HOMI K. BHABHA h. 1949 2377 A prominent figure in postcolonial studies, Homi K.
Bhabha has infused thinking about nationality, ethnicity, and politics with poststructuralist theories of identity and indeterminacy. Drawing on a wide range of theorists, particularly the deconstructive philosopher JACQUES DERRIDA, Bhabha's essay "TheCommitnient to Theory" (1989) revises conventional notions of nationality and the colonial subject, showing how both are shifting, hybrid cultural constructions. It also provides a powerful argument for the importance of theory, for the indelible link betWeen theory and politics, and for the use of poststructuralist theory in the tacitly anti-imperialist cause of postcolonial studies. Bhabha was born two years after India gained national independence from British colonial rule, and his life exemplifies some of the· hybrid subject' positions of the postcolonial world. He was raised in the Parsi community of Bombay, India, where his father was an important constitutional lawyer. After receiying a B.A. from Bombay University, he traveled to England to earn his M.A., M.Phi!., and D.Phi!. from Oxford University. Beginning in 1978, he taught at Sussex University for sixteen years; he also held visiting appointments in the United States at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania during the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1994 he became Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, moving in 2001 to Harvard University. Postcolonial criticism arose in the wake of the turbulent struggles for national independence of many African, Asian, and Latin American countries that were under the rule of European colonial empires through the middle of the twentieth century. Many early anticolonialist critics promoted· autonomous, nationalistic literary traditions to counteract the cultural as well as material domination of imperialism,
in-between. Regarding identity. translation. Said diagnosed the paths of cultural domination that projected non-Western people as the "Other. He borrows but adapts Derrida's analysis of how binary oppositions structure Western thought. see above). a foundational text of postcolonial studies. Bhabha draws on a wide array of twentieth-century theorists throughout "The Commitment to Theory. Bhabha proposes that nationalities. Spivak argued that postcolonial subjects have no voice under the dominant regime of colonial discourse. and the self and the other. cross-reference. Bhabha stresses how nationality is narratively produced. see above). and defined by "fixity" or an essential core. neither the one nor the other." In "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (1988. and characterized by "hybridity"-one of his key terms. he takes the concept of dla:logiie t6 'stress that colonialism is not a one-way street but entails an interaction between colbnizer and colonized. rather than atising from an intrinsic essence." To reinforce this fluid sense of nationality and identity. negotiation. In Orientalism (1978." which emerges from a "Third Space.." Building on the influential concept of nations set forth by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities (1983). Bhabha employs a vocabulary of process-oriented terms. and identities are dialogic. ethnicities. the center and the periph~. Perhaps the two most influential figures in this development of contemporary postcolonial theory were EDWARD w. From MIKHAIL BAKHTIN. the empIre and the colonized. and ambivalence. he draws on FRANTZ FANON's psychoanalytic model of colonialism and JACQUES LACAN's concepts of "mimicry" and the split subject. including dialogic. indeterminate." he defines hybridity as what "is new. arguing that such dichotomies are too reductive because they imply that any national culture is unitary. homogeneous. postcolonial theorists turned to analyze the ideological bases of colonial domination. arguing
. Although "the wit and wisdom of Jacques Derrida" (as he 'calls it in another essay) is fundamental to his work. In "The Commitment to Theory. Instead. Bhabha starts with a deconstructive critique of the dichotomies of the West and the Orient. SAID and GAYATRJ CHAKRAVaRTI SPIVAK. Extending the work of Said and Spivak. the oppressor and the oppressed.Later.
as seen in nationalistic movements or in identity politics. hybrid identity for the colonial subject. and represented a solipsistic academic pursuit. Employing a deconstructive reversal of the opposition between textuality and the world. Bhabha argues for theory's political relevance. Like PAUL DE MAN'S "Resistance to Theory" (1982). the concept of hybridity militates against "restrictive notions of cultural identity" that result in political separatism. in claims that theory was too obscure. Bhabha claims that political events-he uses the example of a famous British strike-are in fact textual and discursive. "The Commitment to Theory" offers a staunch defense. Although preoccupied with postcolonialism. see 1. Bhabha tacitly responds to many critics of the 1980s and 1990s.that there is always an "excess" in the cultural imitation that the colonial subject is forced to produce. "The Commitment to Theory" also addresses another field of critical debate. In its unabashed advocacy of poststructuralist theory. For Bhabha.>elow) and BARBARA CHRISTIAN's "Race for Theory" (1988. see above)-and from outside. which asserts theory's philosophical inevitability. but works hand in hand with it. detracted from literature. often generated . This mimicry in turn both revises colonial discourse and creates a new. "The Commitment to Theory" also takes
." More specifically. Bhabha contends that theory is not separate from or opposed to political activism. In general. The goal of Bhabha's theorizing of hybridity is not simply to modify the terms of debate in postcolonial studies but to make a political intervention. but unlike de Man. progressive hegemony. Their attacks came both from within the academy-epitomized by STEVEN KNAPP AND WALTER BENN MICHAELS's "Against Theory" (1982. as STUART HALL similarly urges.and spurred by "oppositional cultural practices. hybridity fosters the larger goal of "socialist community" while acknowledging cultural differences. While rooted in coritemporary debates. Su"ith socialist community arises from the solidarity of different groups and movements working in coalition to create a new.
and twentieth-century defenses of criticism. But within the context of debates in postcolonial studies. the concept of hybridity has decisively altered static thinking about nations and identities.and Bhabha has frequently been criticized for his embrace of theory at the expense of practice. Ahmad also upbraids him for ignoring class and caste. than to those in colonial situations. see above). This debate continues to the present day. charging that Bhabha's concept of hybridity applies more aptly to privileged postcolonial intellectuals who have gained success in the Western world. applying ultimately to all identities. In particular. social relevance. see above). "Criticism. and his copiously allusive writing style. like Bhabha himself. His sharpest critics have corne from the Left. and moral good. more concerned with theoretical consistency. such as OSCAR WILDE's claims for the artistic value of criticism. Inc." (1938.part in the larger tradition of defenses of literary practices. Other commentators. have noted that the notion of a hybrid identity is too broad and amorphous. and JOHN CROWE RANSOM's argument for the value of professional criticism. "The Critic as Artist" (1890. the Marxist critic Aijaz Ahmad has criticized him for detaching politics from specific locations and political situations. . Bhabha updates the tradition by declaring the political efficacy of literary theory. his derise jargon.
. Such works shield literature and criticism against accusations that they lack utility. which starts with ARISTOTLE's defense of poetry in the Poetics (see above) and extends to nineteenth. taking to task his view of politics as textual.