The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha

03/03/2013 21:01

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CULTURAL LIMINALITY / AESTHETIC CLOSURE? : THE "INTERSTITIAL PERSPECTIVE" OF HOMI BHABHA
by MARJORIE PERLOFF

Homi K. Bhabha's influential and widely disseminated essay "DissemiNation: Time, narrative and the margins of the modern nation" is a powerful critique of what Bhabha takes to be inadequate "essentialist" readings of nationhood-- readings that attempt to define and naturalize Third World "nations" by means of the supposedly homogenous, holistic, and historically continuous traditions that falsely define and ensure their subordinate status. Nations and cultures, he argues both here and throughout The Location of Culture, must be understood as "narrative" constructions that arise from the "hybrid" interaction of contending national and cultural constituencies:
It is in the emergence of the interstices-the overlap and displacement of domains of difference-that the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated. . . . Terms of cultural engagement, whether antagonistic or affiliative, are produced performatively. The representation of difference must not be hastily read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition. The social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation. (LC 2)

The "interstitial perspective," as Bhabha calls it (LC 3), replaces "the polarity of a prefigurative self-generating nation 'in itself' and extrinsic other nations" with the notion of "cultural liminality within the nation" (LC 148). "The liminal figure of the nation-space would ensure that no political ideologies could claim transcendent or metaphysical authority for themselves. This is because the subject of cultural discourse-the agency of a people-is split in the discursive ambivalence that emerges in the contest of narrative authority between the pedagogical and the performative" (LC 148)-which is to say, between the people's status as "historical 'objects' of a nationalist pedagogy," and their ability to perform themselves as "'subjects' of a process of signification that must erase any prior or originary [national] presence" (LC145). Hybridity, liminality, "interrogatory, interstitial space" (LC 3)-these are the positive values Bhabha opposes to a retrograde historicism that continues to dominate Western critical thinking, a "linear narrative of the nation," with its
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according to Holquist. with the loss of the manuscript on which he had worked for at least two years (1936-38). he had torn them up page by page during the war to make wrappers for his endless chain of cigarettes.buffalo. men and women. literary. on border situations and thresholds as the sites where identities are performed and contested. Rather than emphasizing the opposition between First World and Third World nations. In advancing this revisionist argument. we might more profitably focus on the faultlines themselves. and art texts. undo such thinking with its facile binary oppositions. from Marx to Chantal Mouffe to Toni Morrison: citations from these "authorities"-some of them artists.html Page 2 of 13 . (MMB xiii) I mention these awful circumstances because. It is the treatment of the literary and the artistic vis-à-vis what Bhabha calls the "liminal site of modern society"(LC 146) that I wish to consider here. Bhabha would have it. ." in which Bhabha is questioning the "progressive metaphor of modern social cohesion-the many as one-shared by organic theories of the holism of culture and community. . He began smoking pages from the conclusion of the manuscript. and by theorists who treat gender. he argues eloquently. as we shall note below. early in "DissemiNation. in which argument tends to be subordinated to exhortation. from effects that grew out of the Second World War. photographs and art installations that are germane to his argument.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 claims for the "holism of culture and community" and a "fixed horizontal nation-space" (LC 142). between colonizer and colonized. Let me begin with the passage. as someone trained as a literary scholar (with a doctorate in English). novels and poems. as that narrative is seen through the lens of Bakhtin's critical analysis in his essay "The Bildungsroman and Its Significance in the History of Realism. actually a fragment from one of Bakhtin's several lost books: Its nonappearance resulted . especially to the writings of Derrida and Lacan. We must. Bhabha seems to be most comfortable when he alludes to poststructuralist theory. Bhabha draws on an astonishing variety of theoretical. it http://epc. . is. . composed in the late 1930s and published in English translation in Speech Genres & Other Late Essays (1986). most of them political or cultural theorists as well as philosophers-are woven together so as to constitute what we might call an oratorical collage. he also cites.edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. black and white. due to the paper shortage. Bakhtin retained only certain preparatory materials and a prospectus of the book. . But. edited by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. His example of such cultural holism-of the "founding dictum." This essay. Sovetsky pistael (Soviet Writer). straight and gay. so what we have is a small portion of its opening section." E pluribus unum-is Goethe's classic travel book Italienische Reise (Italian Journey. throughout The Location of Culture. From A to Z (Althusser to Zizek). class or race as social totalities that are expressive of unitary collective experiences" (LC142). primarily about Goethe. was blown up in the early months of the German invasion. the publishing house that was to bring out Bakhtin's book The Novel of Education and Its Significance in the History of Realism.

those who were strolling about return to their homes. But here. for example. .html Page 3 of 13 . For the ordinary observer. for example. (IJ 42. sunset is an important moment. to "visualize time" (MMB 30). This chronotope-Bakhtin's famous term for the space-time unit in narrative. when night falls. The bells ring. because the pleasures of their existence are related not to the precise hour. . If one were to force a German clock hand on them. One of Bakhtin's examples of Goethe's visualization of time is the following passage from the Italian Journey: In a country where everyone enjoys the day but the evening even more.buffalo. Conversely. We Cimmerians hardly know the real meaning of day. the father wants to see his daughter back in the house-the day has ended. Bhabha. Hannibal had given battle here and what stupendous feats of valour had taken place on this very spot. When. But in fact. they change internally. there being no trace. when its imprint on nature and culture can be seen. . the rosary is said. . since we are so little given to take walks and enjoy ourselves out of doors." seems to take this http://epc. MMB 31) And Goethe appends a sketch in which he uses concentric circles to give a visually graphic image of the relationship between Italian time and its German counterpart. and create weather. In the essay fragment we have. For the author of the Italian Journey. and people who live here are so full of vitality that this does not confuse them. Goethe's meteorological theories. the day consisting of evening and morning is definitely over. of past acts of violence and war.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 provides an interesting "national" context for Bakhtin's own literary perspective." Goethe irritatedly rejects what he calls an "odious evocation of defunct ghosts" (IJ 222). the guide explains "how. were often quite wrong even though they gave him a wealth of metaphors for poetry. . who cites this passage in "DissemiNation. for example. "the word coincided with the clearest visibility. "Mountains are the epitome of stasis. With our perpetual fogs and cloudy skies we do not care if it is day or night. Behind each static multiformity he saw multitemporality (MMB 28). long ago. . the embodiment of immobility and immutability" (MMB 29). All work stops. . is at once representative of a larger shift from Romanticism to Realism at Goethe's moment but also. in the landscape before him. as Bakhtin makes clear. . Bakhtin posits that Goethe had the "startling ability to see time in space" and vice-versa. His eyes did not recognize simple spatial contiguities or the simple coexistence of things and phenomena. but to the time of day. . Bakhtin shows with a wealth of detail. they would be at a loss. in a mountain valley south of Palermo. .edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. Bakhtin shows. Goethe is only interested in history when it can be visualized. curiously idiosyncratic. so the Goethe of the Italian Journey observes. the maid enters the room with a lighted lamp and says: "Felicissima notte!" This period of time varies in length according to the season. a curious mental block sets in. their appearance contains their history. But at the same time his eyes did not want to (and could not) see that which was readymade and immobile. When it cannot. become active.The invisible did not exist for him.

" Bakhtin looked for categories that transcend specific nation and culture: he moves easily across space and time from Goethe to Rabelais to Dostoievsky. on the contrary.edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. Neither in the Bildungsroman fragment nor in related essays is nation a critical category. "The recurrent metaphor. Perhaps this was the case because. can ever articulate its 'representative' authority in that fullness of narrative time and visual synchrony of the sign that Bakhtin proposes" (LC144). . And Bhabha calls this "a national vision of emergence. the Soviet Union. "Goethe's realist narrative. the Italian Journey. and . and the unaccountable (Unzuberechnendes) are consistently surmounted by the structuring process of the visualization of time" (LC143). . for that matter-history in general--seem to be of little interest to Bhabha. or at least Bakhtin's reading of it. Goethe's narrative is an example of a false holism. http://epc. questions of nationhood or ethnicity naturally took the back-seat to larger issues of speech patterning and literary structure." he claims. the terrifying (Unerfreuliches).buffalo.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 relationship quite literally. "Can we accept Bakhtin's repeated attempt to read the national space as achieved only in the fullness of time" (LC 144)? And he concludes: "We are led to ask whether the emergence of a national perspective-of an élite or subaltern nature-within a culture of social contestation." he remarks. as an exile. "Can this national time-space. as a self-designated "philosophical anthropologist. Given this willed suppression of what Freud was to call the uncanny (daß Unheimliche). . throughout his precarious and tragic life. "the Realist and Romantic conceptions of time coexist in Goethe's work. Houston Baker's innovative reading of the 'new national modes of sounding. Does the fact that Bakhtin's fragmentary text was written in the 1930s. "produces a national-historical time that makes visible a specifically Italian day in the detail of its passing time." A triumph." he surmises. Bhabha does make the qualification that the "fullness of time" in Italian Journey is not achieved without a "narrative struggle. is "of landscape as the inscape of national identity".html Page 4 of 13 . if not to say prisoner. . Barrell's and Baker's fifty years later in the eighties (1983 and 1987 respectively) make any difference? Chronology-or. the passage illustrates "the power of the eye to naturalize the rhetoric of national affiliation and its forms of collective expression" (LC 143." "From the beginning . . to narrative mode and generic choice. in his own nation. but the ghostly (Gespenstermässiges). "be as fixed or as immediately visible as Bakhtin claims?" (LC143). it seems. my italics). interpreting and speaking the Negro in the Harlem Renaissance'." As such. as is evident from his repeated assumption that the "fullness of narrative time and visual synchrony of the sign" are somehow equivalent to nationhood. is compared unfavorably to later "accounts of the emergence of national narratives"-John Barrell's "splendid analysis of the rhetorical and perspectivel status of the 'English gentleman' within the social diversity of the eighteenth-century novel." Bhabha asks. of contemporary theory over the merely literary text (Goethe's) as well as its mere critical elucidation (Bakhtin's).

"Can I learn to look at things with clear." he writes of the passage through the Tyrolean Alps. is fixated on difference. so that one is almost reduced to a state of nature. a difference between the rural and the urban. Now.html Page 5 of 13 . far from treating everyday life in Italy as a "progressive metaphor of modern social cohesion" (LC 142). on the shores of Lake Garda. The commentary might apply to Boston and Barcelona as easily as to "the German" and the "Italian. Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced? This is what I am trying to discover. "I had hoped. "Having taken this journey in order to escape the inclemencies I had suffered on the fifty-first parallel. every rock formation. Then the windows are closed with oil paper instead of glass. for the first time I had a pure-bred Italian as a postilion. he notes that here "the language changes abruptly. Indeed an actual reading of the Italian Journey would have shown Bhabha that this particular travel book. Goethe's visually-minded narrator is aware of every new flower. a comparison of a locale in which the greyness of daylight gradually modulates in the black of night with one where the bright day suddenly ends when the sun sets.edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. . pre-nationalist culture within which Goethe operated. especially those which cross countries from east to west" (IJ 14). fresh eyes? .nor the performative--the people's ability to perform themselves as "'subjects' of a process of signification that must erase any prior or originary [national] presence" (LC145). I found myself disappointed. dove vuol!" was his friendly answer" (IJ 25)." although Goethe's weather and time maps would then have to be adjusted. A definitive difference between nations? Rather. he pointed down into the courtyard. The fact that I have to look after myself keeps me mentally alert all the time and I find that I am developing a new elasticity of mind" (IJ 21). The innkeeper speaks no German and I must put my linguistic talents to the test" (24). When I asked the servant for a certain place. where bathroom arrangements will be quite different.buffalo. and transformation-the very hybridity he takes it to deny. it is helpful to remember that the Italienische Reise was written between 1786-88. the doors have no locks. North of this point it had wavered between German and Italian. In the pre-Napoleonic. because latitude by itself does not make a climate but mountain ranges do. almost a hundred years before Italy actually was a unified nation. the course of every mountain stream. though the innkeeper assures me that I would not have to worry if all my belongings were made of diamonds. a highly necessary convenience is lacking. In the context of Goethe's narrative. "Da per tutto. And soon.would seem to be especially relevant. I must confess. "Qui abasso può servirsi!" "Dove?" I asked. otherness. And a few days later from Bolzano. as I should have known beforehand. . the comparison of "German" to "Italian weather" cited above is little more than a comparison of Northern and Southern life styles.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 As for Goethe. . To begin with. Finally. http://epc. neither what Bhabha calls the pedagogical imperative--the people's status as "historical 'objects' of a nationalist pedagogy. to enter a true Goshen on the forty-eighth. he finds himself (latitude 45 degrees and 50 minutes) in "a totally unfamiliar environment" (IJ 25): The people lead the careless life of a fool's paradise. Arriving in Roverto en route to Verona.

depopulated city in the middle of a flat plain. Florence. a contemporary of the great decrees of destiny. At first nobody in the house knows what one wants to see. the art and culture of the Quattrocento being quite unfamiliar to him. and the unaccountable as elements of Goethe's "initial. uncertain state of cultural belief when the archaic emerges in the midst of margins of modernity" (LC 143). 1786: For the first time on my trip I am in low spirits and feel utterly indifferent to this beautiful. Instead of Tasso's prison we are shown a woodshed or coal cellar in which he was certainly not confined. and we persuade ourselves that we are edified by visiting their shrines. who wants to see this "narrative struggle" as the "repression of a 'cultural' unconscious. often even the same column or the same wall. I was reminded of Dr. which were strong in his initial feeling of a merged past and present" (MMB 36). the reference being to the psychological difficulties of the poet's postgraduate days. the terrifying (Unerfreuliches). talks about the ghostly. The mausoleum of Ariosto contains a great deal of badly distributed marble.buffalo.html Page 6 of 13 .edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. Consider the following entry from Ferrara dated October 16. is a town that doesn't speak to Goethe and which he passes through quickly. and in its people one still finds traces of their ancient character. within both." But the charms of Einfühlung don't always work: sometimes. the terrifying. as I remarked earlier. is. but also how. for Goethe. There must be something of an itinerant journeyman about most travellers to make them want to look for such signs. Contemplating this. as it were. Once upon a time these same streets were animated by a brilliant court. (IJ 91-92). the visible remains impenetrable. by contrast.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 Goethe's main thrust is to differentiate Venice from Florence. a liminal. yet it is still the same soil. Here Ariosto lived disappointed and Tasso unhappy. Florence from Rome. to grasp not only how Modern Rome follows Ancient. in that it bears witness to the complex strata of its past: Here is an entity which has suffered so many drastic changes in the course of two thousand years. as Bakhtin says. This is an instance of what Bakhtin calls the "fullness and clarity of the visibility of the time in space. Bhabha. the observer becomes. The absence of connection here recalls the Hannibal-in-Sicily passage I cited earlier. youthful failure of assimilating the past. for example. and the unaccountable (Unzuberechnendes). as recounted by the late Goethe in his autobiography. let us note. and later from Naples and Palermo. makes a curious clinamen that somewhat gives his game away. the same hill. one epoch follows another (IJ 120). the "great chronotope of human history" (MMB 40). Rome. and this makes it difficult for him to follow the evolution of the city. Bakhtin. but not before they have been tipped." that is. And there are many such disconnects-moments when the spatial and temporal fail to intersect producing the psychic pain Bakhtin refers to in his discussion of "the ghostly (Gespentermässiges). Luther's famous ink stain which is touched up from time to time by the custodian of the castle. Dichtung und http://epc. After a while they remember.

edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. "That's not good news. culturally constructed or not. but Unerfreuliches is quite wrongly translated as "the terrifying.. given Bhabha's declared distrust of the authentic. as illustration for the larger theoretical and ideological statements the cultural critic wishes to make. is. as is." The adjective Unerfreulich from which the noun is formed is a fairly mild epithet. not in the Italian Journey. that Goethe uses the three German nouns quoted above. exemplified by The Location of Culture. "renews the past. and autobiographer as well as a more-than-amateur chemist. The gesture toward origins. with teasing out the etymologies and semantic values of a given author's more difficult terms. Two of the nouns are correctly translated. "Such art. differance. It is there. preferably cited in their original language or from an original source and reproduced from an original manuscript. that innovates and interrupts http://epc.the nation. The same thing is likely to occur-and I turn now a quite different example -when Bhabha deals with contemporary art works. the true." one that "creates a sense of the new as an insurgent act of cultural translation" (LC 7). Bhabha who follows Bakhtin in citing the original German is merely copying his source. In the Introduction to The Location of Culture." "tiresome. a legacy of the New Historicism. dramatist. it means "unpleasant." he suggests. Thus Goethe's Italian Journey is read as conveying a particular message-E pluribus unum-even though it deals with the confrontation of a "strange" and alien culture on the part of an extraordinary late eighteenth-century European poet. The citation of examples. and botanist. But whereas a critic like Stephen Greenblatt gives the literary text. equal time with the nonliterary texts under consideration. illustrating and exemplifying the political and ideological thesis of the critic who happens to find it of use. and (2) that the word in question is untranslatable and hence must be referred to in its original or "true" state.g. who regularly cite the foreign word (e. Gayatri Spivak in her Introduction to Grammatology. imaginaire) in parentheses so as to indicate that (1) they have direct access to the original. his practice here and elsewhere in The Location of Culture serves no function except to guarantee some sort of authenticity to the original --an odd phenomenon. of course.html Page 7 of 13 . geologist. But since Bhabha is not concerned." But why does Bhabha cite the German to begin with? The reversion to the original is a practice he may have derived from Derrida and Lacan exegetes.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 Wahrheit (see MMB 35). evidently." "displeasing. is an arena of contestation and rival performativities--the artwork has. is to reduce the primary text to mere counter or commodity. jouissance. meteorologist." The sentence "Daß ist Unerfreulich" is rather like saying. Whereas Bhabha's cultural model is characterized by its hybridities and liminalities -. graphein. the more recent "Cultural Studies" trend. no more than instrumental value. for the Italian Journey functions for Bhabha only as example. Bhabha talks of "the borderline work of culture" as one that "demands an encounter with 'newness' that is not part of the continuum of past and present. say.buffalo. refiguring it as a contingent 'in-between' space. the organic." "unsatisfactory. a poet who is also a novelist. We know this because Bakhtin has curiously and quite uncharacteristically made a mistake that Bhabha repeats. remains suspended. we are told again and again. pharmakos. in any case.

is embodied in a navigational allegory. As the curator for the Witte de With exhibition in Rotterdam.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 refiguring it as a contingent 'in-between' space. they embody the Benjaminian 'present': that moment blasted out of the continuum of history" (LC 8). that innovates and interrupts the performance of the present" (LC 7). . Transnational capitalism and the impoverishment of the Third World certainly create the chains of circumstance that incarcerate the Salvadorean or the Filipino/a. hither and thither. The underpaid and the understaffed crew could be Salvadorean or Filipino. The very identity of http://epc. the non-synchronous time-space of transnational 'exchange'. ironizes not only the picturesque harbor scenes that are a staple of Impressionist and modernist painting. in Fish Story nothing is "readily visible.buffalo. . . Bhabha seems to take this as a confirmation of his own program for the "articulation of cultural differences . innovative sites of collaboration. with its sequence of hundreds of color photographs.' The harbour and the stockmarket become the paysage moralisé of a containerized. A scratchy recording of the Norwegian national anthem blares out from a loudspeaker at the Sailor's Home on the bluff above the channel. slide sequences. put it: Former harbors have been transformed into palatial residential districts." (LC 8) And Bhabba cites Sekula's own comment in the Preface to Fish Story: Things are more confused now. by means of bright colors and their seemingly "objective" view of ships' interior. But does Fish Story in fact embody this "babel on the bluff"? Sekula's 1995 traveling exhibition." to use Bakhtin's term. reproduced in book form by October (MIT) Books. while far beyond the horizon line of the city and out of view of its inhabitants. By contrast. It was built by Koreans working long hours in the giant shipyards of Ulsan. in the very flux of exchange.html Page 8 of 13 . and text panels that comment on the project. . standardized containers are loaded and unloaded by automatic means. and contestation" (LC 1-2). it is in the photographic art of Alan [sic] Sekula that takes the borderline condition of cultural translation to its global limit in Fish Story. The sequential photographic frames display. Only the Captain hears a familiar melody. In their cultural passage. boat people. but also those dramatic pictures of oil spills. and other struggling workers [figures 1 & 2]. as migrant workers.that initiate . The container ship being greeted flies a Bahamian flag of convenience. part of the massive economic and political diaspora of the modern world. computerized world of global trade. Yet.edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. and burning aircraft carriers that flood the media. and exploitation. . As he explains it: "Norway's nationalist nostalgia cannot drown out the babel on the bluff. longshoremen. . his photographic project on harbours: 'the harbor is the site in which material goods appear in bulk. barren and inhospitable terrains have risen where cargoes packed into huge. a shipping industry that has been stripped of the colorful role it once played in cultural life. A primary instance is the work of Los Angeles photographer Allan Sekula: .

The message about the destruction of the social fabric on the part of global capital is clear enough. Fish Story posits the classic Marxist binary between rich and poor. . The fact that a given ship from the Bahamas was built by Koreans.html Page 9 of 13 . and piers under construction (see figure 3) suggest the vitality of the expanding economy". Sekula's is a straightforwardly Marxist interpretation of the damage global capitalism has inflicted on the workers-in this case. a sign of the hybridity or the liminality of the waterfront system. images of Russian.where I have had the good fortune to see it. capitalist and worker. and so on. jobs are becoming scarce and those who are employed have to work harder and harder just to keep their heads above water. sailors. The order of this world is one of extreme stratification. but here the bright colors and idealized figures are parodic. as it does. its traditionally close ties with the population have been undermined.of the world. This artful photographic discourse. crew and work force. the captain is First World.edu/authors/perloff/bhabha.dwarfed by the girders. but it is a message that http://epc. labor conditions are deteriorating. has a crew made up of Salvadoreans and Filipinos. machinists. "as a coherent sociological exploration of the port's political and economic realities." according to the exhibition's curator Moira Kenney.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 the world of shipping has been obscured through the forces of industrialization and a concomitant increase in magnitude. Working on a Belgian ship sailing from Abu Dhabi with cranes built by Filipino laborers. Kenney adds: Against this backdrop. defining. As such. and other varieties of huge and strangely beautiful machinery-machinery that hardly needs their participation. the crew from the Third. "the growing inequity of a multinational economic transformation that has not trickled into lived Los Angeles" (Kenney) present us with stark and often powerful images. and longshoremen-. . ships. An even stronger irony is suggested in the portrait of Mason Davis [see figure 3]. people of color. On the contrary. . A sequel to Fish Story called Freeway to China has recently been exhibited at the Getty Center for the Humanities. dock workers. pinpointing as they do the bleak life of the actual workers --welders. the Captain is white. the Russians represent a new migrant workforce.buffalo. even as its captain is Norwegian. . These new consecutive-frame images of the Los Angeles port at San Pedro "are immediately readable. I would argue. cranes. it ironically reproduces the very discourse of class and ethnicity Bhabha has been at such pains to oppose. but. formalistic images of cranes. German and American workers complicate this expansionist argument. . is not. an African American welder who represents the local labor pool that has worked only sporadically since the recent federal cuts in defense spending. disenfranchised by the collapse of the Soviet Union. . At the center of the group. shop stewards-. reminiscent in their bright red and black posters of the late Rodchenko. colonizer and colonized. although the narrative emphasizes its distinctions and disruptions.

the San Pedro labor pool may include poor black locals and Filipino migrant workers as well as recent Russian immigrants.html Page 10 of 13 . the secondariness of the art construct vis-à-vis the critic's theoretical discourse affects even the discussion of a novel Bhabha does seem to have read-Toni Morrison's Beloved. they wear the same uniform and hence look very much alike [figure 4]. Indeed. then.buffalo. the "Fish Story" of European maritime progress. Who is Beloved? Now we may say: she is the sister that returns to Denver.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 seems curiously at odds with Bhabha's own liminality model. we would be hard put to read these photos as staging what Bhabha describes as "the 'right' to signify from the periphery of authorized power and privilege" (LC 2). border discourse-these are notably missing in the photos themselves. the very binary opposition of past and present. if Sekula's accompanying text did not tell us about their differences. Perhaps Sekula struck him as a kindred spirita fellow-Contributing Editor to October. Indeed. disembodied like the dead children who lost their ribbons. oppressor and oppressed that Bhabha has been at such pains to contest (see LC 35). Jewish Californian. he discusses the role of Beloved herself in Morrison's novel and produces the following hyperbolic catechistic sequence: Who is Beloved? Now we understand: she is the daughter that returns to Sethe so that her mind will be homeless no more. performativity. the fugitive who died in his escape. True. is curiously elided in the critic's drive to establish his theoretical credentials and parameters and hence to let the art and literary chips fall where they may. Contestation.edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. Who is Beloved? Now we know: she is the daughter made of murderous love who returns to love and hate and free herself. But there is no mistaking what her words say as they rise from the dead despite their lost syntax and their http://epc. that it reinscribes. Bhabha judges the art work by its captions and accompanying didactic panels rather than by anything that is actually there. after all. tradition and modernity. Why. in his eagerness to find supporting evidence for what is. moreover. like the lynched people with broken necks. and brings hope of her father's return. does Bhabha use Sekula's art work as illustrative material? Perhaps because. but in Secula's poster-like photographs. In the Introduction to The Location of Culture. a white. a fellow professor (Sekula. That this narrative is itself romantic. a theoretical rather than an empirical construct. Her words are broken. teaches the Visual Arts at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia and composed Freeway to China during his tenure as Senior Scholar at the Getty)-and he evidently admired the artist's mise en question of the grand narrative of pre-Industrial culture.

In its general outlines. of Bakhtin. whose exile. male and female. subalternity. now we may say." as one of the purveyors of the "plenitudinous present and eternal visibility of a past" (LC151). that the postcolonial location is one where the binary opposition of oppressor and oppressed. his resort to writing paper for the making of cigarette wrappers. But then. more pathos than dianoia. the property of her own person" (LC 17) can be stated thus baldly? And third-and here I turn in conclusion from literary meaning to literary history. for example. produced by a middle-class urban. that the new playing field is one of performative contestation rather than ethnic or national separation and rivalry. But the commodification of literature and artthe treatment of complex novels. Goethe's Italian Journey will still be read. Think. compare with actual slave narrative? And what about the modes of production and reception of Beloved? How do bestsellerdom and the Nobel Prize relate to marginality and hybridity? At what border. long after even Bakhtin's brilliant analyses of chronotopes and dialogism have been qualified by newer theoretical and critical models. with the help of many fellowships and grants. may well destroy the paradigm from within. (LC 17) Now we understand. in other words. that other large area occluded by the cultural-theory paradigm before us-how does the generic slave narrative cum ghost story of the late 1980s. the moment of writing is not germane to the larger argument. writing from those very interstices of society (and. What is a novel that it can so readily and melodramatically be explained away? More important for our purposes here: what is the marginal. his being more manifesto than reasoned argument. and thus unable to invent himself as a "performative subject" or to contest the various dominant discourses of Stalinist Russia. college-educated AfricanAmerican novelist.edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. the ceremonial oratory of display. I suspect. poems. does not prevent him from being seen. and art works as so much illustrative material for the "larger" goal of making profound ethical and epistemological generalizations.html Page 11 of 13 . a novel "about" the impact of slavery for those who have experienced it? These. in "DissemiNation. any more than it matters that the word Italian. are not questions that would interest Homi Bhabha. http://epc. for that matter. Bakhtin. the liminal. now we know. the interstitial.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 fragmented presence. did Toni Morrison struggle as she composed. and suppression. only a loose assemblage of geographically and linguistically related city-states and provinces. has become irrelevant. could hardly refer to a nation-state. marginalized. even as it has already been read for more than two hundred years. master and victim. in Bahbha's scheme of things. his liminality model is not without some astonishing ironies. in Goethe's day. For long after Bhabha's "DissemiNation" has disappeared from the library shelves. of Western Europe) that Bhabha finds so appealing. a Bakhtin who was powerless. We must not overstate the case. if the "affirmative" message that "the slave mother regain[s] through the presence of the child. there being no unified Italy.buffalo. In the meantime. after all. that has won Bhabha such enthusiastic readers and prevented us from asking too many hard questions. Perhaps it is the epideictic mode. Bhabha's hybridity paradigm has enormous appeal: we want to believe.

"The Bildungsroman and Its Significance in the History of Realism (Toward a Historical Typology of the Novel). and why? Goethe. pp. San Francisco. M. ed. 10-59. 2. 1998). Vern W. 1982). Again. his is a common strategy in contemporary criticism.'s Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Because the chapter titles are printed in capital letters. Bakhtin. . is defined as "a term associated with the 19th century German theory of . Why. have nothing to say about urban geography or about the relation of city to the natural environment? Why no rivers and mountains in Bhahba's essays. in a recent announcement for Christopher Reiner's Ogling Anchor (Baker and Taylor. 291-322. but a funny thing has happened to Bhabha's punning "DissemiNation" in the revised version. I suspect.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 more than two hundred years. It is reprinted in somewhat revised form in Bhabha's The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge. ed. The reference is to John Barrell's English Literature in History.Zurich . FOOTNOTES 1. for example. H.Ahmedabad. North Point. M." All further references to the essay are to The Location of Culture. 1994). then. Bakhtin. frequently cited in scholarly journals in the wrong case as "the Unheimlich-where the neuter demonstrative pronoun-Daß-demands the noun Unheimliche.<1786-1788> (1962. 1987). Perhaps. Bhabha (London and New York: Routledge.Paris . instead of doing a Bhabhian reading of Goethe we might do a Goethean reading of Bhabha. 3. the noun Witz (German for "joke"). subsequently cited as LC. LC 144. does this widely travelled critic ("DissemiNation." we read in the dedication to Paul Moritz Strimpel. 1983) and Houston Baker Jr. in M. Subsequently cited in the text as MMB The best translation of Goethe's Italienische Reise is W. no references to latitude or longitude? When did weather cease to play a part in constructing human consciousness. 1986). trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist.buffalo. In all fairness to Bhahba.html Page 12 of 13 . Speech Genres & Other Late Essays. the title now appears simply as "DISSEMINATION. subsequently cited as IJ.edu/authors/perloff/bhabha. 1990). bears the imprint of Pforzheim . . would have interesting things to say on these and similar questions. McGee (Austin: University of Texas Press. 'romantic poetry' and referred to by Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthes [sic] in The Literary Absolute as the 'other knowledge'other than logical discursive analytical knowledge. 139-70. pp. one of the best examples being the constant garbling of the Freudian uncanny.BombayMilan-Lugano"). 4. The essay first appeared as the final chapter in Nation and Narration. Homi K. The lower-case letters used in the title are intentional. pp. M. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer's Italian Journey ." http://epc. 1730-1780 (London: Hutchinson.

LC 8. curated for the Getty Research Institute Exhibition Gallery by Moira Kenney. 1995). 1996February 23. 1997.net | Back to Marjorie Perloff's Homepage | Back to the EPC Homepage ©1998 Marjorie Perloff ©1998 Design: oo- http://epc.rotterdam. 291.boijmans. "'Middle Passage' from 'Fish Story'. 7. see p. Freeway to China was exhibited together with Robbert Flick's sequential photographs of Los Angeles boulevards. Cf Allan Sekula Fish Story (Cambridge: MIT Press.html Page 13 of 13 . mperloff@earthlink.. December 21. in a show called Port and Corridor: Working Sites in Los Angeles (August 15-October 18.edu/authors/perloff/bhabha.buffalo. 1998). In the Nation and Narration version. 8.The "Interstitial Perspective" of Homi Bhabha 03/03/2013 21:01 5." http:/www. Rotterdam. 266. this catalogue appears as the epigraph.ni/engels/agenda/archief/tsekula. Allan Sekula.htm." Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art. 6. in LC it denies this pride of place and put in the first footnote: see p. See catalogue.

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