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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 pregiven 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)

We must. and art texts. 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). From A to Z (Althusser to Zizek)." and their ability to perform themselves as "'subjects' of a process of signification that must erase any prior or originary [national] presence" (LC145). In advancing this revisionist argument. straight and gay." as Bhabha calls it (LC 3). liminality. "The liminal figure of the nation-space would ensure that no political ideologies could claim transcendent or metaphysical authority for themselves. between the people's status as "historical 'objects' of a nationalist pedagogy.2 The "interstitial perspective. between colonizer and colonized. men and women. . Rather than emphasizing the opposition between First World andThird World nations. he argues eloquently. literary. Hybridity. interstitial space" (LC 3)-these are the positive values Bhabha opposes to a retrograde historicism that continues to dominate Western critical thinking. undo such thinking with its facile binary oppositions. a "linear narrative of the nation." with its claims for the "holism of culture and community" and a "fixed horizontal nation-space" (LC 142). "interrogatory. Bhabha would have it. black and white. Bhabha draws on an astonishing variety of theoretical. on border situations and thresholds as the sites where identities are performed and contested. we might more profitably focus on the faultlines 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.

" E pluribus unum-is Goethe's classic travel book ItalienischeReise (Italian Journey. throughout The Location of Culture. in which argument tends to be subordinated to exhortation. 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. Let me begin with the passage. Bhabha seems to be most comfortable when he alludes to poststructuralist theory. But. class or race as social totalities that are expressive of unitary collective experiences" (LC142). ." 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." This essay. especially to the writings of Derrida and Lacan.3 from Marx to Chantal Mouffe to Toni Morrison: citations from these "authorities"-some of them artists. composed in the late 1930s and published in English translation in Speech Genres & Other Late Essays (1986). and by theorists who treat gender. His example of such cultural holism-of the "founding dictum. he also cites. . actually a fragment from one of Bakhtin's several lost books: Its nonappearance resulted . according to Holquist. edited by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. novels and poems. as someone trained as a literary scholar (with a doctorate in English). early in "DissemiNation. photographs and art installations that are germane to his argument. from effects that grew out of the Second World . 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. is. It is the treatment of the literary and the artistic vis-àvis what Bhabha calls the "liminal site of modern society"(LC 146) that I wish to consider here.

Sovetsky pistael (Soviet Writer). of past acts of violence and war. For the ordinary observer. was blown up in the early months of the German invasion. He began smoking pages from the conclusion of the manuscript. a curious mental block sets in. When it cannot. their appearance contains their history. when its imprint on nature and culture can be seen. For . in the landscape before him. they change internally. . as we shall note below. "Mountains are the epitome of stasis. the publishing house that was to bring out Bakhtin's book The Novel of Education and Its Significance in the History of Realism.4 War. Bakhtin posits that Goethe had the "startling ability to see time in space" and vice-versa. there being no trace. the guide explains "how. Bakhtin retained only certain preparatory materials and a prospectus of the book. for example. so the Goethe of the Italian Journey observes. with the loss of the manuscript on which he had worked for at least two years (1936-38). so what we have is a small portion of its opening section. become active. Goethe is only interested in history when it can be visualized. In the essay fragment we have. to "visualize time" (MMB 30). (MMB xiii) I mention these awful circumstances because. due to the paper shortage. he had torn them up page by page during the war to make wrappers for his endless chain of cigarettes. in a mountain valley south of Palermo. But in fact. Conversely. . Hannibal had given battle here and what stupendous feats of valour had taken place on this very spot. long ago. the embodiment of immobility and immutability" (MMB 29). primarily about Goethe." Goethe irritatedly rejects what he calls an "odious evocation of defunct ghosts" (IJ 222). . Bakhtin shows. for example. When. and create weather. it provides an interesting "national" context for Bakhtin's own literary perspective.

"the word coincided with the clearest visibility. Goethe's meteorological theories.The invisible did not exist for him. sunset is an important moment. and people who live here are so full of vitality that this does not confuse them. . Bakhtin shows with a wealth of detail. when night falls. . 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. is at once representative of a larger shift from Romanticism to Realism at Goethe's moment but also. This chronotopeBakhtin's famous term for the space-time unit in narrative. Behind each static multiformity he saw multitemporality (MMB 28). the rosary is said. as Bakhtin makes clear. All work stops. for example. . With our perpetual fogs and cloudy skies we do not care if it is day or night. because the pleasures of their existence are related not to the precise hour. We Cimmerians hardly know the real meaning of day. . the day consisting of evening and morning is definitely over. curiously idiosyncratic. those who were strolling about return to their homes. But here. the maid enters the room with a lighted lamp and says: "Felicissima notte!" This period of time varies in length according to the season. The bells ring. the father wants to see his daughter back in the house-the day has ended.5 the author of the Italian Journey. His eyes did not recognize simple spatial contiguities or the simple coexistence of things and phenomena. . . since we are so little given to take walks and enjoy ourselves out of doors. . . were often quite wrong even though they gave him a wealth of metaphors for poetry. But at the same time his eyes did not want to (and could not) see that which was ready-made and immobile.

.6 but to the time of day. ." seems to take this relationship quite literally. is "of landscape as the inscape of national identity". the passage illustrates "the power of the eye to naturalize the rhetoric of national affiliation and its forms of collective expression" (LC 143. "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 perspectiveof an élite or subaltern nature-within a culture of social contestation. . can ever articulate its 'representative' authority in that fullness of narrative time and visual synchrony of the sign that Bakhtin proposes" (LC144)." As such. "Can this national time-space. "produces a national-historical time that makes visible a specifically Italian day in the detail of its passing time. Goethe's narrative is an example of a false holism. Bhabha does make the qualification that the "fullness of time" in Italian Journey is not achieved without a "narrative struggle. . If one were to force a German clock hand on them." he surmises. . they would be at a loss. who cites this passage in "DissemiNation. And Bhabha calls this "a national vision of emergence. "The recurrent metaphor." Bhabha asks." "From the beginning . "be as fixed or as immediately visible as Bakhtin claims?" (LC143). "Goethe's realist narrative. (IJ 42. my italics)." he claims. 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. . Bhabha.

" he remarks. it seems. interpreting and speaking the Negro in the Harlem Renaissance'. 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. Neither in the Bildungsroman fragment nor in related essays is nation a critical category. but the ghostly (Gespenstermässiges). on the contrary. the terrifying (Unerfreuliches). in his own nation. of contemporary theory over the merely literary text (Goethe's) as well as its mere critical elucidation (Bakhtin's). . or at least Bakhtin's reading of it. Houston Baker's innovative reading of the 'newnational modes of sounding. as a self-designated "philosophical anthropologist. Perhaps this was the case because. throughout his precarious ." Bakhtin looked for categories that transcend specific nation and culture: he moves easily across space and time from Goethe to Rabelais to Dostoievsky. Given this willed suppression of what Freud was to call the uncanny (daß Unheimliche). if not to say prisoner. . the Italian Journey. for that matter-history in general--seem to be of little interest to Bhabha. "the Realist and Romantic conceptions of time coexist in Goethe's work. as an exile. Barrell's and Baker's fifty years later in the eighties (1983 and 1987 respectively) make any difference? Chronology-or.7 . and ." A triumph. the Soviet Union. as is evident from his repeated assumption that the "fullness of narrative time and visual synchrony of the sign" are somehow equivalent to nationhood. and the unaccountable (Unzuberechnendes) are consistently surmounted by the structuring process of the visualization of time" (LC143). Does the fact that Bakhtin's fragmentary text was written in the 1930s.

every rock formation. neither what Bhabha calls the pedagogical imperative--the people's status as "historical 'objects' of a nationalist pedagogy. far from treating everyday life in Italy as a "progressive metaphor of modern social cohesion" (LC 142). and transformation-the very hybridity he takes it to deny. 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." although Goethe's weather and time maps would then have to be adjusted." he .would seem to be especially relevant. Goethe's visually-minded narrator is aware of every new flower. In the pre-Napoleonic. to narrative mode and generic choice. pre-nationalist culture within which Goethe operated. questions of nationhood or ethnicity naturally took the back-seat to larger issues of speech patterning and literary structure. is fixated on difference. the comparison of "German" to "Italian weather" cited above is little more than a comparison of Northern and Southern life styles. Indeed an actual reading of the Italian Journey would have shown Bhabha that this particular travel book. "Having taken this journey in order to escape the inclemencies I had suffered on the fifty-first parallel. it is helpful to remember that the Italienische Reise was written between 1786-88. almost a hundred years before Italy actually was a unified nation. The commentary might apply to Boston and Barcelona as easily as to "the German" and the "Italian. In the context of Goethe's narrative. the course of every mountain stream.8 and tragic life.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). otherness. As for Goethe.

And a few days later from Bolzano. he pointed down into the courtyard. especially those which cross countries from east to west" (IJ 14). The innkeeper speaks no German and I must put my linguistic talents to the test" (24). Now. Finally. I must confess. on the shores of Lake Garda. North of this point it had wavered between German and Italian. Then the windows are closed with oil paper instead of glass. A definitive difference between nations? Rather. Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced? This is what I am trying to discover. "Da per tutto. . "I had hoped. so that one is almost reduced to a state of nature. When I asked the servant for a certain place. as I should have known beforehand. . 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.9 writes of the passage through the Tyrolean Alps. 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). I found myself disappointed. he notes that here "the language changes abruptly. Arriving in Roverto en route to Verona. "Qui abasso può servirsi!" "Dove?" I asked. fresh eyes? . a difference between the rural . a highly necessary convenience is lacking. for the first time I had a pure-bred Italian as a postilion. dove vuol!" was his friendly answer" (IJ 25). And soon. because latitude by itself does not make a climate but mountain ranges do. though the innkeeper assures me that I would not have to worry if all my belongings were made of diamonds. To begin with. to enter a true Goshen on the forty-eighth. the doors have no locks. "Can I learn to look at things with clear. .

where bathroom arrangements will be quite different. as it were. Rome. the art and culture of the Quattrocento being quite unfamiliar to him. the observer becomes. the "great chronotope of human history" (MMB 40). but also how. depopulated city in the middle of a flat plain. often even the same column or the same wall. and we persuade ourselves that we are edified by visiting their shrines. Goethe's main thrust is to differentiate Venice from Florence. for example. 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. for Goethe.10 and the urban. and in its people one still finds traces of their ancient character. the same hill. Florence from Rome. 1786: For the first time on my trip I am in low spirits and feel utterly indifferent to this beautiful." But the charms of Einfühlung don't always work: sometimes. within both. as Bakhtin says. one epoch follows another (IJ 120). Florence. as I remarked earlier. Once upon a time these same streets were animated by a brilliant court. and this makes it difficult for him to follow the evolution of the city. the visible remains impenetrable. a contemporary of the great decrees of destiny. is. Here Ariosto lived disappointed and Tasso unhappy. by contrast. yet it is still the same soil. to grasp not only how Modern Rome follows Ancient. 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 later from Naples and Palermo. This is an instance of what Bakhtin calls the "fullness and clarity of the visibility of the time in space. Contemplating this. The mausoleum of Ariosto contains a great deal of badly .

Bakhtin. who wants to see this "narrative struggle" as the "repression of a 'cultural' unconscious. At first nobody in the house knows what one wants to see. Luther's famous ink stain which is touched up from time to time by the custodian of the castle. (IJ 91-92). not in the Italian Journey. 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). that Goethe uses the three German nouns quoted above. and the unaccountable (Unzuberechnendes). which were strong in his initial feeling of a merged past and present" (MMB 36). but not before they have been tipped. talks about the ghostly." that is. It is there. Bhabha. the terrifying. a liminal. I was reminded of Dr. Dichtung und Wahrheit (see MMB 35). Instead of Tasso's prison we are shown a woodshed or coal cellar in which he was certainly not confined. We know this because Bakhtin has curiously and . After a while they remember. youthful failure of assimilating the past. the reference being to the psychological difficulties of the poet's postgraduate days. 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). let us note. Bhabha who follows Bakhtin in citing the original German is merely copying his source. makes a curious clinamen that somewhat gives his game away.11 distributed marble. There must be something of an itinerant journeyman about most travellers to make them want to look for such signs. The absence of connection here recalls the Hannibal-in-Sicily passage I cited earlier. the terrifying (Unerfreuliches). as recounted by the late Goethe in his autobiography.

as is. The citation of examples. a . who regularly cite the foreign word (e. But since Bhabha is not concerned. it means "unpleasant.. differance. the organic. say. The gesture toward origins. remains suspended. for the Italian Journeyfunctions for Bhabha only as example. Two of the nouns are correctly translated." The sentence "Daß ist Unerfreulich" is rather like saying. 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.g. given Bhabha's declared distrust of the authentic. as illustration for the larger theoretical and ideological statements the cultural critic wishes to make." "displeasing. in any case." "unsatisfactory. preferably cited in their original language or from an original source and reproduced from an original manuscript." But why does Bhabha cite the German to begin with? The reversion to the originalis a practice he may have derived from Derrida and Lacan exegetes. graphein. and (2) that the word in question is untranslatable and hence must be referred to in its original or "true" state." "tiresome. of course. the true. "That's not good news. with teasing out the etymologies and semantic values of a given author's more difficult terms.12 quite uncharacteristically made a mistake that Bhabha repeats. butUnerfreuliches is quite wrongly translated as "the terrifying." The adjectiveUnerfreulich from which the noun is formed is a fairly mild epithet. Gayatri Spivak in her Introduction to Grammatology. is. pharmakos.imaginaire) in parentheses so as to indicate that (1) they have direct access to the original. jouissance.

no more than instrumental value. 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 eighteenthcentury European poet. geologist. is an arena of contestation and rival performativities--the artwork has. and autobiographer as well as a more-than-amateur chemist. The same thing is likely to occur-and I turn now a quite different example -when Bhabha deals with contemporary art works. exemplified by The Location of Culture. the more recent "Cultural Studies" trend. But whereas a critic like Stephen Greenblatt gives the literary text.13 legacy of the New Historicism. . evidently. refiguring it as a contingent 'in-between' space. it is in the photographic art of Alan [sic] Sekula that takes the borderline . is to reduce the primary text to mere counter or commodity. illustrating and exemplifying the political and ideological thesis of the critic who happens to find it of use. . a poet who is also a novelist. culturally constructed or not. dramatist. "Such art.the nation. "renews the past." one that "creates a sense of the new as an insurgent act of cultural translation" (LC 7). 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. A primary instance is the work of Los Angeles photographer Allan Sekula: . we are told again and again. and botanist." he suggests. Whereas Bhabha's cultural model is characterized by its hybridities and liminalities -. In the Introduction to The Location of Culture. meteorologist. that innovates and interrupts the performance of the present" (LC 7). equal time with the nonliterary texts under consideration.

The container ship being greeted flies a Bahamian flag of convenience. As he explains it: "Norway's nationalist nostalgia cannot drown out the babel on the bluff. as migrant workers.14 condition of cultural translation to its global limit in Fish Story. A scratchy recording of the Norwegian national anthem blares out from a loudspeaker at the Sailor's Home on the bluff above the channel. innovative sites of collaboration. is embodied in a navigational allegory.' The harbour and the stockmarket become the paysage moralisé of a containerized. Transnational capitalism and the impoverishment of the Third World certainly create the chains of circumstance that incarcerate the Salvadorean or the Filipino/a. . Only the Captain hears a familiar melody. It was built by Koreans working long hours in the giant shipyards of Ulsan. Yet." (LC 8) And Bhabba cites Sekula's own comment in the Preface to Fish Story: Things are more confused now. and exploitation. hither and thither. in the very flux of exchange.that initiate . Bhabha seems to take this as a confirmation of his own program for the "articulation of cultural differences . The underpaid and the understaffed crew could be Salvadorean or Filipino. they embody the Benjaminian 'present': that moment blasted out of the continuum of history" (LC 8). computerized world of global trade. and contestation" (LC 1-2). In their cultural passage. . . . the non-synchronous time-space of transnational 'exchange'. . his photographic project on harbours: 'the harbor is the site in which material goods appear in bulk. part of the massive economic and political diaspora of the modern world.

Sekula's is a straightforwardly Marxist interpretation of the damage global ." to use Bakhtin's term. standardized containers are loaded and unloaded by automatic means. jobs are becoming scarce and those who are employed have to work harder and harder just to keep their heads above water. . and other struggling workers [figures 1 & 2]. . and text panels that comment on the project. By contrast. As the curator for the Witte de With exhibition in Rotterdam. with its sequence of hundreds of color photographs. barren and inhospitable terrains have risen where cargoes packed into huge. in Fish Story nothing is "readily visible. reproduced in book form by October (MIT) Books. but also those dramatic pictures of oil spills. The very identity of the world of shipping has been obscured through the forces of industrialization and a concomitant increase in magnitude. . and burning aircraft carriers that flood the media.15 But does Fish Story in fact embody this "babel on the bluff"? Sekula's 1995 traveling exhibition. a shipping industry that has been stripped of the colorful role it once played in cultural life. The sequential photographic frames display. while far beyond the horizon line of the city and out of view of its inhabitants. ironizes not only the picturesque harbor scenes that are a staple of Impressionist and modernist painting. by means of bright colors and their seemingly "objective" view of ships' interior. its traditionally close ties with the population have been undermined. longshoremen. boat people. slide sequences. put it: Former harbors have been transformed into palatial residential districts. labor conditions are deteriorating.

people of color. and piers under construction (see figure 3) suggest the vitality of the expanding economy". . . formalistic images of cranes.of the world. the Captain is white.where I have had the good fortune to see it. Kenney adds: Against this backdrop." according to the exhibition's curator Moira Kenney. At the center of the group.16 capitalism has inflicted on the workers-in this case. German and American workers complicate this expansionist argument. although the narrative emphasizes its distinctions and disruptions. a sign of the hybridity or the liminality of the waterfront system. even as its captain is Norwegian. dock workers. it ironically reproduces the very discourse of class and ethnicity Bhabha has been at such pains to oppose. . On the contrary. disenfranchised by the collapse of the Soviet Union. sailors. is not. The fact that a given ship from the Bahamas was built by Koreans. the captain is First World. but. the Russians represent a new migrant workforce. Working on a Belgian ship sailing from Abu Dhabi with cranes built by Filipino laborers. As such. Fish Story posits the classic Marxist binary between rich and poor. crew and work force. An even stronger irony is suggested in the portrait of Mason Davis [see figure 3]. and so on. and longshoremen-. an . These new consecutive-frame images of the Los Angeles port at San Pedro "are immediately readable. capitalist and worker. The order of this world is one of extreme stratification. I would argue. images of Russian. ships. the crew from the Third. A sequel to Fish Story called Freeway to China has recently been exhibited at the Getty Center for the Humanities. "as a coherent sociological exploration of the port's political and economic realities. colonizer and colonized. has a crew made up of Salvadoreans and Filipinos.

reminiscent in their bright red and black posters of the late Rodchenko. then. the San Pedro labor pool may include poor black locals and Filipino migrant workers as well as recent Russian immigrants. This artful photographic discourse. performativity.dwarfed by the girders. Indeed. and other varieties of huge and strangely beautiful machinerymachinery that hardly needs their participation. 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). machinists.17 African American welder who represents the local labor pool that has worked only sporadically since the recent federal cuts in defense spending. The message about the destruction of the social fabric on the part of global capital is clear enough. Contestation. a theoretical rather than an empirical construct. after all. they wear the same uniform and hence look very much alike [figure 4]. but here the bright colors and idealized figures are parodic. border discourse--these are notably missing in the photos themselves. does Bhabha use Sekula's art work as illustrative material? Perhaps because. pinpointing as they do the bleak life of the actual workers --welders. Why. as it does. defining. "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. shop stewards-. cranes. in his eagerness to find supporting evidence for what is. but in Secula's posterlike photographs. if Sekula's accompanying text did not tell us about their differences. Bhabha judges the art work by its captions and accompanying didactic panels rather than by anything that is . but it is a message that seems curiously at odds with Bhabha's own liminality model. True.

Who is Beloved? Now we may say: she is the sister that returns to Denver. oppressor and oppressed that Bhabha has been at such pains to contest (see LC 35). In the Introduction to The Location of Culture. the "Fish Story" of European maritime progress. 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 readToni Morrison's Beloved. That this narrative is itself romantic.18 actuallythere. moreover. 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. teaches the Visual Arts at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia and composedFreeway 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. Indeed. tradition and modernity. Jewish Californian. a fellow professor (Sekula. and . 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. the very binary opposition of past and present. a white. that it reinscribes. Perhaps Sekula struck him as a kindred spirit-a fellowContributing Editor to October.

now we may say. produced by a middle-class urban. a novel "about" the impact of slavery for those who have experienced it? .19 brings hope of her father's return. now we know. like the lynched people with broken necks. Her words are broken. (LC 17) Now we understand. college-educated African-American novelist. disembodied like the dead children who lost their ribbons. if the "affirmative" message that "the slave mother regain[s] through the presence of the child. 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. in other words. the liminal. 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 interstitial. 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 fragmented presence. What is a novel that it can so readily and melodramatically be explained away? More important for our purposes here: what is the marginal. the fugitive who died in his escape. did Toni Morrison struggle as she composed. 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. with the help of many fellowships and grants.

Bakhtin. Think. that has won Bhabha such enthusiastic readers and prevented us from asking too many hard questions. for that matter. whose exile. But then. only a loose assemblage of geographically and linguistically related city-states and provinces. In the meantime. subalternity. In its general outlines. poems. has become irrelevant. and art works as so much illustrative . and suppression. are not questions that would interest Homi Bhabha. in Bahbha's scheme of things. writing from those very interstices of society (and. that the new playing field is one of performative contestation rather than ethnic or national separation and rivalry. that the postcolonial location is one where the binary opposition of oppressor and oppressed. But the commodification of literature and art-the treatment of complex novels. of Western Europe) that Bhabha finds so appealing. Bhabha's hybridity paradigm has enormous appeal: we want to believe. and thus unable to invent himself as a "performative subject" or to contest the various dominant discourses of Stalinist Russia. his resort to writing paper for the making of cigarette wrappers. does not prevent him from being seen. any more than it matters that the word Italian. more pathos than dianoia. master and victim. could hardly refer to a nation-state. a Bakhtin who was powerless. of Bakhtin.20 These. I suspect. in Goethe's day. in "DissemiNation. We must not overstate the case. Perhaps it is the epideictic mode. the ceremonial oratory of display. marginalized. the moment of writing is not germane to the larger argument. his being more manifesto than reasoned argument. his liminality model is not without some astonishing ironies. there being no unified Italy." as one of the purveyors of the "plenitudinous present and eternal visibility of a past" (LC151). after all. male and female. for example.

Goethe's Italian Journey will still be read. 1990)." we read in the dedication to Paul Moritz Strimpel. pp. Homi K. 291-322. may well destroy the paradigm from within. For long after Bhabha's "DissemiNation" has disappeared from the library shelves. I suspect.Milan-Lugano"). FOOTNOTES 1. 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. and why? Goethe. Perhaps. bears the imprint of Pforzheim .Ahmedabad. Why. for example.Bombay. does this widely travelled critic ("DissemiNation. instead of doing a Bhabhian reading of Goethe we might do a Goethean reading of Bhabha. then. It is .Zurich . even as it has already been read for more than two hundred years. long after even Bakhtin's brilliant analyses of chronotopes and dialogism have been qualified by newer theoretical and critical models. The essay first appeared as the final chapter in Nation and Narration.Paris . no references to latitude or longitude? When did weather cease to play a part in constructing human consciousness. would have interesting things to say on these and similar questions. ed.21 material for the "larger" goal of making profound ethical and epistemological generalizations. Bhabha (London and New York: Routledge.

Bakhtin. North Point. Speech Genres & Other Late Essays. Subsequently cited in the text as MMB The best translation of Goethe's Italienische Reise is W. Again. his is a common strategy in contemporary criticism. pp. 139-70. 4. M. 1982). subsequently cited as IJ. 1987). H. Bakhtin. San Francisco. In all fairness to Bhahba. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. The lower-case letters used in the title are intentional. trans." All further references to the essay are to The Location of Culture. M. McGee (Austin: University of Texas Press.<1786-1788> (1962. Vern W. 2.22 reprinted in somewhat revised form in Bhabha's The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge. M. the title now appears simply as "DISSEMINATION.'s Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. "The Bildungsroman and Its Significance in the History of Realism (Toward a Historical Typology of the Novel). 10-59. LC 144. 1994). frequently cited in scholarly journals in the wrong case as "the Unheimlichwhere the neuter demonstrative pronoun-Daß-demands the noun Unheimliche. in M. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer's Italian Journey . pp. one of the best examples being the constant garbling of the Freudian uncanny. The reference is to John Barrell's English Literature in History. ed. subsequently cited as LC. Because the chapter titles are printed in capital letters. 3. in a recent announcement for Christopher Reiner's Ogling Anchor (Baker . 1986). 17301780 (London: Hutchinson. but a funny thing has happened to Bhabha's punning "DissemiNation" in the revised version. 1983) and Houston Baker Jr.

the noun Witz (German for "joke"). "'Middle Passage' from 'Fish Story'.boijmans. . 1996-February 23. 1998). December 21.ni/engels/agenda/archief/tsekula. LC 8.23 and Taylor.rotterdam. 7." http:/www." Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art. is defined as "a term associated with the 19th century German theory of . 1997." 5. 1998). Cf Allan Sekula Fish Story (Cambridge: MIT Press. in a show called Port and Corridor: Working Sites in Los Angeles (August 15-October 18. '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.htm. Freeway to China was exhibited together with Robbert Flick's sequential photographs of Los Angeles boulevards. 1995). Rotterdam. Allan Sekula. 6. . curated for the ` . See catalogue.