While developing a nationwide consciousness through the rise of a national culture holds many revolutionary and therapeutic promises, it is also riddle with many pitfalls. Fanon was far too aware of the lurking dangers of “fixity and fetishism of identities within the calcification of colonial culture” to fall into to the trap of either romanticizing the past, or homogenizing the unfolding history of anti-colonial resistance (Bhabha, 1994:9). According to him, the discourse of cultural essentialism can reiterate and legitimize the insidious racialization inherent to the violent rationale of colonialism. The process of historical and cultural rehabilitation is an essential step in overcoming the rhetoric of the colonial civilizing mission, and its narrative consigning the colonized to barbarism, degradation, and bestiality. In Fanon’s understanding however, these aggressive assertions of cultural identity at a national level should eventually lead to wider international solidarities dedicated to the same anti-colonial struggle. “Ideally, national consciousness ought to pave the way for the emergence of an ethically and politically enlightened global community” (Gandhi, 1998:123). It is crucial to move beyond the colonial moment by imagining a renewed social consciousness transcending the fixed identities and rigid boundaries inherent to nativism. “Postcolonialism, in other words, ought to facilitate the emergence of what we might, after Said, call an enlightened postnationalism” (Gandhi, 1998:124).
The vast majority of contemporary postcolonial critics and theorists agree that postnationalism proposes not only a more accurate reading of the colonial experience, but also a more creative framework for a postcolonial future. The perspective offered by the previous generation of anti-colonial activists (Fanon, Memmi, Césaire, Cabral etc.…) is often criticized for describing the colonial encounter through “the rigid binary of colonizer and colonized, center and periphery” (Archeraiou, 2011:150). Despite the historical and political truth of the antagonism underlined in their writings, their anti-colonial perspective neglects to recognize “the corresponding failures and fissures which trouble the confident edifice of both colonial repression and anti-colonial retaliation” (Gandhi, 1998:124). The colonial onslaught, despite its violence and systematicness, was never successful in completely obliterating colonized societies. In fact, Homi Bhabha argues that the encounter with colonial powers was far more ambivalent in nature then exclusively oppositional. The early political visions of Said and Spivak differ tremendously in their understanding of colonial history. Whereas Said presents colonialism as an uninterrupted narrative of oppression and exploitation in Orientalism, Spivak tends to offer a more complex image of the effects of Western domination. While she never dismisses the destructive impact of imperialism, she nevertheless insists on acknowledging its positive effects. According to Spivak, imperialism is endowed with a paradoxical nature that generates what she refers to as “an enabling violence” (Spivak, 1996:19).
Postnationalism investigates the precarious nature of the colonial encounter by bridging the old divide between Westerner and native through a less beleaguered—and more politically amorphous—account of “colonialism as a cooperative venture” (Gandhi, 1998:125). This rather softer outlook on colonialism seeks to produce a postcolonial ethos capable of creating an inter-civilizational coalition to challenge the institutionalized suffering and oppression of our current world (Gandhi, 1998:125). In order to do so, the colonial encounter is showcased as a process of mutual transformation. The old tale of conflict and confrontation is replaced by an anecdote of transcultural exchange. As Harish Trivedi states:
“It may be useful to look at the whole phenomenon as a transaction…as an interactive, dialogic, two-way process rather than a simple active-passive one; as a process involving complex negotiation and exchange” (Trivedi, 1993:15).
Three main factors seem to have heralded contemporary postcolonialism’s discursive turn toward postnationalism. The advent of globalization as an academic field with a growing body of work, insisting on the economic and technological homogenization of the world, reinforced the impression that national boundaries are no longer sustainable in the modern world. The current flow of global capital goes hand in hand with an unparalleled movement of peoples, technologies, and information across borders hitherto perceived as impermeable (Appadurai, 1990:295). Due to its global reach, colonialism became the harbinger of this free-flow that exemplifies the disconcerting relationships characterizing modernity. “The imperial gaze, in other words, delivered a distinctively globalized perception of the disparate world” (Gandhi, 1998:126). The colonial encounter caused the overlapping of diverse and reciprocally antagonistic national histories by accelerating the contact between formerly distinct and autonomous cultures. The colonial onslaught became a common experience to countless cultures connected by nothing else. Therefore, the condition of the postcolonial aftermath pertains “to Indians and Britishers, Algerians and French, Westerners and Africans” (Said, 1993: xxiv). The globalization of cultures and histories is the very matrix through which postcoloniality emerges.
A second factor that leads to the “postnationalisation of postcolonial theory” is the mounting critical distrust of identitarian politics (Gandhi, 1998:126). A variety of critics suspect that essentialized racial/ethnic identities are deliberately being maintained and proliferated in the neocolonial context. Stuart Hall details the insidious process through which “the convenient Othering and eroticization of ethnicity merely confirms and stabilizes the hegemonic notion of Englishness” (Hall, 1989:227). In these circumstances, ethnicity is always defined as peripheral to an Englishness or Americanness conceived of as the mainstream. This leads critics such as Rey Chow and Gayatri Spivak to question the enduring longing for the “pure Other of the West” (Spivak, 1990:8). The dissatisfaction with identitarian politics is driven primarily by the conviction that the narrative based on racial/ethnic affiliations has been co-opted by a devious partnership between neo-orientalism and postcolonial pragmatism.
Finally, to complete this account of the growing discursive turn toward postnationalism, we must take into account the pervasive exhaustion with the previous embattled approach to colonial history. The desire to transcend the older pattern of confrontation and conflict fuelled the belief that the antagonistic basis of old solidarities lacks contemporary credibility. “In conservative Britain, for instance, old racial oppositions come in the way of other more urgent alliances organized along the axes of class, gender, sexuality” (Gandhi, 1998:128). Said denotes an analogous impasse in old national enmities. His disenchantment stems from what he labels as a ”rhetoric of blame”, which he claims is responsible for the violence and confusion escalading hostilities between the Western and non-Western world (Said, 1993:20). These antagonistic relationships are exploited and manipulated by a throng of fundamentalist and reactionary movements taking cover under the rhetoric of anti-Western sentiment to, in Said’s words, “cover up contemporary faults, corruptions, and tyrannies” (Said, 1993:17).
“Finally, for all the blindness of unequivocal anti-nationalism, postcolonial theory has been susceptible to the general disillusionment with national cultures. Caught between the harsh extremes of ethnic cleansing, on the one hand, and the militaristic American purification of the un-American world on the other, postcolonialism ponders a ceasefire. Its hope, via postnationalism, is this: that it be possible to inaugurate a non-violent revision of colonial history, and that politics may become genuinely more collaborative in times to come” (Gandhi, 1998:129)
Hybridity and mutual transformations
Much like the culturalist turn of the 1970s that became a leading trend in the social sciences, the non-binary models promoted by Bhabha, Young, and Gilroy gained traction in the early 1990s in postcolonial studies. They have become the principal modes through which colonial and postcolonial cultural encounters are conceptualized and understood (Acheraiou, 2011:150). The previous models predicated on binary modes of theorizing and resisting colonialism/neocolonialism have been relegated to oblivion. Postcolonialism opts instead for a postnational reading of the colonial encounter, putting the emphasis on the amalgamation of cultures and identities touched by imperialism. To do so, it deploys various conceptual terms and categories of analysis to examine the elusive relationships between colonizers and colonized. “In this regard, the terms hybridity and diaspora, in particular, stand out for their analytic versatility and theoretical resilience” (Gandhi, 1998:129). As a critical term, hybridity is often tackled in connection with a series of concepts indicating the advent of an “intercultural transfer”, as well as the forms of identity emerging from such an exchange (Hiepko, 2001:118). This process of creolization implies that the various groups implicated in this event will adapt themselves to each other and to their new environment, allowing for a new identity to arise.
The origins of the term hybridity can be traced back to the discourse of the biological sciences. In botany and zoology, the hybrid is said to be a cross between two different species of plants or animals. However, in the context of colonialism and its racializing discourse, the term was primarily understood in a negative manner. By blurring the distinction between different races, the process of hybridization was seen as a potential danger to the alleged superiority of the White race, and white colonizers by extension (hiepko, 2001:118). Since the usage of this concept is traditionally entrenched in the narratives of evolution, “the hybrid was originally conceived of as infertile and often as an inferior copy of the original” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:4). Within Western thought, hybridity was usually interpreted in the framework of racial thinking. This generated a great deal of reluctance amongst those wary of its usage in postcolonialism. They were mainly concerned with the nineteenth century notions about race and miscegenation embedded in the term. Robert J.C Young who discusses the link between the concept of hybridity and the racist idea of mongrelity has argued for this perspective. He claims that the usage of the term reiterates and reinforces the contentious and divisive dynamics of its nineteenth century ideological baggage (Young, 1995:14).
“Today, therefore, in reinvoking this concept, we are utilizing the vocabulary of the Victorian extreme right as much as the notion of an organic process of the grafting of diversity into singularity” (Young, 1995:10).
For the most part, the language of hybridity seems to derive its theoretical incentive from Fanon’s judicious reading of colonialism as a catalyst for the accelerated transformation of colonized societies. He states that the constraints of the decolonization project radically unsettles and alters traditional cultural patterns in colonized societies. “The shifting strategies of anti-colonial struggle, combined with the task of imagining a new and liberated postcolonial future, generate a crisis within the social fabric” (Fanon, 1965:64). The revolutionary endeavor undertaken in the struggle for liberation provokes profound political and cultural transformations that change these societies irrevocably. Fanon proclaims that it is “the necessities of combat that give rise in Algerian society to new attitudes, to new modes of action, to new ways” (Fanon, 1965:64). His analysis of the Algerian Revolution highlights the transformations observed in the status of Algerian women as well as the changes occurring in the family structure and its values. Significant modifications in the customary attitudes toward science and technology can also be observed during the same period. While the rise of a national culture requires the uncovering of a native identity, invoking the myth of pure origins, the experience of colonial oppression must bring profound changes in the consciousness of the colonized to help them transcend the limitations of nativism, so they can instead embrace wider international solidarities.
“The challenging of the very principle of foreign domination brings about essential mutations in the consciousness of the colonized, in the manner in which he perceives the colonizer, in his human status in the world” (Fanon, 1965:69).
Fanon’s remarks pertaining to the “instability and consequent inventiveness of anti-colonial conditions” were revisited by a variety of postcolonial theorists who later formulated the discourse of hybridity (Gandhi, 1998:130). Most of them focused on the fact that the colonial encounter led to the transformation of the colonized into a political subject of decolonization. The contact between two conflicting systems of belief produced a whole new cultural identity. Stuart Hall argues that anti-colonial identities “do not owe their origins to a pure and stable essence” but are instead the byproduct of a traumatic and disruptive fissure in history and culture (Gandhi, 1998:130).
Homi K. Bhabha contributed to the discussion on hybridity by bringing forth the idea of intercultural space. According to him, this expanse of in-betweenness and liminality is where hybrid identities are formed. In what Bhabha calls the ‘Third space of enunciation’, the transitional space between the cultures of the colonizer and the colonized, as well as migrants and other post-colonial subjects, go through a process that alters their fixed sense of identity (Bhabha, 1994:37). While this recasting of previously fixed identities can be positive and empowering, its transgressive nature and location in the liminal space, poses nonetheless potential dangers as it produces “a new, and hybrid subjectivity” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:8). While this Third Space possesses the ability to generate non-fixed identities, there is always the possibility that these new identities might at first glance resemble the old ones, without being quite the same however (Bhabha, 1994:4). What is involved in the creation of a hybrid identity is an “estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world—the unhomeliness—that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations”(Bhabha,1994:9). Colonialism is read, in Bhabha’s perspective, as the trigger of a new politics of un-homeliness.
“In this sense, colonialism is said to engender the unhomeliness—that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiation. Not surprisingly, diasporic thought finds its apotheosis in the ambivalent, transitory, culturally contaminated and borderline figure of the exile, caught in a historical limbo between home and world” (Gandhi, 1998:132).
The role of hybridity in the production of contemporary identities is particularly of significance when one takes into account how this process frames them along cultural borderlands as hyphenated entities. Mary Louise Pratt extends Bhabha’s analyses by arguing that both the colonizer and the colonized are involved in the transcultural subtleties of the colonial encounter. She describes it less as a violent interaction and more as a contact requiring innovative forms of communication to overcome the existing ideological/cultural/linguistic barriers. This interaction amidst “radically asymmetrical conditions of power, invariably produces an estrangement of familiar meanings and a mutual ‘creolisation’ of identities”(Pratt, 1992:4).
“Some critics of Bhabha, such as Aijaz Ahmed and Benita Parry, criticize his theory for its poststructuralist/postmodernist and textual emphasis” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:9). Ahmed argues that Bhabha is situated in the same material conditions of postmodernity that ascertain and reiterate the benefits of modernity; it is this very location that informs Bhabha’s judgments of the past, as well as the “anti-historicality of his post-colonial theory” (Ahmed, 1996:291). Others however, have argued that the ambivalence of Bhabha’s Third Space can be used to inspire emancipatory aims, and unearth new narratives pertaining to nation. “Hybridity is a threat to colonial and cultural authority; it subverts the concept of pure origin or identity of the dominant authority through the ambivalence created by denial, unsettling, repetition, and displacement” (Mabardi, 2000:6).
The possible existence of these locations of hybridity theorized by Bhabha, where the traditional and the new co-exist, challenges the standard narratives pertaining to modernity and postmodernity. It proposes the likelihood of “mixed times where premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity coexist” (Pieterse, 1995:51). This outlook on time occupies an important place in Bhabha’s work. His concept of time-lag intimates that the colonial past still exercises a certain hold on the postcolonial present, that is, “in the colonialist stereotype that surfaces in the present and troubles the linearity of modernity by repeating the past” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:10). Hybridity’s ability to question and challenge what might appear as natural borders is probably its greatest aptitude and influence.
“Acknowledging the contingency of boundaries and the significance and limitation of hybridity as a theme and approach means engaging hybridity politics. This is where critical hybridity comes in, which involves a new awareness of and new take on the dynamics of group formation and social inequality. This critical awareness is furthered by acknowledging rather than suppressing hybridity” (Pieterse, 2001:239).
The notion of in-betweenness implied by the term hybridity is further explored through the concept of diaspora. While this term usually evokes the specific dynamics of human displacement, postcolonialism is generally more concerned with the idea of cultural dislocation. Although it is often used interchangeably with the concept of migration, “it is generally invoked as a theoretical device for the interrogation of ethnic identity and cultural nationalism” (Gandhi, 1998:131). The notion of hybridity elucidates those processes of “cultural mutation and restless (dis) continuity that exceed racial discourse and avoid capture by its agents” (Gilroy, 1993:2). This concurrence between diasporic thought and the discourse of hybridity allows postcolonialism to reveal the process of mutual transformation experienced by both the colonizer and the colonized. “For all its hyperbolic claims, the discourse of hybridity and diaspora is not without its limitation” (Gandhi, 1998:136). While postcolonialism attempts to understand the mutual transformation of colonizer and colonized, hybridity usually implies the destabilizing of colonized cultures. In all these cross-cultural conversations the West remains the primary meeting ground. Furthermore, in the metropolis, the positive outlook on multiculturalism is often used to disguise serious economic, political, and social disparities. In this context, it is crucial to remain cautious of claims which favor hybridity as the only enlightened response to racial/colonial oppression.
“The dangers of ‘enlightened hybridity’ are amply demonstrated in Ashcroft et al.’s recently announced objections to the aggressively postcolonial claims of the indigenous peoples of ‘settled colonies’ which, arguably, compete with the corresponding claims of ‘white settler’ Australians and Canadians.” (Gandhi, 1998:136).
Hybridity and mimicry
The complications pertaining to Bhabha’s attempt to think beyond the traditional binary modes of analysis become evident in “his account of the issue of political engagement, resistance and agency” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:130). He views the political sphere as an area where dominant and subordinate cultures engage in a process of constant (re)negotiation and political (re)positioning. This cognitive ambivalence on the part of both “partners” permits the advent of new, and hitherto unknown methods in which the native can circumvent the weight of colonial power. Bhabha compares this process to a “psychological guerrilla warfare” that gives the colonized a certain edge over their colonizers (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:130). His reassessment of the spaces, the times, and the modes of political engagement in the colonial relationship is an attempt on his part to find a way of reformulating subaltern agency in terms other than those elaborated by either late Fanon or early Said. For Bhabha, the portrait of the violent native insurgent found in The Wretched of the Earth reestablishes the Western model of the individual as an autonomous subject, “by which Western modernity—and the history of colonialism which accompanied it—is underwritten” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:131).
Unlike Fanon, Said establishes the subaltern as devoid of any real agency, and a mere consequence of the dominant discourse. Within the power dynamic presented in Orientalism, the subaltern is only ever the West’s silent rival. While some have criticized Said for “constructing too hegemonic a picture of Orientalism’s discursive formation, Bhabha points out to the way in which Said himself shows that such a discourse is constituted ambivalently” (Young, 2004: 181). Said tackles this ambivalence by mentioning a single instigating intention. In his analysis, Orientalism is reduced primarily to a Western projection designed to rule over the Orient. He posits an antagonism born out of the binary opposition between power and powerlessness. This emphasizes “the supposition of an exterior controlling intention and leaves no room for negotiation or resistance (…)” (Young, 2004:182). However, Bhabha believes that Europe’s intents toward the East were not merely motivated by imperial greed. “There is always, in Said, the suggestion that colonial power is possessed entirely by the colonizer which is a historical and theoretical simplification” (Homi, 1983:200). He argues that this is a reductive analysis of a far more complex relationship. According to him, the representation of the Orient in Western discourse displays a deep ambivalence toward an Other viewed simultaneously as an object of desire and derision (Bhabha, 1994:19). Both the colonizers and the colonized enter a process of mutual transformations and engage in mutual mimicry.
Bhabha defines the concept of mimicry as “one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge”(Bhabha, 1994:85). The case of the nineteenth century adventurer Richard Burton, who passed himself off as a native in India and other British colonies, is no doubt one of the greatest examples of cross-cultural impersonation through mimicry. “His fluency in several languages and easy ability to consort with natives led him to adopt indigenous dress” (Godiwala, 2007:59). Burton’s act of mimicry was a subversive one that allowed him to regularly warn colonial powers against insurgent activities, burgeoning rebellions, and underground anti-colonial mobilizations. Said’s definition of the orientalist as a Westerner who establishes himself as an “authority in the texts of the colonized peoples applies to Burton’s writing as it does to the Egypt-based Burkhardt” (Godiwala, 2007:60). As pointed out by Parama Roy, in Burton’s travelogues, letters, and journals he is always posited as the authority on the native subject having “penetrated and participated in every exotic and forbidden mystery”(Roy, 1998:26). Mimicry is used here as a camouflage allowing the colonizer to fade into the background while still occupying a privileged position as an observer.
However, in the case of the colonized, Bhabha theorizes that the act of mimicking the colonizer’s habits, behaviors, mannerisms, and attitudes contains simultaneously an element of mockery as well as a certain threat in the resemblance to the values of the colonizing culture. The colonized subject engaging in the act of mimicry is effectively refusing to return the colonizer’s gaze, which, “Bhabha suggests, destabilizes colonial authority just as effectively in a different way” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:132). The colonizer’s ambivalence toward the colonized is conveyed in the “narcissistic colonialist demand” that requires the recognition of his authority, priorities, and references by the Other (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:132). By refusing to satisfy the colonizer’s need for such recognition, the subaltern is effectively engaging in resistance. This defiance arises from the subaltern’s calculated attempt to escape the process through which he is to be confined to a subordinate position in order to confirm the dominance of the colonizer.
“Here, the Anglicization of a colonial subject makes the subject familiar and yet, for Bhabha, emphasizes the difference from the English subject which is a process that mocks the authority of the latter” (Godiwala, 2007:60).
According to Dimple Godiwala, Bhabha is making a false assumption by equating the mimicry of an Englishman such as Burton to that of an Indian mimicking English values and attitudes. While Burton’s mimicry is endowed with the power bestowed upon him by his status of colonizer, to the colonized subject this mimicking Englishman represents a danger in his role as a spy of the empire. “Burton’s impersonation gives a him a thrill and a pleasure as his role as consummate actor is mingled with the knowledge of his own power” (Godiwala, 2007:61). Bhabha’s projected equivalence on both sides is simplistic and foregoes completely the impact of the power wielded by the colonizer’s culture. Young echoes Godiwala’s argument by pointing out that “such an analysis cannot be equally applicable to colonized as to colonizer” (Young, 2004:145). Burton’s motivations are part of the larger ‘colonialist desire’ to insinuate oneself into the lives of the colonized in order to render it accessible and manageable. The colonized however, mimic because they have internalized the notion that their cultural values are inferior to that of their colonizers. Therefore, the “subject-positions” of the colonizer and the colonized are fundamentally different and mimicry is used for very different reasons. The colonized is primarily motivated by a desire to imitate values they regard as superior to their own (Godiwala, 2007:61).
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