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Composed by dd/ts, 2010.


Synthetic Space in its Sinthome

I. Laclau-Mouffe but Not Quite

Resnick-Wolff have been faulted on two grounds. First, they are Marxists. Secondly, they talk about and in terms of categories of Marxian political economy. Though some variations of Marxism are tolerable in distinguished academic circles, Marxian political economy is not exactly in high fashion, particularly among the guardians of postcolonial studies. No big surprise, then, that RW’s idea of strategic essentialism, that we discussed in our last chapter, has made little inroad in postcolonial studies, which happens to be the focus of this book.

But, some variant of strategic essentialism we do really really need — in order to take off. For, we will point to (and, maybe, stalk into) that uncanny moment of the wayward other that no discursive closure can close (we mean, shrug) off, that is, symptom. And then, aside, on the wayside, in the end, somewhere in the maze of death-traps that the Zone is — we get mom — no, we mean, Margin of Margin. We build on strategic essentialism — that again does build on postmodernism. Ours is a third-generation postmodernism (or, fourth-generation modernism) as you can see.

Therefore, we invoke Laclau-Mouffe, the other spokesmen of strategic essentialism, though they are not known exactly as such. While Spivak was busy in translating, introducing and explaining Derrida to American academia, LM wrote a whole book highlighting how — inscribed etched in the premise of postmodern openness, there is always a move for hegemonic closure so that practice in society is possible. That way, they unhook the Gramscian concept of hegemony from its essentialist engagements and re-articulate it to a postmodern problematic. Laclau-Mouffe are widely acclaimed in postmodern intellectual circles for this merit, though we can scarcely witness their names being referred to in postcolonial studies in Indian context. It is our belief that an acquaintance with and a productive use of LM would enrich such studies, for, they offer as well a theory of closure in a postmodern space. We assure those of our readers averse to Marxian political economy that LM, too, abjure the same and have been subjected to criticisms, from Marxist quarters, on this count. Their brand of social philosophy is called post-Marxism. LM’s Marxian lineage is with Gramsci, whose idea of hegemony is the focal point of LM’s discourse.

One usually understands the concept of hegemony in a Gramscian context, though it has a wider connotation in the Marxian discourse which we would ignore. Gramsci’s concept of hegemony highlights how the ideas of the dominant section of society rule over the rest in the capitalist framework. Laclau and Mouffe critique Gramsci’s concept of hegemony for its underpinnings in an essentialist paradigm of a closed modernist totality, disengage its essentialist mooring and rearticulate it to a non-essentialist problematic in order to point out how it brings about closure to such a system. Resultantly, we get a concept of hegemony of Laclau-Mouffe’s own. Our objective is to contest this Laclau-Mouffe’s version of hegemony in order to make a discursive space for third world.

But, while dealing with Gramsci, we will not traverse Laclau-Mouffe’s trajectory — we do not exactly share their reading of Gramsci. Our basic point of reservation is that Laclau-Mouffe do entirely miss the third-worldist connotation in Gramsci’s rendition of hegemony. They fail to discover that he articulates it in the context of capital-precapital intercourse as well. Gramsci narrates this scenario in terms of a new concept — passive revolution — which, in our opinion, encapsulates the entire concept of hegemony. This passive revolution is our very own point of departure in reading Gramsci and in our construction of a critique of Gramsci’s version of passive revolution. A concept that we want to reframe and re-narrate in an altogether different kind of setting — the postmodern postcolonial one.

The basic charge we level against Gramsci is the same as that in Laclau and Mouffe: essentialism.

We now detach Gramsci’s concept of passive revolution from an essentialist paradigm to re-inscribe it in a non-essentialist framework such that it gets captured in terms of our new concept: passive re-evaluation — that signals an ever-open postmodern totality.

It is at this point that we invoke Laclau and Mouffe: to look into the details of this postmodern (postcolonial) space. We explain the two key-concepts of Laclau-Mouffe in that connection: antagonism and hegemony.

Antagonism shows the limit of a postmodern totality and hegemony explains how these limits can be closed.

That sets the stage for our interrogation of Laclau-Mouffe’s concept of hegemony. So, this is our trajectory: from Gramsci’s passive revolution to our passive re-evaluation to Laclau-Mouffe’s concept of hegemony to unravel the symptom of the system.

II. Passive Revolution: a Hegelian Reading of Gramsci

In view of the fact that the current rendition of passive revolution builds on Hegelian categories, it might be helpful to provide a brief skeleton of Hegel’s logic and oppose it with the idea of overdetermination informing our competing view of it. Hegel’s logic centers on the idea of a whole which holds the parts as its necessary (as opposed to contingent) elements. Two parallel concepts, universal and particular, represent whole and part at the level of concepts. For instance, in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, abstract right is the universal that represents the principle of the whole (here the state) while the citizens of the state exercising their individual rights in civil society are particulars.

One important feature of Hegel’s logic is the unity and struggle of opposites. As such, particulars are opposites fighting and resisting one another, having no meeting ground (bond of unity) on the plane of particulars. But they do meet on another plane — on the plane of the universal — which the particulars consider as their source or origin. In other words, the unity of particulars is mediated through the universal. Particulars, which are opposed and engaged in a life-and-death struggle, do need a mediator — a principle representing the whole — in order to meet and get united. For instance, in the context of a Hegelian reading of Marx’s Capital, wage labor and capital are particulars opposing each other. But they do not immediately break apart, and they can form a unity (though unstable) because both of them can be viewed (by a Hegelian) as flowing from the universal, that is, the principle of commodity that mediates their relationship. Capital and wage labor meet — and form a unity — on the common ground of buying and selling of labor-power as a commodity.

It is important to stress that in a Hegelian totality, the opposition and struggle of elements (as between capital and labor) are direct and immediate while their unity occurs via the mediation of the universal. So, the distinguishing features of a Hegelian totality are:

  1. The existence of two terms in binary opposition (such as, capital and wage labor) and
  2. The potentiality of one term (here, wage labor) to annul the other (that is, private capital) to lift it up into a higher form of existence (such as, social capital or collective property).

We will oppose this concept of Hegelian totality — and its displacement into a Gramscian field via the concept of a surrogate universal — with a new conceptual framework. A framework that involves overdetermination, which dispenses with the idea of binary opposition altogether and the consequent notions of supersession and that of the universal uniting the binary opposites. A distinguishing feature of the Hegelian totality that follows is the idea of historicism inherent in it (implied by the idea of supersession). In other words, the Hegelian whole is a specific concept of a whole with telos and dynamics embedded in it.

It is important to stress that the Hegelian universal is a contradictory universal that evolves, develops, and unfolds itself in the course of history, its higher moments superseding the lower moments, until the universal spirit, that is, history reaches its terminus. This terminus in Hegel inscribes upon itself a special name: idea. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit presents the different moments of this universal, while his Philosophy of Right illustrates how the universal (right, law, freedom) actualizes itself and flows over as particulars (citizens). Hegel articulates them at two levels: first, proceeding from particulars he shows how the particulars feel, recognize and carry within them the sense of a universal (bond of unity). Then, in order to rule out the possibility of the universal being accidental, Hegel gives a concrete shape to the universal (the state form) working as the mediating body of the struggling particulars. The domain of particulars is called civil society.

The universal actualizes itself in the state form. Perfect harmony occurs between the universal and particulars and correspondingly, between the state and civil society — in a perfect state, as in Hegel's conception of Prussia during his time where the idea actualizes itself, prevails — and rules, so to speak. The state, for Hegel, is not an external authority encroaching upon the freedom of civil society (citizens) but itself is a means to achieve freedom.

A Hegelian reading of Marx, or for that matter, of Gramsci, would not accept this. In their conception, an unbridgeable gulf — an opposition — separates the two, the state and civil society. Particulars (here, citizens in civil society) fall apart; the center (the universal, the state) cannot hold. In short, a Hegelian reading of Marx calls into question Hegel’s idea of a perfect state: the harmony between the state and civil society — and re-conceptualizes it by the idea of an oppressive state holding civil society by way of coercive and persuasive forces. This Marxian re-conceptualization of Hegel, however, does not put into doubt, fundamentally, Hegel’s logic and his historicism implied by it. It retains the idea of a contradictory universal whose higher moments can supersede the lower moments through different stages of history. The historical moments of the universal are called thesis and anti-thesis and their resolution (supersession) at (as) the higher moment is called synthesis.

Like the Hegelian particulars, thesis and anti-thesis are opposed to each other and engaged in a life-and-death struggle out of which emerges the higher level of synthesis annihilating the lower moments, but preserving their spirit in a higher form.

The traditional Marxist discourse on historical materialism builds on this Hegelian idea (of the triad: thesis–anti-thesis–synthesis). This discourse narrates the movement of the essence or spirit of time towards a goal (the idea of modernism in Hegel, and that of communism in historical materialism). The essentialist undertone — and idioms — that run through this discourse capture and narrate the spirit of time in terms of a whole series of ‘ism’-s (such as feudalism, capitalism, and socialism) with their higher moments superseding the lower moments.

It is important to stress that the Hegelian logic — his concepts of universal and particulars — undergoes mutation at this juncture of the discourse on historical materialism. For, we encounter here universals across two axes: the axes of time and space. For instance, in the context of debates on transition from feudalism to capitalism, one posits feudalism and the emerging capitalism in its embryonic form as the two successive moments of time — as the thesis and the anti-thesis. While a full-fledged capitalism represents the synthesis which annihilates feudalism (as also the embryonic capitalism at its immature form) to lift them up into a higher form of existence. But — and this is important — across the space axis, both feudalism and capitalism persist in being universals with serf/landlord and wage-labor/capital as their respective particulars. The traditional discourse on historical materialism focuses on the time axis in order to confine itself to the binary opposites, getting rid of the multiplicity of contradictions that would follow if one allows for movements along both axes. We abstract here from the possibility of multiple contradictions in order to see how Gramsci’s notion of passive revolution displaces the Hegelian logic.

One consequence of the displacement of the Hegelian notion of the universal on the time axis — the appearance of the universal in its not-fully-developed forms as the moments of the spirit of time — is to displace the concept of particulars. Particulars here are not only in binary opposition; they simultaneously become separate, divided and mutually exclusive. For instance, both the thesis and the anti-thesis — in our context feudalism and nascent capitalism — can be seen on the scene as separate entities. Capital cannot dare to annihilate wage labor, for that would mean killing itself: committing a suicide. But it might afford to eliminate feudalism — landlord as a ‘class’ — without killing itself. Thus, if both wage labor and landlord/serf relations are the others of capital, they have different status vis-à-vis capitalism. While the former is an internal other of capital in binary opposition with it but not separate from it, the latter is an external other separate from capital, resisting it from outside. This point will be very important in the context of a discourse on the Gramscian notion of passive revolution.

Gramsci questions the Hegelian category of supersession: the idea of lower moments of history being simultaneously annihilated by and preserved through higher moments. In the orthodox version of historical materialism, capitalism is seen as growing out of the internal dynamics of a feudalism which loses itself in capitalism: capitalism supersedes feudalism. What remains of feudalism is considered a survival, an unimportant residual that the social scientist can ignore for all practical purposes. In this conception, as soon as the baby, that is, capital, is born, it faces pre-capital and launches a massive offensive against it, crushes it, and establishes itself. Capital is seen, in this conceptualization, as providing active leadership in the battle against pre-capital in order to annihilate and eliminate it.

It is here that Gramsci imaginatively intervenes in the classical discourse on historical materialism. A Hegelian reading of Gramsci (or for that matter, a Gramscian re-formulation of Hegel) would suggest that capital does not necessarily eliminate pre-capital, it also, and simultaneously, appropriates it. In technical terms "the thesis does not always annihilate the anti-thesis, it appropriates a part of the anti-thesis to create a surrogate or false synthesis".1 Gramsci describes this situation as passive revolution.

So passive revolution, in the context of a Hegelian reading of Gramsci, signifies a situation where the bourgeoisie (the thesis) does not always engage in a crusade against the landlord (the anti-thesis). It neutralizes, appreciates, and appropriates the landlord class in order to rule. More, the bourgeoisie internalizes, sometimes (often), both the landlord and the peasant. The thesis and the anti-thesis, here, are to be taken as two complexes: the thesis as a complex incorporates the anti-thesis, also a complex. That is to say, capital as a complex appropriates the complex of pre-capital that might include both the landlord and the peasant as contending elements. There are interesting details of the situation and these details assume manifold forms depending on the characteristics and specificities of the concrete sites of passive revolution. For instance, the narrative of passive revolution might include an account, as perhaps in India where, the bourgeoisie does not organize the struggle, against the landlord, nor does give direct and active leadership to it. The peasants on their own — and sometime led by the communists — fight the landlord. As the peasants and the landlord fight and bleed each other, without anyone coming out as victorious, the bourgeoisie, the third party, emerges as the ‘Caesar’. The peasants and the communists sow the seeds; the bourgeoisie reaps the harvest. But the message of the story remains the same: the thesis (capital) does not always annihilate the anti-thesis.

Gramsci designates this situation as one of blocked dialectic. We postpone an analysis of the empirical details of this blocked dialectic in different (Indian) social contexts. We only note here how Gramsci intervenes in the Hegelianism that runs through the traditional discourse on historical materialism. He calls into question the one-dimensional binary opposition between the thesis and the anti-thesis and their consequent supersession into a synthesis; the thesis, for him, has got another dimension that can neutralize the anti-thesis, appropriate it, and thus block the emergence of the true synthesis. But he retains the idea of the thesis and the anti-thesis as separate entities.

Then, how can the thesis appropriate the anti-thesis without a corresponding qualitative mutation of itself? It can do so by appropriating the anti-thesis at a different level: on the plane of a surrogate synthesis. The capitalist class, as Gramsci views it, can appropriate the landlord class as part of a nation, at the level of the state, on a macro-plane. But at the micro or grass-root levels, the Gramscian notion of capitalism and feudalism do not undergo any qualitative transformation. In the following section, we will critique this aspect of Gramsci from a post-colonial context where we observe a transformation of the visages of both capitalism and feudalism at the grassroots level via their mutual overdetermination.

III. From Passive Revolution to Passive Re-evaluation

Thesis, Anti-thesis and Synthesis: these age-old Hegelian categories — although in their modified forms, the surrogate synthesis replacing (displacing) the true synthesis — continue to inform the current discourse on passive revolution. For instance, Glucksmann2 writes: "Passive revolution, as revolution — restoration, thus expressed a blocked dialectic, as opposed to dialectical supersession in struggle and the development of struggles." In this case, the thesis incorporates a part of the anti-thesis without being transcended by it. And Chatterjee3 restates Glucksmann’s position:

In situations where an emergent bourgeoisie lacks the social conditions for establishing complete hegemony over the new nation, it resorts to a passive revolution by attempting a molecular change of the old dominant classes into partners in a new historical block…in order to first create a state as the necessary precondition for the establishment of capitalism.

It is important to stress that both of them, Glucksmann and Chatterjee, share the Hegelian problematic in its modified form, that is, minus (liberated from) the category of supersession: the thesis does not supersede the anti-thesis, but appropriates and neutralizes parts of it. Glucksmann calls it a situation of blocked dialectic and Chatterjee analyzes its consequences in the context of the Indian situation. They, thereby, resist a facile incorporation of Gramsci into a robust historicist paradigm, though we shall soon see historicist traits, quite a lot of them, continue to inform (deform) their analysis.

Dialectics, Hegel’s dialectics, ceases here: the thesis here has numbed, etherized, and neutralized the anti-thesis, and therefore the dynamics, of the system. History here comes to a halt. Does this halt mimic and parody Hegel, signaling an irrational end of history? What kinds of contradictions, then, run through, permeate (permit), and sustain the system? Glucksmann and Chatterjee leave off here, leaving behind them these questions crying out for answers. They do not follow through the consequences of their argument — that their notion of blocked dialectic also, and simultaneously, blocks and opposes oppositions, contradictions and the dynamics of the system. They do not explain what sustains this blocked state. Hegelianism as understood in the discourse on historical materialism, we might recall, is premised on the mutual exclusiveness of the thesis and the anti-thesis. So that, they can be worked upon in order to produce the synthesis which actualizes the possibilities of the higher moment (the thesis) while preserving the spirit of the annihilated anti-thesis (the lower moment). In other words, the thesis and the anti-thesis are opposites that do not intersect as such; only their spirit can unite in and as the synthesis.

Glucksmann and Chatterjee retain this strict separability between the thesis and the anti-thesis. A blocked dialectic, in their thinking, signifies a situation that blocks the formation of the synthesis. Their view of passive revolution explains this by way of the formation of a ‘false’ (surrogate) synthesis on the ideological plane which acts as a surrogate Hegelian universal holding the thesis and the anti-thesis as its particulars. Consequently, these struggling opposites, the thesis and the anti-thesis, now recognize the surrogate universal as their source. The effect is to engender a situation that encourages co-existence of the thesis and the anti-thesis with less intensive fight between them, blocking the formation of the true synthesis.

We propose here a re-conceptualization of the ‘blocked’ dialectic in an overdeterministic frame. It is possible that the thesis can directly determine and constitute the anti-thesis (and vice versa) without the mediation of the surrogate synthesis. This presumes a situation in which the thesis and the anti-thesis are mutually effective, calling into question and destabilizing the very status of the anti-thesis as some entity that just opposes the thesis, in turn putting into doubt the status of the thesis itself. This subverts the whole range of Hegelian logical categories turning them into something contingent, variable and sometimes even dispensable.

It is our belief that we can perhaps mobilize this possibility of an alternative reading of Gramsci. Strictly speaking, what is at issue here is not a blocked dialectic, but, a break from Hegel’s dialectics. The situation calls for an alternative rendition of contradiction capable of translating Gramsci’s idea of passive revolution in non-deterministic, non-historicist terms.

Gramsci’s presentation of passive revolution itself, to be sure, is suffused with Hegelian overtones and subterranean historicism implied by them. For instance, Gramsci4 writes:

Passive revolution requires the thesis to achieve its full development up to the point where it would even succeed in incorporating a part of the anti-thesis itself — in order, that is, not to allow itself to be transcended in the dialectical opposition. The thesis alone in fact develops to its full potential for struggle, up to the point where it absorbs even the so called representatives of the anti-thesis; it is precisely in this that the passive revolution or revolution/re-iteration consists.

Gramsci’s historicist perspective circumscribes his choice of words such as thesis and anti-thesis and by implication, capital and pre-capital. We might recall that Althusser’s critique of Gramsci takes note of Gramsci’s historicist inclinations. The key point Althusser aims to drive at is that of Gramsci’s engagement of re-structuring historical materialism, unaided by parallel move to re-define dialectical materialism, must necessarily founder on the iceberg of traditional Hegelian categories such as thesis and anti-thesis. Primarily, Gramsci needed to dismantle the parent Hegelian model. So, effectively, we can say, Gramsci under-theorized the dialectical field in which the marks of historicism occur.

Althusser challenges the compartmentalization of the social into two water-tight compartments such as thesis and anti-thesis. On his scheme, the thesis works upon, determines, and constitutes the anti-thesis (and vice-versa), overflows with (one might say in Derridean terms) excess meanings erasing the conventional — given — meanings inscribed upon them. Althusser disengages the notion of contradiction from their initial inscription within an essentialist Hegelian discourse and situates them in a space of multiple contradictions where categories are not self-subsistent but are the sites of manifold contradictions impressed with the marks of multiple categories. In familiar Hegelian terms, the thesis and also the anti-thesis are simultaneously overdetermining one another. What is involved here is not a thesis–anti-thesis dialectic — one of its blocked version — but a different logic — a break from dialectics — into the logic of overdetermination5.

Gramsci’s discourse on passive revolution running in terms of conventional Hegelian categories destabilizes the very Hegelian categories. Neither does one comfortably situate Gramsci’s concept of passive revolution within such a fissured space. This situation invites a re-articulation of Gramsci onto a new discursive field — a (provisional) divorce between Gramsci and Hegel is the only logical solution. We then wed the Gramscian categories to an Althusserian paradigm so that we can not only admire and espouse Gramsci, but put it to productive use to follow through its consequences. Consequently, the Gramscian concept of Passive Revolution, too, undergoes a mutation. We give it a new name: Passive Re-evaluation.

IV. Syntax of Hegemony in a Postmodern Context

Let us situate the analysis in a concrete context. We address a question that is central to the discourse of postcoloniality: the question of a dialogue between modernism and tradition. The question of emergence of postmodernism, its renunciation of the enlightenment legacy and its aversion to the modernist project of human emancipation with the power of reason, science and technology have placed the tradition — modernity’s binary — in a new discursive field. In the postcolonial context, the critiques of modernity have shown the tendency to pit tradition against modernity and stressed the need to have democratic dialogue between the two. While the modernists posit annihilation of the traditional society as their goal, we find this desire to have or not to have a dialogue between modernity and tradition very innocent (you may say naïve). To engage the two into a dialogue is no option for us to be chosen or rejected. The dialogue is forced upon us as modernity and tradition overdetermine each other, independent of our individual wills. The dialogue is always already there between the two — it goes on both silently and aloud, in different forms, at different levels, on different platforms.

We have only to discern the structure of this dialogue and intervene in it to give it the turn we desire. It is not a question of having a dialogue between the two, but changing its course. That modernity and tradition overdetermine each other means that they do meet, send signals and receive them. We need to sketch out the structure of the signaling process and redefine it in our way. If one’s ears are not tuned to the accents of the dialogue between modernity and tradition already going on, one cannot add to or modify this course of this dialogue because one understands neither modernity nor tradition in the context of late 20th century.

Let us illustrate this point: how this dialogue is already going on in the cultural and ideological field of India. The political processes in India, as it is well known, are defined in terms of a set of ‘modern’ institutions such as multiparty democracy, universal adult franchise and a state grounded in a secular constitution. The party in power is required to establish the legitimacy of its rule periodically through an electoral process. But, one point is very interesting, and often intriguing, about this electoral process. While this process is premised on the concept of a civil society consisting of citizens with rights of exercising their franchise to articulate their preferences, in fact, it relies heavily on a culture/ideology rooted in ‘tradition’ for such articulation. In the electoral process, images of gods and goddesses of Hindu mythology are invoked. And a candidate is often presented before the electorate as the incarnation of a particular god or goddess who has come to put an end to corruption and injustice and bring about an order based on justice. These images are deployed to elicit support of voters belonging to communities defined in terms of ethnicity, cast or religion. Recent years have witnessed the prevalence on the list of candidates of actors and actresses who have played in the roles of mythological characters in popular films and television serials. This representational strategy rests on an ideology which is an integral part of tradition. It produces and disseminates meanings in terms of which the communities have traditionally interpreted the world. Indeed, the mythological figures are frequently pitted against those espousing the alliance of western (read modern) ideology and Indian (read traditional) culture.

Yet, this tradition remains locked with modernity in a fundamental way. Its own interpretation of the world in terms of religious cannons is never allowed to radically challenge the practices of modern institutions and repress them with an alternative that it deems superior. Not only is the projection and dissemination of tradition done with the help of modern, high-tech electronic gadgets; the ultimate purpose of this strategic deployment of tradition is to gain access to state power and the instruments associated with it. The mythological gods and goddesses can bring justice and order only if they are elected to office and have at their disposal the instruments of a ‘modern’ state. On the other hand, this constituted tradition is indispensable for the functioning and legitimization of the modern institutions, because it is the only effective mediator between these institutions and the communities that speak, think and dream in terms of an archaic system of signs and meanings. By lodging tradition in its own interstices, modernity allows itself to be constituted by it.

So, that is what overdetermination between modernism and tradition is: a dialogue between the two. Neither party negates the other (its other). What emerges is a negotiation between them, leading to their mutual translations and relocations. The current postcolonial cultural studies designate such space of interrelationship between modernism and tradition as hybrid space.

But we believe that further (finer) theoretical distinctions between hybrid spaces is necessary. The concept of hybrid space signifies too many things, that is, too little. For instance, how do we distinguish between a hybrid woman, modern in public life and traditional in private life, and a woman for whom modernism is always already marked by tradition? In the latter case, modernism contains an overlap of tradition, — the latter’s metaphoric surpluses — as in the case of Indian politics we delineated earlier. So, we invoke the three theoretical categories: simple space, complex space and synthetic space — to mark finer distinctions between hybrid spaces.

The effect of passive revolution, read in the light of overdetermination, is to produce a discursive space which we call the synthetic space: a discursive space overdetermined by modernism and tradition in which both of them get displaced by way of a whole series of metaphoric an metonymic transformations. We oppose this discursive space to what we call a complex space — a Hegelian space getting displaced in which modernism and tradition as pure categories re-articulate themselves as moments — particulars — of a surrogate Hegelian universal (the nation state, for instance). A simple space, on the other hand, would refer to an un-reconstructed Hegelian totality that serves to articulate different moments of modernism (the state, civil society), denigrating tradition as a residual to be looked down upon and dispensed with as a pain in the ass of reason.

Our project is to articulate, discursively, the different moments of synthetic space taking off from different perspectives (postmodern, postcolonial, Marxist). We aim to problematize, primarily, a postcolonial scenario, in terms of divergent instances of synthetic space, though we believe and would later come to see that the concept can be deployed to deal with a colonial situation. But, before that, let us explain simple space and complex space in some details to comprehend the significance of synthetic space.

Note: both simple space and complex space presume essentialism. In the case of simple space, the essence that founds it is straightforwardly given (the principles of equality, freedom, efficiency etc.). The context of complex space requires its reconstitution — a surrogate essence (the traditional concept of community and its modernist version blended into one). That way, a complex space exhibits signs of hybridity, by way of a hybrid essence.

Synthetic space dispenses with essentialism in all of its variants. It is not through a hybrid essence that cultural hybridity permeates here into a society containing modernism and tradition in water-tight compartments. In a synthetic space the very concepts of modernism and tradition lose their usual connotations and articulate themselves as differences: modernism as what is not tradition and tradition as what is not modernism. Synthetic space is an overdetermined unity of such differences.

Viewed alternatively, in a synthetic space, modernism contains an overlap of tradition, and vice-versa. Both of them carry the metaphoric surpluses of the other one. In other words, their identities are incomplete, open and negotiable. One might say that synthetic space is what Lacan calls symbolic space. We would like to understand cultural hybridity in the sense of a synthetic space or symbolic space. Complex space, on the other hand, denotes cultural diversity.

This point is often missed — that a hybrid space is a symbolic (synthetic) space in the Lacanian sense of the term. And that lots of work have been done in social studies making use of this theoretical space.

Laclau-Mouffe’s pioneering work has shown how the Lacanian concept of symbolic space be productively used to deal with a social reality. We believe that current postcolonial cultural studies would have been richer were it informed by Laclau-Mouffe and the literature following them.

The concept of hybrid space (or, third space, as Homi Bhabha conceptualizes it) as such has nothing new: it is a version of postmodernist overdetermined totality talked about by many.6 What is new in the concept of hybrid space is its binding of the instances of modernism and tradition in a postmodern overdetermined (or, symbolic) conceptual framework. Laclau and Mouffe or Resnick and Wolff do not deal with traditional societies. It is therefore interesting — and challenging — to follow through the theoretical consequences of a hybrid space.

But, it is our impression that current postcolonial cultural studies have taken up this challenge inadequately. Uses of such terms as negotiation (instead of negation), relocation, realignment, translation etc in the context of cultural studies emphasize that what is at issue is a postmodern overdetermined totality, an accidental totality, with plural and conflictual meanings always open to translation and negotiation. But they never ask questions such as — How are these multiple meanings (provisionally) closed? What are the consequences of such closures? — etc. If postcolonial cultural studies move one step forward by way of their incorporation of the instance of tradition in an overdetermined framework, they move two steps backward by dropping the questions of closures in it and their consequences.

In fact, both Resnick-Wolff and Laclau-Mouffe have dealt with such issues of closure quite at length. We have already seen, in Chapter Two, how Resnick and Wolff bring about a closure in an otherwise open-ended overdetermined system: through the concept of entry-point. Let us see how Laclau and Mouffe talk about it. For our project begins where they end. We discover the consequences of such closures as brought about by Laclau and Mouffe, and Resnick and Wolff in a postmodernist ever-open totality.

Laclau and Mouffe’s theoretical framework is premised on the impossibility of the object society as a rationally unified totality. It deals with identities that are incomplete, open and politically negotiable in character. And, of course, they overdetermine one another. Laclau and Mouffe are very particular about what they mean by an overdetermined totality. They have in mind a totality that is symbolic in the Lacanian sense of the term. Which means metaphoric cuts and metonymic slidings would come out to be very important in their treatment of the details of such a totality. That is to say, they are very specific about their representation of a postmodern totality. It is not just any kind postmodern totality — with cracks and fissures — that postcolonial cultural studies talk about, where identities are subject to endless negotiations all the time. Laclau and Mouffe point to the distinctiveness of the different processes of negotiation. As we will find, the concept of metaphor and metonymy have important roles to play to underline such specificities.

It will be helpful if we set out the conceptual categories involved in the analysis that follows in the rest of the chapter as well as the book as a whole. Metaphor and metonymy are the two Lacanian categories on which Laclau and Mouffe build their concepts of antagonism and hegemony respectively. We will invoke two other Lacanian categories — symptom and mimicry — to make a critique of and a supplement to Laclau-Mouffe’s discourse on hegemony.

It is our argument that while Laclau-Mouffe render a very imaginative discourse on hegemony, their discourse lacks a definite theory of counter-hegemony as distinct from a strategy of counter-hegemony (radical democracy). The Lacanian concept of symptom, we contend, will fill in this gap. The concept of mimicry serves, on the other hand, to highlight and explain another kind of hegemony — postcolonial hegemony — that takes us beyond Laclau-Mouffe, indeed beyond the terrain of the entire postcolonial discourse. As far as this chapter goes, our focus will be on the consequences of metaphor and metonymy. Though we also provide here a sketch of the two other categories — symptom and mimicry — in order to indicate the limitations of Laclau-Mouffe, their full consequences will be evident in Chapter Five.

Lacanian concepts of metaphor and metonymy help to sharpen the two basic Freudian categories, displacement and condensation. Freud invoked these categories in order to interpret the structure of dreams. Two important devices involved in a dream structure — indeed, in any language — are substitution and combination. One word/image is often substituted for another word/image to convey, sharpen and also hide the meanings involved. Also, one often encounters a combination of images, one image being superimposed on the other. Freud categorizes such tropes of dreams by displacement and condensation. Displacement involves substitution of images and condensation occurs from their combinations.

Lacan was not entirely happy with such classifications. For, substitution itself can be of different types and consequently condensation can also be classified into different kinds. Lacan thus sharpens these Freudian categories in terms of metaphor and metonymy.

Metonymy has come to mean, first, a word representing another word (that is absent but implied) and second, a term that, although only a part of the term which it refers to, stands as meaning the whole of that term. A metonymy resides when the ‘scepter’ is used to stand for the ‘king’, or, say, ‘reading Lacan’ stands for ‘reading the texts of Lacan, and may be, to an extent, reading and understanding the theories and the literature related with Lacan’. Thus, in a text, metonymy can apply to a word focussed upon, but which represents another word to which it is related but which is absent. The word visibly present, in this case, carries the surplus meanings of another word. Derrida’s concept of trace (that we have talked about in Chapter One) refers to such metonymic surplus meanings. Alternatively, a part of a book can represent metonymically the whole of it.

The metaphor, on the other hand, substitutes the known for the unknown or rather it communicates the unknown by transferring and translating it into the terms of the known. For instance, in a film, metaphor applies when there is a juxtaposition of two consecutive shots and the second one functions in a comparative way with the first. Take, for instance, a lover’s embrace that is followed by a shot of a train running wildly through a tunnel. The second shot communicates the meaning of the embrace — that which is unknown, because unseen, at least to the spectator — and transfers it into known terms: speed of the train equals rush of emotion, tunnel equals excitement of penetration, and so on.

Metaphors, then, are very visible. They draw attention to themselves. Metonyms are not. And that is why the two terms can be seen as two sides of the same coin. Metaphors render the unknown visible, make the unknown have presence. Metonyms represent what is absent, stand as part of the whole story to which they refer, which is why they work invisibly.

The above is an account of metaphor and metonymy from the standpoint of a critical theorist, an observer-thinker. It is Laclau-Mouffe’s merit that they bring out the consequences of metaphor and metonymy for a subject. While for an observer-thinker metaphor serves to make implicit meanings transparent, for the subject, as we will see, it produces too many meanings to be chosen from leading to what Laclau-Mouffe call antagonism. Metonymic surpluses of a set of key signifiers privileged by master signifier (emanating out of the field of fantasy) then help to stabilize the subject and give the totality a hegemonic meaning by way of closure. Laclau-Mouffe leave off at this point where Žižek joins with them through his conceptual tool of symptom whose function is to contest this closure. At least, that is the way we conceptualize Laclau-Mouffe-Žižek chain.

In order to grasp what this symptom is, let us note first what it is not. For instance, it bears little relation with the sense of the term as used in the medical science (the patient shows such and such symptoms). More important, we unhook it from a neo-Freudian context that views it as a compromise formation between an impulse and the defense against it, keeping anxiety at bay. The Freudian concept of symptom is premised on a concept of psyche as composed of a set of ‘rational’ myths. The founding assumption is that ‘unconscious’ is the site of a whole range of (sexual) drives deriving from the pleasure principle that impart a sense of guilt to the conscious mind which, therefore, desperately seeks to suppress them. But, such drives in the unconscious are so compelling that the conscious mind cannot quite parry with them. Consequently, what emerges is a compromise formation between the pleasure principle and the reality principle: such drives get masked.

Symptom in a Freudian context, then, is a device contrived by the unconscious to re-present the disagreeable drives of the unconscious in a different color and modality so that they might appear respectable to the self in particular and society at large. A typical example of it is the washing mania on the part of a Hindu widow. The unfortunate widow feels guilty for her repressed sexual drives. Washing mania is a trick contrived by her unconscious to assuage her sense of guilt for them concealing their true meaning.

In Lacan’s rethinking of the relationship of the symptom to the psyche, the symptom does not conceal but reveal. It signals, for Lacan, a Real order of being which persists diachronically on the slope of parole as opposed to anxiety. Whereas Freud refers to symptom as indicative of a psychic effort to attain equilibrium pleasure subject to the interdictory messages inscribed in the taboos of society, Lacan pertinently asks: why the nervous system does not succeed in living pleasurably on any sustained basis? Why does the symptom return as suffering — subverting the self, hurting its ego, and calling into question its reason? Inasmuch as in Lacan, ego is based on a certainty, symptom is that which puts into doubt the sense of self-certainty.

Symptom, then, is a substitute signifier for a repressed signifier. In technical terms: it is the trace of the Unsaid (Other of the others) in the terrain of the symbolic. In this context, it is necessary to bear in mind the three fundamental Lacanian categories: the imaginary, the symbolic and the Real. The imaginary is the world — the register — of images, conscious or unconscious, perceived or imagined. Imaginary, this point needs to be stressed, is not the opposite of the Real, for images that constitute the imaginary certainly belong to reality.

The symbolic, on the other hand, consists of symbols. But the symbols referred to here are not icons, stylized figurations, but signifiers, in the sense developed by Saussure, extended into a generalized definition: differential elements, in themselves without meaning, which acquire their value only in their mutual relations and forming a closed order mediated through language. The important question in Lacan is: whether this order is or is not complete?

The Real is that which is foreclosed from the analytic experience. Before it, the imaginary falters; over it the symbolic stumbles. It is refractory, resistant and defy all notions of complete totality. Hence the formula: the Real is impossible. The Real, then, is such an outside of any notion of totality that can never be eliminated: the Other of the others, the Unsaid.

We are now in a position to re-present the Lacanian symptom in technical terms: the symptom is a metaphor by which the Real can be inferred — a mark of the Real in the terrain of the symbolic and the imaginary. Symptom is the misfit in a totality that resists inclusion as well as exclusion, a pain in postmodern man’s tail. The dominant postmodernist discourse is not yet ready to address the issue of symptom, for it knows only to flirt with an ever-open totality given epistemologically.

Symptom is an invasion of one’s ego, one’s feeling of self-certainty. While Lacan’s ego is a narcissistic principle of certainty, the unconscious escapes the ego’s circle of convictions and reveals itself in to conscious life enigmas borne out by symptoms. The effect of the symptom thus elicits aggressive tendencies because any thwarting of ego certainty and love of self threatens the unity of the ego, leading to an aggressive replay of the despair and anger of the mirror stage: the infant’s dependence on the other’s regard. As the effect of the symptom the adult now turns into a baby. The Lacanian baby looked at the mirror and thought that she was upright, when, precisely, she was held from behind by the mother. Faced with the symptom, the adult-baby desperately seeks to deny the hands that hold from behind. The Supplement to this book illustrates precisely this situation. The dominant discourse, of political economy, will not just listen to any discourse on the symptom of a concept of commodity as a self-contained category premised on an equalitarian principle. It hurts their ego.

We understand mimicry as a defense mechanism against symptom. Instead of denial, the ego here shelters itself through repetition of the original totality, but not quite. The result is a duplicitous reproduction of itself — a metonymic transformation of the given totality — that serves to hide itself. Faced with the lack in itself, it produces another lack that masks the original lack: the Real. In Chapter Five we will understand this lack in great detail and understand it as postcolony giving rise to postcolonial hegemony.

But as this chapter goes, let us see only the consequences of these categories for Laclau-Mouffe’s analysis of antagonism and hegemony. What distinguishes Laclau-Mouffe’s treatment of a postmodern totality is the concepts of antagonism and hegemony that follow from the metaphoric and metonymic transformations that we were talking about. Antagonism signals

…The final impossibility of any stable difference and thus of any objectivity….

The experience of the limit of all objectivity does have a form of precise discursive presence, and that is antagonism.

In other words, Laclau and Mouffe not only talk about a postmodern totality with gaps, fissures and limits, they as well point to where the limits are. Antagonism is a theoretical concept that captures the becoming of the limit.

…Antagonism, far from being an objective relation, is a relation wherein the limits of every objectivity are shown — in the sense in which Wittgenstein used to say that what cannot be said can be shown…. Antagonisms are not internal but external to society; or rather they constitute the limits of society, the latter’s impossibility of fully constituting itself.

It will be helpful to grasp this very important category in Laclau and Mouffe, if we make a distinction between contradiction and antagonism. Contradiction denotes the discursive presence of A and not-A at the same time. In an overdetermined system, such discursive presence comes out very sharply: a site in an overdetermined system as a location of many plural and conflictual instances. Consider individual as a site. An individual X is a worker, a husband, a brown man, a Christian, etc. In other words, divergent processes (economic, cultural, political, racial, religious) occur in the site that the individual X represents. His decision as a worker might conflict with his position as a brown man. His religious being and political being may not be in conformity with each other. The concept of contradiction captures this state of affairs. It shows a site — here, an individual — as a contradictory presence of divergent instances.

Antagonism, on the other hand, deals with the predicament of an individual as a worker. Consider a female worker Y. She has to leave home in order to work in a factory. In many quarters of our society, her leaving home daily has a cultural significance. In other words, Y’s being a worker has metaphoric cultural surpluses that prevent her to fully constitute herself as a worker. While she is working, she is perhaps fighting by this very act her husband or her mother-in-law who opposed to her going to work on cultural grounds. And it might quite be that the man next to her, working by her side, sympathizes with and shares those sentiments and therefore cannot fully become her comrade. It is in this sense that Laclau and Mouffe talk about impossibility of working class. Working class as a position carries the metaphoric surpluses of the other instances of the society that import cracks and fissures into the class position preventing it from fully becoming itself, that is, working class. Antagonism is a theoretical concept signaling this limit.

Then, what closes this limit? And, what produces and sustains the identity of a given ideological field where all identities are provisional, contingent and negotiable? Laclau-Mouffe’s concept of hegemony seeks to provide an answer to this question: the multitude of floating signifiers, of proto-ideological elements, is structured into a unified field through the intervention of a certain ‘nodal point’ which ‘quilts’ them, stops their sliding and fixes their meanings. This nodal point constitutes hegemony.

Hegemony is, quite simply, a political type of relation, a form, if one so wishes, of politics; but not a determinable location within a topography of the social.

In a given social formation, there can be a variety of hegemonic nodal points.

In plain terms: hegemony is an organizing principle. In a pure Hegelian space that we have called a simple space) this organizing principle is internal to the space — the essence or the universal from which the different parts or particulars flow. In a reconstructed Hegelian space (complex space) this organizing principle is camouflaged as the as-if (surrogate) essence, imparting a sense of false consciousness. In an overdetermined (synthetic) space, all such camouflages are abandoned. The organizing principle is put forward and represented as what it is: a form of organization — constituting hegemony.

Hegemony is basically metonymical; its effects always emerge from a surplus meaning which results from an operation of displacement.

Such metonymic surpluses serve to close the gaps and limits of the given identities due to the metaphoric surpluses of different instances. The following is the way Slavoj Žižek illustrates the functioning of hegemony.7

If we ‘quilt’ the floating signifiers through ‘communism’, for example, ‘class struggle’ confers a precise and fixed signification to all other elements: to democracy (so called ‘real democracy’ as opposed to ‘bourgeois formal democracy’ as a legal form of exploitation); to feminism (the exploitation of women as resulting from the class-conditioned division of labor); to ecologism (the destruction of natural resources as a logical consequence of profit-oriented capitalist production); to the peace movement (the principal danger to peace is adventuristic imperialism), and so on.

…. In this way, every element of a given ideological field is part of a series of equivalences: its metaphoric surplus, through which it is connected with all other elements, determines retroactively its very identity. But this enchainment is possible only on condition that a certain signifier — the Lacanian ‘One’ — ‘quilts’ the whole field and, by embodying it, effectuates its identity.

So, in Laclau-Mouffe, hegemony is possible because of the specificities of certain signifiers which play the key (determining) role in organizing an otherwise open-ended system. Hegemony is neither an essence nor a false consciousness. It is just a privileged signifier that carries metonymic surplus meaning for the other floating signifiers.

V. Beyond Laclau-Mouffe’s Hegemony

Therefore, in short, hegemony provides a principle of closure in Laclau-Mouffe as the concept of entry-point does in Resnick and Wolff. Of course, a provisional closure. Nevertheless, a closure. And a closure giving rise to a subtler form of hegemony that we have captured in terms of mimicry of overdetermination. It is a merit of Laclau-Mouffe that they unhook the concept of hegemony from its essentialist moorings in Gramsci. But, concurrently, it also loses some of the bites and edges of the Gramscian concept of hegemony that can point to the source of hegemony. Mimicry of overdetermination restores the moment of hegemonic source: how one cultural space can dominate over another.

Our uneasiness with Laclau-Mouffe does not end there. We have more questions to ask. Like: can the principle of closure penetrate into and permeate the whole of the system with equal intensities? Will not the closure itself carry the trace of impossibility of society? Does it not produce its own symptom? How does one respond to this symptom?

We contend that the postcolonial studies (development studies, culture studies) are a response to such symptoms. If the concept of hybrid space or that of synthetic space can have any — specific — meaning distinct from a symbolic space, it is in the context of a response to certain symptom: third world is a response to the symptom of the first world. Postmodern studies make this first world an entity that can only disperse its symptoms, but cannot dispense with them. Half-way postmodernism only defers the question of third world. But inevitably and irresistibly, the time of closure comes and third world raises its ugly head — as a symptom.

That is the way we propose a postcolonial third world-studies — and not just as another narration of a hybrid space hanging in the air, out of nowhere. We need to point to its limits and how these limits are closed in the hegemonic discourse. An interrogation and contestation of such hegemonic closure is then in order. So that we encounter the symptom of the system: unreason inherent in the reason of the hegemonic closure. We will then see how others respond to this system — through a whole range of ideological fantasies. On our part, we bid farewell to such fantasies and look the symptom in its eyes and tell others to face it — the symptom, the phantom.

Or, to be more correct, maybe, not just the symptom, but the sinthome. The sinthome of the synthetic space. The poltergeist that possesses us, and, we, somehow, end up in loving that possession, in cherishing it. It does no more haunt the streets of deserted darkness but fare through the auricles and ventricles of our heart — our innermost emotions. Our discourses start to become colonies of the poltergeist that is definitionally a ghost that manifests itself by noises, rappings, and the creation of disorder. Maybe at some later point for all these noises, rappings and disorders to become our subjective identity — that is us. Because we have started loving them, now we love them.

Let Žižek (1994, 74) discuss the concept of sinthome.

… why in spite of its interpretation, does the symptom not dissolve itself; why does it persist? The Lacanian answer is, of course, enjoyment. The symptom is not only a cyphered message, it is at the same time a way for the subject to organize his enjoyment — that is why, even after the completed interpretation, the subject is not prepared to renounce his symptom; that is why he ‘loves his symptom more than himself’. …

… we can also articulate two stages of the psychoanalytic process: interpretation of symptomsgoing through fantasy. When we are confronted with the patient’s symptoms, we must first interpret them and penetrate through them to the fundamental fantasy as the kernel of enjoyment which is blocking the further movement of interpretation; then we must accomplish the crucial step of going through the fantasy, of obtaining distance from it, of experiencing how the fantasy-formation just masks, fills out a certain void, lack, empty place in the Other.

… how do we account for patients who have, beyond any doubt, gone through their fantasy, who have obtained distance from the fantasy-framework of their reality, but whose key symptom still persists? How do we explain this fact? What do we do with a symptom, with this pathological formation which persists not only beyond its interpretation but even beyond fantasy? Lacan tried to answer this challenge with the concept of sinthome, a neologism containing a set of associations (synthetic-artificial man, synthesis between symptom and fantasy, Saint Thomas, the saint …) (Lacan 1988a). Symptom as sinthome is a certain signifying formation penetrated with enjoyment: it is a signifier as a bearer of jouis-sense, enjoyment-in-sense.

What we must bear in mind here is the radical ontological status of symptom: symptom, conceived as sinthome, is literally our only substance, the only positive support of our being, the only point that gives consistency to the subject. In other words, symptom is the way we — the subjects — ‘avoid madness’, the way we ‘choose something (the symptom-formation) instead of nothing (radical psychotic autism, the destruction of the symbolic universe)’ through the binding of our enjoyment to a certain signifying, symbolic formation which assures a minimum of consistency to our being-in-the-world.

Let us cite a fiction here, Pragoitihashik by Manik Bandopadhyay to augment this discussion on sinthome.

Pragoitihashik is a story of Bhiku the Hero, the muscleman that he is not anymore. He was a dacoit, and a successful one, we must say, and all the success now gets undone by his final failing and his final fly for freedom from where the story starts. He is now nothing more than a footprint of his earlier life of bloodlust. In both his body and his mind. Today’s Bhiku rejoices in the remembrances of the time past and laments for those bygone days.

In the resting place of the self-made bed, he lingers restless.

He can’t bear this life anymore — this life without any woman presence, a threadbare life stripped of any festival of any kind. His soul longs laments and craves for those heady days of the past full of events.

The lots of noise, the mess, and the disturbance that he would create after numerous bhnars of taadi8 from the taadi-shop. After all that, his faltering steps would lead him to Baashi’s room — spending, that is, living the night with her, yes, in madness. And, occasionally, they, the whole group of them, together, would attack a household, beat and hack them all to pieces, and vanish into the darkness of night, after grabbing all the money and jewelry. All the indescribable features that would emerge on the face of the wife, when before her very eyes they were hurting and killing the tied up husband, the screams of the mother at the gushing streams of blood from the body of the son, those sights in the light of the flickering flames of the mashal, all those screams — what can be more intoxicating than this on the face of the earth?

Bhiku’s body too, like his mind, carried the marks of those days. Actually, his whole existence got redefined through the process of inscription of these marks. His wound in his last fight vested in him a gangrene. Different phases of this rot and decay of the tissues of the limb and the process of learning on part of Bhiku of the entirely new set of grammatical rules in this altogether different kind of life without the active limb comprises the first half of the story. The transformation of Bhiku the muscleman into Bhiku the beggar and also the transformation of the role of his right hand from the activity of action into the display of inaction. In both the cases it served him his livelihood. His right hand, the active limb that once spelt death, now

dried and desiccated into a numb paralysis like the dead branches of a tree. Even the apology of movement that was there in the primary days withered away slowly and gradually.

But the irony of the whole thing resides here that this inactive right hand that earlier proclaimed his rights, and wrongs, being the more active of the two hands, now, once again, earned him his right to live.

Hunger was looming black in his eyes and not even a single paise to purchase and have some muri9. He held out his hand to the first man that he met on the streets of the market, "Give me two paise, sir?"

His shags of hair, rough and gray with soil and plastered with dirt, the piece of cloth around his waist that itself looked like moist clay, and then, finally, the hanging hand, thin and swaying like a piece of rope. Maybe this man had some mercy, and gave him a paise.

This was the beginning of begging — the new life that now Bhiku started to live — by manufacturing mercy through the display of his inactive right hand. A new life, a new kinship, falling in love with a new woman, and, resultantly an entirely new kind of fight with a new rival. All these had only one thing in common — a lack, an incompleteness, a disease. And a display of this disease. His new heartthrob is a beggar-woman, who

sits there to beg, beside the very entrance to the market. Not at all aged, she has all the due and fitting curves and waves where they should be on her body. But, on one leg, knee downward to the foot, all covered with an ulcer, slimy and oily with pus and discharge.

It is all due to this sore that she can earn more than Bhiku. That’s why she takes special care that it does not heal, does not just get cured away.

And the new rival of Bhiku in the fight of right over this woman, is a man named Basir. One of Basir’s legs

has dried up the same way as Bhiku’s right hand. With immaculate thoroughness Basir holds this part of his body in display before him and begs the mercy of all in the name of Allah the God.

All of them, each and every member of this new kinship of Bhiku had some disease in some part of their body. And this disease, this diseased part, due to the active part they played in the profession, by virtue of being able to display the disease, became their livelihood, their means of life — the meaning of life. The degree of presence or absence of this disease and its ability of ostentation now became a hierarchy in their reality, awarding the beggar-woman a higher place in that ladder than Bhiku. Now they cherished the disease. They protected it from any possible cure, preserved it, cared for it, this disease became their life. They held this disease in proud and loving display. This phenomenon of disease-in-loving-display is what sinthome is.

Let us recall, once again, the discussion on the strategic essentialism of closure and the concept of hegemony as formulated by Laclau-Mouffe, with this concept of sinthome in our mind. As we have already discussed it, the theoretical structure cannot remain open-ended for ever. Somewhere you have to insert some essentialism strategically — in order to close it. And as you close it, this key-concept, that is serving you the closure of the system, gets imbibed with a kind of privilege within the theoretical structure. From this follows the hegemony, as Laclau-Mouffe formulated it. This hegemony fosters through the false consciousness that is contingent to this concept of closure. The local-global, or the savage, as we have called it, carries a resistance towards this closure and fights this imperialism of false-consciousness. But how can the fight go on if the local-global cannot externalize this closure and the contingent false consciousness from itself? What if the whole thing becomes internal to it? What if the local-global starts to cherish it and protect it lovingly?

Remember the Lacanian concept of symptom that reveals the misfit that resists both inclusion and exclusion. The repressed return from the future (may be through psychoanalysis) to unsettle the certainty of logic of the ego, the psyche, that gets named as a symptom of the colonized mind. The certainty of self of the colonized psyche gets jeopardized through the emergence of the symptom.

But then, in the process of learning to live within the grammar of coloniality, the colonized, at some point of time, in some cases, start to love these symptoms. And this begets the sinthome. This sinthome is internal to the psyche. The false consciousness that mushrooms around hegemony was external and so the colonized mind could fight it out discursively, in the body of the discourse. But this sinthome, being internal, and a disease that she cherishes to possess, robs her/him of the right to resist and she herself cannot even know it. This sinthome, remember, is not a kind of intellectual shortcoming. It just unsettles the certainty of logic of the postcolonized psyche and cannot be settled. At least within the realm of discourse. We have to be fortunate enough to get condemned into a hundred years of solitude, may be several hundreds, through the counter-journey of modernist civilization — from speech to whisper to silence — to come in a dialogue with this sinthome. We will talk about that elsewhere, maybe in a different book. Maybe we would not.

Now let us end this issue here and go on to our next chapter, where we narrate the history of how we began our story a decade ago and told our friends about it — the phantom. And they laughed at us, for they love fantasy and not the phantom. The following chapter records and reproduces this experience.

The experience that, once again, brings to our mind this fiction of Manik Bandopadhyay. Cannot we read this same fiction repeating in some form or other in the discourse on postcoloniality? Where the mode of production of papers has ceased to remain just a mode of information, but has become the mode of existence?

In the next chapter of this book — Three and a Half — we will follow through the queer events, where, someone, how many times and in how many ways you may remind him/her about the mistakes, is never ready to correct them. This strange phenomenon is not at all a stranger in the postcolonial studies. And we can interpret it very well if we remember the concept of sinthome in the way of the disease that became the proud and loving object of display in the community of Bhiku the beggar.

Maybe this deliberate closing of the eyes is a part of the sinthome of the postcolonial studies of the space which is nothing but a synthetic kind of reality, that we have already discussed. A synthetic kind of colonial reality — but, remember it — the colony is here and now. And the mistake of postcoloniality, that is posting the ‘post’ before ‘coloniality’ in the mode of production of papers, is maybe nothing other than the loving display of disease in the mode of begging, as in the case of Bhiku and the beggar-folks.




1 Pointing out the major difference between the surrogate universal and the Hegelian universal, Chaudhury wrote:

There remains a fundamental difference-between the Hegelian universal and the surrogate universal. The Hegelian universal is real but essentially contradictory: contradictory because the idea is ever changing — it is always implicitly what it is not, its other — in its development, unfolding itself. The surrogate universal, on the other hand, creates an illusion, is unreal; but an illusion, rooted in the real — it is not any society that can create this illusion, the illusion is embedded in this society, therefore is not pure imaginary. The surrogate universal resides in a non-imaginary unreal space.... The surrogate universal is only a symptom: it is a symptom of the false unity that it represents.... To repeat: the unity exists in fact, in real space and time. Therefore, there must be a unity in truth, at least as a possibility. The elite converts the possibility into an actuality, projects a universal which in turn strengthens the unity, makes it relatively permanent, stable. (1991-2, 46-47)

2 1975, 315.

3 1986, 30.

4 1971, 110.

5 That is not to say Hegelian dialectic ceases to operate altogether. As Resnick-Wolff argues, there exists a limit to overdetermination that can be captured in terms of Hegelian logic. We come back to this point later.

6 Laclau and Mouffe, 1984; Resnick and Wolff, 1987.

7 1989, 87-88.

8 Local homemade liquor.

9 Dry-fried rice — a cheap staple item.