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Composed by dd/ts, 2010.


Margin of Margin:

Profile of an

Unrepentant Postcolonial Collaborator


Postmodernism, or, more importantly for us, postcolonialism in its postmodern veins, has usurped from the oppressed humanity its own reality. If there is no essence, there cannot be any consideration of deviations from it. The quotidian words that inform its vocabulary — exploitation, oppression, dominance, hegemony — get exiled. Postmodernism underwrites a morality where everything goes — good, bad, and ugly — as difference.

Our efforts have been, throughout the previous chapters, to reclaim reality for the oppressed, but within a space circumscribed by postmodernism. For postmodernism is here — central, present and upon us. We cannot wish it away.

All through the previous pages, we have engaged with an exploration of a postmodern space that can nuance a subspace within it capable of re-articulating the idioms of the oppressed. Our concept of synthetic space embodies such a space. Synthetic space as distinct from third space that Bhabha and his acolytes talk about. Synthetic space marks what third space masks: subterranean power relations flowing through a hybrid space, in short, mimicry of overdetermination.

Let us recall (elaborate on, add to, expand) our concept of synthetic space. We build this category on the Hegelian concept of determinate being, with, of course, modifications to fit it in with our problematic of strategic essentialism. We might recall that Richard Wolff too, the high-priest of strategic essentialism, problematizes strategic essentialism in the idiom of determinate being.

We suppose that a quick recap of Hegel’s logic will be helpful. One must be sure how we make use of and distance ourselves from Hegel in order to articulate our concept of synthetic space.

II. Hegel’s Logic

Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit builds on desire as its primary (originary) category. Desire is the urge of a human being to annihilate, consume and thereby internalize its other. Hegel’s man of nature is not only a voyeur — a viewer of its other: he falls for it, acts upon it, intercourses with it until the other loses its otherness and becomes the same. A death drive — to kill the other — is always already inscribed in the originary category of desire prompting Hegel’s man from behind and urging him to act. He sees the fruit hanging on a tree, pulls it down, and devours it.

His desire knows and honors no limit — after acting upon inert objects he now proceeds into the domain of alert human beings as his others. But in the role of others, human beings and inert objects are not quite the same. The inert objects do not react as desire acts upon it, but the human beings do.

Hence follows a struggle of life-and-death between the two human beings. Both of them strive to annul its other, until the weaker one faces death and surrenders. Because, life — being alive — is, perhaps, more desirable than desire. In that twilight zone of life and death, the weak and defeated one, in a way, transcends the war, transcends desire and gains the first flicker of consciousness — of death, and thereby, of life. She chooses to be a servant. What follows is a master/servant relation — the first leap beyond desire, into a stream of consciousness.

The master, by the victory, is condemned to remain what she was: a being goaded by mindless and formless desire: who cannot bear with the others, and hence, cannot learn from them. The others, for the master, recede into the vanishing point and melt into nothingness, that is, sameness, as she comes across them.

The servant now bears the torch and ushers womankind into the world of consciousness. She goes on learning, as she eyes the movements of the master: as the other — an embodiment of freedom, a living statue of liberty. The servant that read life in death now gets the first glimpse of freedom inscribed in bondage as she looks at the master, works for, and thinks of the reality — the master’s reality.

This glimpse of freedom — behold, but you can never get there — teaches him to think — to think of freedom, to realize the reality. And the servant gets the revelation — that he is free — free to think. Freedom resides there — in the terrain of thought. Hegel gives a name to this first moment of freedom: stoicism.

Let us quickly state a few higher moments of freedom that servant would encounter in the itinerary through the steps of consciousness. The next moment of consciousness is skepticism, which teaches servant to doubt the freedom of the stoic, for she remains bonded in corporeal life. Skepticism is a negation of stoic’s freedom. The negation of negation occurs at a still higher moment of consciousness — that Hegel calls unhappy consciousness — that earns for servant a kingdom of freedom. The freedom of the other world, another world — where she could remain free not just in the terrain of thought but in the flesh-and-blood real life too.

Unhappy consciousness unites the moments of stoicism and skepticism. It negates skepticism because the concept of this other world signals for servant a freedom that can be attained in real (albeit, otherworldly) life. But the moment of doubt — skepticism — lingers on, for she is chained here and now — in this world. Hegel’s concept of Reason actualizes only when God marches on this world and everyone becomes free in real life — here and now.

Consider the three successive moments of Hegel’s concept of Reason:

  1. Stoicism
  2. Skepticism
  3. Unhappy unconsciousness

One might say that stoicism is the thesis, skepticism is the anti-thesis and unhappy consciousness is their synthesis that annihilates the anti-thesis to lift it up to a higher form of existence.

A distinguishing feature of early Hegel is its overt historicism: inscribed in it are the moments of rational order, telos and dynamics. The concept of supersession catches at and captures these aspects. Hegelian totality is a contradictory totality that evolves, develops and unfolds itself in the course of history, its higher moments superseding the lower moments — the anti-thesis annihilating the thesis to form a new synthesis — until the universal spirit, that is, history, reaches its terminus. This terminus in Hegel inscribes upon itself a special name: the idea — signaling the end of history.

The concepts of dialectic and contradiction in Marxist construction of historical materialism are directly appropriated from Hegel. To recap, the Hegelian dialectic is constituted by a triad-affirmation (of essence), negation (of essence) and negation of negation (of essence). The dialectic from the very beginning to the end is the development of the same essence that represents itself from the lower to higher moments via the alienation of the original simple totality. This simple totality that is driving the complex totality develops by alienating (negating) itself to represent an ever increasing complex totality. Thus, essence always has its negative within itself. This is what we call contradiction.

As one can see, this contradiction is simple, defined as the negativity of the essence. The contradiction does not lead to the destruction of the totality but rather to its supersession. This supersession epitomizes the development of the original simple totality to a new higher form. Each complex totality (affirmation) is contradictory, meaning that, it contains within itself the seeds of dissolution (negation) leading to the creation of a more complex totality and also the seeds of the dissolution of that totality as well (negation of negation). The contradictory aspect is captured by the negative of essence. The Hegelian dialectic is law-like and natural. This auto-development of simple original totality, as Althusser (1969) calls it, represented in each successive stage as ever-increasing complex totality, is the core of Hegelian dialectics.

Hegel divides real history constituting the subject (world spirit/ Reason)—object (nature) duality into three stages:

  1. Undifferentiated unity (when man and nature are indistinguishable but man does not know nature).
  2. Differentiated disunity (when man realizes he is different from nature but cannot conquer it).
  3. Differentiated unity (when man knows he is different from nature and understands nature completely).

If world spirit is the essence of history then its negative or appearance is nature. History moves from one stage to another through the mechanism of dialectics. Starting from undifferentiated unity (affirmation), history moves to negate it by differentiated disunity which in turn is negated by differentiated unity. Thus, the law of motion (dialectics) is driven by the Hegelian triad of affirmation→ negation→ negation of negation. Within each period the world spirit confronts its contradictory other — nature — only to move on to a new higher stage where the contradiction takes a higher form. Each subsequent stage gives a higher understanding of world spirit. This auto-development of world spirit goes on until it attains its true self where it overcomes its contradiction.

At that juncture, time (history) can no longer have its usual chronological moments capable of being superseded, and thus, it ceases to be the historical time. The onus, then, falls upon Hegel to discover and innovate a new logic that can bring to light the dialectics running through what might be called a synchronic structure. In what follows, we will try to grasp this logic — Hegel’s logic — and follow through its consequences in the context of reading Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Marx’s Capital.

This reading of Hegel involves a distortion: we read Hegel in Marx’s light, so that, in the follow-through, we can have a Hegelian reading of Marx. Therefore, we start straightaway from Hegel’s discourse on determinate being. That is to say, we leave out categories like Being, Becoming and Nothing.

To illustrate Hegel’s logic, we begin with a notion of unity, then produce differences out of it; and then produce another unity of a higher form. And, then again, produce differences which lead into another unity. This sequence goes on and on, until one reaches the idea — where no further change is possible. Hegel’s logic (also Hegel’s History), then, comes to an end. Thus, we produce the sequence:

Unity → Difference → Unity

Difference → Unity → Difference

Difference → Idea

Hegel’s object is to explain this world. Therefore one must presuppose that the world is. This, in turn, presupposes the notion of isness or pure being, independent of this or that world. But the notion of isness conveys nothing. Therefore, to produce something out of this void being, one must negate it. And negation presupposes its concept, that is, the notion of nothing. Negate pure being — so that it becomes a determinate being. This, in turn, presupposes the notion of becoming. Therefore one gets the triad:

Being → Becoming → Nothing

Do not get upset, if you find it Greek. That is the way Hegel argues; for us it is a (mere) pedantic exercise. We can see this world by our eyes — we need not produce it out of some isness. Therefore ignore the initial (constructed) unity, that is, the notion of pure being and start straightway from the material reality before our eyes, that is, many determinate beings, with differences.

A determinate being is nothing but a being with a specific determination or quality (shape, color). A determinate being is defined by what it is (its reality/being-by-self) and what it is not (its negation/being-for-another). We understand being as something — it is this thing and not that thing. In short, we see beings as different beings, apparently unrelated, separated from one another — without any unity.

We then look for a unifying principle that connects this being and that being as moments of a greater (larger) being. In technical terms: we posit a self-determined being (being-for-self) whose reality includes its negation. This being-for-self constitutes the unifying principle — the One — that makes all the different beings qualitatively equal to one. The determinate beings flow from this one as many.

One, many — these two categories come out to be very important in Hegel’s logic. The basic point is that the world we live in is a unity with differences (opposites). Hegel’s logic tries to capture the implications of this contradictory unity at different levels. In the Doctrine of Being we understand this unity as one (appearing as many): one represents unity, and many stands for (quantitative) differences.

Therefore, the quantitative differences must be defined in a homogenous space — a space that renders the many as qualitatively one. More: this homogeneous space is an ordered space in which the different quantities of the (many) beings are capable of being ranked, either cardinally or ordinally. This implies that there must be a measure in terms of which the ranking is done: measure is a unity of quality and quantity.

To sum up: we begin from a unity (pure being), produce difference out of it (being-by-self, being-for-another). Then we produce another unity (being-for-self/One) implying differences (many). Embedded in the concept of many are quantity and measure. Thus we get the sequence:

Unity (pure being)→

Difference (determinate being: being-by-self & being-for-another)→

Unity (Being-for-self/One)→

Difference (many)

The one appears as manyunity expresses itself as differences. The reality that we encounter does represent, simultaneously, one and many, unity and differences. These are apparently contradictory (opposite) categories; nevertheless they form a unity. Therefore we can say: the reality we encounter is a unity of unity and differences. Hegel calls this higher unity as ground. Its two moments — unity (one) and difference (many) — are called positive and negative. Thus we get three new categories:

Ground (higher unity)

Positive (unity) Negative (difference)

But note that: ground is not an empirical category, we logically posit it. Since reality represents both unity and differences, there must be a higher unity (ground) which includes unity and differences as its moments.

But in Hegel what is logical must show (shine) forth. Therefore, the ground must appear, as an existent (thing). We must be in a position to say: this thing represents the ground. Or this ground represents the thing, and how it comes into being. But the ground we point to does not always explain the thing fully. For example, one can say that the chair is grounded on the wood. But the wood does not explain the becoming of the chair: other things (labor, organization) are equally important. In this case, we encounter an insufficient ground. We, gradually, that is to say, systematically, hit upon the sufficient ground that fully explains the thing.

The ground and the thing have two important names in Hegel: essence and appearance. It is not that the appearance is false and the essence is true. Both essence and appearance are true. Appearance is the appearance of essence. But bear in mind: the essence (ground) that we encounter is an insufficient essence (ground) which does not fully explain the thing. Or, the ground, to begin with, does not fully express itself in terms of the thing. That is to say, there must be other things; this thing, not alone, actually, belongs to a plural world of things.

In other words, things are parts of a whole. That is not to say that the whole is a sum total (collection, aggregation) of parts. In fact the whole is prior to parts, like the ground is prior to things: parts (things) flow from a common conceptual unity which is called whole. For example, society is not a (mere) collection of individuals. One must presuppose society in order to explain (situate) individuals. Similarly, parts, in order to be explained, must presuppose a whole which define their content, parts being the form through which this content expresses itself.

Thus our analysis reveals the world of existents as parts of a whole. This whole/part relationship may be necessary or contingent upon circumstances. For example, the classroom is a whole with students, teachers, tables, chairs, etc as its parts. In a moment, the bell will ring and this will no longer be a classroom, but a room. As its conditions of existence disappear, parts will fall apart. But sometimes parts must necessarily be the parts of a whole. For example, we — the parts — cannot be outside society.

When the parts are necessary parts of a whole, parts conform to reason. Recall: in Hegel what is reasonable (logical) must show forth, that is, be actual. Like the way the ground expresses itself in the form of a thing, the whole, in this case, must become an actuality. This actuality is represented in thought in terms of a universal.

Therefore: when the parts are necessarily parts of a whole, the whole is called the universal with the parts flowing from it as particulars. The unity of the universal and the particular is singular, which represents the universal as a particular existent. There are, of course, contradictions among the particulars, and, between the universal and the particular. The universal itself is contradictory; changing over time with its lower moments being superseded by their higher moments until it reaches its idea when the universal ceases to change. (Hegel’s) history, then, comes to an end.


III. Hegel sans Essence

We, of course, do not buy Hegel’s idea of end of history. Neither his essentialism.

Which means we do not share his concept of universal as a source or origin from which the Hegelian particulars flow, constituting an essentialist totality. We abjure the idea of universal or sufficient essence that grounds the Hegelian totality.

More precisely, our contestation of Hegel begins from his very doctrine of Being: we call into question his very concept of being-for-self (one, infinity) whose reality includes its own negation. How do we arrive at such an infinity? Through revelation, Hegel would say.

And we do not believe in revelation. So, for us, there are only determinate beings with their realities and negations.

Our detour is from such an idea of determinate which has its reality as well as its negation — that which constitutes what it is and that which designates what it is not. This ontological premise (promise) of being will later on come out to be very important for our problematization of synthetic space. Some build on a concept of being that has only reality and explore how plural realities interact to constitute a complex reality. Others — postmoderns — build on only negations to map out their concept of totality. Both, for us, are one-eyed views of beings.

Now, recall our epistemological entry-point concept: overdetermination. With our commitment to the premise of overdetermination, we can no longer view, as Hegel does, reality and negation as binary opposites. For us, they would overdetermine each other.

Now, imagine such multiple determinate beings interacting with one another. Synthetic space is an overdetermined unity of such plural determinate beings which, in turn, are themselves overdetermined unities of their realities and negations.

But this begs the question: what is reality? Such a question is less important in the Hegelian context, for reality there is only a moment in his logic leading to an understanding of sufficient essence or universal. As such, Hegel can leave his concept of reality non-transparent in that Hegelian reality itself designates something undefined.

But we do not share Hegel’s idea of essence. So, it is important for us, to lay out precisely how we image reality.

Reality, for us, is a hegemonic formation in the sense of Laclau-Mouffe — a set of floating signifiers structured around a nodal point privileging a subset of signifiers whose metonymic surplus meanings constitute the hegemonic reality of the entire set. At issue here is the question: how do two hegemonic formations interact with, interpret and compensate for each other.

We depart from Laclau-Mouffe in two important ways. First, our focus is on the course of encounter of two hegemonic formations, while Laclau-Mouffe’s central concern is to problematize a single hegemonic formation. Secondly, while problematizing hegemonic formation, we foreground the instance of negation or exclusion that any hegemonic formation, in our opinion, entails. The other important differences derive from these two crucial differences in our setting up of the problematic.

The question that intrigues us is: given an overdetermined structure of two hegemonic formations — in other words, the synthetic space — how does one locate, theoretically, a space of dominance and subordination (hegemony) in it? Our concept of mimicry of overdetermination captures such a space.

The above is a question that has been asked neither by Laclau-Mouffe nor in postcolonial culture studies of the postmodern genre that Homi Bhabha’s concept of third space inaugurates. Laclau-Mouffe’s construction, for the first time, dislocates the Gramscian logic of hegemony from its essentialist locale. But this same action corrodes away many of the angular and attacking points of the Gramscian theory. Gramsci’s concept of hegemony foregrounds how one group dominates, culturally, over another group. A disengagement from the essentialist connotations, on the part of Laclau-Mouffe, writes off, simultaneously, the space that can lodge such a question. On the other side, their consideration of hegemonic formation as a single space (albeit contingent) precludes the possibility of putting in a question such as how one space dominates another space. The concept of synthetic space mobilizes such possibilities in that it includes multiple hegemonic formations.

The concept of third space, on the other side, forecloses the possibility of an articulation of dominance in it by way of its one-sided emphasis on the instance of negation putting under erasure the aspect of reality in beings. But, dominance means dominance of something — of a determinate being — by the reality of something else, in whatever way one might problematize the concept of reality. Laclau-Mouffe’s concept of hegemonic formations helps us to reclaim reality in postcolonial cultural space. The ground is ready then to stage an encounter between disparate realities leading to the dominance of one by another that we articulate in terms of the concept of mimicry of overdetermination.

The concept of hybrid space as an umbrella concept that we encounter in postcolonial cultural studies serves only to hide the moment of mimicry in it. For this instance to be articulated, one needs a more theoretically nuanced formulation of the concept of hybrid space. Hybrid space, as such, signifies an array of too many spaces: complex space, third space, synthetic space. Of these, only synthetic space lodges the concept of mimicry of overdetermination.

The reader will have noticed that mimicry of overdetermination issues from qualitative unequal exchange (as distinct from its quantitative counterpart) between two spaces. If surplus metonymic meanings flow from space A to space B to be followed by a counter-flow of surplus metaphoric meanings from space B to space A, then space A is said to be dominating space B within a context of overdetermination between the two spaces. Mimicry of overdetermination designates such dominance.

Recall that metaphors serve to make clear what is hidden and metonyms hide. So, this kind of negotiation now enables space A to explain itself to its other through the metaphors of space B. On the contrary, such negotiation disables space B because space B carries space A unconsciously — metonyms of space A can thus subvert space B, surreptitiously, from within.

So, mimicry of overdetermination, as we have already said, applies to a subspace within a hybrid space. Here mutual constitution — or, reciprocal exchange as we call it — gives rise to qualitatively different determinations giving way to unreciprocated exchange. One element in this subspace lies on top of its other and laughs at overdetermination or reciprocity relation, without abandoning the overall play of overdetermination or reciprocity.

Look: mimicry of overdetermination unhooks the concept of (hegemonic) power from its essentialist engagement as in Foucault. It is thus an intervention in current cultural studies exploring (hegemonic) power relations along a Foucauldian line. The sole emphasis of such studies building on Foucault is on the extra-discursive as the source of power. Therefore, their focus is on the exploration of the institutional sites where the hegemonic discourses are produced. They consequently look for instruments of dissemination, for attempts to enforce disciplinary norms through institutional practices, and most crucially, for the evidence of contests over these practices. By focussing on an exploration of these contests over institutional sites, they hope to highlight the moments of power.

We appreciate such attempts to pinpoint the source of power. We, of course, will not look for the source of power. That, for us, is an essentialist wild goose chase. But, we will definitely seek to map out the locus and direction of power. But, in the first place, we would like to ask: what is (hegemonic) power? And we contend: (hegemonic) power resides within the discursive. We have only to unmask it. The concept of mimicry of overdetermination does precisely that. The issue of the extra-discursive can figure only at a later stage of the discourse to foreground how it reaffirms, appropriates and distributes power.

Again, in Foucault’s vision, power is all-embracing and permeates the entire space. We contest Foucault’s stance and contend that power has its limit, that is an outside beyond the gaze of power. Because he leaves his concept of power undefined and indefinite, he images power to be infinite. In Foucault, discourse (knowledge) is power. We intervene here and contend that power originates within the discursive and pinpoint how precisely it does so. And because Foucault loses from view how power originates within discourse, he cannot see where it ends. Power, for us, is like waves in an ocean that is discourse. The ocean itself is not power. The business of critical theorist is to trace the locus of power that specifies its discontinuities, points of inflexion and the limits. Foucault talks about the margins within a power space, but not about its outside. The outside, qua outside (that is, the unsaid) does not enter into his analysis.

This denigration of the unsaid outside — indeed, its forgetfulness — is inherent in Foucault’s professed neo-Kantianism that is overt and without pretense and penance. This neo-Kantianism turned the Kantian limits of Reason contingent and variable. These limits in the original Kant are fixed and immutable in order that one can speak that makes sense. But, though variable, these limits, even in this neo-Kantian version, are never dispensable. And also, in this Foucauldian order the age-old Kantian dictum is retained too, that says that the outside (in Kant, thing-in-itself) as such cannot be represented. Foucault just pushes the limits of reason outward in order to include a portion of the outside as redefined rarefied margins.

The flexible character of the margins assures this accumulation of the outside into the margins without fundamentally altering the status of the margin and the outside. These categories of margin and outside remain what they previously were: margins as co-opted voices and the outside as that which cannot be represented. In Foucault, at a point in time, there is a border that respects boundaries of what it includes (center and margins) and what it excludes (as outside). While Foucault is ready to stretch the border to include as much of the outside as feasible he is not ready to abandon the conceptual existence of the border and, consequently, that of the unsaid outside as an unknowable conceptual entity.

We opt for a different discursive model that can promise for margin a more honorable position. The margin in our model not only does collaborate with and resist but also determine and constitute the center and the outside as a voice (however feeble) that can speak. That can speak a speech that the ears of the center have to hear — as symptom.

While Foucault articulates the order of discourse building on a concept of border, we will indicate how the order of discourse overflows through the border into its outside — invisibly and surreptitiously. The border conceived by Foucault (or, Kant, for that matter) is not secured, immutable or sacred at any point in time. Now, if, exclusion of an unknowable outside is used to legitimize the concept of border then the dissolution of its unknowable nature brings about a crisis in the concept of border as we receive it from Foucault (or, Kant, for that matter).

Foucault’s Order of Discourse reflects on how the principles of exclusion inhere and function in and through the concept of an ordered discourse. On Foucault’s scheme, discourse is constituted by a relation between desire that wants discourse to be unrestricted (infinitely open) and the institutions that assert that discourse come into formation through constraints and restraints. Desire and Institution — this is one twosome inseparable: discourse forms and exists through the operation of the both — an urge that drives the pen and a body that controls and censors it and becomes its boss.

Foucault talks about three such kinds of bossing:

  1. The social procedures of exclusion and prohibition comprising the forbidden speech of politics and sexuality, the division between reason and madness and the distinction between truth and falsehood that form the way in which knowledge is put to use in society.
  2. Then comes the double censoring of meaning — by critics and readers — of the discourse as it comes into circulation. The effect is to dwindle the meaning of the discourse and restrict its scope and exhaust its possibilities. Foucault calls this process ‘rarefaction.’ Foucault’s emphasis is on the process of rarefaction that constitutes his key concept.
  3. And above all there is the gaze of the institutions — the supervising professors and the referees of the journals showing red-cards and yellow-cards — maintaining, manipulating and modifying the appropriation of discourses, along with the power and knowledge that they carry.

It might be useful to link up Foucault’s insight in the Order of Discourse with the spirit of his later writings on Kant and enlightenment. Foucault points to Kant as the godfather of our lesser bosses dictating the course of the discourse. Kant sets the limit of the discourse so that the philosopher can speak with reason (and of course, without rhyme); he teaches philosophers to abstain from excesses and to observe these limits. They are the conditions of the existence of Reason — it can come into existence, function, propagate and be effective only through the observance of these limits.

Foucault finds these Kantian limits arbitrary, contingent and variable (but never, as we shall see, dispensable). He abides by the principle of Kantian limits of reason, but calls into question their ways of functioning in society. In his view, the limits of discourses that one observes and encounters in society do not always flow from Reason itself, but through the ways the philosophers in flesh-and-blood interpret and circumscribe reason; they stem from power and form power. The project of post-enlightenment should be, in his opinion, to break into these institutionally imposed limits on Reason.

On another plane — at the level of philosophy — Foucault argues that the Kantian limits of Reason are not given conclusively; they are contingent and variable. They are not only the conditions of existence of reason, but have reasons for their conditions of existence. Foucault’s earlier writings and archaeology of knowledge explore these limits: their conditions of existence, mutation, coming into maturity and disappearance. And Foucault’s later writings — his discourse on power — examine the effects of these limits as they function in discourses and society in their varied and variable forms.

The point of Foucault’s critical reflection on power is to highlight the process of rarefaction that operates as these limits. The excluded — the leper, the insane, and the criminals — are now allowed visa into and green-cards in enlightened society, but in their dwindled forms: as marginal-s that are subordinates to the center. In Foucault’s perception, enlightened society is a finite complex of center and margins, distinct from and opposed to one another as perhaps elite and subaltern. And there are the gates and gate-men of the world of enlightenment, entries from and exits into the outside. The outside remains what it was in Kant: unknowable, in the shadow of silence, mute and beyond the reaches of enlightenment. People of enlightened society hear about their stories as stories from the people of dark continents given visa into the New World, from people who are yellow and dark and pale and hectic red.

IV. Margin of Margin

Foucault was silent on people that were denied the visa into the Newland. We decipher the voice of those that were denied the visa. Their voices are also there in the New World, as traces that we have called symptoms.

But look: we have distorted Lacan too. We have bent it to fit in to our problematic. What interests us is symptom in the context of strategic essentialism and Lacan does not talk about that.

Strategic essentialism, we might recall, emanates from a tense but productive conjunction between modernism and postmodernism. A discursive (strategic) closure done to an otherwise ever-open overdetermined system gives birth to a strategically essentialist space. Therefore, such a space must leave an outside, by definition.

But the outside that strategic essentialism generates (liberates) is not exactly a Lacanian outside. In a Lacanian scheme, the outside, which Lacan calls the real, is the irresistible outside of critical theory — the irredeemable unsaid — that can only be shown to exist through symptoms: trace of the unsaid within the realm of what has been said. On the contrary, in our context, the outside, though beyond the gaze of power, and of all that which is founded on power, is not necessarily beyond the gaze of critical theory. In other words, it is, unlike in Lacan, capable of being problematized. We call such an outside ‘margin of margin’, a space recalcitrant to absorption within the embrace of power.

We believe Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals (1989) provides the parent model for an exploration of this space of margin of margin. In Nietzsche’s model, the servant is negatively defined; the servant’s conception of the world is an inversion of the master’s world. For example, the servant considers the master evil and defines good as the negative of this evil.

Therefore, the servant is always vengeful. The master, on the contrary, is sure of himself, and considers himself good. He sees the servant as the negative of what is good, that is, bad; he does not consider the servant evil. Therefore, the master can forget the servant. It is important to note that forgetfulness is different from suppression. Suppression means putting below; forgetfulness implies keeping outside. The master can afford to keep the servant, temporarily, outside his mind.

But — and this is most important — Nietzsche’s discourse on power simultaneously defines a theoretical space from which power relations are absent. If the master’s mind can temporarily free itself from the servant’s world, that also implies that the master can, sometimes, disentangle himself from power relations. Here, power relations cease. (Nietzsche, however, does not discuss the details of the issue.)

The current discourse on power — for example, Foucault’s — does away with the notion of these small pockets from which power relations are absent. One may say that Foucault gives an exaggerated role to the notion of the gaze. Starting out from Bentham’s notion of the panopticon — a tower at the center looking out at the servants’ cells on the periphery — Foucault shows how this gaze is interiorized in postindustrial society.

The great confinement (of Madness and Civilization) of course, remains: by way of hospitals, lunatic asylums, schools, factories. The bosses — the doctor, the professor — watch the servant: the servant cannot escape the gaze of the boss. The gaze then reaches into the very grain of the individuals (including the bosses), touches their bodies, forms them, deforms them. The gaze is interiorized.

Look: we do not claim that Foucault reduces everything to power; that is far from Foucault’s intention. He accords only a relative autonomy to power relations. Neither does he claim that power is omniscient and omnipotent; the existence of different forms of surveillance — including the panopticon — only signifies that power has its limits.

Foucault only describes power as it is: how it functions, its conditions of existence, its limits, how it takes on different forms (including forms of resistance). Let us concede this. But Foucault does not describe the limits of power — the conditions under which the gaze of the master becomes ineffective. We invoke Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals here to point out these dark spots in Foucault’s analysis which simultaneously are the dark spots in the master’s world into which the gaze of the master cannot reach.

In Nietzsche’s framework the master considers itself good; she considers the servant bad, and, therefore, forgets the servant. This means that the master upholds certain moral values that make one the master of the world (heroism, aggressiveness, competitiveness, dynamism, etc) and considers the servile values (cowardice, meekness, inflexibility, etc) as bad. Consequently, the master considers all those upholding servile moral values as bad too, and forgets them. But this zone of the master’s forgetfulness simultaneously constitutes the zone of ignorance. (She does not know the structure of meekness). The master is not informed of this zone and therefore cannot deform it. She can cope with violence, but not with nonviolence. This zone is what we call margin of margin, an outside beyond the gaze of power.

If freedom is understood negatively, as the absence of the master, then freedom resides here, in this domain of forgetfulness from which the master is absent. Therefore, freedom on the servant’s part requires an inversion of moral values: what the master considers bad is good for the servant. The master considers the servant lazy or a coward; so produce a world in the image of the cowardly man, the lazy. The master can intervene in a terrorist or revolutionary movement, but she might not cope with a nonviolent movement or peace movement. The master does not know peace. Thus, there can be two competing subaltern views of the world:

  1. First, the master represents the servant as bad (coward/lazy). The servant claims that this involves a misrepresentation and inferiorization of the servant. Therefore, the servant tries to prove that
  2. she too is good (heroic, aggressive, etc), that is, she presents her/himself in the image of the master.

  3. The competing view is that the servant rejects the master’s notion of goodness and
  4. she chooses, deliberately, to be bad.

Consider a bad person — one of the most condemned persons in modern world, the sati — a woman ready to burn herself with the dead body of her husband before a crowd glorifying the sight. Needless to say that modern woman will not approve of this; and neither will the (postmodern) authors.

The first thing that the British did after they came into (conquered) India was to take legal action against the sati rite and the step was (and still is) applauded by the people of India. But we often miss the larger significance of this act of disapproval: when we condemn the sati rite we simultaneously condemn the right to commit suicide for a cause — before a crowd that witness this suicide. But this "immoral" act — committing suicide before a crowd — has significant implications for a nonviolent political movement and is one of its important moments.

Hunger strikes (often leading to death) and self-immolation (burning oneself before the crowd in daylight) are devices used in nonviolent political movements to produce a climax: one kills oneself, consciously, before a crowd, and thus, incites them.

Communist revolutionaries condemn nonviolent political movements and say: why kill yourself — kill your enemy! They miss the point that this nonviolence carries within it its other, the counterpart: the possibility of breathtaking violence. It breeds the terrorism of suicide squads. The man who can kill himself in cold blood for a cause can also kill his enemy at the cost of his own life.

On 21st May, 1991, Rajib Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, the son of Indira Gandhi and the grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru (all former Prime ministers), was killed in a bomb blast by a suicide squad. The metal detector could not trace the dangerous bomb the terrorist carried within her. Beware of the meek: she can be the most dangerous and violent person under the sun.

Since the publication of Said’s Orientalism (1978), the issue of divergence between the East and the West has reappeared in the forefront, that is, the Western front: they (the West) misrepresent — and inferiorize — us (the Orient). Therefore, questions like "Can we represent us?", or, "How can we represent us?", and so forth, have become very popular. We believe that there is a misplaced emphasis in this search for an identity on part of the Orient. The critique of Orientalism, too, accepts the dominant set of moral values and talks about the necessities of an alternative representation of the Orient in its terms. In this case, the exercise reduces itself to finding a different form in which the dominant set of moral values can express itself in the Orient.

We propose here an inversion of moral values to get us out of this trap. If a person does not share those values, he might accept them as a strategy. Let the meek speak. It is pointless to try to rediscover ourselves in a world where tradition is overdetermined by modernism — we can only interrogate or contest the master’s hegemony. The attempt to rediscover ourselves, inasmuch as it projects a (negatively defined) conception of "We" (the Orient), displaces the Orient (or, for that matter, the Third World) and effaces the many heterogeneous identities in it.

White Orientalism is merely replaced by Brown Orientalism.

The point is that Orientalism is not a product of some vulgar Orientalists in the West. Orientalism is the necessary, that is, the logical, outcome of a discourse produced in a world where tradition is overdetermined by modernism. if a few Orientalists in the West are subject to these overdetermining influences, there are no reasons to suppose that we will be free of these same overdetermining influences. What is necessary is to invert the dominant moral values to show how apparent submissiveness carries within it the possibilities of resistance.

That, of course, does not alter fundamentally (that is, qualitatively) the material conditions of the servant; she remains what she is — a servant. At best, she can become the master — but the master-servant relations remain. That is a presupposition of this analysis. Our objective is to examine the servant’s possible strategies within this problematic. We note that the inversion of moral values provides a new form of contesting the master’s world which the master cannot understand — where the gaze of the master fails. This, simultaneously, interrogates those rebels in the servant’s world whose heroism, in the final analysis, is often reduced to shouting in the language of the master. Resistance turns into its opposite: collaboration. Conversely, implicit in the servant’s apparent submissiveness, we might find resistance.

What does sustain the servant? Let this remain an enigma for those who do not share the servant’s values. For them suffice it to note that ordinary people will live on — like the ants and the roaches. The dinosaurs are dead. Oh you, who turn the wheel and look to windward, consider those dinosaurs who were once taller than you.

V. Synthetic Hegemony, Symptom, Margin of Margin: The Story of the Ramayana

Let us cite a scene from the Ramayana1,
the Indian epic. We are citing from an authentic Bengali translation of this epic by Hemchandra Bhattacharya.

তখন সুলক্ষণা তারা মদবিহ্বল লোচনে স্খলিতগমনে লক্ষ্মণের নিকট চলিলেন। তাহার অঙ্গযষ্টি স্তনভারে সন্নত, এবং কাঞ্চীদাম লম্বিত হইয়া পড়িল। লক্ষ্মণ উহাকে দেখিয়া তটস্থ হইলেন এবং স্ত্রীলোকের সান্নিধ্যবশত ক্রোধ পরিত্যাগপূর্বক অবনতমুখে রহিলেন।

তারা মদভরে নির্লজ্জা, তিনি লক্ষ্মণকে সুপ্রসন্ন দেখিয়া প্রণয় প্রদর্শনপূর্বক শান্তবাক্যে কহিলেন রাজকুমার। তোমার ক্রোধের কারণ কি? রাজকুমার তোমার ক্রোধের কারণ কি?

দেখিতেছি তুমি ক্রোধান্ধ, ইহাতেই বোধ হয় কামতন্ত্রে তোমার প্রবেশ নাই।

কপিরাজ সুগ্রীব কামের বশে নিরন্তর আমার সন্নিহিত আছেন, একক্ষণে তাহার লজ্জাশরম আর কিছুই নাই। ধর্মশীল তাপসেরাও মোহবশত কামের বশীভূত হন। সুগ্রীব বানর এবং চপল, ভোগসুখে নিমগ্ন সে -- তাহার স্মৃতিভ্রংশ হইয়াছে। তুমিই অন্দরমহলে আইস, তোমার চরিত্র পবিত্র। সুতরাং মিত্রভাবে পরস্ত্রীদর্শন তোমার পক্ষে অধর্মের হইবে না।

Off ambled Tara towards Lakshmana, sexy and tipsy, her sylph-like body stooping under the weight of her ripe breasts, a cascade of hair rippling down her back. Bewitched and no more enraged, Lakshmana stood still with his eyes downcast.

Tara, drunk and unabashedly inviting, said gently, and amorously (as she found him well disposed): "Oh prince, what is the thing of your fury?"

"Oh, prince, what enrages you?"

"I see, you are blind with fury. That shows you are innocent of the art of love. Sugrib, the lascivious monkey-chief is ever after me. Right now he has neither sense nor decency. Even the devout Yogi-s succumb to lust. And Sugrib is only a monkey, swerving and deviating, he is over head and ears in carnal pleasure, oblivious of everything else. You are pristine — come on into the inner sanctum — the harem. It will be no sacrilege if you just come in and meet someone else’s woman as a friend."

The above is a scene of seduction. And simultaneously a show of resistance.

Tara is the queen of the Dravid2. She lures Lakshmana, the Aryan prince. Into the harem. She does it in an un-queenly way. Tara is all drunk. And her clothes not in their right places. Showing off all the curves and waves of her body. She brings him in. So that Lakshmana can meet the Dravid king, Sugrib, all surrounded by the ravishing women of the world busy in their orgies. So that Lakshmana can realize that the one that rules the Dravid state is not Sugrib but Tara herself. Rama, the elder brother of Lakshmana, killed Bali, the former Dravid king and the elder brother of Sugrib to make Sugrib the king of the Dravid state. A conditional king. The condition that Sugrib would fight for Rama against Ravana, the king of Sri-Lanka, when the rains would be over.

And the rains are over. But there is no sign of help coming from Sugrib. Which drives Rama to send Lakshmana to the Dravid state to remind Sugrib of his promise and what going back upon his words would come to mean.

And there, Tara is greeting Lakshmana at the royal gate, to drive Lakshmana the point home what holds up Sugrib and who runs the Dravid state: Tara, the queen, her power of seduction. If Lakshmana were to seek help from the Dravid state he must beg it from her, whose husband Ram had killed, like a petty murderer, from behind a bush.

What will the queen do? Should she send back Lakshmana no matter what the consequences are — and she does not care a fig for consequences? Or, should she help Rama?

The questions intrigue Tara. For, Ravana had taken away, that is, dishonored, Sita, Rama’s wife, and thereby dishonored the whole of the woman race. So, Tara must fight against Ravana. For Rama. Against adharma. When dharma is at stake, individual tragedies and specific injustices become issues of secondary importance. Addressing them and their redress can wait. But, whatever she chooses to do, she is condemned to do adharma. For, there is no dharma as a totality. But, there are dharma-s. and sometimes one is thrown into a situation where doing dharma to a constituency entails imparting adharma to another constituency. What is involved here is an existentialist problem: an agent is free to choose her/his dharma. And this freedom weighs upon the agent like a stone.

The story of the Ramayana thus pushes dharma to its limit and we see the beyond. The symptom. For, dharma speaks of and links up do-s and don’t-s and seeks to make them parts of a whole, that is, of a totality. And a whole lot of episodes in the Ramayana conspire to prise open its cracks and fissures, highlighting that any totality must necessarily be a false totality. Thus, dharma can only be an edifice built on chaos. In the interior dharma reigns, with a well-built structure of do-s and don’t-s logically linked with one another. But, only in the interior. Once dharma is pushed to its limit, we catch a glimpse of its outside: its symptom: adharma as destiny.

It is margin of margin that brings to surface such symptoms — here Tara, face to face with Lakshmana in and through her un-queenly (and in her hegemonic morality, unwomanly) attire and gestures, foregrounds the limits of queenly and womanly dharma. Through her surrender to Sugrib she shows off her power of seduction and that she is free to choose between queenly dharma and womanly dharma.

The current discourse on the Ramayana and the politics built on it by the ruling party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) — which, in our opinion, will also be the hegemonic reading of the Ramayana in India — puts under erasure the symptoms of any ideal (or the ideal state) that the story of the Ramayana reveals through a series of interconnected situations and events. It portrays Ramrajya — the concept of ideal state in the Ramayana — as a totality without any blemish and gaps, and with Rama as an avatar that cannot be questioned. And as we understand, the story of the Ramayana, its concepts of Rama and Ramrajya are precisely the opposite. We find here a Rama that faults and a Ramrajya that falls apart.

What occurs then is a displacement of Rama and Ramrajya constituted by a metonym of modernism: nation state. This structures as a nodal point, privileging a whole set of signifiers in Indian society. The fanatics — the fans of Rama — then fight for Rama against what they imagine to be anti-Rama as also against modernism. Moderns laugh at them at their back, for in doing so, the fanatics are only reaffirming modernism in that modernism resides in their very concept of Rama. The fanatics cannot see through the veil of synthetic hegemony of Rama that is modern. But, that is a long story — this synthetic hegemony structured around modern Rama — and is beyond the scope of this book. Let us focus on the symptoms that the story of the Ramayana throws off, repeatedly.

VI. How Sita Spoke to the Deaf

His mom is sleeping with Sugrib, the partner of his father’s killer. And Sugrib, his uncle, is about to enter into a battle under the flag of the man who killed his father like a barbarian, from behind a bush. Such was Angad’s lot.

Angad is no prince Hamlet: how does it matter if mom chooses to sleep with another guy. Other things are more important than his personal tragedies: Dharma is at stake.

Ravana had taken away, that is, dishonored Sita, Rama’s wife, and thereby the whole of woman race. So, Angad must fight against Ravana — for Rama, against adharma. When he knew it fully well that Rama is the one that killed his father Bali, in a cowardly manner, disgracefully, from behind the bush.

Rama, too, had no choice. Rama, the son of king Dasaratha, came to stay in thee forest for fourteen years, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to keep up the word of his father. His father promised his stepmother that her son Bharata would be the king. The stepmother also demanded that Rama be sent to forest, for fourteen years. So, Rama was in the forest, so that the king did not prove to be a liar. Then it happened. Ravana, the king of Lanka, came and took away Sita.

Rama could not beg for help from Bali because he had done an identical crime as Ravana did. Both took away other’s wives : Ravana — that of Rama and Bali — that of Sugrib, his brother. Therefore, Bali, too, must be punished. But, Rama did not have the option to challenge Bali into a duel. Bali, in all probability, would not accept that challenge and would attack him on his unguarded moments. Such was the way people like Bali used to fight. Rama knew it. And Rama was not in a position to fight Bali, a (kind of) tribal chief with an army. And Rama, no longer a king, was all alone, in the wilderness without an army, with only brother Lakshmana to help him. Rama was desperately looking for help.

Therefore Rama sought for help, form Sugrib. Bali had driven away Sugrib from the kingdom after (forcefully) taking away his wife Ruma. So, Rama entered a pact with Sugrib. Sugrib, the weaker party, would challenge Bali into a duel. If Sugrib were in danger, Rama would help him. That way Sugrib would get back his kingdom, and his wife Ruma. In return, Sugrib should help Rama in his fight against Ravana. Sugrib, obviously, was not strong enough to win the duel with Bali. So, Rama killed Bali from a hidden place, like a petty assassin. This, obviously, was most unbecoming of Rama.

Rama had two alternatives :

  1. To preempt and execute what Bali himself would have done, that is, to kill him on his unguarded moments. Rama then would get the help from Sugrib to fight Ravana.
  2. To bear with Ravana’s, and also Bali’s crime, that is, to bear with adharma.

So, the situation now was that whatever Rama did that would be adharma : the sword of (a)dharma cuts both ways.

This is important : that Rama, the person, is not to blame. The very concept of dharma, that is, totality, must be called in question. It is idle to hope that some God (statue of Liberty, Marx) would save us : God itself is impure. God can appear on earth only in an adulterated form.

This, obviously is a specific philosophical (religious) position, a compromise (Mimangsha) of two competing views of life. One view is that there is whole (party, state) which includes all the parts together, logically, as its parts. Hegel’s philosophy records its highest development. The competing view will be its negative : there is no objective totality (dharma). And everything is subjective, built on chaos. The compromise solution will be that any totality is myth(ya) — false. However, what is myth(ya) is not untrue. Myth(ya) is situated in a different theoretical space, in poststructuralist terms — non-imaginary unreal space, which can accommodate a structured totality up to a point. But, only up to a point. Push it to its limit and you learn what it is : myth(ya). One, then, sees the beyond — the symptom.

That was Shankara’s3 philosophy — Shankara, the greatest philosopher of India. Therefore, a totality, in the final analysis, is a myth(ya). The project of the subaltern is to contest the very notion of totality itself, push it to its limit, into that twilight in which dharma is adharma. Therefore, the truth of subaltern politics must necessarily be micro-politics : he does not believe in totality. His participation in macro-politics is only accidental, contingent on circumstances. Like Angad’s participation in Rama’s battle.

Rama won the battle and got back Sita. But Rama’s subjects would not have her : Sita had become impure. Rama knew that Sita was pure. Would Rama employ his coercive force, on his subjects, to compel them to accept Sita? That would be adharma. Or, should Rama leave Sita? That would again be adharma. Again, the sword of (a)dharma cuts both ways. And what would the queen Sita do? Should she force Rama to employ his coercive force on the masses and thus assert her superior position in the matrix of power? In this case, the masses were obviously wrong. Sita knew that she was pure. And Sita knew that Rama knew that she was pure. What would Sita do? How would she react?

Sita stood there. her hands folded. And her eyes wet. Those were pearls that were her tears. And when Rama looked at her Rama could not speak. And his eyes failed. He was neither living nor dead. And he knew nothing — looking into the heart of light, the silence. Yonder, they stood, the impudent imprudent crowd, howling for Sita’s trial. It was clear sky and warm sunshine and autumn. Sita looked at the crowd. Those were not villains shouting for her trial. They were honest patriotic people who fought for the causes of the oppressed. No, Sita would not curse anyone — neither Rama nor his subjects. Sita was ready to go into the trial, again. She had already gone through it once, the masses would not believe it. That would save Sita, but not the masses. They would remain what they were: proud people, in the abysmal pit of ignorance. So, finally, Sita decided to sacrifice her life, in daylight, before the masses, to hammer it home that he people too can be wrong.

Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count there are only two, you and me, husband and wife, the king and the subject. But when I look ahead up the white road, there is always another one walking beside you gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded. I do not know whether being or nothing or chaos — but who is that one on the other side of you?

So, Sita did withdraw, silently, into silence.

But that does not exonerate Rama. He is responsible for Sita’s death. And he killed Bali — unethically, immorally, like a petty villain.

Rama had committed a crime. Since, Rama represents dharma, he too represents falsehood. Therefore, Rama must be punished. But Angad must wait : Ravana must be punished first, and then, Rama. The two crimes reside on different planes. Ravana had committed an obvious crime, in the interior of dharma. Rama’s crime followed from the limit of dharma itself. Therefore Angad waits, for ages, and killed Rama, that is, Krishna, his avatar in a different yuga (time), when that God was sleeping, in his ripe old age, under a tree, all alone. The hunter who killed Krishna was Angad himself.

So Rama and Krishna must go. So too must Lenin. And Marx.




1Ramayana, shorter of the two great Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Mahabharata. Rich in its descriptions and poetic language, the Ramayana consists of seven books and 24,000 couplets. It was probably begun in the 3rd century BC, with the beginning and possibly the ending added later. The Ramayana tells of Rama, a prince and the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu, and his wife, Sita. Rama and Sita are widely revered as ideal embodiments of princely heroism and wifely devotion, respectively. Reciting the Ramayana is considered a religious act, and scenes from the epic are dramatized throughout India and Southeast Asia.

2 Dravid or Dravidian, name applied to a linguistically related group of people in India composed mainly of the Tamil and the Telugu and the Malayalam, and a few more isolated highland tribes. The Dravidian language has remained relatively intact despite a considerable amount of contact and intermarriage with other peoples of the Indian subcontinent. Dravidian culture is very diverse, with some groups maintaining more traditional customs (such as totemism and tracing kinship through the female line) while others have adopted the lifestyles of a modern technological society, keeping its distinctness from the North-Indian, predominantly Brahmin or Aryan culture, living, in one form or another..

3 Shankara (788-820), Indian philosopher and religious thinker who developed Advaita Vedanta, a system of philosophical thought. According to tradition, Shankara was born into an upper-class family on the Malabar Coast of south India (now part of the state of Kerala). Shankara traveled across India, defending the principles of Advaita. He attracted many disciples and established religious communities and temples in all parts of India. Shankara’s philosophical thought is preserved in his commentaries on Hindu religious texts such as the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Vedanta Sutra. He sought to revive what he believed to be the central message of the Upanishads, expressed in the statement thou art that. In Shankara’s view, this meant that the individual soul or self is fundamentally identical with universal being (Brahma). Further, Shankara believed that since Brahma is absolute and undifferentiated from the self, without any predicates, the entire familiar world of experience has no independent reality. All creatures are tied to the familiar world by the bonds of karma, the accumulated consequences of actions in previous lives.