Sunteți pe pagina 1din 4

translocation_new media/art "Don't Mess With Mister In-Between" Interview with Homi K.

Bhabha By Christian Hoeller CH: What you have put on the map in cultural and postcolonial studies is the notion of cultural production as always taking place in a third space, an in-between space between the old binary oppositions of colonizers vs. colonized, oppressors and oppressed, and so on. Is this a very specific concept which only applies to people coming from so-called third-world countries and living in the Western metropolis now? Or can it be generalized so that it applies to practically all cultures? How do you distinguish this new moment of the postcolonial from both the old and new forms of colonialism (e. g. the processes implemented by the global capitalist economy)? HB: When I first proposed the notion of the third space, it came from my interest in the way in which power and authority functioned in the symbolic and subjectifying discourses of the colonial moment. My interest was particularly focused on the domain of cultural relations where the structure of signification or the regime of representation becomes at once the medium of social discourse as well as the operative and substantial objective of a political strategy. For instance, the transmission of Christian ethics as part of the civilizing mission required both the institution of the English language as a communicative and pedagogical medium as well as the partial interpellation of an individualistic subject. In the field of colonial relations, where cultural interaction and antagonism are at the center of power struggles, there is a tendency to represent the subjects of such conflicts in a binary division based on a pre-constituted notion of a Christian/Hindu or British/Indian sense of Tradition and Identity. What of the moment where cultures interact or intersect antagonistically? What of the process where identifications are performatively constituted in the very enactments of orders of authority or the transgressive dis-orders of subalterneity? Why has this moment of cultural translation, that takes place in the very midst of the play of power, come to be disavowed by referring the agents of the struggle back to their own cultural positions or origins, constituted prior to the process and the performance of struggle? Doesnt the act of interaction, be it antagonistic or collusive, generate a space where the activation of the cultural differential or the differend exceeds the prior identities of the antagonistic subjects or discourses? It is to demarcate such an interstitial space and time of conflict and negotiation, that I conceived of a third space. Now, how do we understand this thirdness? It is not a third space in the sense of a linguistic third-person that lends a level of objectivity to a process; nor is such thirdness an integrative subsumption or sublation. It is a thirdness that is part of an unceasing process or movement that is at once in-between and beside the assumed polarities of conflict, unsettling any essentialist or

foundationalist claim to the originary that they make. The third space focuses on the strategic and agential potentialites released in the act of translation, possibilities that are not constrained by a normalised or surveillant causality that dominates the binary representation of conflict or antagonism. By making the originary causality contingent in the process of shaping (ab)errant and interventionist agencies, thirdness is not itself trapped in the two-handed game of the essentialist and the anti-essentialist that has become such a favored theoretical maneuver. As you can see my interest in this peculiar and particular interstitiality or thirdness derives from my interest in the colonial text and context, but it addresses a more general question of how to address the problem of authority in situations where inequality and cultural difference are the foci of social hierarchy and hegemony. Minorities, in contemporary metropolitan societies, both in the North and the South, inhabit this agonistic interstitial space because they are often the subjects of a kind of legal and cultural indeterminacy -- there is a social crisis around who they are and where they belong, because they are often the most visible signs of the problematic colonial history of the Enlightenment, representing an alternative narrative of modernity as a counter-history of alterity, and the limits of liberalism as a discourse of tolerance and individual sovereignty. CH: How did your personal experience of growing up in Bombay and then moving on to do literary studies in Oxford figure in the development of the notion of the postcolonial? HB: The whole condition of Indian sixties culture in which I was brought up was a culture of bordercrossings. Particularly, if, like me, you belong to the Parsi minority which by the traditional indicators of culture does not have many great writers, artists or musicians. It was instead a minority made up of professionals, bankers and business people. So one always had to experiment amongst a range of other kinds of cultural practices. There were many enthusiasts of Western art and classical music among us but we could not point to two thousand years of epic tradition the way a Hindu could. One was always in an interrupting and improvisational mode. CH: Today, there is a huge discourse on hybridity going on which you certainly never intended in this form. It has taken on the postmodern notion of the fragmentation of all subjectivities and identities. Is not this decentering and disintegration of the subject which has taken place theoretically in postmodernism mirrored and paralleled by the postfordist logic of economic deregulation? HB: I do not see so much a parallel, but certainly a connection. It is not a parallel because the media, the techniques, and the audiences are different. But the regime of the financial and the economic is not unconnected with the theoretical notion of the fragmentation of the subject. We need to find links between the systems of representation. Postfordism has its own fissiparous tendencies towards

atomization and flexibilization but it would be too functionalist to say that it produces the fragmented subject to fit in its economic logic. CH: So there is no determining relationship? HB: Not at all. For instance, the time when the oil economy was computerized in Iran was the time when Iranian fundamentalism emerged. You would not have thought that there was a determining relation between a modernizing, supposedly democratizing, technology and a very traditionalist religious position. Also, the moment of the dissemination of media technology in India is the moment when it is seized and grasped by the atavism of certain sects of religious fundamentalists. There might be an enabling or an associative relationship but certainly not a determining one. CH: As far as an agenda for politics is concerned, you are favoring a politics of problematic identification - with a lot of disruptions included - to a politics of recognition or a politics of mere identity. What exactly differentiates the two approaches? HB: First of all, a politics of identity does not see its establishment as an interrupting or on-going form. It wants to essentialize various identities - like black, feminist, etc. - and then judicate and mediate between them. A politics of identification refuses to separate out one such entity and says that one cannot entirely constitute one's political subjectivity around just race or difference. On the other hand, it also says that the notion of multiple subject position is just another pluralism as though you could choose among them. That is why I favor identification in its psychoanalytic dimension which says that identity is a continual negotiation between the fantasmatic structuring of psychic affect and desire, and the more realistic demands placed upon the ego in its social and relational engagements. You don't become a political agent on the basis of an identity already constituted. It is through the structuring of an identification - which depends on the legal apparatus of the time, the economic situation in which you are, the cultural dispositions around your choices, the psychic conditions of choice, the ethical implications of the interests that you represent - that you emerge as an agent in the interstices of these contingent causalities. CH: But if you start with no basis of identity at all... HB: You never start with nothing. You start with too many things. Psychoanalysis says that you always have a tremendous clash and contradiction of drives. It is the essentialist position which claims that you have to first secure a firm foundation which you hammer into the ground before you can make a political move. CH: How would you position yourself with respect to classical liberalism? In particular, how would you go about reclaiming classical liberalist concepts such as freedom and equality?

HB: I have a historical response to that. Liberalism in our long end of the twentieth century is not something that can be bracketed out nor can it be revived. It has a spectral presence. This means that you don't reclaim its classic premises; you endure and engage with its hybridized and attenuated conditions in a time when liberalism is rediscovering itself in the discourse of multiculturalism. The genealogy of contemporary belated liberalism is in fact colonial liberalism: a form of liberalism which in its classic and canonical mode -- John Stuart Mill, for example -- was quite aware of what it meant to be a liberal in ones country and a despot in somebody elses. This unresolved, contradictory history of liberalism, that has haunted its emergence in the very moment of its classic origins is now manifested in what I called its spectral presence. CH: But you distinguish cultural diversity which would be a classical liberalist position from cultural difference which is part of the politics of identification and proximity. And you clearly favor the latter. HB: The difference is one between seeing cultural identities as pre-constituted so that the problem of difference happens afterwards and, on the other hand, starting in the middle of differences, in the ongoing tensions and borders, in the on-going sets of identifications: good citizen - bad citizen, citizen migrant, and so on. CH: You favor a notion of cosmopolitanism which relies on uncertain, unsatisfying identifications. In this respect, all global encounters are characterized by an iterative strangeness which never allows a moment of closure. It seems as if this cosmoplitanism is nowadays confronted by the return of neonationalisms almost everywhere. HB: There is not only the return of neo-nationalisms but also the defeat of neo-nationalisms. Their annihilating and internecine conflicts makes it inevitable to suggest that these nationalisms probably won't work at the end of the day. They are not founded on material bases or sustainable infrastructures like the old nationalisms but rather on fear and xenophobia. In that respect, they are much more reactive and do not have a big idea like e pluribus unum behind them. This makes them end up in situations of extinction which are not prescriptions for life.

A German version of this interview was published in: springerin Hefte fr Gegenwartskunst 1 (1998)