Of mimicry and man

Topics: Postcolonialism, Colonialism, Edward Said Pages: 5 (1676 words) Published: December 8, 2013

A Critical Commentary of Homi Bhabha’s ‘Of Mimicry and Man: The ambivalence of Colonial discourse’

Homi Bhabha explains the weaknesses of colonial discourse by suggesting that the techniques which ‘broadcast the dominance and impenetrability’ (Kumar-Das 1992:362) of the subject causes its weaknesses to arise. Bhabha makes a psychoanalytic analysis based on the work of Jacques Lacan and Frantz Fanon, among several authors. His definition of colonial mimicry takes the form of discussing the issues within colonial discourse whilst reflecting on his own personal views of the matter. In this way, he discloses the contradictions within colonial discourse which show the colonizers ambivalence from his position through the colonized (Mongia 1996:127). Bhabha’s piece, starts with a quote from Lacan in which the idea of mimicry is identified with military camouflage practice being conveyed as a war strategy. Further on, he quotes Thomas Macaulay (1835) on the education in British India, which exposes the need to form a 'collective' justification for colonial control. This can create a group which mimics the colonizer, facilitating the imposition of power over the rest of the native society and thereby putting the colonial education under the rule of imperial policy. The end result is a creation of a class of mimetic men, which mimic the colonizer without taking care of administrative control as well as a lack of concern economically and territorially. Education is seen as the main tool to arouse the desire of mimicry, causing the need to whiten the frustration of being `black´. Bhabha often refers to mimicry as an instrument of knowledge and colonial power, while a strategy of social inclusion, exclusion and symbolism allows the native to discriminate between who is right and wrong. For this reason, mimicry creates people who are neither native, nor English. It is a writing-back to the colonizers, responding to previous arguments which have a nationalistic approach, a new concept; trying to find a theoretical position which manages to avoid the polarities of self and other. Professor Homi Bhabha believes that, the understanding of this subject is not fully developed and this underpins his own argument. Furthermore, he points to the notion of mimicry and how this has been used as a form of control over colonies, defining this as ‘one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power’ (Bhabha 1984: 318). At the same time, this is a process of disavowal which creates a double vision showing the ambivalence of colonial discourse and how it can disrupt authority. To explain Bhabha’s idea of ´double articulation´, it `works as a strategy of reform, regulation and discipline, which appropriates the Other as it visualizes power´ (Kurmar 2006: 143) .Bhabha recognises that mimicry is an extremely effective tool in terms of representing colonial power and its authority, whilst describing it as a way of how its perpetrators disclaim responsibility of its presence. However, Bhabha’s explanation of mimicry also notes that it can have drawbacks as well as beneficial effects for those involved. In terms of beneficial effects, the colonizers ability to control the colonial subjects through mimicry meant they were in a powerful position. However, this control meant that these subjects were placed in an inferior position to the colonizers. Mimicry has an ambivalent presence, ‘It is this ambivalence that makes the boundaries of the colonial `positionality´- the division self/other- and the question of colonial power- the differentiation of colonizer/colonized different from both the Hegelian master/slave dialectic or the phenomenological projection of otherness´ (Afzal- Seshadri 2000:145). The text proposes that nature gives what is known as a ‘partial presence’ to the colonial subject, meaning that the colonial existence is perhaps incomplete. Bhabha labels those who represent colonial mimicry as ‘mimic men’ (Bhabha 1989: 320),...

References: Achebe, C. (2010) Things Fall Apart. London: Penguin Books Ltd
Afzal, F
Aidoo, A. A. (2012) Our Sister Killjoy. Ontario: Longman Publishers
Behrent, M
Kumar-Das, B. (1992) Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. New Delhi: Atlantic
Kurmar, D, R
Loomba, A. (1989) Gender, race, Renaissance drama. Manchester: Hartnolls
Mongia, P
Rhys, J. (1997) Wide Sargasso Sea. London: Penguin Books
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