Cafe Discussion #7

Group Members: Hannah, McKenzie, Sarah

Written by Sarah

Hannah, McKenzie, and I all agreed that “Locations of Culture” by Homi Bhabha was one of the more challenging articles that we have had to read so far. Since we only covered the first few pages in class, Hannah, McKenzie, and I had some difficulty understanding what Bhabha was saying in the rest of his article. To make his article more approachable, we started off by relating it to the movie clips from “East is East” that we saw in class.

In the film, the family is between two worlds and cultures; British and Pakistani. We brought up the point that his children do not turn out the way the father would like; for instance, one son is gay and another is an artist. They pretend to be Muslim but when the father is not around they are Catholic. We agreed that identity was an important part of Bhabha’s article and movie. In the film, the Pakistani man and his children do not look like other British people or have the same religion. The British, like many other countries, have a strong sense of national identity that only includes those who fit the category; white and Christian. This reminded me of a quote on page 5 in which Bhabha says, “the very concept of homogenous national cultures…are in profound process of redefinition…Serbian nationalism proves that the very idea of a pure ‘ethnically cleansed’ national identity can only be achieved the death of the complex interweavings of history, and the culturally contingent borderlines of modern nationhood.” In other words, there is no such thing as a pure or homogenous culture and the Pakistani family should not have to feel out of place in Britain’s “homogeneous” society.

Hannah related the two films to Althusser, who says that societies are always intermingling.  Althusser mentions the “Americanization” of cultures around the world. Contrary to popular opinion, cultures do not “taking over”, rather people often pick and choose parts they like. There are cultural influences around the world and it is impossible to have a “pure” culture that is completely isolated from outside influences; this relates to Bhabha’s article where he says there is no such thing as a homogenous culture.

We then discussed how theory is often reserved for Western writers. On page 19, Bhabha writes, “there is a damaging…assumption that theory is necessarily the elite language of the socially and culturally privileged. It is said that the place of the academic critic is inevitably within the Eurocentric archives of an imperialist or neo-colonial West.” In other words, Europeans are considered the center of academic thought. Hannah mentioned that this idea relates Said’s article on Orientalism and the idea that if a theory doesn’t come from West it isn’t seen as valid. The idea that non-western theory and literature reminded us of the story Dr. Stoddard told us about the meeting she had with other SLU faculty, in which some professors from other departments only taught works by Western authors since they believed there was no literature written by people from the areas they were studying. This story enforces the point that Bhabha makes about theory only being for the West. Hannah appreciated that Bhabha mentioned several non-western authors in his article so he was practicing what he was preaching and not just complaining about non-western authors not being validated in literature.

McKenzie mentioned that on the bottom of page 20-21, Bhabha wonders if theory, or critically examining the others, is a way to maintain power and reinforce stereotypes. If Western theory makes statements about the Other and purposely excludes aspects that may make the Other more powerful, the other will be perpetually portrayed as lower than the Westerner. The concepts of liminality and boundaries are important; if you don’t know something, it’s not real. The West often puts up boundaries to make something real “not real”.

At the end of his article Bhabha says, “to that end, we should remember that it is the ‘inter’- the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the inbetween space- that carries the burden of the meaning of culture. It makes it possible to begin envisaging the national, anti-nationalist histories of the ‘people’. And by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our space.”( 38-39). We identified this quote as Bhabha’s thesis, as he sums up the main points he made in his article.

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