Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: New York, 1994. Print. (Only covering introduction, importance of theory, and mimicry/hybridity)
Introduction: Locations of Culture
- In this introduction B. sketches the move from Modernism meta-narratives of “class” or “gender” toward the individual subject positions of the “post” era: individuations of race, gender, generation, geopolitical locale, sexual orientation, etc. In other words, a move toward individual identitarian politics (1). This is all well and good; however, B. recommends we instead concentrate on what happens to those subjectivities when they are “articulated” in concert with other cultural differences. The “in-between” spaces wherein this occurs are actually the terrain wherein subjectivity is created/emergent[1. Think here of how Appadurai describes the flows of the social imaginary converging in particular points for the formation of liminal subjectivities.]. B. calls these “in-between” spaces the “interstices” – sites of convergence, overlap, and displacement in terms of difference that create intersubjective, collective experience (1-2).
- B. argues against preset representations of culture or ethnicity (black, gay, etc.). Instead, he wants to draw attention to the “social articulation of difference” or the ways that difference emerges in particular circumstances and situations where different subjectivities come into contact with one another in the interstices[2. Think of the import for rhetoric here – this is rhetorical because it is contextual and argues for a subjectivity and identity formed through dialogic/social interaction. Also, consider the import for transnational composition – B. is sketching a model of subjectivity well suited for culture as emergent-in-context – not borne out of preset, predetermined lines of flight.]. These interstices produce “cultural hybridities” or negotiated subjectivities that emerge out of the social articulation of difference. Because of this perspective on subjectivity, B. is vehemently against any essentialisms.
- According to B., “political empowerment” or the ability to come to speak/advocate comes from the moments of solidarity and community that arise in the moment of interstitial becoming [3. Sounds a lot like the kind of becoming/emergence that Hardt/Negri describe when trying to articulate a politics of the multitude.].
- Money quote: “The interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (4).
- B. looks to the interstices and boundaries as the place where dissonance and discord actually allow the subject to “begin its presencing” into heretofore unique/unknown subjectivities.
- Methodologically, B. problematizes any cultural comparativism on the grounds of homogenous national cultures with shared historical traditions. These sorts of studies rely on an idea of culture that is far from realistic; rather, these homogenizations typically reduce national culture to the hegemonic narrative/history that the dominant class tells itself to make sense of its own violent, oppressive past. B. then brings up the fear of small numbers (Appadurai) to demonstrate the limits and dangers of overly simplistic, homogenously nationalistic thinking.
- B. notes that postcolonial cultures often exist in a contra-modernity that often contests the modern form of the developed West. Yet, these contra-modernities inscribe their own cultural hybridities over the modernist episteme in the West as well, resulting in the creation of a “beyond.”
- For B., empowerment comes in the moment of cultural displacement and social discrimination.
The Commitment to Theory
- At the bottom of 20 B. asks an important question: “What does demand further discussion is whether the ‘new’ languages of theoretical critique (semiotic, poststructuralist, deconstructionist, and the rest) simply reflect those geopolitical divisions and their spheres of influence. Are the interests of ‘Western’ theory necessarily collusive with the hegemonic role of the West as a power bloc? Is the language of theory merely another power ploy of the culturally privileged elite to produce a discourse of the Other that reinforces its own power-knowledge equation?” (20-1). I don’t know the answer to this question; however, I do here a critique in side this question: how do theorists that claim the death of the metanarrative and modernism obfuscate responsibility for the weight of history? In other words, if there is no “center” and the various “post” isms have transformed theoretical discourse in order to dissolve hierarchies (or at least claim their relative legitimacy) then how can the former peripherals seek redress or even address the hegemony of Western capitalism or the liberal humanist tradition?
- B. points out that the liberal humanist tradition still forms the ethical terms of individual action in the West (and is expected from the rest) (24). B. claims that the goal of writing, rhetoric, and critical discourse is to yield a language of critique that produces political subjects that avoid the mimetic rejection of existing political objects (Marxism, capitalism, master, slave, etc.) in the construction of a hybrid: a “political object that is new, neither the one nor the other, properly alienates our political expectations, and changes, as it must, the very forms of our recognition of the moment of politics” (25). For theory, B. wants to use the same approach: the creation of new theory is a process of negotiation not negation. In this sense, theory is rhetorical because it confronts contradictions and antagonisms to create aporias wherein hybridities emerge.
- B. claims that this approach to theory does a couple of things: first, it recognizes that radical critique and the production of theory is heterogeneous and emergent through negotiation of specific contexts (it is rhetorical); second, theory recognizes that there is no primordial, naturalistic, a priori historical subject; rather, the subject is heterogeneous and a product of the sociocultural/contextual sites of its making. Recognizing who has the privilege to speak in those particular contexts is the discovery of power (26). Drawing together through processes of symbolic identification (identitarian or post-identity?) provides the collective politics that can contest such power (28) and create hybrid political subjectivities. A la Burke, B. notes that this entire process of politics is a struggle of identifications and a war of positions (29).
- What’s the difference between cultural diversity and cultural difference? “Cultural diversity is an epistemological object – culture as an object of empirical knowledge – whereas cultural difference is the process of enunciation of culture as ‘knowledgeable‘, authoritative, adequate to the construction of systems of cultural identification. If cultural diversity is a category of comparative ethics, aesthetics or ethnology, cultural difference is a process of signification through which statements of culture or on culture differentiate, discriminate and authorize the production of fields of force, reference, applicability and capacity. Cultural diversity is the recognition of pre-given cultural contents and customs; held in a time-frame of relativism it gives rise to liberal notions of multiculturalism, cultural exchange or the culture of humanity” (34). As B. notes, culture only becomes visible when it becomes a problem or it becomes problematic for the conduct of life. “Cultural difference focuses on the problem of the ambivalence of cultural authority: the attempt to dominant in the name of a cultural supremacy which is itself produced only in the moment of differentiation” (34). So, cultural difference directly considers the power relations among different, performative cultural groups as the moment of conflict.
- B. claims that the act of cultural enunciation occurs when “the place of utterance is crossed by the differance of writing” (36). So, does this mean that the historical/contextual weight of the interlocutor’s subjectivity and the same qualities of a shared language of the place where culture becomes enunciated? When this occurs with two or more individuals in discourse culture is enunciated, produced, emerges through social production (36). In this way mimetic representation (possibly?) is destroyed and cultural knowledge as a priori is dissolved. The unrepresentable third space of cultural enunciation ensures that there are no preset meanings of a particular culture but that signs and symbolic acts are constantly appropriated, translated, rehistoricized, and read anew (37).
Of Mimicry and Man – The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse
- Mimicry is ironic compromise. According to Bhabha, mimicry is “the sign of a double articulation; a complex strategy of reform, regulation, and discipline, which ‘appropriates’ the Other as it visualizes power. Mimicry is also the sign of the inappropriate, however, a difference or recalcitrance which coheres the dominant strategic function of colonial power, intensifies surveillance, and poses and imminent threat to both ‘normalized’ knowledges and disciplinary powers” (86). Wait, what? Said differently, mimicry is both bad but also subversive. It is bad because when the colonized engaged in mimicry they are assigned a “partial subjectivity” that registers on the dominant’s radar but isn’t awarded full subject hood. It is subversive because when a colonial subject mimics the colonialist she often calls attention to what is performative about the act being mimicked. This calling attention to serves as a debunking, a drawing away of the veil of naturalization to demonstrate how artificial and performative the act being mimicked (and the power connoted through that action) really is. Mimicry is also subversive because when a colonial subject mimics for long enough they come to know the discourse of power . . . and can use it back against the colonialist master. This idea is embodied in the quote “It is as if the very emergence of the ‘colonial’ is dependent for its representation upon some strategic limitation or prohibition within the authoritative discourse itself. The success of colonial appropriation depends on a proliferation of inappropriate objects that ensure its strategic failure, so that mimicry is at once resemblance and menace” (86). Said differently, mimicry – from the perspective of the colonized – is a performative, metonymic action that embodies parts of the colonialist subjectivity (for the production of good natives) but also apes it in order to disempower.
- Since mimicry has such a subversive interior it also engenders the creation of particular hybridities – subjectivities that both embody and are rejected by colonialist discourse at the same time that said subjectivities critique and parody the discourse from the position of “Other”.
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