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Composed by dd/ts, 2010.


Postcolonial Cultural Studies:

Looking through the Glass Differently

I. Colony and Postcolony

We share the democratic belief of many of our postmodern contemporaries (Bhabha, 1994, Escober 1995). The belief that being hybrid is not a vice or a disgrace — hybridity of culture only reflects cultures in terms of differences that negotiate with one another and thus oppose a moral stance that knows only to negate its other. We, after all, live in a world where and when everything and everyone determine and constitute one another to produce what Bhabha calls third space.

Third space is an in-between space that is neither the West nor the East, neither the North nor the South. Everyone rules, and is, simultaneously, ruled. And therefore the same. Nobody enjoys a privileged situation to determine and dictate others. In fact nobody does anymore determine, everyone just overdetermines. The air of overdetermination produces a sense of sameness. It claims no hierarchy of concepts: all concepts enjoy the same status in this world of discourse. Our concept of synthetic space has a kinship relation with this third space.

But with one difference. We add: same but not quite. We contest the very concept of overdetermination and show how, in the final analysis, overdetermination turns out to be its own mimicry: everyone is overdetermined, but not quite. Capital slips through the network of overdetermination and dictates, unseen, from behind the scene — but never appearing obscene, that is, without overtly abandoning the play of overdetermination, but playing it down, downgrading and mimicking it.

We have called this phenomenon mimicry of overdetermination. It is a very subtle form of hegemony that characterizes our postmodern postcolonial time. Or, to put it the other way round, postcolonialism is a form of hegemony of one (geographical) space over another, characterized by mimicry of overdetermination. Thus understood, postcolonialism is a discursive phenomenon that resists being captured in terms of historical time.

Current postcolonial studies, on the contrary, are overtly historicist in nature. The ‘post’ of the postcolonial studies has the sense of a simple succession, a diachronic sequence of periods in which each one of them is clearly identifiable. It has a historical referent (the concrete of the colonized past) and indicates a rupture with the latter. As always a thousand schools of thought contend in postcolonial studies. But their differences count for little next to this abiding unanimity. The business of postcolonial studies is to deal with the legacy of the colonial space. From this legacy the postcolonial space breaks away as one comprised by a sovereign nation.

We are going to contest this rupture. We argue that it is essentially a way of forgetting or repressing the colonial past. That is to say, repeating it and not surpassing it. On our scheme, the colonies exist here and now, at this fag-end of the twentieth century. It exists on the other side of the border of discourse: its undeclared, unwritten and unrecorded outside. As great nations fight and their colonies fall, their discourses take over the reign. They re-establish their discursive colonies where the rules of the parent discourse undergo metonymic changes. We propose to put a name to this undeclared outside — third world — and record its voices.

That demands, first, that we must make it clear what we mean by the term: colony. By colony we mean the colony at its best form, that is, the British form. (Give the devil his due.) Colony signals a limit to the dominant discourse: the recognized and recorded one. Colony is a discursive space that displaces the rules of the dominant discourse by a display of substitute rules. Let us hear what John Stuart Mill says:

All the orders given and all the acts of executive officers are reported in writing...[There] is no single act done in India, the whole of the reasons for which are not placed on record. This appears to me a greater security for good government than exists in almost any other government in the world, because no other has a system of recordation so complete.1

So, here, the text, the writing, or, the recordation, is subrogating itself in place of the concrete context of colonial hegemony. In supplanting itself in the order of power it generates a chain of metonyms appropriate to the colonial context and thus appropriates the colonial civility and its enlightenment.

Colonialism consists in an abrogation of the hegemony of enlightenment. The substitutes of the hegemony of enlightenment replace the actual one. This act of replacement, as we would see, might have a whole range of consequences. The colonizer calls a spade a spade and a colony a colony. He makes a clean breast of it (that is, keeps a clean account of it), and records what goes on in it. In short, puts it under the gaze of enlightenment, that is, colonial power. The colony is a pain in the tail of enlightenment, its limit, which it recognizes, records and reforms.

Our central proposition is that postcolonialism is an unrecorded version of colonialism. A limit to the dominant discourse that the postmodern man does not (dare to) recognize and record. Postcolonialism is colonialism in its un-British form. It is a discursive space of the suppressed, and perhaps forgotten, colonies. In short, postcolony — or, third world — is a (the) symptom of postmodern society.

It occurs readily enough that ours is a very different way of conceptualizing postcolonialism, or, third world. Therefore, we put a name to our brand of postcolonialism: margin of margin. The idea of margin or periphery, as it emerges in forms of different brands of center-periphery models, is a legacy of colonialism. There, the periphery or the margin is the continuity of colony — its counterpart — into the postcolonial space comprised by sovereign nations. The very idea of the center-periphery model smacks of essentialism and empiricism. It evokes the memory of past (lost) colonies: the colony evaporates only to become a periphery. It involves a refinement of colonies — a rarefaction — into the periphery.

A whole range of models in postcolonial studies has currently called into question binary opposites such as center-periphery. These models have intended to explore the complex inter-connections between the opposites in, what we could call, an overdetermined space. Where the center and periphery overdetermine each other (though with contradictions). Consequently, the center and the margin acquire surplus meanings, with their initial meanings and familiar sites erased. That simultaneously erases the margin in its essentialist sense. Or, at best, denigrates and displaces it as a blank space in the newly constructed overdetermined space. Spivak (1988) talks about such subject-positions in strictly occidental space that are full of such gaps, we have already more than discussed it. Bhabha (1994) explores the new in-between subject positions emerging out of the negotiations between what we previously labeled as the center and periphery, or, the colony and metropolis.

Bhabha, clearly, is a development of the center-periphery models. His periphery is a rarefaction of colony that further rarefies into a new in-between subject position as it moves in the rarefied circle of its past lords. Thus the margins liquidate themselves.

We contest these new-wave center-periphery models and re-inscribe, that is, redraw the margin (or, the periphery) as a displacement of the colony in postcolonial space. We have already talked about what this displacement means: a discursive space where the categories of the parent discourse undergo mutation. We concentrate on a subset of this genre of postcolonial studies (their NRI2 makes, remakes, and re-mixes) keeping in mind that they have a very large network of kinship relations, a web of highways and super-highways spread over the globe. We choose Bhabha as a typical — and perhaps the best and the richest — representative of this family.

The key-concept in Bhabha is the third-space, comprised by what he calls the ‘in-between’ categories. Through the play of cultural differences (a postmodern concept) as distinct from cultural diversity (its essentialist counterpart) Bhabha formulates his third space. It emerges out of the interactions between the dominant discourse (the West) and its Other. In this postcolonial cultural field they overdetermine each other. So, the discursive categories in the parent discourses transcend their familiar meanings. They gather surplus meanings and condense into new — in Bhabha’s terminology, ‘in-between’ — categories to constitute Bhabha’s ‘third space’. We might add that we find no fault with this argument, in so far as we confine our attention to a subset of the postcolonial scene.

We are going to build our argument on a concept, synthetic space3 that is, in more ways than one, very similar to Bhabha’s third space. Bhabha confines the scope of the third space only to the analysis of the postcolonial scene (offering alternative insight to grasp its colonial counterpart that we shall discuss later). But we find the notion of third space working in the colonial context as well as in the postcolonial context, although with a much greater force in the postcolonial case. We argue that this lack of insight is inherent in Bhabha’s partial (partisan) view. Bhabha views the colonial context as one of mimicry of man (that is to say, man of enlightenment). This, we fear, offers only ways of repressing, or perhaps, forgetting the colonial past — that is repeating it and not surpassing it. We, therefore, invoke the notion of mom, margin of margin, and point to the specificity of the postcolonial perspective, the dark spot (black hole) of enlightenment.

In short, we articulate postcolonialism and colonialism as distinct discursive categories. For us, postcolonialism is a metonymic transformation of the dominant categories — capital, commodity, etc — into its outside: a response to the symptom of postmodernism. And, this must necessarily occur on the other side of its border: the border of postmodern-Marxist/postcolonial discourse: as its symptom. While colonialism is the enactment of the same dominant discourse as something contingent and accidental.

Our motivating aspirations are clear and straightforward: to intervene into the discourse on hybrid (in-between) identities. We intend to specify, name, and discursively articulate its different kinds and pinpoint the colonial hybridity. That will separate it out from the other kinds of hybridized nomadic identities that the postmodern man possesses.

Our central proposition is: postcolony is a metonymic representation (overflow) of some of the principal categories of the dominant discourse in an alternative (discursive) site. This site occurs independent of the subject’s will in case of postcolonialism. But, in the case of colonialism, the same discursive categories flow from the acts of a colonizing subject — the ruling colonial power. In short, postcolonialism is colonialism in its higher (more refined) form, beyond the will of the subject. We apply our idea of postcolonialism to contest an important and influential segment of the current discourse on postcolonialism that valorizes on hybridities of culture erasing their colonial moments.

We appreciate Homi Bhabha and his followers for the articulation of this novel concept: hybrid space. It is a unique contribution by our immigrant friends in the west to contemporary social studies. We will not hide our pride for being their siblings.

We do share their concern for the limitations of the center-periphery models. In a world where everything overdetermines every other thing, center-periphery models (North-South, West-East, or any other mutant) do not carry much sense for us. Everything becomes hybrid — this precisely is the message of our concepts of passive re-evaluation and synthetic space distancing us from old Gramsci and his not-so-old disciples.

We appreciate our NRI-brethren’s appraisal of postmodernist precepts as well. It is interesting to observe how our non-resident Indian friends deploy the postmodernist categories in a very different context to deal with the mundane problems of the wretched-of-the-earth. This leads to a translation, relocation and realignment of the parent postmodernist categories that we find fascinating.

But we believe such postcolonial cultural studies would be richer, were it supplemented by a theory of closure. It is nice to philosophize at the level of epistemology, on an ever-open postmodern totality with no fixed ground. But, as we have discussed it earlier, on a different plane, at the level of a (specific) discourse, we do need a theory of closure to lend it a sense of direction. This closure might help us to distinguish between different kinds of hybridities. Colonial hybridity and postcolonial hybridity might not turn out to be quite the same thing!

We have noted such theories of closure in a postmodern context in Chapter Two and Chapter Three of this book. We can follow through the consequences of such a discursive closure: grope for the possibilities of a closure and be aware of its impossibility. We are then driven to the brink — to encounter what symptom is. The Supplement to this book has done precisely this, it has dealt with an analysis of symptom in the context of a discussion on Marxian political economy. But Marx is not just everybody’s cup of tea. And a reference to Marx might as well make quite a few uncomfortable. In this case, the message of our previous chapter regarding symptom will fall flat. The impossibility of the market economy that such symptoms signal will be taken in for yet another Marxist commonplace.

So let us pretend that we know nothing about political economy. It is our belief that an in-depth analysis of current cultural studies might also bring us to the brink: interrogate the hybrid and find quite a few of them to be bastards. Please, let us add that the word ‘bastard’ here does not carry any derogatory sense — Jesus too was a bastard. (Who represents Virgin Mary? Mother India?4)

We therefore propose to elaborate on, extend, and interfere with the current discourse on postcolonial studies dealing with cultural hybridity. We will inscribe in it our colonized gaze. (Beware: for us the word ‘colonized’ does not carry any pejorative meaning). First, we would wed aspects of a theory of closure to the literature on cultural hybridity. Laclau and Mouffe will inform us in this project. Laclau and Mouffe, mind it, and not Resnick and Wolff: for the latter speak with a nod to Marx that would repel many of our friends. And Laclau-Mouffe talk about post-Marxism that bids farewell to Marx. Our present concern is not with Marx, but with the symptoms of this society and of social studies.

We might as well put forward this skeleton of our argument. The literature on cultural studies build upon categories such as negotiation, relocation and realignment of concepts and of their meanings. All these mean: all concepts and words are ambiguous and carry surplus meanings.

Fine. But, what kinds of surplus meanings do they convey? Metaphoric or metonymic?

Laclau and Mouffe come out to be very important for us in this context — their system deals with precisely such questions. We have noted that in Chapter Three: metaphoric surpluses signal antagonism while metonymic surpluses build up hegemony.

What interests us in a process of dissemination of meanings is their metaphoric cuts and metonymic slidings. Particularly the metonymic slidings: how a chosen set of words distribute their metonymic surpluses over an entire cultural text. And also the metaphoric cuts that support such metonymic slidings. A few key concepts build up their hegemony through the distribution of their metonymic surpluses. And the metaphoric surpluses signal the shadow of a subject behind some essence that dies hard. While the metonyms arrange for a closure, we encounter the subject, metaphorically, organizing this closure — as a phantom. We interrogate and contest the phantom — and it disappears. The totality crumbles down. And there we are — face to face with symptom of civil society.

We take off from where Homi Bhabha ends: from a hybrid cultural space. We note two distinct phases in Homi Bhabha’s discourse on cultural exchanges: one dealing with the colonial situation and the other in a postcolonial context comprised by sovereign nations. Homi Bhabha captures the spirit of culture of the colonized subject in terms of a novel concept that he borrows from Lacan: mimicry.

Mimicry is a kind of repetition. But no repetition does ever exactly repeat the original. Mimicry is a kind of repetition that repeats the original but not quite. The colonized’s culture, Homi Bhabha claims, is a mimicry of the colonizing subject’s culture in this sense. Homi Bhabha makes no reference to cultural hybridity in a colonial context. The issue of cultural hybridity emerges in Homi Bhabha’s model of history later, in connection with the postcolonial situation. But the issue of mimicry, in its turn, disappears in Bhabha’s model in the postcolonial context.

We intervene in Homi Bhabha’s discourse in a two-fold manner.

  1. We contest the thesis that mimicry designates the dominant culture of the colonized. In our opinion, the colonized’s culture shows signs of hybridity marked by the hegemony of the culture of the colonizing subject. And
  2. We propose that the moment of mimicry persists on into the postcolonial period too.

Which means that there must be a (missing) theoretical field where this mimicry occurs. We call it postcolony or third world or margin of margin.

It is in this context that Laclau and Mouffe enter into our discourse. We pick up from them the concepts of antagonism and hegemony that they build on the Lacanian ideas of metaphoric and metonymic surpluses in the meanings. We deploy these categories in their modified forms to deal with colonial and postcolonial hegemony. We take to task the disciples of Bhabha for missing this point that a hybrid cultural space is not a neutral space, but marked by the hegemony of a (dominant) party. Third world is nothing but a legacy of this postcolonial hegemony — a response to the symptom of postmodern society.

II. Hegemony as a Lack of Hegemony

We begin from Guha (1989): a forgetfulness in current postcolonial studies. Chatterjee (1993) and Gyanprakash (1996) could and should take off from Guha (1989). The latter, in our opinion, is more important in the contemporary context of postcolonial cultural studies than his seminal work: Colonial Insurgency: Elementary Aspects of Peasant Consciousness. Forgetfulness of Guha (1989) has reduced Guha to a mere Old Vanguard, worn and exhausted, nothing more than simply an organizer of a movement — Subaltern Studies — with little contemporary relevance. This ongoing section builds on Guha.

Imagine a colonized state facing a colonized power. The master and the servant — the colonizer and the colonized — relate themselves in the idiom of power, of dominance and subordination. The master-servant relationship is a complex of dominance and subordination. Dominance subsists in its explicit other: as subordination. Again, dominance itself is a complex of persuasion and coercion. Similarly, the complex of subordination includes as its elements collaboration and resistance. Therefore, dominance-subordination relations define a complex of complexes.

We assume that, from the standpoint of the colonized country, the principles of persuasion constitute a homogeneous field given externally. It is important to stress that these persuasive principles follow from a constructed cultural space (discursive field) overdetermined by many contradictions and therefore are continually changing its forms. But from the servant’s (here, the colonized people’s) standpoint, these changes — which he does not understand — are unimportant, so that for all practical purposes we (the critical theorists) can consider the complex of persuasion to be homogeneous.

However, the complex of persuasion and that of collaboration do not belong to the same cultural space; they are qualitatively different. Persuasion and collaboration define an exchange relationship: persuasion flows from the master to the servant and collaboration flows from the servant to the master. If the master and the servant belong to different cultural spaces, it is theoretically necessary to show how signals are transmitted from one space to another. In other words, collaboration is not immediately a negative (mirror image) of persuasion. To persuade successfully it is necessary — though not sufficient — that a subject persuades an object who understands the language of persuasion.

Then the question is: how does the master construct a cultural space (a discursive field) in which the communication between the master and the servant is possible? In concrete terms, the questions is: can a colonial power rule with hegemony (some kind of persuasion) if the colonized subjects do not understand its language, its principles of persuasion?

It is now a commonplace proposition that the capitalist state is not always coercive: it can persuade its people to collaborate in its rule. In short, the capitalist state has its hegemony. But as far as the question of colonial domination is concerned, the current literature on the subject rules out the possibility of the hegemony: the colonial state is always a coercive state (Guha 1989). Collaboration by the colonized people is viewed either as an aberration (betrayals by the lackeys of colonial power) or as a myth produced by the colonizer. This underestimates the strength of colonial (and imperialist) power and misses how the colonial power reaches into the minds of people and deforms them into the end-product: the colonial mind.

By implication, this also overestimates the strength of our liberated intellectuals. Those who speak for the masses of the third world might too, Oh God, carry a colonial mind! In short, the point is missed that the formation of colonial hegemony is an unconscious process that needs to be theoretically analyzed.

Such an analysis requires that we break out of the notion of simple (cultural) space that prevails in the current discourse on colonial hegemony. The notion of simple space presupposes that the persuasive and collaborative principles belong to the same homogenous space. The master persuades the servant; the servant is persuaded and therefore collaborates. If the master fails to communicate the persuasive principles, the failure is understood as a lack of hegemony. This question is never asked: why does the colonial power fail to communicate its persuasive principles? And, how does it overcome this problem of communication in order to produce a new kind of hegemony which does not rest entirely on the persuasive principles? And, how this transmission is at all possible if the master and the servant — and therefore the persuasive principles and the collaborative principles — belong to different cultural spaces?

We argue that, in such a case of first-order failure, the master needs to construct a synthetic (artificial) cultural space that includes the complexes of persuasion and collaboration (in their modified second-order forms) as its moments. In other words, there exists an articulated field in which persuasive and collaborative principles emerge as moments of the master’s discourse. Synthetic (cultural) space is defined in this theoretical field as a flow of these modified persuasive principle from the master to the servant, who in turn receives them in terms of the modified collaborative principles.

Synthetic space, therefore, does not immediately follow from the master’s persuasive principles. It is a product of the master’s appropriation of the principles that constitute the servant as an autonomous force. In other words, it is a displacement of the servant’s constitutive principles. More correctly, synthetic space is a condensation of the modified persuasive principles of the master and the constitutive (internal) principles of the servant. The master distorts (reforms) the constitutive principles of the servant, taxes them up with his own persuasive principles, and sends them back to the servant. The servant, then, can read the language of persuasion. Synthetic space, therefore, is an ideological practice or articulation on the master’s part, establishing a relation among elements (persuasion and coercion) such that their identity is modified as a result of the articulatory practice. Synthetic space is to be distinguished from the notion of simple space flowing from the master’s persuasive principles. Simple space implies the following:

  1. There is a homogenous cultural space over which persuasion (by the master) and collaboration (by the servant) can operate.
  2. Collaboration (by the servant) is the negative of persuasion (by the master).
  3. There is no element of collaboration in the servant’s consciousness that is autonomous of the persuasive principles of the master.

Taken together, these characteristics of simple space mean that the dominant ideas propagated by the ruling classes constitute the paradigm (code, language, culture) within which both persuasion and collaboration are practiced. When the subaltern classes collaborate with their rulers they do so because, and only because, they accept as their own the dominant ideas propagated by the ruling class. Collaboration, thus, is a mirror image (negative) of persuasion.

Of course, since we (the critical theorists) know that this society is class divided, we also know that the persuasive principles of the master only reflect the specific class interests of the master. Hence, what the master projects as generally valid for the society as a whole is in actuality valid for his sectional interest as a ruling class. When the subaltern classes collaborate, they do so because they falsely believe that those sectional principles are valid for them as well. Hence, we obtain a simple cultural space where persuasion is only an extension of the coercive power of the master. And, collaboration is the result of the false consciousness of the subaltern classes — that is, the image of the ruling ideas in the mirror of subaltern consciousness. For example, in the context of capitalism, simple cultural space is said to prevail when capital can control labor by principles of persuasion that includes capitalism’s own principles (accumulation, democracy, freedom).

It is in this context that we develop the concept of synthetic cultural space. If persuasion by the elite is not able to elicit collaboration from the subaltern classes, it must mean that the mirror image is not produced in subaltern consciousness, the servant is failing to understand the language of the master. The master then learns the language (code, totem) of the servant, distorts it and constructs out of it a new code to convey the message of his persuasive principles. The servant then starts speaking a new language — his master’s language5 — without being aware of it, thinking that he is speaking in his mother tongue. The servant becomes a refugee in his homeland.

The current discourse on colonial hegemony misses this subtle point. It identifies hegemony with the persuasive principles of the colonial power. So, the current discourse does not find any hegemony operative in the colonized country. And, it considers the only mode of action of colonial power as the coercive one — and thus misses all that is subtle in this game of power. To make this point more specific we focus on Guha’s analysis of colonial hegemony, which summarizes others’ positions and finally dismisses the colonial hegemony as impossible. We are now going to point out what this analysis misses.

The current literature on colonial hegemony opposes modernism to tradition. The colonial power is viewed as both good and evil. Good, because it brings modernism (science). Evil, for the obvious reason that its presence means lack of freedom for the colonized people. The degree of modernization in the colonized country is considered as the index of colonial hegemony.

That is to say, hegemony in the colonial context is understood as simple hegemony. The colonial power is said to be hegemonic if it can persuade the colonized people, in terms of the principle internal to it (modernism), to collaborate in its colonial rule. For example, British rule in India is announced to be hegemonic to the extent that it modernized the education system in India. The people who collaborated with the British in this project (Bidyasagar, Ashutosh Mukherjee) are worshipped as great thinkers and leaders of modern India. Likewise, economic reforms (bringing railways) opening up the possibilities of modernization in the country are cited as indices of hegemonic rule. Opponents of this view also share this notion of simple hegemony, but argue that the educational and economic reforms were quantitatively insignificant and therefore do not signify hegemony.

Latter discussion on the subject (Cambridge Historiography, for example) identifies the roots of British hegemony in India in its system of representation of the colonized subject in the administrative and legislative set up.6 This inclusion of the colonized subjects in the administration and legislature produced a whole gamut of values constituting modern India. For example, the Cambridge view contends that the nationalist movement in India draws its inspiration from this system of representation. In this view the nationalist sentiments are nothing but quantitative expansions of the urge on the part of the colonized subjects to represent themselves on a greater scale in the administration and legislature. The nationalists in India, of course, would not share this view. They argue that the representations were made on a very limited scale that cannot produce such a distinct value system on its own.

Surprisingly, both the proponents and opponents of the notion of British hegemony in India share the same sense of simple hegemony: the colonial power persuading its subjects, in terms of modernism, to collaborate in its rule. An assimilation of (that is, a compromise with) traditional values is viewed as a failure of hegemony.

This is the thrust of Guha’s argument which dismisses the notion of British hegemony in India. Guha shows how (how often) the colonial power (the British) compromised with the traditional values in order to get the consent of the colonized subjects in its rule. In this context, he argues that the ordinary colonized subjects in British India understood colonizers’ persuasive principles in an entirely different idiom — different from the West. They understood in terms of Dharma/Adharma — that, in India, demands that the king (the ruler) ensures that his subjects are not denied certain minimum rights (the right to a bare subsistence, the right to pursue their religion, etc).7 A Dharmik king (one who practices Dharma) would also undertake certain programs for economic improvements (providing irrigation facilities, etc). On the other hand, resistance takes on the form of Dharmik protest when people are denied those minimum rights. For example, Dharma requires that the king should not indulge in luxury during a period of famine and that, if the king has surplus stocks of food-grains, he will distribute them to the people. Otherwise the people would have the right to rise in rebellion against the king to take possession of the surplus food-grains. Guha points out that the British persuasive principles in India were combinations of modernism and Dharma. He reads this as a compromise of the colonial power with the traditional principles — its failure to impart modern values, that is, a lack of hegemony.

We concur with Guha’s view that British persuasive principles in India were combinations of modernism and traditional values. What distances us from Guha is the theoretical understanding of the concrete situation. While Guha reads this as a lack of hegemony, we find in it the beginning of a new kind of hegemony — synthetic hegemony — the structure of which we have already described in terms of synthetic cultural space. So what is at issue here is a theoretical question: what does hegemony mean? It is in this context that we develop the concept of synthetic cultural space to reach a theoretical understanding of the situation.

Both the Cambridge historiography and Guha share a notion of simple cultural space and debate over its presence (or, absence) during the British rule in India. We argue that one needs to dismiss this simplistic notion of hegemony to understand the nature of colonial hegemony and its continuity into the present (postcolonial) phase. And this dismissal prepares the background for what might be a richer analysis of the concrete nature of colonial hegemony. For example, it is interesting to examine how the colonial power alters (displaces) traditional values in order to combine them with modern values. Perhaps, contrary to what Guha argues, we might find that the British did not merely compromise with traditional values — it altered them, modified them, effaced them — that is, overdetermined them.

But, Guha opposes modernism to tradition. The prevalence of the principles of modernism in the colonized country is understood as an index of hegemony of the colonial power. And the appropriation of the traditional values on its part is called ‘spurious hegemony’ (Guha 1989) — it is understood as a failure of (proper) hegemony.

We have already argued that such a hegemony is not a ‘spurious hegemony’ or an index of weakness on part of the colonial power. Quiet the contrary: it is a more subtle form of hegemony that needs to be analyzed if we are to understand the strength of postcolonial power and the weakness of the colonized mind. So what is involved, here, is primarily, a theoretical question. At the level of concrete analysis we concur with the view that the simple hegemony has not worked here — in the colonial context. But while Guha equates this absence as an absence of hegemony, we read in it the presence of a more subtle form of hegemony. The question that intrigues us is: how come that modernism could appropriate, smoothly, the principles of tradition, a dissimilar thing? The idea comes readily enough, then, that modernism and tradition are not two entirely dissimilar or antithetical things. For, in that case, the appropriation would have not been so smooth. In other words, the notion of tradition itself changes in the presence of modernism. That is to say, modernism displaces tradition: we view tradition in the light (logic) of modernism and therefore as an aspect of modernism.

In Althusser’s terms — as restructured by Resnick and Wolff (1987) — this means that tradition is overdetermined by modernism. Modernism and tradition are not two entirely opposed things that can be divided into separate watertight compartments. Modernism determines/constitutes (and is determined/constituted by) tradition. This overdetermining aspect of modernism (and by implication, of tradition) is one of our entry-point concepts into the current discourse on colonial hegemony.8

If modernism is a complex of the complexes of economic, political and ideological, then modernism itself is overdetermined by tradition. As modernism interacts with tradition, the notion of modernism itself changes. However, for our purposes, the converse of the proposition is more important: we are more concerned here with the changes in the body of tradition. Modernism overdetermines tradition, that is to say, determines and constitutes it. As tradition interacts with modernism, the notion of tradition itself undergoes a change. This creates an identification problem: modernism often appears in the form of tradition.

For example, one upholds tradition (Lord Rama) without knowing that one is actually flagging a western notion of totality, perhaps in a distorted form. The representation of tradition by the subordinate sector often involves screening and censoring in the light of modernism, so that the modern mind can understand it, appreciate it, and perhaps admire it. No wonder that modernism appropriates this tradition and produces a synthetic space and its field of operation: postcolonized minds having no roots, that is to say, a false notion of roots.

It is interesting that the notion of synthetic space has a striking similarity with Bhabha’s notion of third space, a notion of hybridity arousing contradictory affects in different quarters: of hate, love, hate-and-love. The first two affects are familiar. The last one seems new and more interesting, discursively. In the next section we would take this issue of an approving account of hybrid culture by Bhabha to be later on contested by our notion of synthetic space.

III. Bhabha’s Notion of Hybridity

Bhabha (1994) works on two related but distinct planes of discourse: on the plane of postcolonialism and that of colonialism. The thrust of his argument is on postcolonialism, though the parallel, brief and fictive treatment of colonialism shows flashes of incisive insight. The voice that speaks through Bhabha is one of an immigrant — or more precisely that of a stranger. A stranger wandering among the wonders of an alien land, and thus coming to terms with it, and discovering in it a new land that resists being pigeon-holed into the labels of either ‘foreign’ or ‘native’. This new land transcends the familiar categories to liberate a new space — the third space — the key concept in Bhabha.

This third space transcends the known categories and the familiar (familial) affects, recognizing neither roots nor rootlessness, causing neither hate nor love nor hate-and-love towards itself and hurls one simultaneously into nowhere and the now and here. In short the subject here is a nomadic identity.

It might be more helpful to grasp Bhabha’s imaginary of third space in terms of one of our key concepts, namely overdetermination. However, Bhabha does not write exactly in its terms, though he makes a few oblique references to it. Imagine a cultural space overdetermined by modernism and tradition. Because they determine and constitute each other, both modernism and tradition gather surplus meanings, thereby interpreting, intercepting, and intersecting themselves, in short, transcending the notes accorded to them. And in a land where one is neither modern nor traditional, one cannot have roots or, for that matter, rootlessness. One is neither alien nor allied, lying everywhere and nowhere.

Here we miss the familiar affects much paraded on in the avant-garde post-World-War-II literature (alienation, rootlessness, etc). A segment of avant-gardism turns out to be a done thing, overdone — or worse — part of an intellectual soap opera. Characters in the third space are on a look-out for an author who can read and write their new affects, a playwright having the guts to put dialogues into their mouths. We might recall that this is precisely the sentiments that the imaginary of the synthetic space evokes: a person rendered refugee in his own homeland — becoming an immigrant without a migration. But that had a different discursive setting: a colonial scenario and a colonized site (sight).

If synthetic space is inhabited by refugees in their homelands, a third space narrates the corresponding story of an immigrant transcending himself and being at home in a foreign land, but within a postcolonial context. This, in short, captures the spirit of Bhabha’s third space.

From our perspective of synthetic space we find it difficult to visualize Bhabha’s time-bound (historicist) concept of postcolonial space, where his postcolonial immigrant subject discovers a kind of new homeland. An immigrant settling himself during the postcolonial period: that unsettles us, who have been condemned to be un-set, hybridized, nomadic — in a word, synthetic — for about two centuries and a half. While empires declined and fell, nation-states emerged and refined people crossed borders of nations to re-find home. If borders of nations can fall, why not the borders of time as when both people and time flight and fly over them into third space, breaking the boundaries between colonialism and postcolonialism. Look: the border — the ‘post’ of postcolonialism. As if colonialism crossed the border of time and space, extensified and intensified it, refined and re-found it into a larger space and over a longer time to turn a new visage. The visage of postcolonialism — which is always already colonial, that is synthetic: that is to say postcolonial third space. Then, what is specific to postcolonialism as a discursive space?

Let us explore further the categories leading into Bhabha’s third space to see whether we can find in it a few traits specific to a discursive category that is related to but distinct from colonialism. Distinct, so that we can put a name — a new name — to it, such as postcolonialism.

In pursuit of a theoretical grounding of third space Bhabha starts with the usual postmodern diatribe against ‘binarisms of different orders’ and ‘totalizing utopian visions of being and history’ in his essay ‘commitment to theory’. Against the economic, political, and resultantly ideological hegemonizing of the ‘spurious internationalisms’ of the multinational corporations that actually maps the first world capital into the cheap third world labor, Bhabha proceeds to enunciate the ‘role of theory in today’s world-order’. In doing this the cultural and historical hybridities with their shifting margins of cultural displacement simply confounding any profound/authentic concept of national culture stand as the paradigmatic point of departure of his discourse. He uses the categories called ‘cultural diversity’ and ‘cultural difference’ in this direction.

Cultural difference is Bhabha’s name of the very game of shifting margin. The game of crossing the borders of cultural identities and enunciation of culture itself as ‘knowledgeable’. Whereas cultural diversity is the traditional category of comparison residing in the ‘recognition of pre-given cultural contents and customs’ that works through the very separation of totalized cultures. The concept of cultural diversity builds upon the utopianism of a mythic memory of a unique collective identity.

‘Cultural difference’ is the authoritative process of signification through which statements of/on culture differentiate, discriminate, and authorize the production of fields of force, reference, applicability, and capacity creating the limit or the limit-text where different meanings meet. Cultural difference symbolizes the ambivalence of the cultural authority that is itself produced only in the moment of differentiation.

And this moment entails a split: a struggle between a mythical temporality and the new meanings of the new cultural codes. the systems of meanings and strategies of the political present of these new cultural codes transgress all the earlier certitudes in the traditional cultural categories. This transgression represents a struggle of the politics of negotiation over the authoritative narrative of tradition. This split, according to Bhabha, problematizes all the binary categorizations of past-present, tradition-modernity, and so on. And it is this split that renders the past-ness as a strategy of representing authority that actually assumes the very content of historical memory, which does really exist no more. This liberates a new cultural space beyond all national identities that Bhabha names as third space.

In place of the essentialist concept of cultural diversity that evokes the false memory of national cultures, cultural difference emerges out, encompassing a complex discursive field of ‘negotiation rather than negation’. Bhabha’s ‘negotiation’ conveys a temporality with a new dialectic that no longer presupposes a ‘teleological or transcendental history’. The temporality of ‘negotiation’ or ‘translation’ has two main advantages.

  1. The acknowledgment of the historical connected-ness between the subject and the object of critique.
  2. The perception of heterogeneous emergence of radical critique making us aware of the absence of any primordiality on part of the political referents and the heterogeneity of the political object.

Bhabha considers each one of the different positions within the political discourse as a process of translation and transference of meanings from other positions. And each political object is determined in relation to other objects, getting displaced in the act of critique.

But, this ‘translation’ or ‘transformation’ is possible only with the understanding of the tension within the critical theory between ‘institutional containment’ and its ‘revisionary force’ as a necessary precondition, according to Bhabha. To demonstrate the territory of this process — ‘the other site of theory’ — he reminds us two points:

  1. Many poststructuralist ideas are themselves opposed to enlightenment humanism and aesthetics; and
  2. The requirement of re-historicizing the moment of ‘the emergence of sign’ or ‘the question of the subject’ or ‘the discursive construction of social reality’, as the popular topics go.

This re-historicizing can only happen through relocating ‘the referential and institutional demands of such theoretical work in the field of cultural difference — not cultural diversity’.

The process of cultural difference presumes that there is no one-alone existence of a culture, it exists in plurality. But this plurality does not come into being through any humanist totalization. And not again through any ethical relativism. The cultural text does exist along with all such texts through the process of difference. ‘The place of utterance — is crossed by the difference of meaning’, as all cultures exist in the form of differences in the structures of symbolic representation.

This difference is a communication between spaces and hence needs a third space for the production of meaning.

This enunciative split destroys the logic of synchronicity and evolution behind authority in cultural knowledge. And thus, it intervenes into the expanding universe of totalizing cultural codes as represented by the traditional western cultural texts.

Bhabha renders all cultural statements as representing the contradictory and ambivalent space of enunciation leading to the creation of the third space. The space which, though un-representable in itself, ‘constitutes the discursive conditions of enunciation that ensures that the meanings and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity’.

‘It is the inter — ’, the cutting edge of translation, and negotiation, the in-between space that carries ‘the burden of meaning of culture’. Bhabha invites us to explore this third space.

This is the point where the crucial question leaps out of Bhabha’s texts: what it is that ensures this privileged position of the immigrant: the celebrated subject of postcoloniality? What gives him that pride of place that was obviously absent on part of his colonial cousin?

Here, let us remember, once again, ‘The Aleph’ by Borges. The Aleph is there, waiting — in the basement, on the untrodden, unheeded underside of the under-lit staircase. You witness it, or deprive yourself of it, the Aleph is there, bidding its time for anyone who slips on the stair and falls to discover it. The Aleph, the eternal in the zero, with its space that comprises all the spaces, a time that looms and lingers over all the times, a reality that entails all the realities. This Aleph is in your basement, in everyone’s basement. Now one no longer has to become an immigrant to transcend over the specific space-time-continuum assigned to oneself. No such continuum exists any more. Women have become intrinsically immigrant: no non-immigrant does live at all on the face of this globe. Any configuration of space and time is all configurations of space and time. The continuum of space and time has globalized enough each and every one of the villages: every village is a globe — the Globe. Any commodity that is present on the rack of a wayside store stands for the supermarket — the museum where all times and spaces are frozen and displayed on meticulously ordered arrays. and the order of the arrays itself has become a sign: a display of signs.

The apicality attached with the immigrant by Bhabha is itself a misconception of postcoloniality that becomes readily transparent in his discourse on colonized mind as presented in the essay ‘Mimicry and man’. The concept of metonymy has played an important role in this paper, and this role is going to become pivotal in our exposition of the problem. So, let us recall that, metonymy is positing one sign in place of another closely associated one, like the ‘scepter’ for the ‘king’. The relationship between the scepter and the king can be termed as ‘same but not quite’ — the presence of the king in the scepter is something of a partial kind. Metonymy represents for us this category of partial presence.

Bhabha wants to ground this particular kind of partial presence in colonial culture that strived to become identical with the colonizer’s culture, and precisely in and by this action of strife became distinctly non-identical. Colonizer’s culture, that is, the chain of signifiers — the structure of the codes, or, for that matter, signals — are always present there, in the colonized’s paradigm. But this presence, partial in its very tendency, in its very desire to a become a complete presence, is bound to be a mimic presence.

Bhabha calls this phenomenon of mimic presence in the colonial context as ‘mimicry’. Bhabha posits mimicry as a discursive strategy of colonial power and knowledge — the desire for a reformed and recognizable other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same but not quite. Mimicry explains an indeterminacy: a difference that is a disavowal of itself — a complex strategy of partial presence directed towards the appropriation of the other. The missionary education, and, through it, a sequel of political and moral reforms: the English schooling as a whole reformed the colonial subject into a mimic woman. This process of reform problematized the signs of racial and cultural priority, and rendered the colonized woman non-actional as the colonizer white woman has started to represent her/his self-esteem. This is what Bhabha calls as ‘double vision’ that discloses the ambivalence of colonial discourse and also disrupts its authority with the production of that partial representation, or the ‘metonymy of presence’.

Grant’s colonial as the partial imitator, Macaulay’s translator and Naipaul’s colonial politician — they are all objects of a colonial chain of command, the other-ness of colonial power, and hence part-objects of a metonymy of colonial desire. This desire, through the repetition of mimicry, articulates the disturbances of cultural, racial and historical differences. Differences that menace the narcissistic demand of colonial authority and reverse in part the colonial appropriation. And produce a partial vision of the colonizer’s presence: a gaze of other-ness that liberates the marginal elements and shatters the unity of woman’s being through which she extends her/his sovereignty.

Bhabha relates this colonial mimicry with the ‘partial nature of fantasy’ of the individuals coming from mixed and split origins. They resemble ‘White-men’, but betray their ‘colored descent’ by some ‘striking feature’ and therefore they are excluded from the society and enjoy no privileges.

Bhabha points out mimicry to be that striking feature, which is itself an interdictory desire. This desire to become ‘white’ is a striking feature of the ‘black’, and makes him blacker.

Bhabha considers it as a collective catharsis related with a confusion of the metaphoric and metonymic axes of the cultural production of meanings. Cross-referring to Lacan’s ‘camouflage’, Bhabha considers mimicry ‘not as a harmonization but a resemblance that is not presence’. It carries an in-built fear towards the colonizer.

Mimicry is the encounter between white presence and its black semblance presenting the ambivalence of mimicry as a problematic of colonial subjection that destroys the ‘narcissistic authority’ through the slippage of difference and desire. Under cover of camouflage mimicry re-values the normative knowledge of the ‘priority of race, writing and history’, and thus re-articulates the presence in terms of its other-ness. Bhabha points out a resultant split of the colonial discourse representing two attitudes towards the external reality:

  1. The view that takes reality into consideration; and
  2. The view that disavows it and replaces it by a product of desire that repeats reality as a mimicry.

This ambivalence of colonial authority turns from mimicry to menace through the twine figures of narcissism and paranoia.

Thus emerges sly civility. At some point of history of all colonial powers. From this repeating of reality as a mimicry, as the very form of desire to fulfill the gap between a colonial power and its partial presence in the colonial woman. Sly civility: the culture of recordation that repeats the reality and thus celebrates the partial presence. It is this mechanism that brings recordation in place of representation of the colonial people that could happen but did not. This act of recordation is itself the gap between presence and its partiality that it wants to bridge. And hence, in this process of colonial metonymy the act of recordation gives rise to a colonial hybridity — a colonial third space — if formulated in Bhabha’s terms.

Let us start with Bhabha’s rendition of the colonial hybridity that gets created through the presence that is ‘same but not quite’. A sympathetic reading of Bhabha gives us the possibility of third space in the colonial context. It is the ‘metonymic presence’ that makes the colonized non-identical with the colonizer. So the colonial space becomes something that is neither the West, nor its other, the phenomenon of mimicry just destroying its other-ness. Hence this space is ‘neither the one thing nor the other’, opening up a new discursive field of third space.

Here the question that we had raised in context of Borges’ Aleph becomes more crucial. Now, what is the specificity of postcolonialism that gives the immigrant the pride of place that was absent for his colonial counterpart?

In fact, this phenomenon of colonial hybridity needs to be explained in terms of an overdetermined framework. How the gap between the presence and its partiality is filled in by tradition — a tradition that is indeed no longer a tradition — that has already become altered, displaced, overdetermined by other facets of postmodern reality. Anyway, Bhabha does not go into its details which constitute Bhabha’s gap and his misconception of third space as a specific feature of postcolonialism. Of course there are reasons to believe why Bhabha might miss this point — we are coming to that in context of our critique of Bhabha’s mimicry as a mimicry of mimicry.

To return to the point, the metonymy of presence can be very well interpreted by the Lacanian concept of Gap that stands for the lack of self-esteem on part of the colonized, which is precisely the ‘striking feature’ of non-whiteness. But does this sympathetic reading stand in correspondence with Bhabha’s own concept of postcolonial hybridity as presented in ‘Commitment to Theory’? A distinct break of logic creeps in here which we are going to resolve.

Bhabha’s ‘mimicry’ is a process that renders the Anglicized colonial man ‘same but not quite’ English. It is a partial, that is, metonymic, representation. The colonizer, on his part, puts forward a metonymic presence that grants the colonial man the same right: same but not quite the same right as a British subject. So the colonizer does not allow any real representation on part of the colonized, but, instead, gives him the right of recordation, a partial presence as a substitute of representation.

This process of recordation, in its turn, brings even the direct agencies of colonial power under a kind of threat. Everything is being properly noted and written down which, later, makes the agencies answerable. Any Lord Clive that behaves badly will someday be put to task. The principle of recordation upgrades the status of British as a ruler ruling with social justice. A discourse in black and white is always there that looms above everything and everyone to prove, later, whether one is remaining within the jurisdiction of fair-play or not. On account of this, the English look better than the French in the role of colonial ruler. The French do anything they like; the British, at least, record them down. Thus, the colonial ruler enables itself to win over not just the land of the colonized, but the heart too, and thus cometh hegemony.

What comes of the viewpoint of the colonized? Swadeshi-s — the colonial revolutionaries of India — convinced themselves that they were getting at least some justice: same but not quite British civil rights. Some justice must be there since the best nation in the world is ruling us.

So, it is the partial representation of recordation in place of representation proper that contributes to build the British colonial hegemony. In the same way, the series of reforms under the British rule, is also of a partial nature, pushing the social to the same but not quite British standard of enlightened reason. They do not hurt the religious and other feelings of the colonized, whose existence itself has become partial: in an altered form, a metonymic presence.

Metonymy of presence implies representing something more (other) than presence, that is, presence of a lack of presence. Every metonymic presence implies a gap or a lack, giving rise to a strife towards the real. This real in this case is modernism, and democracy. This desire towards the real, the real justice of the British, precisely, is the basis of the hegemony of modernism. So, modernism in the colonies actually rules through its metonymic presence: its lack of presence. From this lack grows the desire. Modernism rules, with the seduction of ‘real’-modernism hanging before the eyes of the colonized. The seductive modernism and its metonymic presence (in everything) creates the desire towards the real. An actual presence could have led to the possibility of rejection, a rejection of the actual — the total — the real. This does not happen in this case where the desire generated by the partial presence towards the real protects the British rule from the danger of rejection. On Bhabha’s scheme enlightened colonized mind is a mere hankering towards the real modernism.

So, the scheme of Bhabha actually misses the link between the colonial space (of mimicry) and the postcolonial space (of hybridity). Because, he does not follow through the consequences of mimicry on the colonized field to see how a third space is always already produced within a colonial space.

Bhabha discovers the mechanism of mimicry as the partial presence of ‘almost same but not quite’, ‘almost same but not white’, leading to a partial diffusion of colonial culture that reinforces and builds the structure of colonial dependence. And, this partial diffusion renders the urge for colonial independence, the urge for the real in place of the substitute, as a desiral fixation of the metonymic colonial gaze. But, Bhabha misses how this very desiral mechanism of metonymic colonial gaze actualizes into a series of colonial part-objects and part-events opening up a field of partial discourse of partial communication between the colonial power and its part-subjects. He misses how this partial presence, instead of producing an urge for the real, produces an alternative desire to produce a complex space that is part-colonial (science, but not their religion) and part-native (religion, tradition, etc). This metonymic gaze and the desire for the real precipitate into producing a complex hegemonic space. That is precisely what Partha Chatterjee does not miss in his analysis of nationalism (particularly of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay).

Complex hegemonic space, we have already shown, is the traditional Gramscian situation where the real universal does not happen to be produced and power rules through a surrogate synthesis. The essentialist Hegelian logic gets displaced into a Gramscian field of surrogate (constructed) universal dispensing the idea of the universal and presents elements as binary opposites fighting each other and yet getting united at the level of a surrogate synthesis.

For instance, modernism and tradition are two mutually exclusive opposites that, according to Partha Chatterjee, get united in colonial (as well as postcolonial) India at the level of surrogate synthesis. This unification, for Chatterjee, happens via a concept of nation: nationalism here binds the opposites such as modernism and tradition9. But, actually, the passive revolution (and the consequent complex space) turns into a synthetic space setting into motion a passive re-evaluation of modernism and tradition. The surplus meanings of modernism and tradition overflow from each into the other, negotiate between them (rather than negating each other) to constitute a synthetic (third) space. Where both modernism and tradition lose their (prior) meanings and get transformed into in-between categories. A colonial space is always already a third (synthetic) space. Bhabha misses this point: he needs third space as a phenomenon specific to the postcolonial period while mimicry is its colonial counterpart.

Why does Bhabha miss this simple point? Because he implicitly assumes that mimicry occurs on a colonial setting in a void: the colonized mimics the colonizer in an empty space. But the marks of the partial presence of the colonizer — its metonyms — do occur in a space endowed with a culture that does interact with these marks setting into motion a whole series of changes. These changes lead into the formation of a third (synthetic) space in a colonial context. Bhabha stops short of reading these marks of partial presence of the colonizer on the colonized. Partha Chatterjee moves one step forward and reads how and why this partial presence of modernism could coexist with tradition. But Chatterjee too does not follow through the full consequences of this argument: how this coexistence alters the meanings of tradition and modernism? How it turns them into in-between categories constituting a third (synthetic) space in a colonial context which Bhabha could only (falsely) identify as a specific postcolonial trait?

And if third space cuts across colonialism and postcolonialism, then what is specific to postcolonialism? We address this question in the following section.

IV. Colonial Difference and Colonial Equality

We begin this section with a nod to Bhabha. Bhabha’s concept of mimicry — the way he translates it from Lacan and bends it to suit his purposes — has given postcolonial cultural studies its gaze.

Indeed, all through our rendition of colonial hegemony, we were groping for and grappling with this concept. Recall the way we have located the source of colonial hegemony: a condensation of the displaced persuasive principles of the colonized. Displacement and condensation: these two categories come out to be very important in our discussion on colonial hegemony.

Note: a displacement of the persuasive principles of the colonizing subject. Displacement, because the colonizing subject’s principles, in their original form, can neither be applied on nor communicated to the colonized subject. Therefore, they must be deployed in their altered forms. In short, they must undergo a process of displacement.

The Lacanian concept — metonymy — will be a more appropriate term in this context. Not only substitutes of the original persuasive principles that displacement signifies, but a dwindled and dwarfed substitute of the original, its metonymic transformation: that is what is at stake in the formation of colonial hegemony.

And metonymy in this context turns out to produce the effect of mimicry. Representation for the colonizing subject and recordation for the colonized: this involves a metonymic transformation of the concept of equality as it traverses the field of colonial subjectivity. Consequently, one observes legislative and administrative set-up in the colonized field that are same as that in the metropolis, that is the First World, but not quite. What the colonized are handed over is a mimicry of the original.

Mimicry serves to produce and sustain colonial hegemony in a three-fold manner.

First, it transplants into colonized subjectivity a feeling of lack and a desire for the real.

Secondly, this circuit: real lack desire does not happen in a void space. Like the metaphysical Ether, the surrounding medium is not at all that neutral that it was assumed to be. The tradition, that is the cultural space of the colonized itself becomes a weapon of modernism in this process of hegemonizing through a lack of hegemony.

Thirdly, on part of the colonized, the dream for equality gets replaced by another dream: a dream for colonial equality. The colonized no more strive towards the true equality or true democracy. The lack of any true equality is already sanctioned. Many often take to task the nationalists, the Swadeshi-s, for not appreciating what it meant to be ruled by the British and not by another European nation (such as Spain, Portugal, or for that matter, France). But, even, this colonial equality, in its turn, does have its own limits. Limits beyond which surfaces the symptom of colonial equality. And, therefore, a corresponding resistance of the colonized — at least for the elite section of the colonized nation.

One enlightened section of the colonized subjectivity carries a hankering for the democracy of the colonizing power — OK, we don’t demand the true equality, but at least grant us our share — our quota of colonial equality.

It is interesting to draw a parallel between Bhabha and Guha in this context. Guha points to the aspect of partial representation of the colonized subjectivity in the administrative set-up as an index of lack of hegemony of the colonizing subject. But one might read Bhabha’s rendition of mimicry to re-read in such ‘lack of hegemony in Guha’s sense’ a sign of hegemony: it promotes a desire for true modernism — that is to say, the hegemony of modernism.

Mimicry re-affirms colonial hegemony through the establishment of this colonial equality by this mechanism of desire that we have already discussed. Rabindranath Tagore – who was awarded Nobel Prize in 1913 — may be an interesting case-study here, in this context of colonial subjectivity before colonial equality.

When the publication of Pather-daabi, a novel in Bengali by Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay, hailing nationalist terrorism, was banned by the British Government in India, Tagore in fact admired the magnanimity of the British. That it only banned the publication of a novel and did not arrest the novelist. Such examples abound. It is not hard to see the point in Tagore. Mimicry in a colonial context has two moments: colonial difference and colonial equality. During a colonial rule, some colonial difference is only expected and does not deliver any additional shock to the colonial subjectivity. Therefore, what gets highlighted, and maybe glorified, by the patrician as well as by the plebian is the moment of colonial equality. But before we go into further details of this subtle concept, let us have a close view of its other — colonial difference — the concept that gets a lot of prominence in the current literature on postcolonial cultural studies. Unlike its counterpart: colonial equality.

We have noted that Guha points to colonial difference as an index of lack of hegemony on part of the colonizing subject. But Guha does not go into the detail of that which constitutes colonial difference. Chatterjee (1993), with his erudition and his characteristic lucid style, provides us with some of these details.

Chatterjee is somewhat surprised to discover that a particular theme in colonial discourse until the earlier half of this century was the steadfast refusal to admit the universality of the colonizer’s persuasive principles in its rule over the colonized. These persuasive principles include freedom of speech, equal right in the representation in bureaucracy and government etc. In support of his argument, Chatterjee quotes Vincent Smith who argues that British persuasive principles should not and cannot be applied to rule colonial India. Should not, because it would be a violence to the moral principles of the Indian people who adore a personal king and not an impersonal government. Cannot, because,

  1. British principles of equality (democracy) and Indian caste-system based on hierarchy do not go together; and
  2. Therefore its application to the Indian situation would be a coercion on the colonized leading to a mutiny.

In the context of a discussion on this issue, Chatterjee puts forward three possible positions in this regard.

  1. These persuasive principles must apply in principle to all societies irrespective of historical or cultural specificities.
  2. The principle is inescapably tied to the specific history and culture of western societies and cannot be exported elsewhere.
  3. The historical and cultural differences, although an impediment in the beginning, can be eventually overcome by a suitable process of training and education.

Chatterjee produces evidence from the history of colonial India that the British persuasive principles were only partially applied in colonial India. He characterizes this partial application of these persuasive principles on the colonizer’s part as colonial difference.

Perhaps Chatterjee misses the point that colonial difference was not a policy deliberately chosen by the British; they had to choose it. For Chatterjee, it appears as a choice because of his empiricist way of listing the three possible positions in this regard which appear to him as exhaustive. But what is at issue there is not the possibility of exporting the governing principles from one social context to another. But the possibility of transmission of a specific set of governing rules (suffused with the principle of equality) into a colonial field marked by a declared master-servant relationship. We will understand colonial difference here as the logical expression of a particular difference in the context of an evident master-servant relationship. In other words, colonial difference is what Lacan-Žižek will call a symptom: a displacement of the unreason implicit within the reason of the colonizer — as the unreason of the colonized. Colonial difference is a condition at a certain point of time in colonial history for hegemony by the colonizing nation.

In fact, colonialism itself implies certain measure of compromise with the principles of modernist reason: the colonized cannot choose their own master (cannot form their own government). Colonialism is premised on this basic assumption. So, the concept of colonial difference actually represents a crucial question of proliferation or transmission of this original sin — the conquest of a nation leading to a denial of sovereignty to it. Will this original sin be transmitted to the other spheres of the government (for instance, in the representation of the colonized at the level of bureaucracy) and the terrain of civil society? A theoretical answer to this question depends on a critical theorist’s epistemological entry-point concept. If this entry-point is overdetermination (as in our case), then the answer will be ‘yes’. Since overdetermination presumes that different instances of society mutually constitute and determine one another, the constitutive principle of one instance of society as a lack (of equality) — the original sin — will also constitute other instances of society. We are not ‘surprised’, like Chatterjee, to find some measure of this lack in all spheres of society under a colonial regime.

So the question that concerns us is not whether there were colonial differences in different realms of social life, but the theoretical and empirical consequences of these colonial differences: how these differences negotiate among themselves? Can these colonial differences negotiate upon each other to neutralize the initial differences and thus produce colonial indifference? And colonial hegemony? What is involved here is a theoretical question, and not an empiricist narrative of colonial differences. Colonial equality emerges out of such colonial indifference.

Colonial power, in order to be effective, must make some discrimination between the colonizing subject and the colonized subject — the point is obvious enough. Call it colonial difference as Partha Chatterjee does or whatever suits your whim. The important question in a colonial context is not this colonial difference as such, but its limits, if any.

Are there limits to colonial discrimination? Where are the limits? Are the limits declared and recorded? Do the colonized subjects receive equal treatment from the colonizing power outside this limit?

An affirmative answer to the last two above questions signals colonial equality. Particularly the last one that built up colonial hegemony for the middle class.

"Where is my coat?", the Sahib asked Ashutosh Mukherjee, while travelling together by first-class in a train. "Gone to fetch my shoes", quipped Ashutosh Mukherjee, the colonized subject. He had thrown away the Sahib’s coat in retaliation against the Sahib’s doing the same for his shoes. And the Sahib, the colonizing subject, could do nothing but keep mum.

Such were the popular tales and fables and gossips and myths that built up British colonial hegemony in India. A hegemony that continues into the present time. Another popular story, for instance:

"Is the Red Road prohibited for the natives?" asked Ashutosh, to the Governor General.

"Not for you", was the reply.

"You — in singular or plural?"

"Plural, OK?", said the Governor General.

The white-skinned police did not let Ashutosh travel by the Red Road, conventionally an exclusive privilege for the white people in colonial Calcutta. But the supreme boss of the white police had to lift this unrecorded ban — this sign of discrimination. Not only for Ashutosh alone, but, finally, for the native people as a whole, as this fable goes, after this showdown by Ashutosh.

Such stories of colonial equality abound.10

For instance, the fable of impertinence of Bidyasagar, talking with his feet stationed on the table, even when a Sahib boss entered in his room, is a fable that we Bengalis learn by heart, may be from before our birth. A story of heroism — "yes, we also can". This fable, thus, sung the glory of the British. A glory that is bigger than Jesus. The glory of a nation of shopkeepers that lifts a plebian pundit much above the elite lords of a colonized nation, occasionally transforms the plebian into a god by default. A god that transmits the reflected glory of the gods that be — the colonizing ones.

But, the novel, that is, the narrative of postcoloniality — does that exhaust there, in the episodes and stories of such colonial equality? What is the limit, or, are the limits of such colonial equality?

Note: the colonial denizen was never a citizen in the true, that is, the modernist sense of the term. In the name of the French Revolution’s slogan of equality it was colonial equality finally served out to her/him. But, even this colonial equality had its end too. She, who was never a citizen, at most a subject, though a colonial one — did also have a fair quota of darkness at noon, colonial noon, high-tides of colonial equality. Did not she bleed, at regular intervals, by les dents du midi — the teeth and nails of enlightening West? When the Western colonial equality — colonizers’ equality for the colonized — turns back on itself. And all the slogans of Bastille and song of Marseilles, that earlier inspired the songs of martyrdom in colonial India, all of a sudden, start to play to the tune of British bullets. British French Portuguese German, Spanish.

And the colonial subject, till now possessed by the specters of Kant-Locke-Hume, starts to gush with blood and pain to discover the limits of this scanty subject-hood. The possession metamorphoses into a numb hallucination.

… something happened that did not bring on fright but a kind of hallucination. The captain gave the order to fire and fourteen machine guns answered at once. But it all seemed like a farce. It was as if the machine guns had been loaded with caps, because their panting rattle could be heard and their incandescent spitting could be seen, but not the slightest reaction was perceived, not a cry, not even a sigh among the compact crowd that seemed petrified by an instantaneous invulnerability. Suddenly, on one side of the station, a cry of death tore open the enchantment: ‘Aaaagh, Mother’. A seismic voice, a volcanic breath, the roar of a cataclysm broke out in the center of the crowd with a great potential of expansion. …

‘Get down! Get down!’

The people in front had already done so, swept down by the wave of bullets. The survivors, instead of getting down tried to go back to the small square, and the panic became a dragon’s tail as one compact wave ran against another which was moving in the opposite direction, towards the other dragon’s tail in the street across the way, where the machine guns were also firing without cease. They were penned in, swirling about in a gigantic whirlwind that little by little was being reduced to its epicenter as the edges were systematically being cut off all around like an onion being peeled by the insatiable and methodical shears of the machine guns.

Any Indian reader can instantly recognize in the above paragraphs a vivid though incomplete and partial description of Jalianwalabagh massacre of April 13, 1919. Though, incidentally, this is a quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Even by the statistics of the then British Government in India, 379 people were killed, and more than 1200 seriously wounded, many of whom died later. The local British commander Gen. Sir Reginald Dwyer called out his troops and without giving the demonstrators any warning had the men fire on an unarmed mob. The square where the demonstrators gathered had only one exit. And Dwyer was stalled precisely at that point. After determining the fate of the people gathered there for peaceful demonstration in demand of Indian self-government, the British went in rampage over all the adjacent areas. Many of the nearby villages came under fire that fateful night.

The reaction of the elite Indian after this incident that the British tried hard to conceal marks a sense of betrayal. Sir Rabindranath Tagore was no more a Sir, that is, a titled knight, titled by the British — he discarded this title in a gesture of resistance. Note the word: betrayal. Betrayal from what? Obviously, the innocent belief in the norms and forms of colonial equality. And this Jalianwalabagh incident was an arrival of the unexpected. Read: return of the repressed.

Conceive colonial hegemony in a Laclau-Mouffe framework that involves usual interplay between the notions. This play that cannot go on forever on the plane of theory, needs a strategic closure — a concept that we have discussed repeatedly in the earlier chapters of this book. In the case of the colonial subject, the concept of colonial equality delivered this closure. A closure, a limit, a boundary. An entry-point concept in the Resnick-Wolff sense of the term.

Colonial equality that is equality but not quite.

Equality that inscribes itself in the right of recordation on part of the colonized in place of right of representation. His right of representation was already denied. That is why the very Jalianwalabagh demonstration took place — in demand for Indian self-government. Then, even, in the endeavor to conceal the incident, the right of recordation was denied too. So, this massacre actually stands for the limit of colonial equality. The breaking down of the whole rubric of westernized notions of equality. Thus came the sense of betrayal. Remember the Lacanian concept of symptom. The Other proclaims itself from beyond and inscribes itself on the certain and confident positing of the Real.

Therefore, the incidents like Jalianwalabagh stand for the symptom of colonial reality — colonial equality — the limits beyond which the colonial subject does no more remain a subject.





1 Parliamentary Papers, 1852-1853, XXX, testimony of John Stuart Mill to a select Committee of the House of Lords, 21 June 1852, page 301. Re-quoted from Homi K. Bhabha, ‘Sly civility’, in his The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), page 93.

2 NRI, the non-resident Indian is a very important category in Indian commerce and economics these days, due the adorable and enviable magic of the NRI position of earning in dollars and spending in rupees. Remember the very highly skewed dollar-rupee exchange rate that is a commonplace in DC-LDC trade.

3 Chaudhury, 1994.

4 The Indian counterpart of the proper name ‘India’ is ‘Bharatbarsha’. It carries the name of the mythological king Bharat, who was a bastard himself.

5 His Master’s Voice, HMV, is the biggest Music Company in India, with a picture of a dog listening to a gramophone in its logo. HMV, in a sense, carries a history of Indian culture, and so, the music-addict Indian society as a whole. A history that started, obviously, in the colonial period, the gramophone becoming a very living symbol of power and elitism for both the colonizers and the colonized mimic-men. And it is the same history that continues to unfold in these hyper-real times of the remakes and re-mixes — that salebrate and simulate the past but not quite.

6 We present here the Cambridge position in the light of Guha’s treatment of the subject (1989).

7 Dharma = dhri + man is a construction on the root verb dhri: to hold. In fact, the word ‘dharma’ can be considered as a traditional Indian counterpart of the Marxian concept of world-outlook, the concept of ethics being in-built within it. Though, the popular usage equates it with the English word ‘religion’. Adharma is the antonym. Something that is not done, that does not hold (the human life).

8 The modification of Althusser’s notion of overdetermination in order to locate in it a theoretical space for tradition, as in Resnick-Wolff’s treatment of overdetermination provides a convenient point of departure. We have discussed it in our Chapter Three.

9 We have, in section II, invoked Chaudhury (1994) or Chaudhury and Sanyal (1997) to argue how passive revolution (and the consequent complex space) turns into a synthetic space.

10 Ironically, Partha Chatterjee himself salebrates this notion of colonial equality without being aware of it. We have in mind his idea of ‘our equality’ grounded on a notion of community (Chatterjee, 1993). Our position is premised on our key proposition elaborated in detail in the following two chapters: that the idea of (market) equality is what Žižek calls an ideological fantasy invoked to encounter (evade, defer, displace) the symptom of modern society. The second proposition follows from the first: what the colonized (third world) inherit from the wisdom of enlightenment is the metonym of this equality. Which leads to the final proposition: Partha Chatterjee’s concept of ‘our equality’ grounded on a grand notion of community is a product of the condensation of metonym of western equality (an ideological fantasy) and the values of a traditional society. Pranab Bose (1999) deals with the details of this proposition taking off from the arguments of the Supplement of this book. As far as this final proposition goes, we leave the readers in suspense: suspended.