The Location of Culture

Homi K. Bhabha


Bhabha, Homi K.. The Location of Culture. 1994. London, EN: Routledge, 2004. Paperback: 9780415336390.


“Rethinking questions of identity, social agency and national affiliation, Bhabha provides a working, if controversial, theory of cultural hybridity - one that goes far beyond previous attempts by others. In The Location of Culture, he uses concepts such as mimicry, interstice, hybridity, and liminality to argue that cultural production is always most productive where it is most ambivalent. Speaking in a voice that combines intellectual ease with the belief that theory itself can contribute to practical political change, Bhabha has become one of the leading post-colonial theorists of this era.”


I. Analysis

Central to Bhabha’s argument is the ambivalence of selfhood, which is a result of the hybridity caused by cultural difference. There is no single origin, no untainted history, no pure self-presentation. There is always mixing, the origin not a point but a field, history a network of contingencies, the self continually performed in relation with other, different selves—this is the hybridity which produces Bhabha’s ambivalence. This ambivalence is the splitting of the colonial subject, which we can explain simply here as the gap between the double subject, the individual as a subject of the state who is also a subject possessed of agency and complexity. Indeed, because the colonial subject is always hybrid there is always slippage between the two subjectivities. The state must reduce its subjects to one or the other—colonist or colonized, citizen or criminal, friend or stranger—but the hybrid/different/ambivalent subject can be reduced to “neither the One ... nor the Other ... but something else besides” (41). The opening up of this third space challenges both the establishment, as well as the totalizing dialectic of Marxist resistance, allowing for a plurality of differences to be enunciated by a plurality of people. This enunciation (v.) “in actu” (326) challenges the enunciation (n., énoncé) “in situ” (326), and is, as such, a performative translation of culture that “continually tells, or ‘tolls’ the different times and spaces between cultural authority and its performative practices” (326). It is the voice in action and in difference that opens the world to newness.

II. Summary


Bhabha is concerned, in The Location of Culture, with the “enigma of authority” and those texts or forms of text that form “an oblique or alien relation to the forces of centering” that authority carries out (xi), those which are “off-center ... passed by ... dormant or unread” (xi). Bhabha wants to “make graphic what it means to survive, to produce, to labor, and to create, within a world-system whose major economic impulses and cultural investments are pointed in a direction away from you, your country or your people” (xi). In the following pages Bhabha explores the “culture of survival,” the “hybrid forms of life and art” that emerge in response to colonialism (xiii). He does so, in two ways, through a “vernacular cosmopolitanism” (xvi) and through Balibar’s “right to difference in equality” (xvii), “standing” unsatisfied (xx-xxi) with the current state of things. Bhabha sees a “political responsibility” for his work, a responsibility to the “right to narrate” (xxi) of those who have been excluded from the conversation. And so, Bhabha writes: in “dialogue ... your personhood cannot be denied. In another’s country that is also your own, your person divides, and in following the forked path you encounter yourself in a double movement ... once as a stranger, and then as friend” (xxv). In this phrase Bhabha articulates his concept of splitting more clearly than almost anywhere else in the text, and it is this definition which we must keep in mind as we move forward.


Bhabha begins his chapter with an epigraph from Heidegger: “the boundary is that from which something begins its presencing” (Heidegger, ‘Building, dwelling, thinking,’ in Bhabha 1). There are echoes of de Certeau in this, frontiers and bridges, and this question of the border and its beyond will be of great importance to Bhabha here, and throughout the rest of the text.

The frontier is the space of “restless movement,” “au-delà—here and there, on all sides, fort/da, hither and thither, back and forth” (2). In this movement there is a plurality of “subject positions” (2), and so, for Bhabha, what “is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives or originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These ‘in-between’ spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood—singular or communal—that initiate new signs of identity” (2). This articulation is a negotiation (3), and this movement “prevents identities at either end [of the passage] from settling into primordial polarities” (5). The “boundary,” then, as the site of negotiation, “becomes the place from which something begins its presencing” (7). Quoting Heidegger again, the “bridge gathers as a passage that crosses” (in Bhabha 7).

Culture, then, as the “middle passage” (8), functions as a bridge in “a process of displacement and disjunction that does not totalize experience” (8). Culture allows for the “negating activity” of subaltern self-assertion, which is an “intervention of the ‘beyond’ that establishes a boundary: a bridge, where ‘presencing’ begins because it captures something of the estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world—the unhomeliness—that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations” (13).

Culture is also the field of literature, and as “literary creatures and political animals” (17), the “act of writing the world” is the act of “taking the measure of its dwelling” (18)—or, as in de Certeau, renting a place that is a site of power—finding in a world “beyond control” (18) an “interstitial intimacy” between “the psyche and the social” (19) that is the genesis of hybridity, and then “stressed necessity of everyday life” (21). Politics becomes, therefore, a “performativity” (21), a “survival ritual[]” in an “unhomely world” (21).

Art plays a role in culture too. Following Levinas, Bhabha argues that art, the “aesthetic image,” puts the “real world ... between parentheses,” which “effects an ‘externality of the inward’ as the very enunciative position of the historical and narrative subject, “introducing into the heart of subjectivity a radical and anarchical reference to the other which in fact constitutes the inwardness of the subject” (22). So too, then, in art we find a way of “seeing inwardness from the outside” (22). In this strange collusion between the poles of the dialectic, we see Benjamin’s ambiguity, which is “the figurative appearance of the dialectic, the law of the dialectic at a standstill” (in Bhabha 26). So, to “live in the unhomely world, to find its ambivalences and ambiguities enacted in the house of fiction, or its sundering and splitting performed in the work of art, is also to affirm a profound desire for social solidarity” (27), which is to say, that which begins its presencing at the boundary.

Chapter 1: The Commitment to Theory

This first chapter is Bhabha’s defense of theory. Essentially, Bhabha argues that theory is not “necessarily the elite language of the socially and culturally privileged” (28), but that it can be a real instrument for change. Bhabha does not want, however, to fall into the “totalizing Utopian vision of Being and History that seeks to transcend the contradictions and ambivalences that constitute the very structure of human subjectivity and its systems of cultural representation” (29).

Ambivalence and contradiction is key for Bhabha’s project. Left-theoretic discourse often represents the Other in such a way as to “reinforce[] its own power-knowledge equation” (31). The Other of the dialectic is total, but for Bhabha there is no totality, only hybridity, only difference. For Bhabha, the “‘true’ is always marked and informed by the ambivalence of the process of emergence itself, the productivity of meanings that construct counter-knowledges in medias res, in the very act of agonism, within the terms of negotiation (rather than negation) of oppositional and antagonistic elements” (33).

This ambivalent emergence can be seen in “the force of writing ... as a productive matrix which defines the ‘social’” (34). The “political subject ... is a discursive event” (34). Political discourse between political subjects requires “dissensus, alterity, and otherness” (34). Politics, which is necessarily dialogic, requires subjects to pass into (see above: passage, bridge, frontier) the position of the other. But this is not a total, unidirectional movement of the dialectic, but a constant back and forth negotiation. In this movement there is a “splitting in the signification of the subject of representation” (36)—the I is neither it nor an Other but a hybrid in-between (i.e., a hybrid of the split Is). Theory and critique is necessary because “it overcomes the given grounds of opposition and opens up a space of translation: a place of hybridity ... where the construction of a political object that is new, neither one nor the other, properly alienates our political expectations” (37). So we have a “dialectic without the emergence of a teleological or transcendent History” (37), a negotiation “that open[s] up hybrid sites and objectives of struggle” (37).

Negotiation is iterative, proceeding or passing through time; in this, of key importance, is the fact that “our political referents and priorities ... are not there in some primordial, naturalistic sense. Nor do they reflect a unitary or homogenous political object” (38). Each “position [referent, priority] is always a translation and transference of meaning” (39): “there is no given community” (39). The “transformational value of change,” therefore, “lies in the rearticulation, or translation, of elements that are neither the One ... nor the Other ... but something else besides, which contests the territories of both” (41). Theory must be built on such a “structure of heterogeneity” (41).

The agents of Bhabha’s theory are “discontinuous” and “divided” (42). But how can a resistance be mounted if the will of its members is so different? Bhabha argues we must change our language: the will of the people is not an image (a perfect replication), but a text, an enunciation, a narrative, a dialogue (44). As such, “there can be no final discursive closure of theory” (45). Sadly, cultural difference (as de Certeau argues of Bourdieu) is often “made to foreclose on the Other” (45). This Other is made into a horizon (and a powerful one), but “loses its power to signify” (46), its right to speak, its agency.

To avoid this, theory must reorient itself toward difference and away from diversity. Diversity is a model that erases the contentious hybridity of difference. But “cultural interaction emerges only at the significatory boundaries of cultures, where meanings and values are (mis)read or signs are misappropriated” (50).

So, writing is important because “the act of cultural enunciation—the place of utterance—is crossed by the différance of writing” (52). Writing plays at the boundaries. This is due to the “structure of symbolization” (52-53), the production of meaning that “is never simply mimetic and transparent” (53), but means insofar as the symbol is different from what it symbolizes. Meaning is possible because of the “passage through a Third Space” (here, language/culture) through which the “two places” of I and You are “mobilized” (53). Communication is not simply encoding/decoding but is always with reference to the broader scene. The “cultural performance” has at its core a difference, an ambivalence, between the “subject of a proposition (énoncé)” and the “subject of enunciation” (53). The speaker is not what he speaks, nor is the speaking the speaker; the saying is not the said, nor the said the saying. Rather, the “pronomial I” (which we know to be split) “remains a spatial relation within the schemata and strategies of discourse” (53). “The meaning of the utterance is quite literally neither the one nor the other” (53), neither enunciation nor énoncé. Utterance is a movement that means.

The Third Space through which it moves is necessary but “unrepresentable in itself” (55), the “discontinuous intertextual temporality of cultural difference” (55). There is no “primordial unity or fixity” to it (55). Enunciation is a “split-space,” an “inbetween space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture” (56). In the difference of this Third Space “we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves” (56).

Chapter 2: Interrogating Identity

The writing of difference emphasizes the normalcy of the “state of emergency,” which is “also always a state of emergence” (59). Colonialism “alienates the enlightenment idea of ‘Man’” (59), because man is not singular in his origin but is hybrid, and “challenges the transparency of social reality, as a pre-given idea of human knowledge” (59), because the stability of the social is the exception, not the rule.

The dominant understanding of “Nature and Culture” is that the (natural) “individual interests” are converted into, or “objectified in,” the “representative structure of the General Will—Law or Culture—where Psyche and Society mirror each other, transparently translating their difference, without loss, into a historical totality” (62). “[A]lienation and aggression ... can never be acknowledged ... They are explained away as alien presences, occlusions of historical progress, the ultimate misrecognition of Man” (62).

The colonial subject becomes the “representative figure of such a perversion” (62). The “shadow of colonized man” “splits” the “presence” of “post-Enlightenment man ... distorts his outline, breaches his boundaries, repeats his action as a distance [quantum entanglement?], disturbs and divides the very time of his being” (62).

Bhabha cites Fanon to begin his articulation of the distortion of Man: “What is often called the black soul is a white man’s artefact” (63). The soul is desired by the white man, because the soul is the origin. But the black man is deprived of soul, or origin and meaning and personhood, by colonialism. So the black man is also alienated from himself. The original desire flows, however, from the “idea of man as his alienated image” (63), because even the enlightened white man cannot grasp his own soul. An “ambivalent identification” occurs, therefore, as the white man identifies the black man as possessing a soul, while simultaneously subjecting him to power, and thus explaining away the difference which threatens a unitary understanding of Man.

There are three conditions that “underlie an understanding of the process of identification in the analytic of desire” (63).

(1) “to exist is to be called into being in relation to an otherness, its look or locus” (63). This look is a demand of recognition, and, citing Jacqueline Rose: “It is the relation of this demand to the place of object it claims that becomes the basis for identification” (63). Because colonialism seeks possession, but the “place of the Other” cannot be possessed, there is an ambivalence (63).

(2) Because of this ambivalence, “the very place of identification, caught in the tension of demand [recognition of the Other] and desire [possession of the Other], is a space of splitting” (63). The “Unconscious speaks of the form of otherness, the tethered shadow of deferral and displacement. It is not the colonialist Self or the colonized Other, but the disturbing distance in-between that constitutes the figure of colonial otherness” (64). The Other is an “impossible object” that demands recognition while the Self seeks to possess it.

(3) “the question of identification is never the affirmation of a pre-given identity, never a self-fulfilling prophecy—it is always the production of an image of identity and the transformation of the subject in assuming that image. The demand of identification—that is, to be for an Other—entails the representation of the subject in the differentiating order of otherness” (64). Therefore, the “repetition of the self lie[s] in the desire of the look and the limits of language” (64).

Two traditions produce this ambivalence: that of identity “as the process of self-reflection in the mirror of (human) nature,” and the difference “of human identity as located in the division of Nature/Culture” (66). In the postcolonial text, identity (“the image”) is “confronted with its difference, its Other” (66). The two traditions collide, and so, “in the moment of colonial identification” we see the “splitting of the subject” “graphically enacted” (66).

This is nothing new, however, but rather a “dramatiz[ation]” (66) of “the impossibility of claiming an origin for the Self (or Other) within a tradition of representation that conceives of identity as the satisfaction of a totalizing, plenitudinous object of vision” (66). The “stability of the ego, expressed in the equivalence between image and identity” (67), is “disrupt[ed]” (66). The “secret art of invisibleness” of the postcolonial text “changes the very terms of our recognition of the person” by demonstrating the “peculiar temporality whereby the subject cannot be apprehended without the absence or invisibility that constitutes it ... the subject speaks, and is seen, from where it is not” (67).

The colonial Other is a “challenge to see what is invisible” (67), which is, the Other of oneself, the “soul” that is invisible because it is complex, multiple, plural, that is, the Other and others that demand recognition from your place, which is revealed only by this demand. “To see a missing person, or to look at Invisibleness, is to emphasize the subject’s transitive demand for a direct object of self-reflection, a point of presence that would maintain its privileged enunciatory position qua subject. To see a missing person is to transgress that demand; the “I” in the position of mastery is, at that same time, the place of its absence, its re-presentation” (67).

This is a language game: a transitive verb is a verb that haves or takes a direct object, and is relational in the manner of if A then B; if B then C;if A then C. We can say, then, that the demand for recognition (being seen) is the transitive verb between A and B, Self and Other, and that B is the direct object of A’s demand. A demands to be [seen/recognized/self-reflected] by B. The Self requires interlocutors, other A’s, but in the colonial relation the Other is reduced to less than a Self. So the Other distorts the reflection that would otherwise be perfect in another Self. Thus, to look at the invisible is to emphasize the demand to be seen (the transitive verb) of the colonialist Self. The colonialist Self wants to maintain its privileged enunciatory position, but because B is also the Self to the Other C, B also speaks. And so if B speaks, if a missing person (i.e. a person deprived of personhood) enunciates her Self, the position of privilege, and the desire to possess, is threatened. The “feint of writing” especially accomplishes this, allowing the “scopic drive” to “emerge” and then be “erased” (67).

“Shifting the frame of identity from the field of vision to the space of writing interrogates the third dimension that gives profundity to the representation of Self and Other—that depth of perspective that cineastes call the forth [sic] wall” (68). This space is C, the other term of the transitive statement, that can be the Other, culture, language, etc., the Third Space that mediates all relations between I and Thou. This space is, citing Barthes (‘The imagination of the sign’), the “‘profound, geologic dimension’ of signification” (69).

Continuing from Barthes, Bhabha delves more deeply into the “geologic dimension of signification”:

(1) The “bilateral [on opposite sides of an axis] space of the symbolic consciousness ... massively privileges resemblance [vs. contiguity, in structural linguistics; i.e., metaphor and metonymy], constructs an analogical relation between signifier and signified that ignores the question of form, and creates a vertical dimension within the sign” (69).

(2) “In this scheme the signifier is always predetermined by the signified—that conceptual or real space that is placed prior to, and outside of, the act of signification” (69).

(3) “From our point of view, this verticality is significant for the light it sheds on that dimension of depth that provides the language of Identity with its sense of reality—a measure of the ‘me’ ... my inwardness ... depth ... character ... profoundity” (69).

From this, Bhabha extends the semiotics of depth to Locke’s (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding) “criteria for the continuity of consciousness” (69):

(1) “the sameness of a rational being requires a consciousness of the past which is crucial to the argument—‘as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person’—and is precisely the unifying third dimension [the Third Space; C]” (69).

(2) “The agency of depth brings together in an analogical relation (dismissive of the differences that construct temporality and signification) ‘that same consciousness uniting those distant actions into the same person, whatever substances contributed to their production’” (Bhabha’s emphasis, 69).

Thus the semiotic of the “sign-as-symbol is conveniently analogues to the language we use to designate identity” (69). In the way that a symbol makes present or re-presents that which is absent, the self makes present itself by referencing the instances or iterations of itself that are absent, its past (which is necessarily different and discontinuous from the present moment). The naturalistic tradition of identity, wherein the Self is simply that which is presented in identity, is not the whole story: Bhabha wants to “define the space of inscription or writing of identity—beyond the visual depths of Barthes symbolic sign” (70).

“Each time the encounter with identity occurs at the point at which something exceeds the frame of the image ... [we are confronted] with the discursive strategy of the moment of interrogation [“the demand for identification”]” (71). This strategy is doubling or duplicity (à la White on Foucault, the fourth phase). The “priority (and play) of the signifier [over the signified, as is privileged in resemblance. above] reveals the space of doubling (not depth) that is the very articulatory principle of discourse. It is through that space of enunciation that problems of meaning and being enter the discourses of poststructuralism, as the problematic of subjection and identification” (71).

“The desire for the Other is doubled by the desire in language [i.e., for meaning or for the presence of the voice?], which splits the difference between Self and Other so that both positions are partial; neither is sufficient unto itself” (72). Indeed, the Self can never be sufficient unto itself, for identity, as an image of who one is, is the “site of an ambivalence. Its representation is always spatially split—it makes present something that is absent—and temporally deferred: it is the representation of a time that is always elsewhere, a repetition” (73). The image is a metaphor for presence and a metonym for its loss (73).

Citing Fanon: “When it encounters resistance from the other, self-consciousness undergoes the experience of desire. . . . As soon as I desire I ask to be considered. I am not merely here and now, sealed into thingness. I am for somewhere else and for something else. I demand that notice be taken of my negating activity in so far as I pursue something other than life” (73). As such, “access to the image of identity is only ever possible in the negation of any sense of originality or plenitude” (73).

The Other is not a “fixed phenomenological point opposed to the self”; it is “the necessary negation of a primordial identity—cultural or psychic—that introduces the system of differentiation which enables the cultural to be signified as a linguistic, symbolic, historic reality” (74). The “subject of desire is never simply a myself, [and] the Other is never simply an It-self, a front of identity, truth or misrecognition” (74). In its representation, the Other “disclos[es] a lack” in the Self that perceives it.

Bhabha moves on to Lacan: “the Other is a dual entry matrix” (74). This statement “should be understood as the partial erasure of the depth perspective of the symbolic sign; through the circulation of the signifier in its doubling and displacing, the signifier permits the sign no reciprocal, binary division” (75). There is always C, always a third term. The Other speaks, has voice with reference to C.

So, then, there is an “uncanny sameness-in-difference,” an “alterity of Identity” (78). The colonized Other, which we seek to dominate, speaks, is a self, is an identity. In doubling and repetition the there is a “metonymic logic ... a figure of contiguity that substitutes a part for a whole” (78). The Other, who is reduced to a part (i.e., her skin) emerges in speaking as a whole. But this is not a “simple substitution or equivalence” (78). The “circulation of part and whole, identity and difference, must be understood as a double movement that follows what Derrida calls the logic or play of the ‘supplement’” (Of Grammatology) (78): the “supplement ... takes-the-place ... is assigned in the structure by the mark of emptiness [“As substitute”]” (78). This supplement “takes place on” (in time) and “takes place of” (in space) and so “wreaks its revenge by circulating, without being seen ... it opens up a space in-between ... initiates a space of intercutting” (79). There is an “overlap of signification” (80).

As such, “our fables of identity” have never been “unmediated” (81). They always take a “detour” through C. Now, it seems, C is not God or Law or Name or Father but a plurality of positions (82). The difference of identity “is articulated as a hybridity acknowledging that all cultural specificity is belated, different unto itself ... [that] meanings are very vicariously addressed to—through—an Other” (83). Thus, there can be no “essentialist claims for the inherent authenticity or purity of cultures” (83). There is, as Bhabha cites from Lyotard (Just Gaming) no “first utterer” (81).

Thus, psyche/society, “human subjectivity” and “social sovereignty ... are only realizable in the order of otherness” (87). There is a “tension of meaning and being, or some would say demand and desire” (89). This is because meaning is not being, nor vice versa. This is because the demand to be seen as and the desire to be other than are discontinuous with each other. So there must be a “crucial engagement between mask and identity, image and identification” (91). Citing Annie Reich: “It is imitation ... when the child holds the newspaper like his father. It is identification when the child learns to read” (87). Identification, the process of becoming a self, requires one to be as an Other, to not be oneself, to be oneself. This is the tension. So Bhabha asks: “how can the human world live its difference; how can a human being live Other-wise?” (91).

Some problems remain:

(1) How to “rethink ourselves once we have undermined the immediacy and autonomy of self-consciousness” (because we are always deferred and detoured) (92).

(2) How to think the “repetitious desire to recognize ourselves doubly, as, at once, decentred in the solidary processes of the political group, and yet, ourself as a consciously committed, even individuated, agent of change” (because we are always split as same and different, as others to ourselves) (93).

Chapter 3: The Other Question

Colonial discourse depends on “the concept of ‘fixity’ in the ideological construction of otherness” (96). And yet, it is “the force of ambivalence that gives the colonial stereotype its currency” (95). The stereotype “must always be in excess of ...” (95). This is the productivity of the stereotype. It is “that ‘otherness’ which is at once an object of desire and derision, an articulation of difference contained within the fantasy of origin and identity” (96).

The two primary “forms of difference” for Bhabha are racial and sexual (96). Articulating these differences “becomes crucial if it is held that the body is always simultaneously (if conflictually) inscribed in both the economy of pleasure and desire and the economy of discourse, domination and power” (96). This conflicted inscription produces “mixed economies which make naming and positing equally problematic ‘across the border’” (96).

The “stereotype is a complex, ambivalent, contradictory mode of representation, as anxious as it is assertive, and demands not only that we extend our critical and political objectives but that we change the object of analysis itself” (100). To ignore this complexity is to read with “a will to power and knowledge that, in failing to specify the limits of [its] own field of enunciation and effectivity, proceeds to individualize otherness as the discovery of [its] own assumptions” (100). This is Foucault “power/knowledge” or “Pouvoir/Savoir” (103) that maps with Said’s content and form of Orientalism: the content is the “unconscious repository of fantasy ... and ideas” while the form is the “historically and discursively determined, diachronic aspect” (102).

“Foucault insists that the relation of knowledge and power within the apparatus are always a strategic response to an urgent need at a given historical moment” (105). This need is the destabilizing ambivalence of the colonial other. Power/knowledge is mobilized to circumscribe otherness. The “apparatus is ... always inscribed in a play of power, but it is also always linked to certain coordinates of knowledge which issue from it but, to an equal degree, condition it” (106).

“In this spirit,” Bhabha argues, the “stereotype” can be understood “in terms of fetishism” (106). Fetishism is “always a ‘play’ or vacillation between the archaic affirmation of wholeness/similarity—in Freud’s terms: ‘All men have penises’; in ours: ‘All men have the same skin/race/culture’—and the anxiety associated with lack and difference—again, for Freud ‘Some do not have penises’; for us ‘Some do not have the same skin/race/culture’” (107). As such, the “fetish or stereotype gives access to an ‘identity’ which is predicated as much on mastery and pleasure as it is on anxiety and defence, for it is a form of multiple and contradictory belief in its recognition of difference and its disavowal of it” (107).

“In the act of disavowal and fixation the colonial subject is returned to the narcissism of the Imaginary and its identification of an ideal ego that is white and whole” (109). “The Imaginary is the transformation that takes place in the subject at the formative mirror phase, when it assumes a discrete image which allows it to postulate a series of equivalences, samenesses, identities, between the object of the surrounding world. However, this positioning is itself problematic for the subject finds or recognizes itself through an image which is simultaneously alienating and hence potentially confrontational” (110). “This is the basis of the close relation between the two forms of identification complicit with the Imaginary—narcissism and aggressivity [which correspond with the metaphoric and metonymic axes of the symbolic consciousness (113)]” (110).

The stereotype—an “image as identity” (110)—functions in this imaginary way. It is “the site of both fixity and fantasy” (110). It is a “colonial ‘identity’ that is played out ... in the face and space of the disruption and threat from the heterogeneity of others positions” (110).

In this imag(in)ing of identity, skin is “the most visible of fetishes” (112). Skin allows for the greatest discrimination, the greatest identification of difference as an object to be mastered. So, the “role of fetishistic identification ... is to provide a process of splitting and multiple/contradictory belief at the point of enunciation and subjectification” (115).

“The visibility of the racial/colonial Other is at once a point of identity ... and at the same time a problem for the attempted closure within discourse” (116). In “the identification of the Imaginary relation there is always the alienating other (or mirror) which crucially returns its image to the subject; and in that form of substitution and fixation that is fetishism there is always the trace of loss, absence” (116). “Stereotyping ... [is an] ambivalent text of projection and introjection, metaphoric and metonymic strategies, displacement, over-determination, guilt, aggressibity; the masking and splitting of ‘official’ and phantasmatic knowledges to construct the positionalities and oppositionalities of racist discourse” (117).

Chapter 4: Of Mimicry and Man

Bhabha begins with an epigraph from Lacan’s ‘The line and light’ from Four Fundamental Concepts: “... The effect of mimicry is camouflage ...” (121).

In the “conflictual economy of colonial discourse [seen above between desire and discourse]” there is a “tension between the synchronic panoptic vision of domination—the demand for identity, stasis—and the counter-pressure of the diachrony of history—change, difference” (122). In this tension, mimicry is an “ironic compromise” (122). Colonial mimicry “is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite” (122). As such, “the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence; in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference” (122). Mimicry “emerges as the representation of a difference that is itself a process of disavowal” (122).

This ambivalence is not a “rupture” but an “uncertainty” that introduces the “colonial subject” into “discourse” as “a ‘partial’ presence,” that is, “both ‘incomplete’ and ‘virtual’” (123).

Mimicry is a distortion of the intended, ideal mimesis that “repeats rather than re-presents” identity (125). Mimicry is possessed, therefore, of a “menace ... its double vision which in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourse also disrupts its authority” (126). This menace, doubling, or duplicity, is the Other is “almost the same but not quite” (127).

Mimicry is “produced at the site of interdiction” and is best “uttered inter dicta [between statements]” (128). Mimicry is “a discourse at the crossroads ... uttered between the lines and as such both against the rules and within them” (128).

The strategy of mimicry is “the metonymy of presence” (128). Metonymies of presence “are strategies of desire in discourse that make the anomalous representation of the colonized something other than a process of ‘the return of the repressed” (128). The identity of the colonized subject is not simply hidden or repressed, but is transformed and distorted in its hybrid, transitive relation with the colonizer. This is why the stereotype is productive.

This “form of resemblance,” in that it reflects in part (metonymically) the ‘identity’ of the colonizer, is “the most terrifying thing to behold,” a “power that is elusive because it hides no essence, no ‘itself’” (129). The colonizer sees that his own identity is absent as well, in-essential.

“The ambivalence of mimicry—almost but not quite—suggests that the fetishized colonial culture is potentially and strategically an insurgent counter-appeal ... its ‘identity-effects’ are always crucially split. Under cover of camouflage, mimicry, like the fetish, is a part-object that radically revalues the normative knowledges of the priority of race, writing, history” (130).

“The ambivalence of colonial authority repeatedly turns from mimicry—a difference that is almost nothing but not quite—to menace—a difference that is almost total but not quite” (131).

Chapter 5: Sly Civility

“If the spirit of the Western nation has been symbolized in epic and anthem, voiced by a ‘unanimous people assembled in the self-presence of its speech’, then the sign of colonial government is cast in a lower key, caught in the irredeemable act of writing” (133).

Enlightened government is of the people and for the people, and so requires speech and presence for the General Will to be established and exercised. But in a colonial government, where the people are governed by another will, governance is in the absence and deferral of writing.

The colonial government cannot be managed through the “nationalist ideology of unisonance” (134). Colonial government “separates the customary association of a territory with a people; not least, it breaks with any assumption of a natural link between democracy and discussion” (137). “In a figure of repetition, there emerges the uncanny double of democracy itself: ‘to govern one country under responsibility to the people of another ... is despotism [Mill]’” (137).

“Western imperialist discourse continually puts under erasure the civil state, as the colonial text emerges uncertainly within its narrative of progress” (138). So, for instance, India was a civil state that had its ‘statehood’ erased by Britain in so far as it was a colony. It was state and colony: it is “around the ‘and’—that conjunction of infinite repetition—that the ambivalence of civil authority circulates as a ‘colonial’ signifier that is less than one and double” (139)

The colonialists constantly make a “vigorous demand for narrative, embodied in the utilitarian or evolutionary ideologies of reason and progress,” which, for Derrida, is an “inquisitorial insistence” to say “exactly what happened” (140), i.e., to narrate. This forced enunciation is a mimicry of the speaking of the democratic people.

In this Bhabha locates the “sly civility” of the colonized: in “the native refusal to satisfy the colonizer’s narrative demand” the colonized resist “that nineteenth-century strategy of surveillance, the confession, which seeks to dominate the ‘calculable’ individual by positing the truth that the subject has but does not know” (141). “The native answers display the continual slippage between civil inscription and colonial address” (141).

This resistance creates uncertainty. Derrida’s “Tell us exactly what happened” becomes a “question of boundary and territory: Tell us why you, the native, are there” (141-42). And in the ambivalence of the colonialist demand, there is a “threatening reversal: Tell us why we are here” (142).

Chapter 6: Signs Taken for Wonders

Our “myths of origin” are “memorable for [their] balance between epiphany and enunciation” (145). The “texts of the civilizing mission”—books—work in this way (149). “The discovery of the book installs the sign of appropriate representation ... creat[ing] the conditions for a beginning, a practice of history and narrative” (149).

“As a signifier of authority, the English book acquires its meaning after the traumatic scenario of colonial difference, cultural or racial, returns the eye of power to some prior, archaic image or identity” (153).

The “colonial presence is always ambivalent ... To recognize the différance of the colonial presence is to realize that the colonial text occupies that space of double inscription” (154). The English book, however, attains to a “reality effect” that “constructs a mode of address in which a complementarity of meaning produces the moment of discursive transparency” (155). “Transparency is the action of the distribution and arrangement of differential spaces, positions, knowledges in relation to each other, relative to a discriminatory, not inherent, sense of order” (155-56).

The difference and otherness that is discriminated against “is never entirely on the outside or implacably oppositional. It is a pressure, and a presence, that acts constantly, if unevenly, along the entire boundary of authorization ... The contour of difference is agonistic, shifting, splitting, rather like Freud’s description of the system of consciousness which occupies a position in space lying on the border-line between outside and inside, a surface of protection, reception and projection” (156).

So, the “field of the ‘true’ emerges as a visible sign of authority only after the regulatory and displacing division of the true and the false” (157). “From this point of view, discursive ‘transparency’ is best read in the photographic sense in which a transparency is also always a negative, processed into visibility through the technologies of reversal, enlargement, lighting, editing, projection, not a source but a re-source of light. Such a bringing to light is a question of the provision of visibility as a capacity, a strategy, an agency” (157).

In all of this, hybridity “is the sign of the productivity of colonial power, its shifting forces and fixities; it is the name for the strategic reversal of the process of domination through disavowal ... Hybridity is the revaluation of the assumption of colonial identity through the repetition of discriminatory identity effects” (159). Hybridity does not have a “perspective of depth or truth to provide: it is not a third term that resolves the tension between two cultures, or the two scenes of the book, in a dialectical play of ‘recognition’” (162).

Rather, the “displacement from symbol to sign [which is ambivalent, not analogous] creates a crisis for any concept of authority based on a system of recognition: colonial specularity, doubly inscribed, does not produce a mirror where the self apprehends itself; it is always the split screen of the self and its doubling, the hybrid” (162). “Hybridity intervenes in the exercise of authority not merely to indicate the impossibility of its identity but to represent the unpredictability of its presence” (164). As such, the “book retains its presence, but it is no longer a representation of an essence; it is now a partial presence, a (strategic) device in a specific colonial engagement, an appurtenance of authority” (163).

Because hybridity employs this “partializing process” (163) Bhabha describes it as a “metonymy of presence” (164), as in Chapter 4 on page 128: “The hybrid object ... retains the actual semblance of the authoritative symbol [mimicry] but revalue its presence by resisting it as the signifier Entstellung [distortion]—after the intervention of difference” (164).

The distortion of hybridity “profoundly unsettles the demand that figures at the centre of the originary myth of colonialist power. It is the demand that the space it occupies be unbounded, its reality coincident with the emergence of an imperialist narrative and history, its discourse non-dialogic, its enunciation unitary, unmarked by the trace of difference” (165). “In the productivity of power, the boundaries of authority—its reality effects—are always besieged by ‘the other scene’ of fixations and phantoms” (165-66).

Thus, the “presence of the book has acceded to the logic of the signifier and has been ‘separated’, in Lacan’s use of the term, from ‘itself’” (170).

Author’s Note: No notes for chapters 7, 8, 9, or 10. They mustn’t have been assigned, because I checked my paper copy and I made no marginal notations either.

Chapter 11: How Newness Enters the World

Citing Benjamin: “Translation passes through continua of transformation, not abstract ideas of identity and similarity” (303).

Citing Harris: there is “‘a certain void of misgiving attending every assimilation of contraries ... an alien territory and wilderness [that] has become a necessity for one’s reason or salvation’” (305).

This misgiving is an anxiety, and “anxiety is the affective address of ‘a world [that] reveals itself as caught up in the space between frames; a doubled frame or one that is split’, as Samuel Weber describes the symbolic structure of psychic anxiety itself” (306).

This space of anxiety, the space in-between, is the space of ambivalence, hybridity, and difference. Reading Jameson’s “Secondary elaborations,” Bhabha argues that it is “the schizoid or ‘split’ subject that articulates, with the greatest intensity, the disjunction of time and being that characterizes the social syntax of the postmodern condition” (307). “Psychoanalytic temporality ... invests the utterance of the ‘present’—its displaced times, its affective intensities—with cultural and political value” (307). This is, perhaps, similar to la perruque of memory in de Certeau.

Because of this disjunction of time, a new map of the subject must be detailed, “a new international space of discontinuous historical realities” (310). This is the “problem of signifying the interstitial passages and processes of cultural difference that are inscribed in the ‘in-between’, in the temporal break-up that weaves the ‘global’ text. It is, ironically, the disintegrative moment, even movement, of enunciation—that sudden disjunction of the present—that makes possible the rendering of culture’s global reach” (310).

Bhabha’s “new historical subject” can emerge “only through a structure of splitting and displacement—‘the fragmented and schizophrenic decentring of the self’” (310). This new subject “emerges at the limits of representation itself, ‘to enable a situational representation on the part of the individual to that vaster and unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole’” (310, internal citations from Jameson).

The unrepresentable is a “domain of social causality and cultural difference” (310), which Bhabha sees to be the “third space” (310). “Figured in the disjointed signifier of the present, this supplementary third space introduces a structure of ambivalence into the very construction of Jameson’s internationalism” (311).

In Jameson’s “encounter with the global dialectic of the unrepresentable, there is an underlying, prosthetic injunction ‘something like an imperative to grow new organs, to expand our sensorium and our body to some new, yet unimaginable, perhaps impossible, dimensions’” (312). These are “Hybrid hyphenations [that] emphasize the incommensurable elements—the stubborn chunks—as the basis of cultural identifications” (313).

So, what “is at issue is the performative nature of differential identities: the regulation and negotiation of those spaces that are continually, contingently, ‘opening out’, remaking the boundaries, exposing the limits of any claim to a singular or autonomous sign of difference ... where difference is neither One nor the Other but something else besides, in-between” (313). Bhabha’s vision is for “an interstitial future, that emerges in-between the claims of the past and the needs of the present” (313).

So, for Bhabha to move the “problem of global space” from Jameson’s dialectic to a “postcolonial perspective is to move the location of cultural difference away from the space of demographic plurality to the borderline negotiations of cultural translation” (319).

“The liminality of migrant experience,” is a starting point, in that it is “no less a transitional phenomenon than a translational one; there is no resolution to it because the two conditions are ambivalently enjoined in the ‘survival’ of migrant life” (320).

The migrant’s “borderline culture” and “diasporic aesthetic” is “articulate[d] ... in an uncanny, disjunctive temporality that is, at once, the time of cultural displacement, and the space of the ‘untranslatable’” (322). Thus, “[i]nto the asserted authenticity or continuity of tradition, ‘secular’ blasphemy [the migrant’s otherness] releases a temporality that reveals the contingencies, even the incommensurabilities, involved in the process of social transformation” (323).

“If hybridity is heresy, then to blaspheme is to dream ... it is the dream of translation as ‘survival’ as Derrida translates the ‘time’ of Benjamin’s concept of the after-life of translation, as sur-vivre, the act of living on borderlines” (324). The “dream of survival” is “an initiatory interstices ... ‘how newness enters the world’” (324).

Bhabha, unlike “Derrida and de Man, [is] less interested in the metonymic fragmentation of the ‘original’. [Bhabha is] more engaged with the ‘foreign’ elements that reveals the interstitial; insists in the textile superfluity of folds and wrinkles; and becomes the ‘unstable element of linkage’, the indeterminate temporality of the in-between, that has to be enegaged in creating the conditions through which ‘newness comes into the world’” (326). “The foreign element ‘destroys the original’s structures of reference and sense communication as well” (336).

Therefore, cultural “[t]ranslation is the performative nature of cultural communication. It is language in actu (enunciation, positionality) rather than language in situ (énoncé, or propositionality)” (326).

“Cultural translation desacralizes the transparent assumptions of cultural supremacy, and in that very act, demands a contextual specificity, a historical differentiation within minority positions” (327).

This act is a “temporality of social construction and contradiction that is iterative and interstitial; an insurgent ‘intersubjectivity’ that is interdisciplinary; an everyday that interrogates the synchronous contemporaneity of modernity” (329).

Modernity is ambivalent—it is characterized by “undecidability” and “unconditionality” (334). Bhabha sees this in Derek Walcott’s poetry, which reveals the “moment” when “history begins elsewhere” (334). “Walcott poses the problem of ‘beginning’ outside the question of ‘origins’, beyond that perspectival field of vision—the mind halved by the horizon—that constitutes human consciousness in the mirror of nature” (334). The collective, which is multiple, locates this beginning elsewhere, in the “discursive space of struggle, the violence of the letter, the terror of the timeless” (334), in the “collective agency that is, at once, pronomial and postnominalist” (334).

So, Bhabha asks, “Where does the postcolonial subject lie?”

“With that terrible vowel, that I” (334) (citing Walcott), which is the “arbitrariness of the signifier ... the sign of the interstitial difference through which the identity of meaning is made. The ‘I’ as pronomial, as the avowal of the enslave colonial subject is the repetition of the symbolic agency of history, tracing its name on the shifting sands, constituting a postcolonial, migrant community in difference” (335). The postcolonial subject, therefore, lies “in-between the I-as-symbol and the I-as-sign” (335). Forms “of social identity must be capable of turning up in-and-as an-other’s difference and turning the right to signify into an act of cultural translation” (335).

So, history’s “intermediacy poses the future, once again, as an open question. It provides an agency of initiation that enables one to possess again and anew ... the signs of survival, the terrain of other histories, the hybridity of cultures” (336), an act of translation that “works through ‘the continua of transformation’” (336).


The colonial Other is “‘overlooked’—in the double sense of social surveillance and psychic disavowal—and, at the same time, overdetermined—psychically projected, made stereotypical and symptomatic” (339).

Fanon reveals “the historicity of [ethnocentrism’s] most universal symbol—Man. From the perspective of a postcolonial ‘belatedness’, Fanon disturbs the punctum of man as the signifying, subjectifying category of Western culture” (340). Fanon refuses to “occupy the past of which the white man is the future,” but “Fanon also refues the Hegelian-Marxist dialectical schema whereby the black man is part of a transcendental sublation: a minor term in a dialectic that will emerge into a more equitable universality. Fanon, I believe, suggests another time, another space ... a space of being that is wrought from the interruptive, interrogative, tragic experience of blackness, of discrimination, of despair. It is the apprehension of the social and psychic question of ‘origin’—and its erasure—in a negative side that ‘draws its worth from an almost susbstantive absoluteness ... [which has to be] ignorant of the essences and determinations of its being ... an absolute density ... an abolition of the ego by desire’” (341).

Bhabha’s project operates against and within the “ambivalent temporality of modernity” (342) to “establish a sign of the present ... that is not that ‘now’ of transparent immediacy, and to found a form of individuation where communality is not predicated on a transcendent becoming” (345).

The “power of the postcolonial translation of modernity rests in its performative, deformative structure,” as does Bhabha’s (346).

“Differences in culture and power are constituted through the social conditions of enunciation: the temporal caesura, which is also the historically transformative moment, when a lagged space opens up in-between the intersubjective ‘reality of sign ... deprived of subjectivity’ and the historical development of the subject in the order of social symbols” (347).

“Modernity as a sign of the present,” the establishment of which is Bhabha’s task, “emerges in that process of splitting, that lag, that gives the practice of everyday life its consistency as being contemporary. It is because the present has the value of a ‘sign’ that modernity is iterative; a continual questioning of the conditions of existence; making problematic its own discourse not simply ‘as ideas’ but as the position and status of the locus of social utterance” (348).

The “sign of history” takes the “form” of “spectacle; spectacle that signifies because of the distanciation and displacement between the event and those who are its spectators ... But it is the spatial dimension of distance—the perspectival distance from which the spectacle is seen—that installs a cultural homogeneity into the sign of modernity” (348-349). Bhabha wants to deconstruct this form of history.

“The problem of the articulation of cultural difference is not the problem of free-wheeling pragmatist pluralism or the ‘diversity’ of the many; it is the problem of the not-one, the minus in the origin and repetition of cultural signs in a doubling that will not be sublated into a similitude” (352). Bhahba’s “cultural difference ... opposes both cultural pluralism ... [and] cultural relativism” (352).

“This caesura in the narrative of modernity reveals something of what de Certeau has famously described as the non-place from which all historiographical operation starts, the lag which all histories must encounter in order to make a beginning. For the emergence of modernity—as an ideology of beginning, modernity as the new—the template of this ‘non-place’ becomes the colonial space ... the terra incognita or the terra nulla ... whose history has to be begun, whose archives must be filled out; whose future progress must be secured in modernity” (352).

“The racism of colonial empires is then part of an archaic acting out, a dream-text of a form of historical retroversion that ‘appeared to confirm on a global, modern stage antigue concepts of power and privilege’” (356, citing from Anderson). Racism, therefore, is “part of the historical traditions of civic and liberal humanism that create ideological matrices of nationa aspiration, together with their concepts of ‘a people’ and its imagined community” (359).

The “writing out of the colonial and postcolonial moment” challenges this dream-text (359). The “spatial time of cultural difference ... erases the Occidental ‘culture of common sense’ that Derrida aptly describes as ‘ontologizing the limit between outside and inside, between the biophysical and the psychic’” (361). And so, “a postcolonial contramodernity becomes visible” (361), a “retroactivity, a form of cultural reinscription that moves back to the future ... a ‘projective’ past, a form of the future anterior [oblique reference to Lacan]” (361).

This “projective past ... can be inscribed as a historical narrative of alterity” (361), shaped by “‘organic’ ideologies [Stuart Hall] [that] are neither consistent nor homogeneous and the subjects of [which] ideology are not unitarily assigned to a singular position” (362).

This “‘strangely composite’ construction” is a, citing Hall, “conception of society [that] must be a society of positions—different places from which we can all begin the reconstruction of society of which the state only the anachronistic caretaker” (362).

“Such a form of the social (or socialist) imaginary ‘blocks’ the totalization of the site of social utterance. This encounter with the time-lag of representation insists that any form of political emergence must encounter the contingent place from where its narrative begins in relation to the temporalities of other marginal ‘minority’ histories that are seeking their ‘individuation’, their vivid realization” (363).

This requires an emphasis on “‘the processual quality [of meaning] ... not material instantiation at any given moment but the efficacy of passage’” (363, citing Houston Baker).

“The postcolonial passage through modernity produces that form of repetition—the past as projective. The time-lag of post-colonial modernity moves forward, erasing that compliant past tethered to the myth of progress, ordered in the binarisms of its cultural logic” (363).

“This forward is neither teleological nor is it an endless slippage. It is the function of the lag to slow down the linear, progressive time of modernity to reveal its ‘gesture’, its tempi, ‘the pauses and stress of the whole performance’” (364).

“When the dialectic of modernity is brought to a standstill, then the temporal action of modernity—its progressive, future drive—is staged, revealing ‘everything that is involved in the act of staging per se.’ This slowing down, or lagging, impels the ‘past’, projects it, gives its ‘dead’ symbols the circulatory life of the ‘sign’ of the present, of passage, the quickening of the quotidian. Where these temporalities touch contingently, their spatial boundaries metonymically overlapping, at that moment their margins are lagged, sutured by the indeterminate articulation of the ‘disjunctive’ present” (364). “Time-lag keeps alive the making of the past” (364).

“What is crucial to such a vision of the future is the belief that we must not merely change the narratives of our histories, but transform our sense of what it means to live, to be, in other times and different spaces, both human and historical” (367).

III. Critique

To read Bhabha, one must enter into the text with an awareness, at least, of Derrida and Lacan. Many phrases, even whole paragraphs, are completely impenetrable without reference to these two thinkers. Bhabha’s reading method is distinctly deconstructive, and always carried out with a psychoanalytic bent.

Indeed, Bhabha’s resistance to dialectic, that tool of more traditional (particularly structuralist) Marxist critics, is clarified in recognizing his Derridean influence. The dialectical Marxist method is just another form of oppression and control, producing fixities in response to fixity. Bhabha prefers, instead, deconstructive play, which is expressed in his postcolonial frame as ambivalence. Bhabha’s own ambivalent style can be seen as such, a resistance to the polarizing discourse of Western politics, whether trenchant conservatism or revolutionary Marxism. Play hybridizes discursive binaries—which is to say, with less jargon, that Bhabha embraces the tension of competing perspectives, allowing them to intermingle and produce new understandings that challenge the rigid polarizations to which so many of us are prone. Rather than combat the dogma of Western, enlightened, rational, conservative colonialism with Western, enlightened, rational, revolutionary Marxism, Bhabha demonstrates the ambivalence and contradiction that emerges from within the dominant discourse, highlighting the impurity, ambivalence, and hybridity of it so as to demonstrate that the authorizing origin stories of power are constructed and, therefore, neither natural nor eternal. Bhabha does not retreat to some outside, whether Marxism or otherwise, but rather combats discrimination and oppression from within the system.

With this in mind, if we consider the titular “location of culture” we can determine that culture is always inside, always immanent, always constructed intersubjectively. To locate culture in an outside, or to resist culture from an outside, is to falsely remove oneself from the context and relationships within which one is always already embedded. The critic’s aloofness is as much an illusion as the cultural deceptions he critiques. The difference resisted by the conservative is, similarly, as much an internal, personal, self-situated threat, as it is projected by those against whom he seeks to conserve his tradition. In short, we are always already compromised. Dialectic is the representation of extremes that are never separate but always interrelated, even intermingled. In Derridean terminology, there is always a trace of the other and the different in the same, a trace of the same in the different. The vertical depth of a binary opposition is shown to be a “dual entry matrix” (Lacan’s words, quoted by Bhabha), a differential network that cannot be grounded, or rooted, in an origin or ‘reality.’

So, again, play and order; again, surfaces and depths. The resonances with Foucault also, or, at least, White’s reading of Foucault, is strong here. Insofar as culture manifests the “dual entry matrix” to which Bhabha refers, insofar as culture is the field of personal commitments, resistances, and relations, writing becomes the medium of his project, his politics. Writing, against the voice—that traditional medium of politics—or rather, within the voice, expresses the absence of presence that the voice covers over, that lack, in Bhabha’s Lacanian terms, that is intrinsic to the self. Because the voice and the supposed presence that appears with it has been so abused in the name of ‘order’ and ‘reason’, Bhabha seeks a different mode. The play of his writing, like the play or ‘style’ of Foucault, accomplishes this. Where the voice presents a single origin, writing highlights the hybridity, complexity, and multiplicity of all human communication. The voice itself is not uncompromised. In that we speak in language, in that our language is given to us, in that we appropriate, utilize, and transform language, we are always in relation to, always speaking the other.

To stand over against others in language is to seek mastery over both those others and our words. In Bhabha, however, the puzzle of his play (and, most definitely, his writing is often a puzzle) shows that we are always involved, enmeshed, and entangled in our speech and our relationships. There can be no separation.

Bhabha is challenging, but the challenge is necessary for his argument. If writing constitutes a form of resistance and transformation, if enunciation allows for a destabilizing repetition and re-presentation, then Bhabha definitely accomplishes his goal. It would be of little use for all writers and critics to write in such a way, but his key concepts of ambivalence, difference, and hybridity are essential for our understanding of the world. It is for us, now, to not simply talk about hybridity but to enunciate it, which is to say, to practice it, to recognize our constant entanglement with our others in the matrix of language.

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