Presidential Lecture Series

Reviews of The Location of Culture

Balachandra Rajan
Modern Philology
v.95, n4 (May, 1998):490-500. COPYRIGHT 1998 University of Chicago

Among postcolonial critics, Bhabha is the most articulate in showing how resistance develops within the interstices of a structure in which power should have erased the possibility of resistance. Hegemony is a desirable assumption for Bhabha because of the way in which it exposes itself. If the imperial poem writes itself fully, or is obliged to do so, it can only continue itself by being unwritten. Said can be imagined as bequeathing to us the author's triumph in a work of ironclad closure where the other's voice is predestined, even, in its protest. Bhabha can be seen as responding with tactics of ironic prying open, offering us not the death of the author but the confusion of authorship by agency. Others theorize resistance, but Bhabha's accomplishment is to have theorized it successfully under conditions designed to program even resistance.

Bhabha's subversive formulations--mimicry, sly civility, colonial nonsense, and above all, hybridity--have passed into the currency of postcolonial debate. These formulations find their location in the space that is left for theorizing between a Foucault assimilated to the gaze of the imperial panopticon and a Derrida given to the sly colonial retort. It would be idle to pretend that Bhabha's work does not participate in such retaliatory satisfactions. They are prominent in his appeal to the Asian reader. Nevertheless, Bhabha's formulations may succeed in surviving others because they are historically based as well as theoretically plausible.

Bhabha seems closer to suggesting that hybridity is the permanent subversion, that there will always be hybridity because there will always be a program, always an excess of the actual over the programmed, and always an indeterminate area of spillage and proliferation arising from the program and the excess. Hybridity is normal because resistance is unavoidable.

The self-and-other relationship, despite challenges to its analytical capability and finesse, remains the main instrument for anatomizing the imperial program. The program is now seen as elegantly self-undermining, as generating hybridity through its impassioned pursuit of purity. Because the other is the site of desire as well as of repudiation--as shown revealingly in the opening pages of Hegel's chapter on India in The Philosophy of History--a self and a nonself hermetically sealed off from each other belong to the aspirations of the imperial agenda rather than to the obduracies of its implementation. The weight of analysis can fall on that obduracy, on how it is to be contained and how it resists containment. For an imperial power, the practical problem is organizing the spillage and admitting only the agenda's minimal complication. In the diplomacy of the self-other relationship, negotiations can be envisaged in which the other is granted limited recognition, and a consular office is established on its psychological site.

Bhabha's view of hybridity undermines any such minimal complication. The leakages and reabsorptions he detects can combine in a double process of imitative resistance--the other's resistance as mimicry, and the self's resistance to its own act of polarization via the trace of the other which it cannot erase from itself. Indeterminacy is in the wings here. It can be argued that indeterminacy has been a problem insistently canvassed in literature, as imperialism turned the poetics of the long poem into politics. The long poem's passion for totalization and the resistance it generates to its own desire, its commitment to the whole and the separatist energy of its parts, the relation of agency to the admission of indeterminancy, the will to closure, and the space of deferral required in order for the will to write itself, are strikingly close to the list of contemporary theoretical issues that Bhabha offers in The Location of Culture.* Bhabha sees these issues as anticipated avant la lettre by "the encounters and meanings of differential meanings and values within 'colonial' textuality, its governmental discourses and cultural practices" (p. 173). To point out how the anticipation has been anticipated is not to diminish the force of Bhabha's argument; it is simply to draw attention to the strength and duration of the convergence between literary and political problematics.

*These characterizations are discussed at length in Balachandra Rajan, The Form of the Unfinished: English Poetics from Spenser to Pound (Princeton, N.J., 1985).

Amrohini J. Sahay
College Literature
v.23, n.1 (Feb, 1996):227-232.
COPYRIGHT 1996 West Chester University

In defense of his supplementary readings of various texts of the colonial and (post)colonial however, Bhabha reminds us that such a theoretical model of (post)coloniality, which maintains a focus on the hybridization of discourse, locates a space of "empowerment" (40) and "resistance" for the "other" in allowing for "cultural difference" to emerge. Yet, his notion of empowerment and resistance, based on a politics of enunciation, substitutes an ethical empowerment -- the dominating is seen to be reciprocally dependent on (in "dialogue" with) the dominated and particularized resistances: the "spontaneous" and "immanent" resistances of "misreading" and "misappropriation" of the signs of the dominant -- for a political and economic empowerment through the praxis of collective resistance. In fact, such a radical understanding of empowerment and resistance is thoroughly occluded by the localized anti- global understanding of the dialectic between dominating and dominated which he supports. On the scene of this localized dialectic the materialist axis of the (social) difference-between the two opposed terms (not a pure" but a relational difference) is dissolved and, under the guise of textual self-reflexivity, is replaced by a (semiotic) difference- within. This deconstruction and making indeterminate of the difference- between dominating and dominated has the effect of rendering the exploitative practices of the dominant as themselves "undecidable" and thus unavailable as a theoretical "ground" for any "decided" collective resistance. The only option' under these "withinist" terms is to follow Bhabha and acknowledge that such decided resistance -- necessary for the revolutionary praxis of social transformation (not only subversion) of the dominant social relations -- should be abandoned in favor of a more "subtle" "meditative" approach which "reflects" upon the self-un-mastering of the discourses of the dominant class, race, gender, sexuality.

[...] Whereas [Judith] Butler arrives at this "agentless" (a-causal) "agency" through a re- reading of the discourses of feminism, Bhabha takes a different route by way of the ludic writings of Roland Barthes to derive his version, which is elaborated through the concept of the "time lag" (180-187). "Time-lag," for Bhabha, signals "a contingent moment in the signification of closure" (183) -- a moment of delay, between the signifier and the signified which effects a space of relative autonomy for the cognitive maneuvers of the activist subject. This "indeterminate" moment in the process of signification, understood as "returning, the subject to the "present" of the symbolic in a new state of "control" and individual (private) "resignifying" agency, in turn mobilizes a politics, of the "contingent." The politics of the contingent, which reappears in the texts of Laclau, Mouffe, and other post-marxists, is a pretext for the move toward the abandonment of a determinate class politics and a theoretically principled practice and the shift to "cross-class" alliances / recognition of politics as a re-ordering of the symbolic and single issue "coalitions," which are claimed as the only "effective" mode of intervention.

Tim Woods
British Journal of Aesthetics
v.35, n.3 (July, 1995):292-293.
COPYRIGHT Oxford University Press (UK) 1995

This is in every respect a significant book which will have a profound impact upon the manner in which cultural practices are conceived. In a book which must rate as one of the principal texts of recent post- colonial theory, Homi Bhabha establishes the intellectual coherency and conceptual necessity for such a project. Always entertaining, witty and astute, Bhabha brings together a series of seminal and luminous essays in skilful and effortless explorations of a diverse variety of writers and issues. He provides interesting analyses of novelists such as Morrison, Gordimer, Walcott, Rushdie and Conrad, as well as analyses of documents and archives from the Indian Mutiny, discussions of nineteenth-century colonial history, Third World cinema, and post-modern space; all the while demonstrating an uncanny ease with the mobilization of a vast intellectual array of ideas and theorists such as Jameson, Fanon, Derrida and Lacan, in a sophisticated and sustained exploration of nationhood, national identity and social agency.

Bhabha's central preoccupation is the manner in which the European practice of cultural analysis hitherto has glossed over the ambivalence of the location of culture. His efforts are aimed at exploring how to articulate (indeed, whether one can articulate) this liminal space of marginality in cultural production. Constantly resorting to a rhetoric of repetition and superfluity, Bhabha aptly encapsulates in this style of linguistic 'hesitation' in finding the exact single word and expression, his sense of the multi-positionality and the multi-spatiality of cultural location. Bhabha argues for a theoretical position which escapes the polarities of East and West, Self and Other, Master and Slave, a position 'which overcomes the given grounds of opposition and opens up a space of translation: a place of hybridity, figuratively speaking, where the construction of 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). Bhabha demonstrates the cultural and social necessity of striving for a discursive difference in politics -- a negotiation not a negation -- which opens up the possibility of articulating the antagonistic and contradictory elements of hybrid sites, rather than having them destroyed by 'practical-political reason'.

This book rightly situates race and national identity in the foreground of contemporary debate. The lexicon which Bhabha cumulatively constructs -- subaltern, diaspora, hybridity, liminality, mimicry -- insistently returns the reader to the crucial issues of how one can speak about another culture, how one can speak of the outside from the inside: 'How is historical agency enacted in the slenderness of narrative? How do we historicize the event of the dehistoricized? If, as they say, the past is a foreign country, then what does it mean to encounter a past that is your own country reterritorialized, even terrorized by another?' (198). Never simplifying or compromising the complexity of the problems which it tackles, this work aims to resituate the analyst of cultural production, opening up a new space and a new time of critical enunciation: 'The aim of cultural difference is to rearticulate the sum of knowledge from the perspective of the signifying position of the minority that resists totalization. . . . producing other spaces of subaltern signification' (162). It is from this position of in-betweenness that Bhabha suggests the most interrogative forms of culture are produced, situated as they are at the disjunctions, cleavages and fissures of class, race, gender, nation, and location. Bhabha encourages one to perceive and hold this irresolvable, borderline, interstitial culture organized within this temporal and spatial dislocation, which is at once 'the time of cultural displacement, and the space of the "untranslatable"' (225). From this perspective, Bhabha urges the re-evaluation of the whole of western modernity and (post)-modernity, as constructions of a culture blind to the very power structures located within its mechanisms of cultural hegemony.

Bhabha's book divulges incisive thought, provocative ideas and exciting illumination on every page. It establishes him as one of the preeminent post-colonial theorists; and it takes cultural criticism into crucially new and important areas of exploration and debate.

Marjorie Perloff
Cultural Liminality / Aesthetic Closure?: The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha

Lawrence A. Phillips
Lost in space: siting/citing the in-between of Homi K Bhabha's The location of culture


Nigel Gibson.
"Thoughts about doing Fanonism in the 1990s."
College Literature v.26, n.2 (Spring, 1999):96-97. COPYRIGHT 1999 West Chester University



There is no doubt that Homi Bhabha's intervention into postcolonialism and invention of a new Fanon have re-vamped the status of Frantz Fanon in the academy and opened up whole new areas of study. Bhabha's reading of Fanon was exciting, suggestive, even brilliant. However, while few have extended his Lacanian insights, most have been quite willing to rehash them. The result has been clever readings which privilege psychoanalytic moves and points of ambivalence, but which have in the main produced a very one-sided Fanon.



In Bhabha's reading, the new man and new woman, fashioned in and from the revolutionary situation, are lost, forgotten, or mocked as utopian and uninteresting conceptions. All references to humanism, to revolution, to Hegel, to Marx, and to Sartre -- to Fanon's "yearning" for total transformation of society -- are lumped together as "banal." Despite Bhabha's own intention, as a critic within the left -- at least in the "state of emergence/emergency" of the Britain mired in urban revolts of the early 1980s -- to weave a new understanding of politics and agency, his privileging of the politics of subversion as being more revolutionary than the politics of revolution has resulted in a domesticated Fanon. A Fanon of "ambivalence," not "trying to transcend or sublate," proclaims Hall (1996, 27). Quite the opposite of Fanon's haunting demand for liberation "from an alienation which for centuries has made it the great absentee of History" (Fanon 1959, 89; quoted in Sekyi-Otu 1996, 39).

Bhabha's answer to "Why Fanon today" centers on a rhetorical analysis of "Spontaneity: Its Strength and Weakness" in The Wretched. Bhabha rightly notes how "the emergence of the (insurgent everyday) . . . [is] associated with political subjects who are somehow outside the 'official' discourses of the nationalist struggle" (1996, 188). Such an unofficial lived experience of the "day to day" is central to what Bhabha calls Fanon's most "fundamental" statement on ethics, namely, that "the thing which has been colonized becomes human during the same process by which it frees itself." Though Bhabha insists that we "need to grasp the dialectic in 'rapid transience' as it is forming in the process of historical becoming itself" (1996, 190), he provides no insight into such historical becoming. Instead, he asserts that we must "begin at the other end," that is, with today's post-colonial and post-cold war "interethnic unrest" (1996, 190-91). This move to the "other end" nearly elides the process of historical becoming that colored the anti-colonial movements. I do not mean to dismiss the problematic of today's "inter-ethnic unrest," but rather to situate it in the context of the failure of the historical becoming of African liberation. By placing the "other end" on top of the revolutionary day to day, Bhabha almost makes "inter-ethnic unrest" inevitable. Moreover, he doesn't follow upon the disjunction introduced between the native's historical becoming, of the native "living inside of history," and the native as an object of ethnic cleansing. Instead, he shifts gears into a more highly theoretical discussion of Derrida's "new internationalism -- in the age of migration, minorities, the diasporic, displaced 'national' populations, refugees" (Bhabha 1996, 191) -- which leaves virtually no trace of Fanon: the mass of displaced suffering refugee humanity takes the place of the mass movement.

Bhabha celebrates spontaneity without ever engaging Fanon's critique of its weaknesses. Such an engagement at least might have led Bhabha to a critique of the manichean ethnic politics embedded within spontaneity. Such historical contextualization brings Bhabha's overly psychologized analysis into immediate relief, or more precisely, what he calls the "psychic anxiety at the heart of national-cultural identification" (1996, 191). The "other end" therefore is grounded in what Freud called the "narcissism of minor differences" that almost inevitably leads to a pessimistic politics. But the basis for this anxiety has more to do with post-colonial socioeconomic and political realities -- informed by the World Bank, IMF, international aid communities -than with a "space informed by the unconscious" (Bhabha 1996, 192). [...]


One perhaps unintended consequence of Homi Bhabha's re-membering Fanon is, in my mind, a dismemberment that results in a Fanon rooted in Lacan against Hegel; in a post-modernist fragmentation against Marxism; in a self-limiting revolution against "revolution in permanence." Rather than "grasping the dialectic in 'rapid transience': as it is forming in the process of historical becoming itself," as Bhabha puts it, such an unchained dialectic of historical becoming is finally elided by the Critical Fanonists as the psychoanalytic becomes the master narrative. The challenge of Fanon -- that "each generation must . . . discover its mission, or betray it" (1968, 206) -- becomes a giddy angst about the subject position of the intellectual. "Fanon" has no resonance, no echo, and no affect. In the end, cultural analyses, however nuanced, take place against Fanon's announced political project of Black Skin and The Wretched. At best Critical Fanonism becomes ideological critique. The power of ideas that Fanon found so terribly important is quite simply replaced by analysis of the power of ruling ideology. Critical Fanonism's methodology is already intimated by Fanon:

The culture that the intellectual leans towards is often no more than a stock of particularisms. . . . He wishes to attach himself to the people; but instead he only catches hold of their outer garments. And these outer garments are merely the reflection of a hidden life, teeming and perpetually in motion. (Fanon 1968, 223-24; my emphasis)


Bhabha, Homi. 1986. Remembering Fanon. Introduction to the English edition of Black skin white mask. London: Pluto Press.

-----. 1996. Day by day . . . with Frantz Fanon. In The fact of blackness, ed. Alan Read, 186-205. Seattle: Bay Press.

Fanon, Frantz. 1968. The wretched of the earth. Trans. Constance Farrington. New York: Grove.

Benjamin Graves
Homi K. Bhabha: an Overview
A brief set of introductions and comments on Bhabha's work by Brown University student Benjamin Graves.


Rethinking experience of countries with colonial past from The University of Chicago Chronicle

Translator translated: W.J.T. Mitchell interviews Homi Bhabha from Artforum

Steve Rhodes: "And now a few words on behalf of the worst writer in Chicago" from Chicago Magazine


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