Cultural Difference

Benjamin Graves '98, Brown University

Postcolonial debates over "nationalism"--from Frantz Fanon's moving portrayal of colonial antagonism to Edward W. Said's "secular" criticism of the Palestinian movement for self-determination--often share a concern for the term's limitations in conceptualizing the overlapping, migratory movements of cultural formations across a global division of labor. How, for instance, can we neatly categorize the exilic predicaments of Salman Rushdie or Wole Soyinka in terms of "national" identity? In an effort to deal with these "in-between" categories of competing cultural differences, Homi K. Bhabha attempts in his introduction to The Location of Culture to shed light upon the "liminal" negotiation of cultural identity across differences of race, class, gender, and cultural traditions:
It is in the emergence of the interstices--the overlap and displacement of domains of difference--that the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated. How are subjects formed 'in-between', or in excess of, the sum of the 'parts' of difference (usually intoned as race/class/gender,etc.)? How do strategies of representation or empowerment come to be formulated in the competing claims of communities where, despite shared histories of deprivation and discrimination, the exchange of values, meanings and priorities may not always be collaborative and dialogical, but may be profoundly antagonistic, conflictual and even incommensurable? (2)
In other words, Bhabha argues that cultural identities cannot be ascribed to pre-given, irreducible, scripted, ahistorical cultural traits that define the conventions of ethnicity. Nor can "colonizer" and "colonized" be viewed as separate entities that define themselves independently. Instead, Bhabha suggests that the negotiation of cultural identity involves the continual interface and exchange of cultural performances that in turn produce a mutual and mutable recognition (or representation) of cultural difference. As Bhabha argues in the passages below, this "liminal" space is a "hybrid" site that witnesses the production--rather than just the reflection--of cultural meaning:
Terms of cultural engagement, whether antagonistic or affiliative, are produced performatively. The representation of difference must not be hastily read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition. The social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation. (2)
It is in this sense that the boundary becomes the place from which something begins its presencing in a movement not dissimilar to the ambulant, ambivalent articulation of the beyond that I have drawn out: 'Always and ever differently the bridge escorts the lingering and hastening ways of men to and fro, so that they may get to other banks....The bridge gathers as a passage that crosses.' (5)
As we approach the end of the twentieth century, then, Bhabha's liminality model engages culture productively in that it enables a way of rethinking "the realm of the beyond" (1) that until now has been understood only in terms of the ambiguous prefix "post: postmodernism, postcolonialism, postfeminism." Liminality not only pertains to the space between cultural collectives but between historical periods, between politics and aesthetics, between theory and application. In a discussion of a museum installment by African-American artist Renee Green, for instance, Bhabha describes the exhibit's postmodern stairwell (which, apparently, connected the exhibit's upper and lower halves) as a "liminal space, in-between the designations of identity [that] becomes the process of symbolic interaction, the connective tissue that constructs the difference between upper and lower, black and white" (4).
And yet Bhabha's model also introduces a number of potentially serious problems in its translation to the complicated process of collective social transformation. That is, Bhabha's formulation of an exilic, liminal space between (rather than supportive of) national constituencies is problematic in that it fails to engage the material conditions of the colonized Third World. Does Bhabha's liminal space itself become a privileged, textual, discursive space accessible only to academic intellectuals? What about the exiled working class? Doesn't the privileging of, say, Edward W. Said as a "liminal intellectual" somewhat discount the very real exile of diaspora Palestinians as a result of Israeli occupation? Try to find examples of "liminality" (borders, thresholds, in-betweenness) in literature in order to assess the limitations and expediences of Bhabha's conceptual model. For example, look at the ways in which "metaphor" and "translation" function--"meta" and "trans" both meaning "across" or "through." In other words, how can an author's use of metaphor or translation serve as an index of the "crossing" of a discursive liminal space?

"The Committment to Theory"

Benjamin Graves '98, Brown University

Whereas Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak uses deconstruction as a critical tool to rethink the oversimplified binary opposition of "colonizer" and "colonized" and to question the methodological assumptions of postcolonial theorists (herself included), Homi K. Bhabha uses deconstruction to dismantle the false opposition of "theory" and "political practice"--a distinction reminiscent in many ways of Marx's distinction between superstructure and base. Bhabha advocates a model of liminality that perhaps dramatizes the interstitial space between theory and practice--a liminal space that does not separate but rather mediates their mutual exchange and relative meanings. Bhabha argues (perhaps in defense of himself) that European theoretical frameworks are not necessarily intellectual constructs that ignore the political situation of the dispossessed Third World. A critic cannot choose between "politics" and "theory" because the two are mutually reciprocal; "theory," an instrument of ideology, narrates and in so doing creates the "political" circumstance of Third World oppression. In other words, much as he treats the the "liminal" space between national constituencies, Bhabha is interested in juxtaposing "politics" and "theory" in order to find where they overlap and how the tension between them in turn produces their hybridity:
The pact of interpretation is never simply an act of communication between the I and the You designated in the statement. The production of meaning requires that these two places be mobilized in the passage through a Third Space, which represents both the general conditions of language and the specific implication of the utterance in a performative and institutional strategy of which it canot 'in itself' be conscious. (The Location of Culture36)
According to Bhabha, the "third space"--another way of framing the liminal--is an ambivalent, hybrid space that is written into existence. In other words, what mediates between theory and politics is writing--not merely theoretical discourse but cultural exercises such as novels, cinema, music. As Jacques Derrida suggests in Writing and Differance, writing does not passively record social "realities" but in fact precedes them and gives them meaning through a recognition of the differences between signs within textual systems. Bhabha, then, re-appropriates Derrida's notion of differance to suggest cultural difference and its representation and negotiation in the form of writing. Having already posed the question of "what is to be done" about the precarious pedagogical legitimacy of postcolonial debates, in the following passage Bhabha conceptualizes writing as a productive way of conceptualizing the differences between cultures:
"What is to be done?" must acknowledge the force of writing, its metaphoricity and its rhetorical discourse, as a productive matrix which defines the 'social' and makes it available as an objective of and for, action. (23)
How might Bhabha's understanding of writing differ from other theorists' descriptions of writing as a mode of either colonial domination or a resistance to colonial rule?

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