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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Questions About Homi Bhabha's Work

After reading the preface and introduction to The Location of Culture, the following remarks and questions occur to me. Some of them probably stem from my not knowing his theory completely, and some might stem from interesting interstices in his thought:

1. If culture is to be conceived as performative, then it would seem to be overwhelmingly in the present. That said, the past certainly opens us onto the present, but Bhabha emphasizes how art renews and refigures the past. If this is the case, then origins and roots are chimera: we can not hope to get back to them, and any attempt to do so becomes dangerous because it has a tendency to essentialize group identity, which opens the door to social inequality between groups.

2. Bhabha seems to be negating the very possibility of identity based on a historic trajectory. It seems that performativity creates the past. This may be a difficult pill to swallow for some 'minoritarian', to use Bhabha's phrase, cultures.

3. Bhabha himself asks an interesting question: "Can the perplexity of the of the unhomely, intrapersonal world lead to an international theme" (17)? I am not sure what he is getting at with this. What is the distinction between 'international' and 'universal' or 'transcendental'? I am sure there is one, but I am not sure what form it takes.

4. A periphery needs a center. Otherwise it's not a periphery; it's just space. If the unhomely margin is the location of the most important and exciting art, what is happening at the center? Something must be occurring there, otherwise the periphery would have no meaning. Bhabha does bring up a canonical white man, Henry James, to help illustrate unhomeliness, but just because Jame is in some ways at the center does not mean that in this instance he is. If art and culture are performative, even alert white men, at times, sense the need to stretch into the periphery in order to create art.

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