Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture—Chapter 1 “The Postcolonial and the Postmodern”


Bhaba combines interdisciplinary theories into one dense package.  Modernity=order, progress, central meaning, linearity.  Postmodernism=art and lit. movement, no central meaning; everything is text with no single interpretation; everything is text; neo-Marxism drives postmodern theory=agency less important because individual is always constituted with institutional indoctrination and culture always speak through us and ideology is interpolated in us; death of the author; we are discourse; Deconstruction= no center, no meaning, no hierarchy; in different versions of postmodernity, agency is marginalized and thus marginalize agencies were oppressed.  Some modernists recognize dominant and marginal cultures but talk about marginal cultures in discourse of victimhood; dichotomy and binary results and no agency is given to marginal agent.   Talk in power relations and deny subaltern agents productive role. 


How does marginal culture survive???????


Bhaba says agency is important and asks whose voice is talking.  He proposes that we reconfigure discourse of cultural difference because discourse of victimhood is unuseful.  Remember Mignolo’s notion of coevalness.  Enlightenment first denied coevalness.  Now technology denies the denial of coevalness.   Technology allows simultaneous study.  Bhaba says coevalness is not enough.  We must reconceive history, as well as time, and cultural signs.  He reminds us that “culture as a strategy of survival is both transnational and translational” (247).  Transnational because contemporary postcolonial discourses are rooted in histories of cultural displacement; translational because spatial histories of displacement complicate our understanding of how culture signifies and what is signified by culture (247).  Cultural translation becomes a “complex form of signification,” which a postcolonial perspective can help decipher because it resists binary structures of opposition, holistic forms of social explanation, and “forces a recognition of the more complex cultural and political boundaries that exist on the cusp of these often opposed political spheres” –the hybrid location of culture (248). 


In this chapter, Bhabha explores the role of the postcolonial perspective in postmodern discourse, critical theory, and historiography and calls for “a radical revision of the social temporality in which emergent histories may be written, the rearticulation of the ‘sign’ in which cultural identities may be inscribed” (246).   Bhabha challenges us to consider hybrid locations of cultural value embedded in historical traditions of cultural contingency and textual indeterminacy, which give agency to the subaltern subject, which if understood would “transform our understanding of the narrative of modernity and the ‘values of progress’” (249).  No longer can we take a unified sense of culture community for granted, a people from various cultures “produce incompatible systems of signification and engage distinct forms of social subjectivity” (252).  Bhabi calls for us to step outside the “sentence” or discourse of victimhood when we discuss marginal communities.  He calls for a epistemological focus of culture to a focus of culture as enunciation, which is a “more dialogical process that attempts to track displacements and realignments that are the effects of cultural antagonisms and articulations—subverting the rationale of the hegemonic moment and relocating alternative, hybrid sites of cultural negotiation”—his ultimate objective being a “process by which objectified others may be turned into subjects of their history and experience” (255).   According to Bhabha, what is created in the enunciative present is ambivalence, which opens up “new forms of identification that may confuse the continuity of historical temporalities, confound the ordering of cultural symbols, traumatize tradition” (257).  We must move “beyond theory,” claims Bhabha, to “create space for the contingent, indeterminate articulation of social ‘experience’ that is particularly important for envisaging emergent cultural identities” (257).  After all, it is “a representation of social experience as the contingency of history—the indeterminacy that makes subversion and revision possible” (257).

            Moving “beyond theory” of binaries, victimhood, centrality, etc. will help us understand how this location of culture is a means of historical agency that sits among another subversive strategies such as mimicry, hybridity, sly civility, to produce subaltern agency that “negotiates its own authority” (265).  Although it may come across as social contradiction or antagonism, the “problematic of contingency strategically” in fact “ allows for a spatial contiguity…to be (re)articulated in the moment of indeterminacy,” which allows agent to “emerge into the social realm of discourse” (268 and 271).  As Hannah Arendt reminds us, this indeterminacy is created in part because the subaltern agent is always a site of tension between the who of the individual self and the what of the subjective realm (271).  Yet, this tension is productive; “it is the contingency that constitutes individuation—in the return of the subject as agent—that protects the interest of the intersubjective realm” (272).  As Bhabha explains, this site produces “a process of reinscription and negotiation—the insertion or intervention of something that takes on new meaning—[which] happens in the temporal break in-between the sign, deprived of subjectivity, in the realm of the intersubjective realm” (274).  What ultimately emerges is the “process of agency both as a historical development and as the narrative agency of historical discourse” (275).  This process can be articulated as a moment of revision in which the subaltern agent enacts (re)orders symbols in order to appropriate signs originally deprived of the subject in order to create subjectivity aiming at rediscovering truth—an this process is a theoretical form of political agency (275 and 278).   This form of political agency, what Das calls a historiography of the subaltern, is made possible by the strategic use of ambivalence and the historical use of historical contingency and makes possible the interrogation of modernity (278) .


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