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‘To Move Through — and Beyond — Theory’: Bhabha, Hybridity, and Agency

  • Philip Leonard

Abstract

Spivak, the previous chapter has shown, remains unconvinced that Derrida’s challenge to ontopological thinking can provide cultural theory with a compelling critical strategy. For her, Derrida’s critique of ontopology is symptomatic of his wider inattention to the particularities of postcoloniality: it implicitly monumentalizes all inscriptions of nationality and treats all insurgent narrative as a uniform repetition of hegemonic discourse. Offering a weak account of capital’s transnationality, Derrida’s concept also allows us to look only to dominant accounts of belonging, and it would therefore seem to leave all subaltern enunciation beyond theory’s compass. Bhabha’s The Location of Culture expresses similarly misgivings about Derrida’s willingness to consider postcolonial resistance. Here, Bhabha certainly draws upon some of Derrida’s ideas in order to challenge narratives of fixity that have been central to colonial conceptions of non-Western cultures; one of the debts that he declares most prominently is the one owed to Derrida’s ‘The Double Session’, an essay that extends the notion of supplementarity to Plato’s theory of mimesis in the Philebus.

Keywords

National Identity Postcolonial Theory Cultural Hybridity Colonial Authority Hegemonic Discourse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Jacques Derrida, ‘The Double Session’, in Dissemination, p. 189.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Homi K. Bhabha, ‘Day by Day… With Frantz Fanon’, in Alan Read (ed.), The Fact of Blackness: Frantz Fanon and Visual Representation (London: ICA/Seattle: Bay Press, 1996), p. 191.Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    Bhabha’s privileging of Black Skin, White Masks over The Wretched of the Earth or Studies in a Dying Colonialism is now well documented. For Neil Lazarus, reading Fanon in this way is tendentious because ‘Bhabha concedes the existence of a revolutionary-redemptive ethic in Fanon… but he insists that the real value of Fanon’s work lies elsewhere, in a psychoanalytic interrogation of the problematics of colonial desire’. Lazarus, ‘Disavowing decolonization’, p. 164. According to Patrick Williams, ‘Bhabha proceeds to what many might regard as just such an act of possession, marginalising Fanon the theorist of nationalism (The Wretched of the Earth) in favour of Fanon the theorist of narcissism (Black Skin, White Masks), when in fact one of the more important aspects of Fanon’s own rerouting is from the analysis of the politics of psychological states to that of the politics of emergent nation states’. Patrick Williams, ‘Frantz Fanon: The Routes of Writing’, in Sam Haigh (ed.), An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone Writing: Guadeloupe and Martinique (Oxford: Berg, 1999), p. 52. Henry Louis Gates’ ‘Critical Fanonism’ surveys some of the different positions that are adopted by Fanon’s readers. Henry Louis Gates Jr., ‘Critical Fanonism’, Criticallnquiry, 17: 3 (1991), pp. 457–70.Google Scholar
  4. 17.
    Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (London: Pluto, 1986), p. 111.Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    Bhabha, ‘Day by Day… With Frantz Fanon’, p. 190. Such a reading of Fanon permeates Bhabha’s work. In respect of Black Skin, White Mask, ‘A Question of Survival: Nations and Psychic States’, for example, claims that ‘From that marked void or caesura that splits any naively liberatory or sovereign sentence of freedom there emerges a political vision of equality. It is a vision articulated at the “edge” of not that will not allow any national or cultural “unisonance” in the imagined community of the future’. Homi K. Bhabha, ‘A Question of Survival: Nations and Psychic States’, in James Donald (ed.), Psychoanalysis and Cultural Theory (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991), p. 102.Google Scholar
  6. 21.
    Bhabha is not, however, entirely convinced that Deleuze and Guattari’s - or, for that matter, Lacan’s - work accounts for the forms of invention that are produced by cultural anxiety: the ‘scenario of the anxious subject is crucial to its emergence and constitutive of its emergence as an agency that translates external cause into fantasmatic identifications. It is almost mimicked in Deleuze and Guattari’s constitution of the minority subject, give or take a little. If you give in just a little to the Lacanian objet petit a and take away slightly more from Deleuze and Guattari’s Nietzschean becoming, you will see how the double reflexivity of the middle voice works in the minority subject - as-circuit, emerging as an anxious, yet inventive, questioning about what takes the place of the subject beyond the two designations of author and character, hero and victim’. Bhabha, ‘Minority Maneuvers and Unsettled Negotiations’, p. 444.Google Scholar
  7. 23.
    Bhabha, The Location of Culture, pp. 110–11. Cf also Bhabha’s comments in ‘The White Stuff’: ‘The subversive move is to reveal within the very integuments of “whiteness” the agonistic elements that make it the unsettled, disturbed form of authority that it is - the incommensurable “differences” that it must surmount; the histories of trauma and terror that it must perpetrate and from which it must protect itself; the amnesia it imposes on itself; the violence it inflicts in the process of becoming a transparent and transcendent force of authority’. Homi K. Bhabha, ‘The White Stuff’, Artforum, 36: 9 (1998), p. 21.Google Scholar
  8. 26.
    Bhabha, The Location ofCulture, p. 116. In this manner, Bhabha’s theory of hybridity differs from that of Nestor Garcia Canclini, for whom hybridity is the characteristic of a modernity typified by interzones like Tijuana: ‘today all cultures are border cultures… cultures lose the exclusive relation with their territory, but they gain in communication and knowledge’. Nestor Garcia Canclini, Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity, trans. Christopher L. Chiappari and Silvia L. Lopez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), p. 261.Google Scholar
  9. 29.
    Since the appearance of The Location of Culture, Bhabha’s attention has been inclined towards visual representations of cultural and national identity as much as it has been concerned with literary texts. Vivan Sundaram’s painting People Come and Go, for example, ‘with its citations, imitations, and enigmatic, unreadable canvas that hits the sightline at a peripheral, even anamorphic angle, raises for us the issue of identity and cultural authenticity’. Homi K. Bhabha, ‘Halfway House’, Artforum, 35: 9 (1997), p. 125. In Anish Kapoor’s work there is ‘the intimation of a movement that obliterates perceptual space and supplements it with a disruptive, disjunctive time through which the spectator must pass -°reverse, affirm, negate”’ Homi K. Bhabha, ‘Anish Kapoor: Making Emptiness’, in Anish Kapoor (London: Hayward Gallery/Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), p. 14.Google Scholar
  10. 30.
    Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphael Confiant, Eloge de la Créolité/In Praise of Creoleness, trans. M.B. Taleb-Khyar (Paris: Gallimard, 1993), pp. 87–8.Google Scholar
  11. 31.
    Ania Loomba, Colonialism/Postcolonialism (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 178.Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    To say that these issues are absent from his work is, of course, inaccurate. Indeed, The Location of Culture even considers the role played by striking miners’ wives in 1984–5: ‘Their testimonies would not be contained simply or singly within the priorities of the politics of class or the histories of industrial struggle. Many of the women began to question their roles within the family and the community — the two central institutions which articulated the meanings and mores of the tradition of the labouring classes around which ideological battle was enjoined’. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, p. 27.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    Bernabe, Chamoiseau & Confiant, Eloge de la Créolité/In Praise of Creoleness, pp. 92–3.Google Scholar
  14. 39.
    Benita Parry offers a different reading, arguing that Bhabha flattens colonizing and resistance groups into a sameness devoid of conflict: ‘To speak then of metropolis and colony as inhabiting the same in-between, interstitial ground, occludes that this territory was differentially occupied, and that it was contested space, being the site of coercion and resistance, and not of civil negotiation between evenly placed contenders’. Benita Parry, ‘Signs of Our Times: Review of Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture’, Third Text, 28/29 (1994), p. 19.Google Scholar
  15. 43.
    One example of this kind of thinking can be found, Bhabha tells us, in Charles Taylor et al., Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  16. 44.
    Homi K. Bhabha, ‘Culture’s In Between’, Artforum, 32: 1 (1998), p. 168.Google Scholar
  17. 46.
    Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute — or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth FightingFor? (London: Verso, 2000), p. 5.Google Scholar
  18. 49.
    Henry A. Giroux, ‘Post-Colonial Ruptures and Democratic Possibilities: Multiculturalism as Anti-Racist Pedagogy’, Cultural Critique, 21 (1992), p. 15.Google Scholar
  19. 51.
    It is important to note here that Bhabha warns against turning concepts like ‘ambivalence’ or ‘hybridity’ into formulae that appear fully to capture the nature of culture, since these terms point to the unnameable that resides at the heart of discourse, to those alterities that slip away from the appropriative strictures of European thought: ‘Is ambivalence quasitranscendental?’, he asks, ‘I don’t think so. I think the whole nature of what I call an analytic of ambivalence will not allow you to make statements like “all forms of authority are always already ambivalent”, “all forms of subjectivity are always already split”, because there is something about the temporality of ambivalence… which does not allow this “always already” move’. Gary Hall and Simon Wortham, ‘Rethinking Authority: Interview with Homi K. Bhabha’, Angelaki, 2: 2 (1995), p. 61.Google Scholar
  20. 54.
    John Kraniauskas, ‘Hybridity in a transnational frame: Latin-Americanist and post-colonial perspectives on cultural studies’, in Avtar Brah & Annie E. Coombes (eds), Hybridity and its Discontents: Politics, Science, Culture (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 240.Google Scholar
  21. 55.
    Homi K. Bhabha, ‘On Cultural Choice’, in Marjorie Garber et al. (eds), The Turn to Ethics (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 188.Google Scholar
  22. 56.
    Jacques Lacan, ‘The agency of the letter in the unconscious or reason since Freud’, in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Routledge, 1977), p. 148.Google Scholar
  23. 65.
    Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, cited in Bhabha, The Location of Culture, p. 180.Google Scholar
  24. 66.
    Moore-Gilbert, for example, argues that ‘much of Barthes work in the 1970s, including The Pleasure of the Text as well as the books on Japan and China published either side of it, can be understood as an unwitting reinscription of an older tradition of Orientalist ideas…. While the East may function as a means by which to deconstruct the authority of the West… it is still being reappropriated… as a solution to ‘internal’ Western cultural problematics’. Moore-Gilbert, Postcolonial Theory, p. 128. However, Bhabha himself recognizes this problem in Barthes’, and others’, work: ‘the site of cultural difference can become the mere phantom of a dire disciplinary struggle in which it has no space or power. Montesquieu’s Turkish Despot, Barthes’s Japan, Kristeva’s China, Derrida’s Nambikwara Indians, Lyotard’s Cashinahua are part of this strategy of containment where the Other is forever the exegetical horizon of difference, never the active agent of articulation’. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, p. 31.Google Scholar
  25. 73.
    Horni K. Bhabha ‘In a Spirit of Calm Violence’, in Gyan Prakash (ed.), After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements (New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1995), p. 330. Such a claim seems to deny Eagleton’s claim that ‘Bhabha romanticizes the marginal and the transgressive, and can find almost nothing of value in unity, coherence or consensus’. Terry Eagleton, ‘Goodbye to the Enlightenment’, The Guardian 8/2/94, p. 12.Google Scholar
  26. 75.
    The troubled relationship between psychoanalysis and national identity is the subject of increasing levels of critical activity; some of the most recent studies in this area include Christopher Lane (ed.), The Psychoanalysis of Race (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), Anne Anlin Cheng, The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief(Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), and Celia Britton, Race and the Unconscious: Freudianism in French Caribbean Thought (Oxford: Legenda, 2002).Google Scholar
  27. 76.
    Elizabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan: Outline of a Life, History of a System of Thought, trans. Barbara Bray (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), pp. 428–42. Cf. Derrida’s claim that ‘there is practically no psychoanalysis in Africa, white or black, just as there is no psychoanalysis in Asia or the South Seas. These are among those parts of “the rest of the world” where psychoanalysis has never set foot, or in any case where it has never taken off its European shoes’. Jacques Derrida, ‘Geopsychoanalysis: ”… and the rest of the world”, in Lane (ed.), Psychoanalysis and Race, p. 69. In contrast with Roudinesco, Derrida points out that Latin America has been one area that the International Psychoanalytic Association has reduced to the rank of ‘the rest of the world’.Google Scholar
  28. 77.
    Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).Google Scholar

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© Philip Leonard 2005

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  • Philip Leonard

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