Chapter 10

From: Identity

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The Third Space Interview with Homi Bhabha Homi Bhabha lectures in English and Literary Theory at Sussex University. His writing on colonialism, race, identity and r'ifference have been an important influence on debates in cultural politics. His own essays will be collected into a single volume, The Location of Culture, and he is editor of another collection of essays, Nation and Narration (both published by Routledge). Homi Bhabha has played a central role in articulating a response from black intellectuals in Britain to the publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. His statement, which emerged from the group 'Black Voices', in New Statesman & Society (3 March 1989) argues for a position that refutes both fundamentalism and its liberal response. In the statement he poses the question: 'So where do we turn, we who see the limits of liberalism and fear the absolutist demands of fundamentalism?' The following interview attempts to provide some kind oftheoretical chart for that journey. Jonathan: In your essay 'Commitment to Theory'l you analyse the processes of cultural change and transformation. Central to this analysis is your distinction between cultural diversity and cultural difference, and alongside your emphasis on difference are the notions of translation and hybridity. Could you say something about these terms you use? Homi Bhabha: The attempt to conceive of cultural difference as opposed to cultural diversity comes from an awareness that right through the liberal tradition, particularly in philosophical relativism and in forms of anthropology, the idea that cultures are diverse and that in some sense the diversity of cultures is a good and positive 207 Identity thing and ought to be encouraged, has been known for a long time. It is a commonplace of plural, democratic societies to say that they can encourage and accommodate cultural diversity. In fact the sign of the 'cultured' or the 'civilised' attitude is the ability to appreciate cultures in a kind of musee imaginaire; as though one should be able to collect and appreciate them. Western connoisseurship is the capacity to understand and locate cultures in a universal time-frame that acknowledges their various historical and social contexts only eventually to transcend them and render them transparent. Following from this, you begin to see the way in which the endorsement of cultural diversity becomes a bedrock of multicultural education policy in this country. There are two problems with it: one is the very obvious one, that although there is always an entertainment and encouragement of cultural diversity, there is always also a corresponding containment ofit. A transparent norm is constituted, a norm given by the host society or dominant culture, which says that 'these other cultures are fine, but we must be able to locate them within our own grid'. This is what I mean by a creation ofcultural diversity and a containment ofcultural difference. The second problem is, as we know very well, that in societies where multiculturalism is encouraged racism is still rampant in various forms. This is because the universalism that paradoxically permits diversity masks ethnocentric norms, values and interests. The changing nature of what we understand as the 'national population' is ever more visibly constructed from a range ofdifferent sorts of interests, different kinds of cultural histories, different postcolonial lineages, different sexual orientations. The whole nature of the public sphere is changing so that we really do need the notion ofa politics which is based on unequal, uneven, multiple and potentially antagonistic, political identities. This must not be confused with some form of autonomous, individualist pluralism (and the corresponding notion ofcultural diversity); what is at issue is a historical moment in which these multiple identities do actually articulate in challenging ways, either positively or negatively, either in progressive or regressive ways, often conflictually, sometimes even incommensurably - not some flowering ofindividual talents and capacities. Multiculturalism represented an attempt both to respond to and to control the dynamic 208 The Third Space process of the articulation of cultural difference, administering a consensus based on a norm that propagates cultural diversity. My purpose in talking about cultural difference rather than cultural diversity is to acknowledge that this kind ofliberal relativist perspective is inadequate in itself and doesn't generally recognise the universalist and normative stance from which it constructs its cultural and political judgements. With the concept of difference, which has its theoretical history in post-structuralist thinking, psychoanalysis (where difference is very resonant), post-Althusserian Marxism, and the exemplary work of Fanon, what I was attempting to do was to begin...

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