Mr. Ramesh Tibile
Homi Bhabha was born into the Parsi community of Bombay in 1949 and grew up in the shade of Fire-Temple. He is an alumnus of St. Mary’s High school, Mazagaon, Mumbai. He received his B. A. from Bombay University and his M.A., D. Phil. from Christ Church, Oxford University. Bhabha’s work in postcolonial theory owes much to poststructuralism. We observe the great influence of Jacques Derrida and deconstruction; Jacques Lacan and Lacanian psychoanalysis; and the works of Michel Foucault. In addition to these, he also stated in his interview with W. J. T. Mitchell (in 1995) that Edward Said is the writer who has most influenced his thought. Bhabha is a popular lecturer, and is regularly invited to speak at universities across North America, Europe and Asia.
Homi Bhabha is a leading voice in postcolonial studies. He is highly influenced by Western poststructuralists, theorists, notably Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Michael Foucault. In Nation and Narration (1990) he argues against the tendency to essentialize Third World Countries into a homogenous identity. Instead he claims that all sense of nationhood is narrativized. He has also made a major contribution to postcolonial studies by pointing out how there is always ambivalence at the site of colonial dominance. In The Location of Culture (1994) Bhabha uses concepts such as mimicry, interstice, hybridity and liminality all influenced by semiotics and Lacanian psychoanalysis to argue that cultural production is always most productive where it is most ambivalent.
He is one of the most important thinkers in postcolonial criticism. He has contributed a set of challenging concepts, such as- Hybridity, Mimicry, Ambivalence, the Stereotypes, the Uncanny, the Nation, Otherness, etc. to postcolonial theory. All these concepts reflect the colonized people’s ways to resist the unsecured power of the colonizer. Bhabha succeeds in showing colonialism’s histories and cultures that intrude on the present demanding to transform our understandings of cross-cultural relations. Bhabha states that we should see colonialism as straightforward oppression, domination, violence only but also as a period of complex and varied cultural contact and interaction. His writings bring resources from literary and cultural theory to the study of colonial archives.
The Location of Culture:
Bhabha’s New Methodology of Cultural Analysis
In The Location of Culture, A collection of his important essays, Bhabha generates a series of concepts that work to undermine the simple polarization of the world into Self and Other. Here, Bhabha advocates a fundamental realignment of the methodology of cultural analysis in the West away from metaphysics and toward the ‘performative’ and ‘enunciatory present.’ Such a shift, he claims, provides a basis for the West to maintain less
violent relationships with other cultures. In Bhabha’s view, the source of the Western compulsion to colonize is due in large part to traditional Western representations of foreign cultures. His argument attacks the Western production and implementation of certain binary oppositions. The opposition targeted by Bhabha includes centre/margin, civilized/savage, and enlightened /ignorant. Bhabha proceeds by destabilizing the binaries insofar as the first term of the binary is allowed to unthinkingly dominate the second. Once the binaries are destabilized, Bhabha argues that cultures can be understood to interact, transgress, and transform each other in a much more complex manner than the traditional binary oppositions can allow. According to Bhabha, hybridity and “linguistic multi-vocality” have the potential to intervene and dislocate the process of colonization through the interpretation of political discourse. In this book he uses the concepts such as mimicry, interstice, hybridity, and liminality to argue that cultural production is always most productive where it is most ambivalent. Speaking in a voice that combines intellectual ease with the belief that theory itself can contribute to practical change. His work, The Location of Culture is a collection of his writings. They are characterized by his promotion of ideas of ‘colonial ambivalence’ and ‘hybridity’ and also by his use of aesthetic terms and categories (mimesis, irony, parody etc.) to mobilize an analysis of terms of inter- cultural engagement within the context of empire. For him, the rich text of the civilizing mission is remarkably split, fissured and flawed. According to him the question of the ambivalence of mimicry as the problematic of colonial subjection arises from the colonial encounter between the white presence and its black semblance. He also states that the obligation on the part of the colonized to mirror back an image of the colonizer produces neither identity nor difference. Thus the ‘mimic man’ who occupies the impossible space between cultures is the ‘effect of a flawed colonial mimesis in which to be Anglicized is emphatically not to be English’. According to him occupying the precarious area between mimicry and mockery, the mimic man seems to iconic both of the enforcement of colonial authority and its strategic failure. Bhabha has become one of the leading post-colonial theorists of this era.
Bhabha’s interest in these figures or figurings of the ‘in-between’ of colonial discourse is evident also in his invocation and transformation of the Bhaktian notion of ‘hybridity’. In Bhaktin, hybridization destabilizes univocal forms of authority whereas; Bhabha sees it as a ‘problematic of colonial representation. According to him the production of hybridization not only expresses the condition of colonial enunciation but also marks the possibility of counter colonial resistance. In other words, hybridity marks those moments of civil disobedience within the discipline of civility as a sign of spectacular resistance. He further extended the theory of resistance in his theorization of the ‘Third Space of enunciation’ as a assertion of difference in discourse. He also states that the ‘transformational value of change’ lies in the rearticulating, or translation, of elements that are neither the one nor the other, but something else besides which contests the terms and territories of both.
The radicalism of Bhabha’s work lies in its deployment of the idea of difference within an analysis of colonialism as a ‘cultural text or system of meaning’. He accounts the need of the performative dimension of cultural articulation. This thinking provides the development of a postcolonial practice as a guiding concern. This practice also recognizes the ‘problem of cultural interaction that emerges at the significatory boundaries of cultures, where the meanings and values are read or signs are misappropriated. Bhabha’s clearest statement of the ‘postcolonial perspective’ is outlined in the essay, ‘The Postcolonial and the Postmodern: The Question of
Agency’, which also forms a defense of his interest in ‘indeterminacy’ against charges of the formalist orientation of his work.
In 1999 Newsweek Magazine listed Bhabha as one of ‘100 Americans for the Next Century.’ Bhabha has become something more than the everyday cultural critic, contributing to worldwide debates in contexts like the World Economic Forum. You will see that even the most critical commentators accept Bhabha’s importance. Many feel that the lesson of his work needs serious qualification before they are turned once again to the colonial and neo- colonial contexts. Almost every text in the post-colonial studies references Bhabha’s work at some point.
Homi Bhabha generated the concept-hybridity of cultures, refers to mixedness or impurity of cultures knowing that no culture is really pure. According to Bhabha, every culture is an original mixedness within every form of identity. He states that the cultures are not discrete phenomena, but being always in contact with one another, we find mixedness in cultures. Bhabha insists on hybridity’s ongoing process- hybridization. He further asserts that no cultures that come together leading to hybrid forms but cultures are the consequence of attempts to still the flux of cultural hybridities. He directs our attention to what happens on the borderlines of cultures, and in-between cultures. He used the term, liminal on the border or the threshold that stresses the idea that what is in between settled cultural forms or identities is central to the creation of new cultural meaning. He further states that The Location of Culture is both spatial and temporal: so the terms- hybridity and liminality do not refer only to space, but also to time. So he asserts that the people living in different spaces are living at different stages of progress (Huddart, 2006:6-7).
Homi bhabha expresses his views on the relation between the culture and hybridity. According to him, just like colonial culture, contemporary culture is also hybrid. Hybridity idea characterizes the mechanism of the colonial psychic economy. He states that the important point to recognize is that cultures are always retrospective constructs means they are consequences of historical process. So he adds further that cultural hybridity is not something absolutely general and so hybridity appears in all cultures. It blurs all deference into difference, making all hybridity appear the same. His theory of hybridity is associated with mimicry and sly civility and also a denial that there were cultures already there that became hybrid.
The term ‘Mimicry’ underlines the gap between the norm of civility presented by European Enlightenment and its colonial imitation in distorted form. .This notion is based on Foucault’s term that was based on Kant’s notion. Bhabha’s term ‘mimicry’ is a part of a larger concept of visualizing the postcolonial situation as a kind of binary opposition between authority and oppression, authorization and de-authorization. He states ahead that all modes of imposition including the demand on the colonized to be like the colonizer results in mimicry. According to him the mode of asserting authority over the colonized gave rise to mimicry. He further asserts that mimicry can be taken as a way of eluding control that also gives rise to postcolonial analysis by subverting the colonial master’s authority and hegemony. The comic quality of mimicry is important because colonial discourse is serious and solemn, with pretensions to educate and improve. Bhabha says that mimicry represents an ironic compromise between two ideas- that things are eternally the same and that there is continual change (1994:86). Homi Bhabha finds
mimicry as central to colonial discourse. Bhabha suggests that the structure of mimicry derives from a fundamental but unstable urge on the part of colonial authority.
Homi Bhabha uses the concept of ‘the uncanny’ to characterize the post colonial experience. He describes the colonial psychic economy of monstrous doubling with his uncanny to explain the feeling we get when experiences of childhood that have been repressed return to disrupt our everyday existence. Bhabha states that in the beginning of modern western history something is repressed that inevitably breaks through the veneer of civilization. Bhabha suggests the uncanny concept as the unhomely too. He evokes the uncanniness of migrant experience through a series of familiar ideas like- half-life, (like the partial presence of colonial identity), repeats the life lived in the country of origin, but this repetition is not identical, introducing difference and transformation. He also says further that this difference in repetition is a way of reviving that past life, of keeping it alive in the present. The idea of the uncanny is itself ambivalent and is used in many contexts throughout Bhabha’s work. All the hesitations, uncertainties and ambivalences with which colonial authority and its figures are imbued are characterized in terms of the uncanny. In other words, the split in the political subject, and the way new contexts change the meaning of a statement- can also be described as uncanny. Due to the term’s (uncanny) general currency in cultural theory, everything in Bhabha’s work begins to seem a little uncanny. Sigmund Freud and Julia Kristeva (psychoanalytic literary critics) use the idea of the uncanny. This inspired Bhabha’s sense of the hybrid, post-colonial perspective.
Homi Bhabha reads with particular care the discourse of stereotypes in colonialism. The stereotype is a form of anxious colonial knowledge. Bhabha’s writing on this anxiety revise traditional studies of colonialism. The colonizer circulates Stereotypes about the laziness or stupidity of the colonized population through racist jokes, cinematic images etc. Bhabha states that these stereotypes seems to be a stable if false foundation upon which colonialism bases its power, and are something we should perhaps simply discuss. He analyses Edward Said’s classic book Orientalism and presents the comments in the third chapter entitled, ‘The Other Question’ in his book, The Location of Culture (1994). Here, he explores the ways stereotypes and discrimination work in terms of a theory of discourse. Bhabha calls this project as ‘a theory of colonial discourse’ (1994:66). This theory is based on the ambivalence he finds central in the colonial discourses of stereotyping.
The concept of ‘Nation’ is very important in the discussion of colonialism. The idea of nations means the forms of nationalism involved in anti-colonial struggle and post- colonial reconstruction. Many writers have pointed out that oppressed people have identified with clear national identities. So nations have been seemed a vital organizing principle for many writers in post-colonial studies. On the contrary, Homi Bhabha rejects the well-defined and stable identity associated with the national form as he wants to keep this identity a open one. He claims that nations have their own narratives, but very often a dominant or official narrative overpowers all other stories of minority group.
I observed the influence of many western writers on the work of Homi Bhabha. He has developed his ideas from the work of M. M. Bakhtin, Antonio Gramsci, Hannah Arendt,
- E. B. Du Bois, Albert Memmi, Frantz Fanon, and many more. We also observe the key influences- Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, on his development as a critical thinker. He takes two terms- ‘Iteration’ and ‘the statement’ from Derrida and Foucault respectively.
(Iteration means the necessary repeatability of any mark, idea, or statement if it is to be meaningful and statement refers to a specific meaning) His work reflects the significance of reading that helped him to derive some ideas, concepts, views from his influences. He takes an analysis of thought’s complexity and a philosophical approach, stressing difference from Derrida and Foucault. This helped him to understand how the meaning of terms and ideas change in accordance with context. From that he also has developed a critical thought emphasizing process. We can observe that this thinking is specific to each situation, and cannot offer a ‘global’ answer to specific problems or issues without understanding specific histories.
Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture looks like a container of different concepts and ideas that could help us to analyse different cultures. Here he points out that no culture is pure in modern sense as we observe the blending of many cultures together. It is highly impossible to draw a line to mark one’s indigenous culture. At present, no one can claim one’s culture as it became the part of another culture. Mixedness is the feature of modern culture. This book generates many new concepts such as: Hybridity, Mimicry, Nation, Stereotypes etc. that may be used as tools of analysis.
- Abrams, M. H. (2003), A Glossary of Literary Terms, (7th ed), Eastern Press, Bangolore.
- Bhabha, H. K. (1990), (ed) Nation and Narration, Routledge, London.
- (1994), The Location of Culture, Routledge, London.
- Loomba, Ania (1998), Colonialism/postcolonialism, Routledge, London.
- Viswanathan, Gauri (1997), Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India, Columbia University Press, New York and London.
- Young, Robert, (1990), White Mythologies: writing History and the West, Routledge, London.