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Homi Bhabha and His “the Location of Culture”

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Homi Bhabha and His “The Location of Culture” Homi Bhabha, who was born in 1949 in Mumbai, India, is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language. He is also the Director of the Humanist Center at Harvard University. As one of the most important figure in contemporary post-colonial studies, he has coined many neologisms and key concepts, such as hybridity, mimicry, difference, and ambivalence. These concepts describe ways in which the colonized people have resisted the power of the colonizers. As David Huddart claimed in his book, because “its histories and cultures constantly intrude on the present”(Huddart,2006:1), being considering the present situation, for example, violently proclaimed cultural difference is combined paradoxically; the globalization has complexly interconnected networks, colonialism could not be understood as something only existed in the past. When people attempts to understand it, Homi Bhabha suggests that transformation of the understanding of cross-cultural relations is demanded. Some Honi Bhabha’s writing on, for example, colonialism, race, identity and difference, are collected into the volume The Location of Culture. This essay will focus on several issues that Bhabha has mentioned in his book. At the very beginning of the introduction of The Location of Culture, Bhabha says “It is the trope of our times to locate the question of culture in the realm of the beyond” (Bhabha, 1994:1). So, what does beyond mean? “The beyond is neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past” (Bhabha, 1994:l). But in the beyond, “there is a sense of disorientation, a disturbance of direction” (Bhabha, 1994:1). Bhabha points out that, people nowadays find out that they are in the moment of transit, and during the transition, when time and space cross, complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion are produced. As a result, when people realize the “beyond”, identities could not just be claimed from traditional ways such as one’s past, class and so on, but from the subject positions, such as “race, gender, generation, institutional location, geopolitical locale, sexual orientation” (Bhabha, 1994:1) in the modern world. For example, in the novel Nervous Conditions which is written by Tsitsi Dangarembga the girl named Tambu could not be described just as poor homestead, rural girl. After she leaves her home and is soon educated, when people begin to identify her, people have to think it over from many aspects, because she is “new”. People, nowadays, have to position themselves within their surrounding society, because in the post-colonial countries, the society is changing. It is not the old one that one’s grandparents and great grandparents knew, and new cultures are forming as well. Understanding and discussing, for example, identity issues in the present conditions is necessary. Just as Bhabha argues that, people have to return to the “present”. However, the “present” here is not as the usual notion that is considered as “a break or a bonding with the past and the future” (Bhabha, 1994:4). It is also “no longer a synchronic presence” (Bhabha, 1994:4). Present is confronted with what Walter Benjamin describes, as the blasting of a monadic moment from the homogenous course of history. The conception of present is established as the “time of the now.” Besides, as known, being in the beyond is to inhabit an intervening space, Bhabha indicates that, to dwell in the beyond is also to be part of a revisionary time, and with the return of present, the cultural contemporaneity to reinscribe the human and historic commonality to get in touch with the future in this sense, the intervening space beyond becomes a space of intervention in the here and now. If people want to talk about the past, the present should be discussed at the first. In the post-colonial countries, with the changing of the society, the representation of difference is changing as well. In the past, when people wanted to understand the difference, they usually considered it from ethnic or cultural aspect. And difference could be just “read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition”(Bhabha, 1994:2). However, the interstices, such as “intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated” (Bhabha, 1994:2). That is to say, with the process of negotiation, the boundary between center and margin has shift. The voice from the people who stay on the margin or who are as the minority becomes significant. For the minority, the social articulation of difference, as Homi Bhabha claims, is a complex, on-going negotiation. During the negotiation, the history is transforming, but people who are on the margin have to try to gain the authorization of cultural hybridities. And the “right” is seized in the hands of minority. Compared the situation in the past, the “right” was captured by the authorized power and privilege. And the “right” to signify focused mainly on the persistence of tradition. However, when the life of minorities catches more people’s eyes, people can recognize that the minorities are struggling, for their life is sometimes full of contingency and contradictoriness. For them, they would be confused when they have to differentiate what is tradition and what is modernity; for the boundary of customs shifts, they also have to move the boundary more private or more public, higher or lower. But just because of these conditions, the power of tradition could be redefined. As a result, people could realize that, as Bhabha says, the borderline engagements of cultural difference are consensual and conflictual. Besides, since the status of the minorities become higher and more significant, as a result, the already existed and authenticated cultural tradition could not be the only resource to describe social difference. Nevertheless, social difference could be considered as what Bahbha describes a vision and construction which take them “beyond” themselves, in order to return to the political conditions of the present. Another important point that Bhabha has pointed out is about the national cultures. He mentions that the national cultures are being produced from the perspective of the minorities, the concepts of “homogenous national cultures, the consensual or contiguous transmission of historical traditions or `organic` ethic communities” (Bhabha, 1994:5) could be redefined. By then, the nationalism or national identities could be also redefined with “newness”. It will not be totally like what has happened in Serbia. In Serbia, the national identity is actually pure especially from ethnic perspective. People, who want to achieve their national identity, have to show it through their death. Sometimes, the identity could be confirmed through the complex interweaving of history or the culturally contingent borderlines of modern nationhood” (Bhabha, 1994:5). Nowadays, people add new elements. For example, some people use some references which happen in other countries to represent their own problems or situations. Some do the representation from different angles and aspects, which could give the readers more perspectives to understand what has happened. Well, with the encounter of newness, a sense of new is created, which plays an important role in the cultural translation. In Bhabha’s The Location of Culture, he also quotes from Frantz Fanon who is a Martinican psychoanalyst to point out another important issue - recognition. Frantz Fanon says “as soon as I desire I am asking to be considered. I am not merely here-and-now, sealed into thingness. I am for somewhere else and for something else […] I do battle for the creation of a human world - that is a world of reciprocal recognitions” (Bhabha, 1994:8). Well, the desire of recognition becomes more and more fiercely. People like Frantz Fanon want to be recognized in the cultural presence. Meanwhile, for these people who are subordinated, it is very significant to assert “the indigenous cultural traditions” (Bhabha, 1994:9) and retrieve “the repressed histories” (Bhabha, 1994:9). However, the intervention of beyond is created. People try to relocate their “home”, but finally they find themselves unhomely. “The `unhomely` is a paradigmatic colonial and post-colonial condition”(Bhabha, 1994:9). In the post-colonial era and countries, people usually feel that they have no “home”. But it does not mean that they have no place to live, they are homeless, but means that they are lack of a sense of belonging. Bhabha describes it in his social text in his book Third World and Post-Colonial Issues that “to be unhomed is not to be homeless, nor can the `unhomely` be easily accommodated in that familiar division of social life into private and the public spheres” (Bhabha,1992:141). Actually, unhomeliness seizes the “extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations”(Bhabha, 1994:9). As a result, the domestic space is the place when history begins it step of invasion, which is then displaced. Because of this, the boundary of home and world becomes unclear, and the public and private emerge in each other. Finally, unhomeliness arouses a sense of relocation of the home and the world. When the notion of unhomely arises, it is more connected to “the uncanny literary and social effects of enforced social accommodation, or historical migrations and cultural relocations” (Bhabha, 1992:141) and then, as Bhabha suggests, the home and the world are no longer two separated notions. The home is not just the place to show the domestic life, and the world is not simply the counterpart of home from social or historical aspect. The “unhomely” offers people another angle to recognize the contemporary situation. People could reconsider the relationship between the home and the world. They are not counterparts of each other, but combine and emerge into each other. The unhomely makes people to understand the world in the epitome “home” and understand the home in the world background. Taking Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved as an example, the house that the protagonist Sethe rents locates at 124 Bluestone. It is the home of Sethe and her daughter. For them, at the beginning of the novel, it is just a place where they live, but later it becomes strange when the spirit of Beloved began to haunt the house. And the home became something different when Sethe was forced to kill her unborn baby to “free” her from slavery. It is their home physically, but they are actually unhomely when the home is changed. By the analysis of 124, people could understand the world as well. In Bhabha’s essay “The Location of Culture”, which is collected by Julie Rivkin and Ryan Michael in the book Literary Theory: An Anthology, he has a very good suggestion that, “world literature could be an emergent, prefigurative category” (Rivkin, 1998:941). What could the world literature study? Because culture is changing from time to time in the post-colonial society, cultures could identify themselves from the connection with other cultures, and “recognize themselves through their projections of ‘otherness’” (Rivkin, 1998:941). And the study of the world literature could be the way to witness the processes of identification and recognition. According to Bhabha’s advice, the transmission of national traditions could be the major theme of a world literature. And the transnational histories of migrants, the colonized or political refugees could be good source materials. By concentrating on week social and cultural displacement, people could understand the world better “when something is beyond control, but not beyond accommodation” (Rivkin, 1998:941). Homi Bhabha’s essay “The Location of Culture” and his book under the same title offer people new perspectives to understand the post-colonial literatures. Although his theories are difficult to be grasped, people could be really inspired from them in the process of understanding.

Work Cited
Bhabha, Homi K., Third World and Post-Colonial Issues. London: Duke University Press, 1992. Print.
Bhabha, HomiK., The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. Print.
Huddart, David, Homi K. Bhahba. Oxon: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Rivikin, Julie and Michael Ryan, Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden:Blackwell
Publishers Inc., 1998.

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