The Other Question...
From Urban Press
Summary of, and selected quotes from, The Other Question...:Homi K Bhabha Reconsiders the Stereotype and Colonial Discourse. These annotations are provided for educational purposes only and copyright is retained by the original author. If you find this information interesting seeking out a copy of texts in their entirety is, as always, recommended.
An Important Feature
Fixity, as the sign of cultural/historical/racial difference in the discourse of colonialism, is a paradoxical mode of representation: it connotes rigidity and an unchanging order as well as disorder, degeneracy and daemonic repetition.(1983, p 18)
That 'otherness' which is at once an object of desire and derision, an articulation of difference contained within a fantasy of origin and identity.(p 19)
It is an apparatus that turns on the recognition and disavowal of racial/cultural/historical differences... The objective of colonial discourse is 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.(p 23)
Colonial discourse produces the colonised as a fixed reality which is at once an 'other' and yet entirely knowable and visible.(p 23)
The productivity of Foucault's concept of power/knowledge lies in in its refusal of an epistemology which opposes essence/appearance, ideology/science. 'Pouvoir/Savoir' places subjects in a relation of power and recognition that is not part of a symmetrical or dialectical relation - self/other, Master/Slave - which can then be subverted by being inverted. Subjects are always disproportionately placed in opposition or domination through the symbolic decentering of multiple power relations which play the role of support as well as target or adversary.(p 24)
For fetishism is always a 'play' or vacillation between the archaic affirmation of wholeness/similarity...and the anxiety associated with lack/difference... Within discourse, the fetish represents the simultaneous play between metaphor as substitution(masking absence and difference) and metonymy (which contiguously registers the perceived lack. The fetish or stereotype gives access to an 'identity' which is predicated as much on mastery and pleasure as it is on anxiety and defense.(p 27)
The stereotype requires for its successful signification, a continual and repetitive chain of other stereotypes. The process by which the metaphoric-'masking' is inscribed on a lack which must then be concealed gives the stereotype both its fixity and its phantasmatic quality - the same old stories of the Negro's animality, the Coolie's inscrutability, or the stupidity of the Irish must be told (compulsively) again and afresh, and are differently gratifying and terrifying each time.
In any specific colonial discourse the metaphoric/narcissistic and the metanymic/aggressive positions will function simultaneously, but always strategically poised in relation to each other...Caught in the Imaginary as they are, these shifting positionalities will never seriously threaten the dominant power relations, for they exist to exercise them pleasurably and productively.(p 29-30)
The black is both savage (cannibal) and yet the most obedient and dignified of servants (the bearer of food); he is the embodiment of rampant sexuality and yet innocent as a child; he is mystical, primitive, simple-minded and yet the most worldly and accomplished liar and manipulator of social forces(p 34)
Some of its practices recognize the difference of race, culture, history, as elaborated by stereotypical knowledges, racial theories, administrative colonial experience, and on that basis institutionalize a range of political and cultural ideologies that are prejudicial, discriminatory, vestigial, archaic, 'mythical', and, crutially, are recognized as being so. By 'knowing' the native population in these terms, discriminatory and authoritarian forms of political control are considered appropriate. The colonised population is then deemed to be both the cause and effect of the system, imprisoned in the circle of interpretation.(p 35)