22. Post-Colonial Criticism

22. Post-Colonial Criticism


Prof: Well,
post-colonial studies is really by far the most varied and
eclectic of the identity fields that we’re passing in review in
this portion of the course: eclectic really of necessity,
of course, because of the immense variety of the materials
covered, but also because of swirling
issues and controversies within post-colonial studies or
“po-co,” as it’s affectionately known,
which kind of pose a number of questions from the side that
keep things lively, to say the least.
We are taking up only one
strand, one developmental strand,
in post-colonial studies today, a kind of progression from the
work of Said to the work of Bhabha which is relatively
easily mapped, simply in terms of the
intellectual agendas of each of them,
but there’s a great deal else going on.
I suppose I should just mention
in passing certain topics that we won’t be discussing,
at least except possibly in passing and that,
however, you might really be interested in considering if you
do have an interest in this field.
The first issue,
of course, is who says “post-colonial,”
and who says that we’re necessarily out of colonialism?
Just because the local viceroy
packs up and goes home doesn’t necessarily mean that things
change all that significantly in the so-called postcolonial
setting, and it needs to be taken into
account, seriously considered,
whether or not one isn’t still in colonial or colonial studies
and that the moniker “post-colonial”
might therefore be inappropriately applied.
There’s also the question that
arises in the study of the so-called third world,
which is obviously in itself a controversial term.
It arises as that which is not
comprised as either of the great sort of trajectories of the
superpowers during the Cold War. There is no Cold War,
at least allegedly no Cold War any longer,
and so the question of the status, nature,
and structure of the third world is obviously wide open.
But the issue I mean to touch
on in terms of post-colonial studies is whether,
in fact, crises and concerns with respect to the third world
are necessarily always to be understood in terms of
coloniality. Is it just that certain parts
of the globe have been colonized that constitutes them as they
are and shapes their identity? Said in a very interesting way
takes this up in trying to figure out how it is that German
Orientalism so very closely resembles French Orientalism,
even though the Germans had no colonial interests in the Middle
East. During the whole period–the
early nineteenth century in particular,
when German Orientalism is practically indistinguishable
from the French, takes up the same concerns,
and has the same interests– how is it that the French are
undoubtedly in some sense, in Said’s view,
determined by their colonial interests,
and the Germans, who seem so much to reflect
French attitudes, have no colonial interests,
at least in the Middle East? Said sort of quite honestly
tries to come to terms with this.
His answer is,
“Well, German Orientalism is simply derived in scholarly
terms from French Orientalism. It has the stamp of that
thinking and reflects that thinking,”
and so there you are. He could have said on the other
hand, however, that a certain mindset
toward the third world– and this is the point I have
been making about this particular issue–
dictates a certain way of structuring one’s thought about
that world, irrespective of whether or not
there are colonial interests involved.
That’s what I mean by raising
the question, “Is coloniality always at
issue in cases of this kind?”
There’s a kind of confusion in
thinking about these things, a confusion which is distilled
in the history of the British East India Company–
which is both nationalist and, as it were,
globalizing–but a confusion which comes out in more recent
history of coloniality, and that is:
well, what drives coloniality? Is it always nationalism or,
as seems increasingly the case in the modern world,
is it transnational interests in globalization?
In other words,
is the relationship between the colonist and the colonized a
relation of some sort of metropolitan nation with respect
to a provincial empire, or is it a relation which is
dictated and generated by the economic interests of
globalization? This is a complex subject which
generates a great deal of debate in the field that we take up
today, but in a way,
we can’t just say, “Well,
nationalism isn’t important anymore,
now it’s globalization” because actually nationalism
seems to have reappeared in the Bush foreign policy,
even possibly to be continued in the Obama foreign policy,
and so there’s a complex relationship still between
nationalism and globalization that needs to be considered and
thought about if these social relations are to be clearly
understood. Finally, there is within
post-colonial studies– especially among those who
represent the various colonized interests of the world–
there is the question, to borrow an expression from
Gayatri Spivak, “How should the subaltern
speak?” It has to do most vividly with
the very question, “Which language should the
subaltern speak in?” Spivak’s own question is,
“Can the subaltern speak at all?”
and Said raises that question,
as you notice, during the course of his
analysis; but the related issue is,
okay, suppose that the subaltern can speak–suppose
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, for example,
can write a novel. What language should it be
written in? Ngugi campaigned in his more
recent career not to write in English and also to urge other
African writers to write in native languages and not in the
language of the colonizer. This is a frequently heard
opinion from within post-colonial studies,
but debate swirls around it because,
of course, the means of circulation of literary
influence is languages that draw upon international publishing
possibilities and not languages that can only be grasped and
published and disseminated locally.
So there, too,
you have a complicated issue or controversy on both sides,
of which there is much to say; but as I say,
for us today it’s simply a question–
or more simply a question, because when you’ve got Homi
Bhabha on the syllabus there’s no such thing as simplicity–
so I should say it’s a question of following the trajectory or
development specifically between Said and Bhabha.
In beginning to think about
Said, I thought we wouldn’t think about him.
We’d think instead,
for a moment at least, once again about Virginia
Woolf. In the second chapter of A
Room of One’s Own, this young woman,
Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael–whoever she
is, is sitting in the British Library.
She’s thought that she’d spend
the morning trying to figure out what scholars think about women.
After all, the subject is women
and fiction. I’m supposed to be addressing
these undergraduates on this subject: “what do I know
about women? I’d better go to the library
and find out.” So she expects just to find a
couple of books and she’ll be all set.
Instead she is simply
overwhelmed, and there’s this avalanche of material.
She submits maybe a dozen or
two call slips and then sits back waiting for the material to
appear. Of course, the point of it is
that everything in the British Library on what turns out to be
the voluminous subject of women is written by men,
right? Everything.
She begins to take note of the
way these things are described in the sort of pre-computer
database. That is to say,
how do you classify the various things that men have to say
about women? This is the way it goes:
“condition of Middle Ages of;
habits in the Fiji Islands of; worshipped as goddesses by;
weaker in moral sense than; idealism of;
greater conscientious of; South Sea islanders age of
puberty among; attractiveness of;
offered as sacrifice to; small size of brain of;
profounder sub-consciousness of; less hair on the body of;
mental, moral and physical inferiority of;
love of children of; greater length of life of;
weaker muscles of; strength of affections of;
vanity of; higher education of;
Shakespeare’s opinion of; Lord Birkenhead’s opinion of;
Dean Inge’s opinion of; La Bruyere’s opinion of;
Dr. Johnson’s opinion of; Mr. Oscar Browning’s opinion of;
and dot, dot, dot–the list can continue.
In other words, she sits there.
She’s simply overwhelmed,
and what she of course is telling us is that there’s lots
and lots and lots and lots of opinions on record about women,
all of them expressed by men. So now thinking about Edward
Said, if Edward Said had taken up
Virginia Woolf’s project, if Edward Said had undertaken
to write A Room of One’s Own, the title of it would have
been Female-ism, right?
That’s precisely what he means
by “Orientalism,” the vast body of information–
some of it scholarly, some of it just sort of sheerly
doxological– the vast body of information
about peoples called “Oriental”
by and large, especially in the
nineteenth-century tradition. Said’s main concern is the
peoples of the Middle East, and he shows how it is that
there’s a certain reason why this is an appropriate term to
use for that tradition of scholarship and philology in the
nineteenth century. In any case,
the vast body of material published about these people–
and it’s perfectly true that there are the infinitely long
shelves of the library devoted to multivolume treatises on this
topic, all of them written by us in
the West– us–about this other who is
perpetually in our imagination and constructed by us in the
variety of ways that Said discusses on page 1811,
the right-hand column. He says toward the bottom of
the column: Orientalism is premised upon
exteriority, that is, on the fact that the
Orientalist, poet or scholar,
makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient,
renders its mysteries plain for and to the West.
Just as in Woolf,
men’s opinions about women getting themselves expressed in
books make the subject of woman clear to an audience of men.
All right.
So before moving in with some
more depth and precision into Said’s text,
let me quickly explain what I mean by saying that Said and
Bhabha constitute a kind of sequence.
I’m thinking in particular of
Elaine Showalter’s distinction between feminist and
gynocritical criticism. You remember the distinction
which is echoed, by the way, in Gates’s essay.
The distinction is:
first you get criticism in which the treatment of women in
literature by men is the focus of attention,
and then subsequently you get criticism in which the women’s
tradition, the voice of women themselves,
is the focus and, as Showalter believes,
the more fruitful terrain for criticism.
You can see that in that
context, by way of making that distinction,
you can see that Said is decidedly phase one because,
of course, Orientalism is about the treatment of the Middle
Eastern other by the West. It can be slotted into that
same moment. Then Homi Bhabha obviously in a
variety of ways takes up the subject position of the
colonized, of the subaltern. He doesn’t leave out the
subject position of the colonizer because he sees them
as being radically interrelated, but he plainly is as interested
in a variety of ways of talking about the traditions of the
colonized as he is of talking about the way in which
colonization takes place and expresses itself.
So in that sense,
we can see Said and Bhabha as belonging to these two phases as
mapped by Showalter. As I say also in passing by
Gates–and I’m sorry for the confusion of this heading
[gestures to board]– actually there’s another way in
which Said and Bhabha can be understood as phase one and
phase two. That has much more to do with
the tradition of literary theory,
which in their ways both Showalter and Gates have
rejected, insisting that one needs to
commandeer white male literary theory for one’s own purposes.
I suppose it’s a question of
how this issue doesn’t come up in Said and Bhabha.
It could perhaps be answered by
saying that precisely in the situation of colonialism,
the intellectuals–third world, colonized intellectuals–
nevertheless are educated in high-octane male metropolitan
institutions, by which of course one means
primarily Oxford and Cambridge. In a certain sense,
they come to identify– and this is not actually a
thing apart from Bhabha’s argument about hybridity–
they come to identify in some measure with the educational
agenda of the colonizer and participate in it.
Now that’s speculative.
It may simply be that we have
missed out on those moments when Said and Bhabha,
too, may be talking about the way in which the white male
tradition of literary theory needs to be appropriated;
but for the moment what I want to point out is this:
Said’s Orientalism works very much in the historical moment of
what we call structuralism. That is to say,
it’s primary concern is with the binary opposition,
a mutual and interdependent binary opposition of central
self and decentralized other including,
as we’ll see in a minute, the way in which the
construction of the otherness of the other is actually covertly
also at the same time a means of constructing,
defining, and delimiting the nature of selfhood,
or in this case of being Western.
There is a fundamental binarism
in Said’s point of view, which by the way has often been
criticized, and it’s been criticized most
often from the standpoint of Bhabha–
if only because he’s constantly referring to Derrida’s famous
essay, “The Double Session,”
which is about Mallarmé, and also because he
appropriates a great deal of the language and style of Derrida.
You can see that Bhabha takes,
with respect to the binarism of structuralism,
a deconstructive attitude. In other words,
his sense of these relations breaks down into,
at the very least, a redoubling sense of what he
calls “double consciousness”
so that one can’t clearly identify colonizer and colonized
as a binary opposition. It’s more complicated than
that, and it’s a series of issues that turns on a highly
Derridian sense of what one might mean by difference.
All I want to say is that the
relation, Said-Bhabha, is phase one-phase two in that
regard as well. By the way, this is a tendency
that one can find in other forms of theory having to do with
identity. The relationship between the
classical feminism that we have been discussing so far and the
gender theory that we will be discussing on Tuesday,
especially in the case of Judith Butler,
is once again a relation that could be understood as between
structuralism and deconstruction.
There, too, you have a not
completely overlapping but, from the standpoint of our
concerns in literary theory, nevertheless rather interesting
way in which this succession, Said-Bhabha,
is phase one-phase two in two different ways that can be
identified, I think, usefully.
All right.
So that then about their
relationship. So what about Said?
How do we get at the issues
that Said wants to talk about and understand the way in which
he thinks they have integrity? I think I’d like actually to
begin with a word or two about truth,
because Said makes it clear that in a way,
the demonization of Orientalism that his project undertakes
isn’t really undertaken because Orientalism is necessarily a
pack of lies. Maybe he waffles a little bit
about this, but it’s not really ultimately the point for him
whether Orientalism lies or tells the truth.
This is the way he puts it on
page 1802 in the right-hand column:
… [A] third qualification.
One ought never to assume that
the structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of
lies or myths which, were the truth about them to be
told, would simply blow away.
I myself believe that
Orientalism is more particularly valuable as a sign of
European-Atlantic power over the Orient than it is as a veridic
discourse about the Orient… Nevertheless,
what we must respect and try to grasp is the sheer
knitted-together strength of Orientalist discourse…
In other words, one of Napoleon’s adjutants
during Napoleon’s campaign through Egypt wrote a ten-volume
Eastward de l’Egypt. Many of the texts which
Said mentions in passing in his introduction to Orientalism are
just as long. You’ve got fifty-volume,
sort of gigantic scholarly undertakings,
and you’ve got to admit, well, if they are saying that
much, there’s got to be something in
it that’s true. There is, after all,
a great deal of knowledge of a certain kind,
at least, that has gone into thinking of this kind,
and so one can’t just say, “My point is that none of
it’s true.” Said is at pains to make a
distinction, therefore, between truth and value.
It’s not that Orientalist
discourse is necessarily true or false.
It is the case though that it
is insidiously devaluate of its object of attention–
that there is an implicit euro-centrism which Said does go
so far as to consider a form of racism in Orientalism,
quite irrespective of any measure or degree of truth that
what are, after all, the meticulous
researches of a lot of these characters turn up.
For example,
on page 1812, the left-hand column,
he says: My analysis of the Orientalist
text therefore places emphasis [this is about a third of the
way down] on the evidence,
which is by no means invisible, for such representations as
representations, not as “natural”
descriptions of the Orient. Now we might pause for a minute
over that as a possible object of critique because at the end
of his essay, or at the end of the
introduction as you have it, you notice Said saying,
“Look, I don’t take up here the
question of how one might actually write correctly
>about these people.”
He doesn’t take up,
for example, the question of what it might
be like to be sort of a representative of these
minorities or colonized figures and to write about oneself.
He doesn’t really take up the
question of whether the bias of somebody else writing about me,
a man writing about a woman, is worse than the bias of my
own preconceptions and prejudices about myself.
He admits that he doesn’t
really have an advanced theory that secures one kind of
representation as true or authentic and secures another
kind of representation as bias and inauthentic.
He says, “Another scholar
will perhaps take this up. I leave it alone in my
book,” and it is left alone,
the problem being that the claim remains that he does–
anticipating many other people who have written on this
subject– he does impugn Orientalism as
mere representation: that is to say,
as the opposite because it is a representation,
the opposite of a natural evocation of an ethos or world.
So we just do want to put a
little question mark in the margin and then say,
“Well, fine. Granted this is all
representation, where is the text?
Where could the text be that
would be natural?” Is there, for example,
any such thing, as we’ve asked ourselves over
the course of the semester, as a natural sign?
The sign being arbitrary,
it does place us already pretty securely in the realm of
representation. So all of these questions are
then posed by Said’s sense of the relationship between truth
and value in the history of Orientalist scholarship.
Now where is he coming from?
He’s quite open about it,
and it’s perhaps worth pausing over an idea common to the two
scholar-theorists who matter most to him,
Michel Foucault and the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.
First of all,
just to pass in review the way in which he’s indebted to
Gramsci on page 1803, the left-hand column,
Said says: Culture, of course,
is to be found operating within civil society,
where the influence of ideas, of institutions and of other
persons works not through domination but by what Gramsci
calls consent. In other words,
it’s not just a question of having forced down your throat
certain ideas of concepts or laws,
for that matter, but a circulation of knowledge,
so called, of feeling about things,
of ideology, which through consent
establishes certain attitudes of bias.
This is the distinction that
Gramsci makes between the way in which one is imposed on by
actual power and authority and the way in which one is imposed
on by the circulations of what we’ve been exposed to in the
past as being called “ideologemes.”
So to continue:
In any society not totalitarian [says Said],
then, certain cultural forms predominate over others,
just as certain ideas are more influential than others;
the form of this cultural leadership is what Gramsci has
identified as hegemony. This is a term that you will
frequently encounter, particularly in Marxist
criticism, but it is also a term very closely related to what for
most Western readers is more famous in the work of Michel
Foucault, the term “power”
or sometimes “power/knowledge.”
As you will learn in the
excerpt from Foucault that you’ll be reading on Tuesday,
Foucault like Gramsci makes a distinction between power merely
as that which is exercised by the police,
by the legal arm of society, by the dictator,
by the government, and by power as the ways,
the frequently insidious ways, in which knowledge is
circulated and made hegemonic– that is to say,
made authoritative. Foucault is fascinated by the
structure of this circulation of knowledge.
That is, in fact the essential
subject matter of all of his late work,
the way in which we are thinking that we are sort of
free contemplative agents in the world,
in fact browbeaten by structures of opinion
circulating around us that lull us into feeling that we are in
the presence of the truth, whereas of course,
we’re only in the presence of one form or another of motivated
bias. Both Gramsci and Foucault make
the distinction between absolute power and, as Gramsci calls it,
hegemony and, as Foucault calls it,
power/knowledge. Said is talking here about
power/knowledge. He’s not talking about the
imposition of law through force or any other means on a
colonized world. He’s talking about the way in
which opinions construct that world and simultaneously
reinforce the authority of those who generate the opinions.
I think it’s important to point
this relatively subtle distinction out:
he does, however, disagree from Foucault in one
respect. On page 1813 he goes back to
what we already know about Foucault, which is Foucault’s
interest in the author function as opposed to the author.
Authors, generally speaking,
Foucault wants to say, are not authorities but simply
vessels of forms of opinion. Certain authors who come very
close to being authority we call founders of discursivity,
but even in their cases it’s the nature of the discourse and
not their existence as authors which is important.
Said wants to say,
“I take authors a little bit more seriously than
that,” and he does on page 1813 in the right-hand column
where he says: Foucault believes that in
general the individual text or author counts for very little;
empirically [that is to say, “through my
experience”], in the case of Orientalism,
and perhaps nowhere else I find this not to be so.
In other words,
the author is the central philologist,
and social historians, explorers, and demographers who
have written so extensively on this part of the world are
authorities. They are the oracles from which
generalized and ultimately commonplace opinions disseminate
as power/knowledge. It’s not a question,
therefore, of a kind of silent drumbeat of opinion expressing
itself over and over again, which is more what interests
Foucault. So Said, as I say,
distinguishes himself subtly from Foucault in that regard
while nevertheless confessing openly the influence both of
Foucault and of Gramsci on his way of approaching his material.
So as a circulation of power,
the effect of Orientalism is something that ultimately
concerns Said.Well, he says this somewhat
rhetorically because it obviously does concern him that
it has an effect on the peoples in question,
but what ultimately concerns Said is the effect of
Orientalism on the Euro-centric mind,
indeed the degree to which it even can be said to construct
the Euro-centric mind, page 1806, the right-hand
column: … [M]y real argument is
that Orientalism is– and does not simply
represent–a considerable dimension of modern
political-intellectual culture, and as such has less to do with
the Orient than it does with “our”
world. Now here you can see the degree
to which Said is saying something very similar to what
Toni Morrison said in her essay. The existence of black as
absence needs to be understood– for example,
if we are studying the history of American literature–
as the means of constructing whiteness,
of that which liberates whiteness from the forms of
constraint under which it’s been chafing at the bit.
Morrison, of course,
develops this argument beautifully,
and she quite clearly takes it from the fourth chapter of
Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind as a way of understanding
the master-slave dialectic. In other words,
in Hegel it’s clear as Hegel develops the idea that master
and slave are absolutely necessary to each other in a
structure of mutuality. The master isn’t the master,
can’t define himself as free or superior without the existence
of the slave. The trickiness that the slave
learns being in the position of subordination involving the
development of all sorts of complicated skills means
ultimately that the slave becomes,
as it were, that which drives the master technologically and
ultimately controls the master in a kind of fable of class
reversal, which continues to reverse
itself again and again and again on various grounds.
This is the fable,
which at the same time is a philosophy of class relations
that structures Morrison’s argument and which,
I think, also structures Said’s. I want to make the transition
to Bhabha because obviously this is a form of binarism.
The two signifiers in relation
to each other need each other in the way that we described when
we were discussing Saussure and structuralism.
I can’t simply say that a red
light has positive value. You remember the whole
argument: I have to see the red light in the context of the
semiotic system to which it belongs.
I have to see it as being
different from, or opposed to,
something else in order to grasp it.
I cannot know it positively,
in other words; I can only know it negatively.
This basic concept of
structuralism in the Saussurian tradition is what creates,
is what shapes binary arguments of the kind that one finds in
Said. That we know ourselves
negatively as the not-other is the basic principle,
the theoretical principle which underlies obviously aspects of
the argument which are also, as Said says, empirical.
Yes, I can say it’s a
structuralist idea, but I really believe it because
I’ve seen it in operation. It’s not just structuralism in
other words. It shares, however,
with structuralism a theoretical predisposition.
Bhabha, if you look at page
1879, openly criticizes the premise of binarism of this
kind– not just any binarism,
but he actually does go directly back to Hegel.
In other words,
he identifies the source of thinking of this kind,
bottom of 1879, right-hand column,
when he says: It is this ambivalence that
makes the boundaries of colonial “positionality”–
the division of self/other–and the question of colonial power–
the differentiation of colonizer/colonized–
different from both the Hegelian master/slave dialectic
or the phenomenological projection of Otherness.
He goes on to mention other
things, but I just want to focus on
this as a moment in which Bhabha is distinguishing himself as
clearly as he can from the project of Said.
Now the passage I just read
begins with the word “ambivalence.”
What does Bhabha mean by
ambivalence? Let’s try to start there and
see if we can work our way into Bhabha’s complex thinking on
these matters, first by way of the notion of
ambivalence. I’m going to put this in terms
of an historical example because I hope that will make it a
little clearer. There is the ambivalence of the
colonizer toward the colonized. In other words,
it’s not just one mindset that drives colonization.
In the historical experience of
England in the East India Company,
there are two distinct phases, phases which actually repeat
themselves recurrently even throughout the twentieth
century. The first in the eighteenth
century is the period of the government of the East India
Company by Warren Hastings who in a certain sense was
interested in what we call “going native”
and also encouraged all of his provincial administrators to do
likewise. Hastings, in other words,
in Saidian terms knew a great deal about the Orientalized
other. He knew all the local languages
and dialects. He knew all the customs.
He really knew everything there
was to know and in a certain sense was a person who did go
native while at the same time wielding with an iron grip of
authority power over the colonized other.
He himself then embodies a
certain ambivalence in not giving an inch as to the actual
control of authority, while at the same time seeming
to become one with the other. Then there is the historical
ambivalence which expresses itself in a completely different
attitude, an attitude which surfaced in
the East India Company early in the nineteenth century under the
supervisorship of Charles Grant. There had been a tremendous
revival of fundamentalist religion,
mainly Methodism, in England, and this
evangelical enthusiasm spread itself into the interests of the
empire. Charles Grant and others like
him no longer had any interest at all in going native but,
on the contrary, insisted that a standard of
Englishness and, in particular,
the standard of the English Bible–
the coming of the English book that Bhabha talks about at the
beginning of his essay– be firmly implanted,
and that the imposition of Englishness on the colonized
other be the agenda of colonization.
The famous historian Thomas
Babington Macaulay codified this attitude in a famous,
and soon to be infamous, document he wrote called
“The Minute on Education,”
which insisted that the education of the Indian people
under the regime of the East India Company be conducted
strictly according to English models: that missionaries no
longer try to adapt their ideas to local customs and folk ways
but that everything be strictly anglicized.
This is a completely different
attitude toward colonization, and it can be understood as a
sort of historical ambivalence. I’d actually like to pause over
an example of what you might call the Warren Hastings moment,
a vicious example although an absolutely fascinating one in
the disturbing masterpiece by John Ford called The
Searchers. I hope some of you at least
know that film. The John Wayne character is
sort of a lone stranger– which is of course not
infrequent in the western– who shows up at the house of
some relatives and hears that a daughter has been abducted by
native Americans, by Indians.
Now the thing about John Wayne
is that in this film is that he’s a vicious racist,
that he absolutely hates the Indians,
but he is not a vicious racist from the standpoint of
ignorance. He is in fact a person who has
himself, in a certain sense, gone native.
He knows all the Indian
languages and dialects. He knows all their customs.
He has throughout a lifetime
made a careful study of the people he hates,
and this is a volatile mixture to be exposed to in a film
because we are much more comfortable with the idea that
hatred arises out of ignorance, right?
What is so deeply disturbing
about John Ford’s The Searchers is that it is a
portrait of absolutely vicious racism: again Said says,
“Hey, it’s not necessarily truth,
but we do have to acknowledge a certain local,
thick description. We have to acknowledge that
there’s quite a bit of information
>at this person’s disposal,
and all of that is borne out in the characterization of John
Wayne in this film. Warren Hastings was a lot like
that. Warren Hastings knew everything
about people whom he ultimately didn’t really respect and whom
he insisted on ruling with the iron fist of authority.
That’s the kind of thing that
Bhabha is thinking about when he thinks about the ambivalence of
the colonizer, the relationship between
knowledge and value as it’s already been enunciated in Said
but also the fact that there is more than one mindset for the
colonizer. There is the local knowledge
mindset, and there is the sort of
raising the absolute unequivocal standard of the colonizer that
these are two different attitudes,
each of which dictate different strategies,
particularly strategies of education.
So that’s the ambivalence of
the colonizer. Then there is the ambivalence
of the colonized, and that, too,
has to be understood as a complex relation to co-optation.
The anecdote with which Bhabha
begins, I think, is fascinating and well worth
attending to. You have not a colonizer but
someone thoroughly co-opted, an evangelical converted
Christian of Indian descent who represents,
in a way, that the people he finds sitting under the trees
reading the Bible consider to be completely authentic because he
believes and is perfectly happy to believe that the Bible,
and for that matter Christianity itself,
is an English gift. But he’s met with the response
of people who resist that, who say, “This is very
interesting stuff. We wish we could have some
local authority for it. Our understanding is we got
this book directly from God, right?
That’s our understanding and we
have our own attitude toward it. Sure, maybe we’ll get baptized
one of these days, but in the meantime we got to
go home and take care of the harvest, so we’ll get around to
that. Don’t worry about it.
By the way, if we get baptized
we certainly can’t take the Eucharist because that’s eating
meat. We don’t eat meat.
We are who we are.”
You can see that these
cunningly insinuated provisos to the attitude that the missionary
wants to inculcate in them in a very real way completely
undermines his purpose. They don’t think of it as the
English Bible. They won’t accept it as the
English Bible. They will only accept it as an
authority that’s mediated by their own values,
which transforms the document. You can see it again–this
is1813, as Bhabha points out. This is precisely at the moment
when we’re moving, when the regime of authority is
moving from the Warren Hastings paradigm to the Charles Grant
paradigm. It’s no longer possible to
think in terms of adapting the Bible to local beliefs and
circumstances. This is a moment in which the
complexity of the attitude of the colonized is brought up.
There’s the attitude of the
suborned missionary, and there’s the more
complicated and interesting attitude of the people he
encounters sitting under these trees.
Turn to page 1881,
the left-hand column. This is a very difficult
passage. Everything in Bhabha is
difficult. I think I want to gloss it by
suggesting to you that what he’s talking about is that the
ambivalence which– and we might as well say right
out that he has a term for this ambivalence,
and it’s “hybridity”– is the double consciousness of
the colonized hovering between submission–
that is to say, submission to authority but
with a difference, submission to authority on
one’s own terms, and on the other hand,
acquiescence in authority as given,
which of course is basically the position of the missionary.
With that said,
I’ll read the passage in which Bhabha describes this hybridity
in the double consciousness of the colonized:
The place of difference and otherness,
or the space of the adversarial, within such a
system of “disposal” as I have proposed,
is never entirely on the outside or implacably
oppositional. [Not just, in other words,
again as a question of us versus them.]
It is a pressure, and a presence,
that acts constantly, if unevenly,
along the entire boundary of authorization [which is also
authority], that is, on the surface between
what I’ve called disposal-as-bestowal [I take
that meaning submission– simply “okay,
fine, I give in”] and disposition-as-inclination
[which is “hey, I kind of like that,
I go along with it, I give in spontaneously”].
Now to give in simply as a form
of recognizing that one’s beaten,
as a form of submission, puts one in the position of
what Bhabha calls “sly civility.”
This is the position that I’d
like to go back to for a moment as being very closely related to
what Gates calls signifyin’. Bhabha gives a number of
examples of this sly civility in his text,
but of course it’s all present in the clever and wonderfully
rich ironies of these figures sitting under the trees in his
opening anecdote. Let me just give you an example
of how sly civility works as a form of signifyin’ and as a
stance of colonized resistance, a recuperation of the will,
perhaps in a post-modern sense, which is nevertheless not
rebellious, not in any way envisioning an
overthrow of authority, but is a means of living in the
framework of authority. Just a quick example and then
I’ll let you go. Two African-American people are
having a conversation in the presence of a white person,
and they cheerfully and with broad smiles on their face refer
to this person in his presence as Bill.
Now “Bill”
is a derisive and derogatory term for white people,
and the white person standing there has two choices in
response to hearing himself referred to as “Bill”:
he can either take umbrage and say,
“Why are you saying that about me?
I’m a nice guy.
You don’t want to say
that,” in which case the needling effect of the term has
taken hold; or he can play the fool and
pretend that he doesn’t know that he’s being signified on and
pretend that, well, it’s perfectly okay to be
called “Bill.” Either way you see it’s a
win/win situation. This guy, Bill,
is the slave owner, right?
He likes to get along with
people, so he’s sitting around having
this conversation and he hears them calling him
“Bill,” right?
Because there is an element of
good nature in his slave-owning personality, he’s stuck.
He can either complain that
people are treating him unfairly–
which of course is neither here nor there in terms of the
structure of power involved– or he can play the fool and
pretend that he doesn’t even notice that he’s being made fun
of. Either way, this is an example
of that sly civility which signifies on the man and which
makes it clear that while the structure of power can’t be
overthrown anytime soon, there nevertheless is a way of
living– at least of keeping one’s sense
of humor within the existing structure of power–
while giving the man a hard time.
That is the set of attitudes
that Bhabha is articulating in his notion of the hybridity of
the colonized, which takes the form in
performance– we’re going to have a lot more
to say about performance on Tuesday–
in performance of this sly civility.
I think it’s on page 1889 that
he gives us that expression, which I think you should keep
hold of– which I would compare very
closely with what Henry Louis Gates calls
“signifyin’.” Okay.
See you on Tuesday.

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