Richard L. W.
Clarke LITS3304 Notes 08A
HOMI BHABHA "THE OTHER QUESTION . . . THE STEREOTYPE AND COLONIAL DISCOURSE" (1983) Bhabha, Homi. "The Other Question . . . Homi K. Bhabha Reconsiders the Stereotype and Colonial Discourse." Screen 24.6 (1983): 18-36. Bhabha begins by contending that colonial discourse depends on the "concept of ‘fixity’ in the ideological construction of otherness" (18). This fixity is the "sign of cultural/historical/racial difference" (18). Its major discursive strategy is the stereotype which Bhabha defines as a "form of knowledge and identification that vacillates between what is always ‘in place,’ already known, and something that must be anxiously repeated" (18). The essential ‘duplicity’ of the Asian or the ‘sexual licence’ of the African seemingly needs no proof but in fact cannot be proved. It is this ambivalence that is integral to the stereotypical structure of colonial discourse and ensures the stereotype's "repeatability in changing historical and discursive conjunctures; informs its strategies of individuation and marginalisation; produces that effect of probabilistic truth and predictability which, for the stereotype, must always be in excess of what can be empirically proved or logically construed" (18). Bhabha wants to shift emphasis from the identification of images as positive or negative (which implies a "prior political normativity" ) to the "processes of subjectification made possible (and plausible) through stereotypical discourse" (18). The goal is to displace the stereotype "by engaging with its effectivity, with the repertoire of positions of power and resistance, domination and dependence” (19) that constructs the colonial subject (both coloniser and colonised). Bhabha does not want to deconstruct colonial discourse to reveal its ideological misrepresentations or repressions and thus to "subject its representations to a normalising judgement" (19). He thinks that it is essential to "construct its regime of ‘truth’" (19) in order to understand the "productivity of colonial power" (19). He wants to understand the "productive ambivalence of the object of colonial discourse – that ‘otherness’ which is at once an object of desire and derision, an articulation of difference contained within the fantasy of origin and identity" (19) in order to reveal the boundaries of colonial discourse in order to transgress them. Bhabha is interested in the "construction of the colonial subject in discourse and the exercise of colonial power through discourse" (19) and, to this end, bases his project on the "articulation of forms of difference – racial and sexual" (19) precisely because the "body is always simultaneously inscribed in both the economy of pleasure and desire and the economy of discourse, domination and power" (19). Racial and sexual epithets "come to be seen as modes of differentiation, realised as multiple, cross-cutting determinations, polymorphous and perverse, always demanding a specific and strategic calculation of their effects" (19). In traditional film analyses, racial and cultural differences have either not been emphasised as the central object(ives) of critical analysis or a mistaken conception of the stereotype as offering a secure point of identification. For Bhabha, the stereotype is, by contrast, a "complex, ambivalent, contradictory mode of representation, as anxious as it is assertive" (22). Colonial discourse is an apparatus of power that turns on the "recognition and disavowal of racial/cultural/historical differences" (23). It subjects peoples by producing "knowledges in terms of which surveillance is exercised" (23), "knowledges of coloniser and colonised which are stereotypical but antithetically evaluated (23) and designed to "construe the colonised as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction" (23). Colonial discourse produces the colonised as a fixed reality which is at once an ‘other’ and yet
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entirely knowable and visible. It resembles a form of narrative whereby the productivity and circulation of subjects and signs are bound in a reformed and recognisable totality. It employs a system of representation, a regime of truth, that is structurally similar to realism. (23) Alluding to Foucault, Bhabha argues that it is a "form of governmentality" (23) (in spite of the shifting positionalities of its subjects due to gender, class and ideological differences) that marks out a "subject nation" (23). For Said, Orientalism is not the misrepresentation of an Oriental essence. Said's point is that Orientalism is based on the copula is, that "point at which Western rationalism preserves the boundaries of sense for itself" (24). Said puts it this way: the Orientalist will designate, name, point to, fix what he is talking or thinking about with a word or phrase, which then is considered either to have acquired, or more simply to be, reality. . . . The tense they employ is the timeless eternal. (qtd in Bhabha 23) Orientalism consists of both the historically constituted signifiers of stability of form/manifest content (the lexigraphic, the encyclopaedic) and content/latent content, a "site of dreams, images, fantasies, myths, obsessions" (24). Bhabha critiques Said for his reluctance to "engage with the alterity and ambivalence in the articulation of these two economies which threaten to split the very object of Orientalist discourse as a knowledge and the subject positioned therein" (24) by unifying the manifest and latent aspects through a "politico-ideological intention" (24) that enables Europe to advance "unmetaphorically upon the Orient" (24). Bhabha draws upon Foucault's notion of the power/knowledge nexus which places subjects in a relation of power and recognition different from the traditional Hegelian self/other, master/slave dialectic which can then be subverted by being inverted in order to argue that colonial power is not possessed entirely by the coloniser: both dominant and dominated are implicated within Orientalist or colonial discourse. Moreover, the historical enunciations of colonial discourse are necessarily functionally overdetermined or displaced by the unconscious scene of latent Orientalism. Power functions productively as both interdiction and incitement: colonial texts are pervaded by the "return of the oppressed – those terrifying stereotypes of savagery, cannibalism, lust and anarchy which are the signal points of identification and alienation, scenes of fear and desire" (25). The function of the stereotype as both phobia and fetish "threatens the closure of the racial/epidermal schema for the colonial subject and opens the royal road to colonial fantasy" (25). Said hints at this: the journey, the fable, the stereotype, the polemical confrontation are the "lenses through which the Orient is experienced, and they shape the language, perception, and form of the encounter between East and West" (25). The patently foreign acquires a status more rather than less familiar with the result that one "tends to stop judging things either as completely novel or as completely well-known; a new meridian category emerges . . . that allows one to see new things, things seen for the first time, as versions of a previously known thing" (25). Such a mode of perception is a means of "controlling what seems to be a threat to some established view of things. . . . The threat is muted, familiar values impose themselves . . . the mind reduces the pressure upon it by accommodating things to itself as either ‘original’ or ‘repetitious.’ . . . The orient . . . vacillates between the West's contempt for what is familiar and its shivers of delight in – or fear of – novelty" (26). Bhabha appropriates the Freudian concept of the ‘fetish’ to describe this median category between recognition of difference and its disavowal. Drawing upon Foucault's notion of the apparatus and, specifically, the "relations of knowledge and power within the apparatus" (26) as "always a strategic response to an urgent need at a given Historical moment" (26) (the apparatus being always linked to certain coordinates of knowledge which issue from it
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and also condition it), Bhabha argues for the reading of the stereotype in terms of fetishism: the "myth of origination – racial purity, cultural priority – produced in relation to the colonial stereotype functions to ‘normalise’ the multiple beliefs and split subjects that constitute colonial discourse as a consequence of its process of disavowal" (26), just as the scene of fetishism functions to reactivate the material of original fantasy (the anxiety of castration and sexual difference) as well as to normalise that difference and disturbance in terms of the fetish object as the substitute for the mother's penis. The discourses of sexuality and race relate in a process of functional overdetermination: fetishism, as the disavowal of difference, is that repetitious scene around the problem of castration. The "recognition of sexual difference – as the pre-condition for the circulation of the chain of presence and absence in the realm of the symbolic — is disavowed by the fixation on an object that masks that difference and restores an original presence" (27). The "scene of fetishism is . . . the scene of the reactivation and repetition of primal fantasy – the subject's desire for a pure origin that is always threatened by its division, for the subject must be gendered to be engendered, to be spoken" (27). "Fetishism is always a ‘play’ or vacillation between the archaic affirmation of wholeness/similarity – in Freud's terms ‘All men have penises’; in ours ‘All men have the same skin/race/culture’ – and the anxiety associated with lack and difference – again for Freud ‘Some do not have penises’; for us ‘Some do not have the same skin/race/culture.’" (27). Within discourse, the fetish "represents the simultaneous play between metaphor as substitution (masking absence and difference) and metonymy (which contiguously registers the perceived lack)" (27). The fetish / stereotype "gives access to an ‘identity’ . . . predicated as much on mastery and pleasure as it is on anxiety and defence" (27), comprised as it is of the recognition of difference and the disavowal of it. The stereotype is the primary point of subjectification in colonial discourse for both coloniser and colonised and is the scene of the "desire for an originality which is again threatened by the differences of race, colour and culture" (27). The disavowal of difference threatens to turn the colonial subject / negro into a "misfit – a grotesque mimicry or ‘doubling’ that threatens to split the soul and whole undifferentiated skin of the ego" (27) (as is indicated by the title of Fanon's book). The stereotype is not a "false representation of reality" (27): it is a "simplification because it is an arrested, fixated form of representation" (27) that denies the "play of difference (that the negation through the Other permits)" (27). Colonial culture offers the colonised subject a "primordial Either / Or. Either he is fixed" (27) as a solely negating activity or as a new kind of man, a new genus. What is denied the colonial subject, both as coloniser and colonised is that form of negation which gives access to the recognition of difference in the symbolic. It is that possibility of difference and circulation which would liberate the signifier of skin/culture from the signifieds of racial typology, the analytics of blood, ideologies of racial and cultural dominance or degeneration. (27) The negro's "race becomes the ineradicable sign of negative difference in colonial discourses. . . . We always already know that blacks are licentious, Asiatics duplicitous" (28). Bhabha identifies two primal scenes, two myths of the origin of the marking of the subject within the racist practices and discourses of colonial society (the term scene emphasises the visible, the seen in a way that stresses the si(gh)t(e) both of subjectification and power, and of fantasy and desire): the confrontation by the negro child of racial stereotypes where white heroes and black demons are offered as points of ideological and psychic identification, and the gaze of the white (child) which fixes the negro in his blackness: "Look, a Negro . . . I'm frightened" (28). This moment is experienced in Fanon’s account as an "amputation, an excision, a haemmorhage that spattered my whole body with black blood" (28). The white child recognises and disavows the negro, while the negro disavows his own race to identify with the positivity of whiteness: in the "act of disavowal and fixation the
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colonial subject is returned to the narcissism of the Imaginary and its identification of an ideal ego that is white and whole" (28). Looking, hearing, reading are sites of subjectification in colonial discourse that are evidence of the importance of the visual and auditory imaginary for the histories of societies. The "surveillance of colonial power" (28) functions in relation to the "regime of the scopic drive" (28), the drive that represents the pleasure in seeing and which has the look as the object of desire and which is related to the myth of origins, the primal scene, the problematic of fetishism and locates the surveyed object within the ‘imaginary’ relation. The stereotype is an "arrested, fetishistic mode of representation" (29) within a field of identification that is the Lacanian schema of the Imaginary. The imaginary is that "transformation that takes place in the subject at the formative mirror phase, when it assumes a discrete image which allows it to postulate a series of equivalences, samenesses, identities, between the objects of the surrounding world" (29). The subject, however, "recognises itself through an image which is simultaneously alienating and hence potentially confrontational" (29). There are thus two forms of identification complicit with the Imaginary – the narcissistic and aggressivity. The racist stereotype, similarly, gives knowledge of difference and simultaneously disavows it and, like the mirror phase, the ‘fullness’ of the stereotype is always threatened by lack. Colonial discourse is a "complex articulation of the tropes of fetishism – metaphor and metonymy – and the forms of narcissistic and aggressive identification available to the Imaginary" (29). The metaphoric or masking function of the fetish corresponds to the narcissistic object-choice, while its metonymic figuring of lack corresponds to the aggressive phase of the Imaginary. The metaphoric/narcissistic and the metonymic/aggressive positions function simultaneously in colonial discourse. Colonial identity is "played out – like all fantasies of originality and origination – in the face and space of the disruption and threat from the heterogeneity of other positions" (29). The stereotype "requires, for its successful signification, a continual and repetitive chain of other stereotypes . . . the same old stories of the Negro's animality, the Coolie's inscrutability or the stupidity of the Irish must be told (compulsively) again and fresh" (9). The knowledge of the constructedness of the seemingly pre-constituted and ‘natural’ poles of white and black is denied the negro because (s)he is "constructed within an apparatus of power which contains . . . an ‘other’ knowledge – a knowledge that . . . circulates through colonial discourse . . . that fixed form of difference" (30) that is the stereotype. The fetishism of colonial discourse also permits certain knowledge-effects that promote discrimination: the epidermal schema of colonial discourse (skin, unlike the sexual fetish, is not secret) implies that skin, as the "key signifier of cultural and racial difference in the stereotype" (30), is recognised as "’common knowledge’ in a range of cultural, political, historical discourses, and plays a public part in the racial drama that is enacted every day in colonial societies" (30). The stereotype is that "’fixated’ form of the colonial subject which facilitates colonial relations, and sets up a discursive form of racial and cultural opposition in terms of which colonial power is exercised" (31). The stereotype is located in those regimes of visibility and discursivity (fetishistic, scopic and imaginary) which constructs the signifier skin/race in accordance with the place of fantasy in the exercise of colonial power. Fanon himself recognised that the "originality of the colonial context is that the economic substructure is also a superstructure . . . you are rich because you are white" (qtd. in Bhabha, 31). Such a view provides a visibility to the exercise of power: "skin, as a signifier of discrimination, must be produced or processed as visible" (31). Unlike the forgetting crucial to repression, discrimination must constantly reinforce the recognition of difference. What authorises discrimination is, however, the "occlusion of the preconstruction or working-up of difference" (31): the "repression of production entails that the recognition of difference is procured in an innocence, as a ‘nature’; recognition is contrived
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as primary cognition, spontaneous effect of the ‘evidence of the visible’" (32). This is precisely the kind of recognition (spontaneous and visible) specific to the stereotype: the "difference of the object of discrimination is at once visible and natural – colour as the cultural/political sign of inferiority or degeneracy, skin as its natural ‘identity’" (32). As a result of this epidermal schema, the colonial subject undergoes a "crucial splitting of the ego" (32): the subject is both "primordially fixed and yet triply split between the incongruent knowledges of body, race, ancestors" (32). However, by acceding to the wildest fantasies of the coloniser, the stereotyped also reveals something of the fantasy (as desire, defense) of that position of mastery. The colonial scene of fantasy is a peculiar bind of knowledge and fantasy, power and pleasure which informs a particular regime of visibility. In the "objectification of the scopic drive there is always the threatened reurn of the look; in the identification of the Imaginary relation there is always the alienating other (or mirror) which crucially returns its image to the subject; and in that form of substitution and fixation that is fetishism there is always the trace of loss, absence" (33). Accordingly, the "‘official knowledges’ of colonialism – pseudo-scientific, typological, legal-administrative, eugenicist – are imbricated at the point of their production of meaning and power with the fantasy that dramatises the impossible desire for a pure, undifferentiated origin" (33). This myth of origins is a "desire to return to the fullness of the mother, a desire for an unbroken and undifferentiated line of vision and origin" (34). What is being "dramatised is a separation -between races, cultures, histories . . . that repeats obsessively the mythical moment of disjunction" (34). Colonial fantasy and the productions of colonial desire do not ascribe but rather produce identities "in the syntax of the scenario of racist discourse" (33) and in this way play a crucial part in the everyday scenes of subjectification in colonial society. Such fantasies are akin to the most "primitive defensive reactions" (33) such as projection and negation. The negro both disrupts and meets the demand of colonial discourse: the chain of stereotypical signification is curiously mixed and split, an articulation of multiple belief. The black is both savage and obedient servant, rampantly sexual and innocent as a child, mystical and otherwordly, and wordly, an accompanied liar. The ambivalence of colonial desire is not concealed: colonial discourse frequently "proposes a teleology – under certain conditions of colonial domination and control the native is progressively reformable . . . it effectively displays the ‘separation,’ makes it more visible" (34-35) and it is the "visibility of this separation which, in denying the colonised the capacities of self-government, independence, western modes of civility, lends authority to the official version and mission of colonial power. In short, the racist discourse of colonialism recognises the difference of race, culture and history as elaborated by stereotypical knowledges, racial theories, administrative colonial experience, on the basis of which a whole range of political and cultural ideologies are institutionalised. Discriminatory and authoritarian modes of political control are authorised by ‘knowing’ the native populace in these terms. The colonised population is both cause and effect of the system and, as such, impprisoned in the vicious circle of interpretation. Hence, the necessity of such rules, justified by those moralistic and normative ideologies of amelioration recognised as the Civilising Mission and the White Man's Burden. Colonial discourse subtends more practical political and economic exigencies: the barracks stand by the Church which stands by the schoolroom.