Post Colonial Discourse For Independent Study Cultural Studies Essay

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Looking at the major works of Bhabha, Said and Foucault, the reader can determine that the collection of these works sparked and produced a new discussion of the post colonial discourse. Intertwined in many of their theories, these authors rely on one another's ideas to show the newly sculpted world in the wake of colonialism.

Homi Bhabha's argument in The Location of Culture moves away from the polar dichotomies of the concepts of the West vs. East, or the One vs. the Other and begins to negotiate the terms in a closer relationship than previously believed. Structuring his argument in a post colonial context, his paradigm throughout his book The Location of Culture is the Colonizer vs. Colonized. The theory he presents is more convoluted than direct and shows how the colonized has more power than was previously believed. Based on the writing of Foucault, Derrida, Fanon, Lacan, and Said, Bhabha structures his argument around the analysis of the colonial discourse, where the colonial discourse is defined as the system that operates on the recognition and denial of the racial/cultural/historical differences; its purpose is to understand the colonized as a group as lower, in order to justify their control. This interpretation gives a new perspective that asks the reader to reevaluate previously held beliefs in the power struggle between the colonizer over the colonized.

Bhabha begins by explaining the stereotype and its power in the colonial paradigm. The stereotype, Bhabha explains, is the exertion of power by the colonizer to affix an identity onto the culture it is subjugating. This fixedness is to label and pin down the unknown identity, separate from the "civilizing" activity. This stereotyping however, as later described, escapes from the colonizer's control and the entire process turns out to be, what he describes as ambivalent. Bhabha further argues that the colonizer does not impose the meaning of his culture onto the colonized. There is room for interpretation which is beyond the colonizer's power to control. This process can be described as the negotiation of the cultural meaning, allowing the shift in the meaning and construction of the appropriated culture. In this sense, language plays a key role in the change of the culture and its identity. This also shows the control that the colonized have, playing into the idea of mimicking (as later discussed).

Colonial discourse sees stereotypes as fixed, because that fixed vague grouping overlies the individual differences found within this group. A vague grouped knowledge is easier to 'understand' (even though the truth then, is not at all understood). Stereotyping reduces complex interplays and constructions, stripping the identity of meaning and arresting it in an unbending/unyielding and unchanging reality. By fixing an identity with a stereotype, the Other denies the identity to change/morph/grow. It renders it powerless, thereby giving the Other control. A way to work against this mindset, Bhabha points out, is to never read a stereotype as a constant or recurrence; to look at a stereotype with a naïveté which will let you reexamine and reread its meaning, construction and point of reference (subject/viewer) every time it appears.

A response to stereotyping, another of Bhabha's theories imperative to understanding the power struggle between the two identities, is mimicry. In the colonial discourse, mimicry, Bhabha argues, is not an imitation. It is not an exact replica on the part of the colonized of the colonizer, nor will it give them access to the colonizer's culture:

Colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite. Which is to say, that the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence; in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference. (Bhabha 1994)

This, however, has a double edged sword. Although the act of copying can be read as an assimilation to the colonizer, Bhabha's use of the word "slippage" alludes to creating an enough similarities to the original to make it acceptable, but the twist makes it their (the colonized) own. The product is then a unique original, not a copied form of assimilation: in the case of mimicry, the identity is closer to a metonym, than a metaphor. Bhabha goes on to write that colonial mimicry is an exaggerated copying closer to a mockery than an adoration or show of respect "'mimicry is at once resemblance and menace" which subversively undermines the colonizer's power and their stereotypes. (Bhabha 1994) When looking at the colonized, they do not see an exact replica of themselves, rather a morphed image reflected back, which sparks their own anxiety. This act of mimicry then shows the act of agency on the part of the colonized which cannot be seen as completely subservient to the colonizer.

The split of the id and ego is based on Freud via Lacan. Working off of the Freudian example of a child looking at a mirror and identifying himself with the reflection, Bhabha applies this same principle when comparing the interplay of the two parties in the colonial paradigm during the mimetic process. Similar to the child, the identity of the colonizer is mirrored back by the colonized and the reflection is thrown back to the originator. The reflection of the colonized back to the colonizer is a tentative connection that links the two in a fixed relationship (this relationship is the one that makes this two part paradigm possible to be discussed as a colonial discourse, since both parties need to be included for the paradigm to work). When the colonizer looks at their own reflection, reflected from the colonized, the alienating image (because it is in fact not an exact replica of the original) is reflected back onto the viewer and gives him a sense of the uncanny. Based on Freud's child ego, the uncanny is history coming to terms with the present conscious.

The concept of the mirroring of the colonizer by the colonized brings up the idea of the gaze and questions who is looking at whom? If the dominant member of this two part dichotomy is the subject, viewing the object, the act of mimicry and mirroring would then turn the object into the subject. As the subject is the active member, then it can be easily concluded that the colonized is now the dominant part of the mirroring, studying their object. To stretch this theory into the realm of art is not difficult since the mirroring effect can so easily be depicted in the visual realm of the arts, it is no wonder that so many artists have pursued this path. By acting out the mimicry, they invoke in the colonizer a sense of the uncanny: the reflection undermines the viewer's perceived own identity, and the stable relationship of control slips away, sparking anxiety and doubt in the viewer's identity (based on Fanon's theories). This anxiety of the colonizer over the colonized created room for discussion which, Bhabha argues can be exploited. Furthermore, the sense of uncanny, as Bhabha writes, evokes the need to equalize the destabilized relationship, and often through force, the colonizer will take control of the situation through force.

Working off of Fanon's theory of Negritude, Bhabha suggests that the paralysis of the shifting is the only way to overcome the domination and subjugation of the colonial discourse, otherwise, this shifting will continue ad infinitum. Unlike Bhabha who sees the interchange between the two parties as visually structured, Edward Said, writes in Orientalism, of the resistance as textual: coming about with the change in scholarship.

Said, like Bhabha, works in post colonial theory, his main work on Orientalism creates the paradigm between the civilized western colonizer and the colonized, exotic east. According to Said, the European created a discourse based on a loosely collected system of people, places and things having to do with the East. In time, the notion of the East, who the east is, changes, (during Imperialism, the orient were the colonies of Asia, in modernity, the Muslim Arab) but the textual discourse remains firmly in the hand of the west (first Great Britain, now United States). This lose collection (what Bhabha would call stereotyping) was driven by European thought and alienating the east by claiming to know them. Orientalism then, can be understood as "the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage-and even produce-the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period." (Said 1978) To put this two part system under scrutiny, it is clear that the control comes from the west's homogenized discourse they created of the east, whomever the east and west were at that moment. This not only distances the two opposites in an us-them paradigm, but constructs a theoretically scholarly distance between the two sides in which the superior one, studies and scrutinizes the inferior Other. This of course had more than just scholarly impact. In fact, Said points out that it is not surprising that the Orientalist discourse fluctuated with Imperialist, gaining its pinnacle in the moments of political and military control. In order to fight this discourse, Said argues that you need to study the Orient outside of this constructed discourse in order to show the constructions built into the system, and to present this material back to the originators (this idea stems from internalization). This idea would reinforce the reality of the lack of a pure or right culture (also plays into Bhabha's beliefs of Nation's narrative, discussed below). If Orientalism is the discourse which sets the western part as the pure, and the Orient as the impure, the only way to change this is to deny purity.

There are never stable pure cultures: they are always in contact, shaping each other's identities, forever shifting in their cultural constructions. George Herbert Mead wrote in Fragments about the relativity of the space and time which culture move in. He describes the interaction of any two sources as having a four way interaction: the intersection of the space and time of one source meeting the space and time of another source. This notion of relative space leads Meade to believe that in fact, identity is located in this intersection. "The environment of living organisms is constantly changing, is constantly invaded with other and different things. The assimilation of what occurs and that which recurs with what is elapsing and what has elapsed is called 'experience.'" (Meade 1938) This concept can be referenced to Bhabha's idea of the hybrid outcome of the intersection of two cultures. The impact of two cultures on each other is also taken up by Stupples, who takes a much more positive approach in reading the exchange taking place, while still acknowledging the shifting of identity in exchanges:

Without social exchange we would have no knowledge of either cultural affinity or cultural difference and diversity. Through social exchange - talking, listening, watching, reading - we not only recognize ourselves and the existence of those with cultural affinities but also those who are culturally Other, with languages and visual memories that do not overlap at many, if any, points with our own. Such perceived differences….act as structuring devices. Social exchange, then, is a reflexive process - we are culturally restructures by such interchanges and that restructuring, however subtle, alters the relative cultural position of Others. (Stupples 2003)

When reading Stuppes in the midst of a Homi Bhabha's summarization of post colonial theory, the concept of an enrichment and knowledge gained from another culture is something to approach skeptically. After all, how much knowledge will the viewer receive, and how much cultural hegemony will be imparted in this exchange (whether one way or the other)? This plays into Bhabha's later theories which discuss the absence of a pure culture, and the reality of hybridity.

After thousands of years of shifting cultural identities, many people wonder at the origins of the cultures. If cultures were to be traced back, what then, would be the seed from which the roots grew from? Is an older identity more real or truthful than the present day? These are theoretical questions which at best, evoke a sense of instability and doubt, confirm that there was never an original identity to trace to. Bhabha writes that he isn't interested in the original two, if there ever was such a thing, but the hybridized third that sprang forth. (Bhabha 1994) According to Bhabha, culture is a dichotomy: both static and "homely" and changing and "unhomely". The former refers to the place of culture to the native people, while the latter refers to the hybridity and the transnational impacts that impact the culture, shifting it out of its domestic comfort into uncanny alien space. The antithesis of an alien space would be the Nation: The homey, canny which in some ways, can be compared to colonial authority; however, unlike the colonizer who is in the mimicry paradigm, the nation does not have either the ability to create it's people's stereotypes, nor assign them with an identity. Bhabha's views on the Nation are rather negative. To Bhabha, the Nation is an unnecessary entity, grouped with community, which is made up of a two part construction: its narrative and its performance:

[Nation's] cultures are crafted by the people who write about them and perform them. [National] culture is not pure, nor was it ever pure (therefore its history should reflect this thought). The nation's narrative should reflect the doubt of hybridization, without any claims to purity (his problem is with the accuracy of the nation's narration) and to reflect the constant flex of the nation's identity without having one dominant voice. The other part of the nation is performative. The Nation's underlying weakness stems from its lack of power: it is unable to shape its own identity. Because the citizens are the creators in this two part paradigm, they are the agents in this system. In essence, the Nation does not have the same power as the colonizer, because it is unable to define its citizens with a stereotype: a nationality.

This idea of agency is developed in Chantal Mouffe's essay on citizenship, in which he states that "What is required to belong to a political community is the acceptance of specific language of civil intercourse…The identification with those rules creates a common political identity among persons otherwise engaged in many different communities…" (Mouffe 1992) Once again, the power lies with the people of the group. This idea of the person as an agent erases the notion of a subservient citizen, a part of an inevitably created community/state. He continues to write that through the collaboration of a group, the political identity can be shaped by its participants while still maintaining their individuality. As Bhabha lamented often happens in Nations, the minorities should not be ignored in its narrative, and swept into a bigger whole. Mouffe writes "The identities [between]…individual and citizen are preserved and none is sacrificed to the other." (Mouffe 1992) This sense of freedom of one from the other breaks away from the discourse of domination or subjugation where the individuality, whether of the person, or a larger community is overpowered by another.

Stuppes also takes up the discussion of the national identity. He writes that through the study of images, we can detect the constructed identity which only exists through our "collective screen." (Stuppes 2003) Here again is the reference to the group…a collective realizing the construction of their national identity which they themselves had erected. Michael Foucault is the originator of the concept of the subject, on which these authors expand their theories upon. He sees the subject as not an individual creating his own identity, but rather a reflection and construction from the society in which he resides. Once again, the notion of the subject, of identity, of culture is not shown as a unique, inherent or individualized creation, rather the internalization of the society, formed by its discourse, in which this subject performs.

The collection of these authors forms a post colonial discourse discuss the change from the subject as being self determined to socially determined, marking a paradigm shift from modernism to postmodernism.