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Homi Bhabha

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Sam Law

on 5 December 2013

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Transcript of Homi Bhabha

Homi Bhabha
New: Neither One, Nor the Other
Cultural Difference, not Cultural Diversity
Born 1949 in Mumbai
The Location of Homi Bhabha
Theory vs. Politics?
The Binary
Some guiding questions:
What is the role of a committed intellectual?
What is the relationship between theory and politics?
Is the language of theory merely another power ploy of the culturally privileged Western elite to produce a discourse of the other that reinforces its own power-knowledge equation?
What does a politics that doesn't require some foundational unity look like?

Utopian Version of Being + History
A politics is X when it represents the unitary and homogenous views of X political subject who exists in some essential, primordial sense.

The role of committed theorist here is to espouse "implacable oppositionality" or invent "a counter-origin myth of radical purity"

"A totalizing version of Being and History that seeks to transcend the contradictions and ambivalence that constitute the very structure of human subjectivity and the systems of cultural representation"
Very stable and clearly demarcated.
" an émigré in the West and living problematically (often dangerously???) on the left margin of a Eurocentric, bourgeois liberal culture."
"The fulminating professor of film who announces,“We are not artists, we are political activists” By obscuring the power of his own practice in the rhetoric of militancy, he fails to draw attention to the specific value of a politics of cultural production; because it makes the surfaces of cinematic signification the grounds of political intervention, it gives depth to the language of social criticism and extends the “domain" of politics in a direction that will not be entirely dominated by the forces of economic or social control. Forms of popular rebellion and social control are often the most subversive and transgressive when they are created through oppositional cultural practices.”
The Reversal
"I want to take my stand on the shifting margins of cultural displacement- that confounds any profound or 'authentic' sense of a 'national' culture or an 'organic' intellectual- and ask what the function of a committed theoretical perspective might be, once the cultural and historical hybridity of the postcolonial world is taken as the paradigmatic place of departure." 2356
The point of departure!
The Hybrid Form of the New Theoretical Statement

“… I have tried to indicate something of the boundary and location of the event of theoretical critique which does not contain the truth… The ‘true’ is always marked and informed by the ambivalence of the process of emergence itself, the productivity of meanings that construct counter-knowledges in
medias res
, in the very act of agonism, within the terms of a negotiation of oppositional and antagonistic elements. Political positions are not simply identifiable as progressive or reactionary, bourgeois or radical, prior to the act of critique or outside the terms and conditions of their discursive address. It is in this sense that the historical moment of political action must be thought of as part of the history of the form of its writing.” 2357
Ambivalence at the point of Enunciation
"A knowledge can only become political through an agonistic process."
"The textual process of political antagonism initiates a contradictory process of reading between the lines; an agent of discourse, becomes,in the same time of utterance, the inverted, projected object of the argument, turned against itself." 2358

The New Political Object: Hybrid, Ambivilant
Iteration, Translation
"Any change in the statement's conditions of use and reinvestment, any alteration in its field of experience or verification, or indeed any different in the problems to be solved, can lead to the emergence of a new statement: the difference of the same." 2356
"The language of critique is effective not because it keeps forever separate the terms of the master and the slave... but to the extent to which it overcomes the given grounds of opposition and where the construction of a political object that is new,
neither one nor the other
, properly alienates our political expectations and changes, as it must, the very forms of recognition of the moment of the political. " 2359
Negotiation at the Heart of Politics
"Each objective is constructed on the trace of that perspective it puts under erasure; each political object is determined in the relation to the other, and displaced in the critical act. ...I am suggesting that such contradictions and conflicts, which often thwart political intentions and make the question of commitment complex and difficult are, are rooted in the process of translation and displacement in which the object of politics is inscribed. The effect is not stasis or a sapping of the will. It is, on the contrary, the spur of negotiation of socialist democratic politics and policies which demand that questions of organization are theorized and socialist theory is 'organized', because
there is no given community or body of the people whose inherent, radical historicity emits the right signs.
" 2361
"The contribution of negotiation is to display the "in-between" of this crucial argument; it is not self-contradictory, but significantly performs, in the process of its discussion, the problems of judgement and identification that informs the political space of enunciation." 2363
The position of the Other in Theory
"The Other is cited, quoted, framed, illuminated, encased in the shot/reverse-shot strategy of serial enlightenment.... The Other loses its power to signify, to negate, to initiate its historic desire, to establish its own institutional and oppositional discourse. However impeccably the content of an 'other' culture may be known, however anti-ethnographically is represented, it is its location as the closure of grand theories, that demand that it be always the good object of knowledge, the docile body of difference, that reproduces a relation of domination and is the most serious indictment of the institutional powers of critical theory." 2365-66
Ambivalence in the Address of Colonial Cultural Authority
"The word could no longer be trusted to carry the truth when written or spoken in the colonial world by the colonial missionary. Native catechists therefore had to be found, who brought with them their own cultural and political ambivalences and contradictions." 2368
Cultural diversity: epistemological object, a category of ethics, aesthetics or ethnology, the recognition of pre-given cultural contents, the representation of a radical rhetoric of the separation of totalized cultures that lived unsullied by the intertextuality of their historical locations, safe in the Utopianism of a mythic memory of a unique collective identity.
Cultural difference: enunciation of culture as 'knowledgable', authoritative, adequate to the construction of systems of cultural identification, a process of signification through which statements of or on culture differentiate.
Occult Instability in the Moment of National Liberation
The Paradox: the culture or nation represents itself as time-less, fixed, rooted in some sort of origin myth, bounded and outside of history in order to change.

"The splitting of the subject of enunciation destroys the logics of synchronicity and evolution which traditionally authorize the subject of cultural knowledge.... The intervention of a Third Space of enunciation, which makes the structure of meaning and reference an ambivalent process, destroys the mirror of representation in which cultural knowledge is traditionally revealed." 2370-1

"It is in that Third Space which constitutes the discursive conditions of enunciation which ensure that the meanings and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixty; that even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized and read anew." 2371

How do the counter-intuitive readings of Mill and Fanon form part of the overall structure of his argument? How do these readings work? What can we learn from this interpretive method in our own readings? How is this type of reading political?
How does hybridity emphasize process and negotiation over more static and teleological models of identity?
What role do enunciation and address play in his argument? How does this shift us away from a static view of culture as epistemological object? How does it complicate the relationship between theory and politics?
Even though Bhabha tries to head off this criticism at the beginning, couldn't this theory work very well for those trying to deny the history of Western colonization? Don't we sometimes need the "pure avenging angel speaking the truth of a radical historicity and pure oppositionality"? How are we to square away Bhabha's theoretical critique with ideas like cultural appropriation or movements that rely strongly on claims to some homogenous identity?
Does Bhabha's discussion of the process of translation and the hybridity of identity challenge or support Spivak's reading of the subaltern subject or its possibility of speech?
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