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  • Evidence-cum-Witness: Subaltern History, Violence, and the (De)formation of Nation in Michelle Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven

“I know that even as I look and even as I see I am changing what is there.”

—Colette Lafonte’s final words in Sally Potter’s feminist film
The Gold Diggers (1983)

The history of subaltern social groups is necessarily fragmented and episodic. There undoubtedly does exist a tendency to (at least provisional stages of) unification in the historical activity of these groups, but this tendency is continually interrupted by the activity of the ruling groups; it can therefore only be demonstrated when an historical cycle is completed and this cycle culminates in a success.

—Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

I do not think that we can live as human subjects without in some sense taking on a history; for us, it is mainly the history of being [End Page 249] men or women under bourgeois capitalism. In deconstructing that history, we can only construct other histories. What are we in the process of becoming?

—Juliet Mitchell, Women: The Longest Revolution

“At a time when the grands récits of the West have been told and retold ad infinitum, when a certain postmodernism (Lyotard’s) speaks of an ‘end’ to metanarratives and when Fukayama talks of an ‘end of history,’ we must ask: precisely whose narrative and whose history is being declared at an ‘end’? Dominant Europe may clearly have begun to deplete its strategic repertoire of stories, but Third World people, First World ‘minorities’—women and gays and lesbians—have only begun to tell, and deconstruct, theirs” (Shohat and Stam 248). Ella Shohat and Robert Stam’s pointed question disrupting the diegetic hold of Western master narratives opens up a liminal space for Third World stories to be told whose possibilities we have barely begun to explore. But the massive project of an anticolonialist retelling and remapping, of enacting historical agency in the “slenderness of narrative” (Foucault’s phrase), or as Homi Bhabha poignantly puts it, of “encounter[ing] a past that is your own country reterritorialized, even terrorized, by another” is bound to founder if we do not in our engagements with and resistance to Western hegemonic theories also unmask colonialism’s demonic Other, namely, imperialism and its incestuous relationship with psychoanalysis (Bhabha, “In a Spirit” 329). In this respect, the distressing problem is not so much the relation of postcolonial culture to psychoanalysis, since both are implicated in a long durée in and as history. 1 What has not been adequately addressed, however, are the fundamental and constitutive elements of psychoanalysis itself, whose brutal colonial history is deeply grounded in and inseparable from its virulent racism. 2 My interest lies in exploring the weighted valences on either side of the “and” between psychoanalysis and postcolonialism, whose pairing stages both a problematic link between the two disciplines that is yet to be theorized and also a temporal cut whereby one discourse undermines the totalizing tendency of the other. 3

In tracing psychoanalysis’s discursive formation in relation to imperialism elsewhere, I argue that through the primacy of an elaborate machinery of visual relations, in particular the colonial gaze, psychoanalysis objectified, scripted, and racialized the exotic non-Western [End Page 250] “people without history” for the prurient fascination of the masses in the West while masking and remaining obstinately silent about the racialized assumptions of its own ideological formations. 4 By a perverse paradox, the transplantation of psychoanalysis onto alien soils also hybridized and fissured its praxis, producing the same ambivalence and destabilization of authority that occurred at the level of the state apparatus’s interactions with indigenous peoples. If we are to rewrite history/narrative through the peculiar lens of the dispossessed/colonized, “not univocally but contrapuntally,” in Said’s sense of the term, “with a simultaneous awareness both of the metropolitan history that is narrated and of those other histories against which (and together with which) the dominant discourse acts” (“Secular Interpretation” 29), then we must enact a seismological shift in perspective, one that encompasses the painful disruption/eruption of history as trauma and trauma as history. 5

To rephrase Spivak, no writer...

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