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
Bhabha appropriates the Freudian concept of the ‘fetish’ to describe this median category between recognition of difference and its disavowal. familiar values impose themselves . . . It resembles a form of narrative whereby the productivity and circulation of subjects and signs are bound in a reformed and recognisable totality. . Said's point is that Orientalism is based on the copula is. The threat is muted. . images. The tense they employ is the timeless eternal.’ . . myths. perception. the polemical confrontation are the "lenses through which the Orient is experienced. 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. the encyclopaedic) and content/latent content. scenes of fear and desire" (25). Power functions productively as both interdiction and incitement: colonial texts are pervaded by the "return of the oppressed – those terrifying stereotypes of savagery. the fable. Orientalism is not the misrepresentation of an Oriental essence. . class and ideological differences) that marks out a "subject nation" (23). vacillates between the West's contempt for what is familiar and its shivers of delight in – or fear of – novelty" (26). 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. The orient . a new meridian category emerges . specifically. things seen for the first time. a regime of truth. W. . For Said. and they shape the language. that allows one to see new things. the stereotype. the historical enunciations of colonial discourse are necessarily functionally overdetermined or displaced by the unconscious scene of latent Orientalism. lust and anarchy which are the signal points of identification and alienation. or more simply to be. Moreover. Said puts it this way: the Orientalist will designate. It employs a system of representation. a "site of dreams. that "point at which Western rationalism preserves the boundaries of sense for itself" (24). (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. that is structurally similar to realism. reality. . . Such a mode of perception is a means of "controlling what seems to be a threat to some established view of things. point to. (qtd in Bhabha 23) Orientalism consists of both the historically constituted signifiers of stability of form/manifest content (the lexigraphic. Clarke LITS3304 Notes 08A
entirely knowable and visible. . Drawing upon Foucault's notion of the apparatus and. 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). 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). 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
. Said hints at this: the journey. . which then is considered either to have acquired. the mind reduces the pressure upon it by accommodating things to itself as either ‘original’ or ‘repetitious. . as versions of a previously known thing" (25). cannibalism. fix what he is talking or thinking about with a word or phrase. name. and form of the encounter between East and West" (25).Richard L. fantasies. . obsessions" (24). . 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.
an excision. . W. a Negro . 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 white child recognises and disavows the negro. I'm frightened" (28). (27) The negro's "race becomes the ineradicable sign of negative difference in colonial discourses. 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). 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. Asiatics duplicitous" (28). It is that possibility of difference and circulation which would liberate the signifier of skin/culture from the signifieds of racial typology. 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 fetish / stereotype "gives access to an ‘identity’ . 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). Bhabha argues for the reading of the stereotype in terms of fetishism: the "myth of origination – racial purity. The stereotype is not a "false representation of reality" (27): it is a "simplification because it is an arrested. a new genus. colour and culture" (27). This moment is experienced in Fanon’s account as an "amputation. fixated form of representation" (27) that denies the "play of difference (that the negation through the Other permits)" (27). ideologies of racial and cultural dominance or degeneration. . . 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. for the subject must be gendered to be engendered.’" (27).Richard L. the fetish "represents the simultaneous play between metaphor as substitution (masking absence and difference) and metonymy (which contiguously registers the perceived lack)" (27). The "scene of fetishism is . . We always already know that blacks are licentious. . . Within discourse. while the negro disavows his own race to identify with the positivity of whiteness: in the "act of disavowal and fixation the
. Clarke LITS3304 Notes 08A
and also condition it). . and the gaze of the white (child) which fixes the negro in his blackness: "Look. is that repetitious scene around the problem of castration. for us ‘Some do not have the same skin/race/culture. predicated as much on mastery and pleasure as it is on anxiety and defence" (27). the analytics of blood. . 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). comprised as it is of the recognition of difference and the disavowal of it. the seen in a way that stresses the si(gh)t(e) both of subjectification and power. The discourses of sexuality and race relate in a process of functional overdetermination: fetishism. Colonial culture offers the colonised subject a "primordial Either / Or. a haemmorhage that spattered my whole body with black blood" (28). "Fetishism is always a ‘play’ or vacillation between the archaic affirmation of wholeness/similarity – in Freud's terms ‘All men have penises’. both as coloniser and colonised is that form of negation which gives access to the recognition of difference in the symbolic. Either he is fixed" (27) as a solely negating activity or as a new kind of man. . as the disavowal of difference. What is denied the colonial subject. 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’. 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. to be spoken" (27).
the same old stories of the Negro's animality. The imaginary is that "transformation that takes place in the subject at the formative mirror phase. like the mirror phase. recognition is contrived
. discrimination must constantly reinforce the recognition of difference. that fixed form of difference" (30) that is the stereotype. Unlike the forgetting crucial to repression. Fanon himself recognised that the "originality of the colonial context is that the economic substructure is also a superstructure . an ‘other’ knowledge – a knowledge that . is not secret) implies that skin. The racist stereotype. as a signifier of discrimination. circulates through colonial discourse . as a ‘nature’. . unlike the sexual fetish. The "surveillance of colonial power" (28) functions in relation to the "regime of the scopic drive" (28). the ‘fullness’ of the stereotype is always threatened by lack. The stereotype is an "arrested. . The stereotype is located in those regimes of visibility and discursivity (fetishistic. Such a view provides a visibility to the exercise of power: "skin. must be produced or processed as visible" (31).Richard L. The stereotype "requires. samenesses. W. the primal scene. fetishistic mode of representation" (29) within a field of identification that is the Lacanian schema of the Imaginary. similarly. between the objects of the surrounding world" (29). . however. The fetishism of colonial discourse also permits certain knowledge-effects that promote discrimination: the epidermal schema of colonial discourse (skin. 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 metaphoric or masking function of the fetish corresponds to the narcissistic object-choice. gives knowledge of difference and simultaneously disavows it and. . when it assumes a discrete image which allows it to postulate a series of equivalences. and plays a public part in the racial drama that is enacted every day in colonial societies" (30). Clarke LITS3304 Notes 08A
colonial subject is returned to the narcissism of the Imaginary and its identification of an ideal ego that is white and whole" (28). There are thus two forms of identification complicit with the Imaginary – the narcissistic and aggressivity. for its successful signification. in Bhabha. . . . 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). political. scopic and imaginary) which constructs the signifier skin/race in accordance with the place of fantasy in the exercise of colonial power. What authorises discrimination is. 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). Looking. and sets up a discursive form of racial and cultural opposition in terms of which colonial power is exercised" (31). 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 problematic of fetishism and locates the surveyed object within the ‘imaginary’ relation. . . The stereotype is that "’fixated’ form of the colonial subject which facilitates colonial relations. The subject. a continual and repetitive chain of other stereotypes . 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 . 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. 31). is recognised as "’common knowledge’ in a range of cultural. 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. "recognises itself through an image which is simultaneously alienating and hence potentially confrontational" (29). as the "key signifier of cultural and racial difference in the stereotype" (30). . the Coolie's inscrutability or the stupidity of the Irish must be told (compulsively) again and fresh" (9). identities. hearing. however. you are rich because you are white" (qtd. historical discourses.
independence. Colonial discourse subtends more practical political and economic exigencies: the barracks stand by the Church which stands by the schoolroom. 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. . The black is both savage and obedient servant. 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. by acceding to the wildest fantasies of the coloniser. This myth of origins is a "desire to return to the fullness of the mother. on the basis of which a whole range of political and cultural ideologies are institutionalised. and in that form of substitution and fixation that is fetishism there is always the trace of loss. spontaneous effect of the ‘evidence of the visible’" (32). skin as its natural ‘identity’" (32).’ makes it more visible" (34-35) and it is the "visibility of this separation which. Such fantasies are akin to the most "primitive defensive reactions" (33) such as projection and negation. the racist discourse of colonialism recognises the difference of race. ancestors" (32). western modes of civility. in the identification of the Imaginary relation there is always the alienating other (or mirror) which crucially returns its image to the subject. absence" (33).
. racial theories. culture and history as elaborated by stereotypical knowledges. Accordingly. and wordly. . . Hence. defense) of that position of mastery. an accompanied liar. the "‘official knowledges’ of colonialism – pseudo-scientific.Richard L. cultures. In short. histories . impprisoned in the vicious circle of interpretation. As a result of this epidermal schema. In the "objectification of the scopic drive there is always the threatened reurn of the look. typological. race. What is being "dramatised is a separation -between races. However. 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 . the necessity of such rules. as such. administrative colonial experience. The colonial scene of fantasy is a peculiar bind of knowledge and fantasy. power and pleasure which informs a particular regime of visibility. rampantly sexual and innocent as a child. mystical and otherwordly. 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. eugenicist – are imbricated at the point of their production of meaning and power with the fantasy that dramatises the impossible desire for a pure. the stereotyped also reveals something of the fantasy (as desire. W. it effectively displays the ‘separation. 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. a desire for an unbroken and undifferentiated line of vision and origin" (34). lends authority to the official version and mission of colonial power. in denying the colonised the capacities of self-government. undifferentiated origin" (33). The colonised population is both cause and effect of the system and. . legal-administrative. justified by those moralistic and normative ideologies of amelioration recognised as the Civilising Mission and the White Man's Burden. Clarke LITS3304 Notes 08A
as primary cognition. Discriminatory and authoritarian modes of political control are authorised by ‘knowing’ the native populace in these terms. that repeats obsessively the mythical moment of disjunction" (34).