Homi K. Bhabha (1949- ) is a Harvard professor and one of the top postcolonialist thinkers. He wrote “Nation and Narration” (1990) and “The Location of Culture” (1994). Harvard was happy to get him, but some think he is just so much hot air.
Some of his buzzwords: hybridity, negotiation, ambivalence, in-betweenness, liminal space.
He says that what drives white people to take over the world and spread their way of doing things is not power or even wanting to get rich, but their screwed-up way of looking at the world.
Instead of seeing the world as a huge coat of many colours, they see it in terms of good/bad opposites, putting themselves always at the “good” end and everyone else who is different at the “bad” end: East/West, civilized/savage, First World/Third World, Western liberalism/Islamic fundamentalism and on and on. It leads to save-the-world thinking.
But the world is not like that. For one thing it puts everything that is not Western into one box, as if it were all the same. The world more than just the West and the Rest, as Bhabha knows from his own life.
Bhabha was born a Parsi in Bombay in the shade of the Fire Temple. The Parsis came to India from Persia long ago. They are the Persians who would not or could not believe in Islam. They still follow their own religion, Zoroastrianism, but that is all they have left from the old country. Otherwise they have lost their Persianness and become Indians.
Bhabha studied at the University of Bombay and then went to England to study at Oxford. He studied the works of French post-structuralist thinkers like Derrida, Lacan and Foucault. He is also a follower of Edward Said, a giant in postcolonialist thought.
Bhabha is Parsi yet Indian yet Western. The clean either-or lines of Western thinking do not help him to understand himself, his own coat of many colours. And yet even if he tried to become completely Western, say, it would still be a Indian/Parsi sort of Western, a hybrid. But even “Western” is itself a creation of many such hybridizations from the past.
Bhabha is famous for his bad writing. This piece won him a bad writing prize:
If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.
As one professor put it, “One could finally argue that there is no there there, beyond the neologisms and latinate buzzwords.”
One student came up to him and said, “I’ve been reading your book and I really like it, but it frightens me. Did you have to study to become like that or was your brain always that way?” Probably a bit of both, he says.