Notes on Prof. Paul Fry’s Post-Colonial Criticism Lecture (Yale University)

Homi Bhabha. Photo taken from

Edward Said (phase 1: focus on how the West talks about the Oriental), Hohmi Bhabha (phase 2: tackles the Oriental tradition itself, how does the Oriental speak?) > Showalter’s categorization

Who says we’re post-colonial?
Are we still in colonial studies? colonial state?
“third world” is controversial
Do the crises of the third world always have to be taken in terms of colonialism?
German orientalism indistinguishable from French orientalism

Said: German Orientalism is derived from French Orientalism.

Fry: A certain mindset toward the third world dictates a certain way of structuring one’s thought about that world regardless of whether there are colonial interests involved.

Is colonialism then always at issue?

What drives coloniality?
> is it always nationalism?
> is it always trans-national interest in
globalization? (economic interest)

Nationalism seems to have reappeared. There’s a complex relationship still with nationalism and globalization.

Colonized interest:

How should the subaltern speak? (Spivak)
Which language should the subaltern speak in?
Can the subaltern speak?

– not to write in the colonizer’s language

Said –> Bhabha

case in point:: Virginia Woolf (A Room of One’s Own):

-illustrates how the voluminous subject of women is written only by men
-examines how men write and think about women

>>Female-ism > Oriental-ism

-text about peoples called “oriental” written all by the West

Said: Orientalism is premised upon exteriority, that is, on the fact that the Orientalist makes the Orient speak makes the Orient speaks, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West.

*In the situation of colonialism, the third world colonized intellectuals nevertheless are educated in high-octane male metropolitan institutions (primarily Oxford and Cambridge), and so in a certain sense they come to identify in some measure with the educational agenda of the colonizer and participate in it.

Said’s Orientalism works very much in the historical moment of structuralism. It’s primary concern is with the binary opposition, a mutual and interdependent binary opposition of central self and decentralized other including the way in which the construction of the otherness of the other is actually covertly at the same time a means of constructing, defining, and delimiting the nature of selfhood (i.e. being Western). This has been criticized most often from the standpoint of Babbha.

Babbha takes a deconstructive attitude to binarism > “double consciousness” where one can’t clearly identify colonizer and colonized as a binary opposition (a Derridian sense of what may mean as difference).

-The demonization of Orientalism which Said undertakes isn’t really undertaken because it is a pack of lies (not the point).

Said: One ought never to assume that the structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies or myths which were the truth about them to be told would simply blow away. It is more particularly valuable as a sign of European-Atlantic power over the Orient than it is a veridic discourse about the Orient. Nevertheless what we must respect and try to grasp is the sheer knitted together strength of Orientalist discourse.

>>distinction between truth vs value

It is insidiously devaluate of its object of attention, that there is an implicit euro-centrism which Said goes so far as to consider as racism in Orientalism, irrespective of any measure or degree of truth.

>>impugn Orientalism as mere representation, the opposite of a natural evocation of an ethos or world

Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci > Said’s influences

Said (as influenced by Gramsci): Culture is to be found operating within civil society where the influence of ideas, of institutions, and of other persons works not through domination but by consent > circulation of knowledge, of feelings about things (ideology) which through consent establishes certain attitudes of bias ; Gramsci’s distinction between the way in which one is imposed on by actual power and authority, and the circulations of “ideologemes”

In any society not totalitarian certain cultural forms predominate over others, the form of these cultural
leadership is what is identified as hegemony (Gramsci) ~ power/knowledge (Foucault)

power : exercised by police, legal arm of society, dictator, government
power: insidious way in which knowledge is circulated and made hegemonic, authoritative

Foucault’s late work focused on the way in which we think we are free contemplative agents in the world, in fact
browbeaten by structures of opinion circulating around us that lull us into the feeling that we are in the presence of the truth, when in fact we are in the presence of one form of another of motivated bias.

>absolute power vs hegemony ~power/knowledge

Said is talking about the way in which opinions construct the Oriental world and simultaneously reinforce the authority of those who generate this opinion.

>Said disagrees with Foucault in one respect: author function vs author.

Foucault’s author > not authorities but simply vessels of forms of opinion, authors who come close to becoming authority we call [founders of discursivity] but it’s the nature of the discourse and not their existence as authors which is important

Said’s author> in the case of Orientalism and perhaps nowhere else I find this not to be so, author as central philologist, etc are authorities; they are the oracles from which generalized and ultimately disseminate as power/knowledge

Said’s concern: as a circulation of power, the effect of Orientalism on the euro-centric mind, as it constructs that mind

Said: My real argument is that Orientalism is and does not simply represent–a considerable dimension of modern political-intellectual culture and as such has less to do with the Orient than it does with “our world”. > similar to Toni Morrison: the existence of black as absence needs to be understood as the means of constructing whiteness, of that which liberates whiteness (taken from master-slave dialectic of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind; structure of mutuality, master cannot define himself as free and superior w/o the slave; fable, philosophy of class relations) > a form of binarism > Saussurian (structuralist) idea of knowing things negatively and not positively, to
know something in relation to what it is not within the semiotic system in which it belongs

Bhabha: criticizes the premise of this kind of binarism (Hegelian); It is this ambivalence that makes the
boundaries of colonial positionality, the division of self-other, the question of colonial power, the
differentiation of colonizer-colonized different from the Hegelian master-slave dialectic.

Bhabha’s ambivalence:

::ambivalence of the colonizer towards the colonized

:two distinct phases:

[1]>>East India Company by Hastings interested in “going native”
>>Hastings new a great deal about the Orientalized other
>>wielding an iron grip of authority power over the colonized other
>>embodies ambivalence in not giving an inch as to the actual control of authority while at the same time seeming to become one with the other
>>”The Searchers” film ; John Wayne as a vicious racist not out of ignorance (has gone native) ; knows a considerable lot about the people whom he ultimately did not respect

[2]>>historical ambivalence under the supervisorship of Charles Grant, revival of fundamentalist religion in England
>>no interest in “going native” but instead a standard of “Englishness” be firmly implanted and that the imposition of this on the Orientalized other be the agenda
>>”The Minute on Education” > the education of the Indian peoples be conducted in strictly English models, everything be strictly anglicized

>there is more than one mindset for the colonizer; a) “going native”, b) raising the standard of the colonizer of the colonized

::ambivalence of the colonized (understood in a complex relation to [co-optation])

>>>summary of anecdote from Bhabha:

You have not a colonizer but someone thoroughly co-opted, an evangelical converted Christian of Indian descent who represents in a way that the people he finds sitting under the trees reading the Bible consider to be completely authentic because he believes and is perfectly happy to believe that the Bible and for that matter Christianity itself is an English gift.

But he is met with the response of people who resist that, who say, “You know this is very interesting stuff. We wish we could have some local authority for it. Our understanding is that we got this book directly from God. That’s our understanding and we have our own attitude toward it. Sure maybe we will get baptized one of these days but in the meantime we have to get home and take care of the harvest, so we’ll get around to that. Don’t worry about it. And by the way, if we get baptized we certainly can’t take the Eucharist because that’s eating meat. We don’t eat meat. We are who we are.

You can see that these cunningly insinuated provisos to the attitude that the missionary wants to inculcate in them in a very real way completely undermines his purpose. They won’t accept it as the English bible. They will only accept it as an authority mediated by their own values, which transforms the document.

complex attitude of the colonized:
>>attitude of the suborned missionary
>>attitude of the people he is evangelizing under the trees

>the ambivalence (hybridity) is the double consciousness of the colonized hovering between
submission–submission to authority–but with a difference, submission to authority on one’s own terms, and on the other hand acquiescence in authority as given (missionary’s position)

Bhabha: The place of difference and otherness or the space of the adversarial w/in such a system of disposal is never entirely on the outside or implacably oppositional (not just us vs them). It is a pressure and a presence that acts constantly if unevenly along the entire boundary of authority that is on the surface between disposal-as-bestowal (submission — sly civility (because one knows one is beaten) / signifyin’) and disposition-as-inclination (giving in spontaneously)

colonized resistance > recuperation of will (po-mo sense) >a means of living in the framework of “authority”

>example: 2 african-americans in the presence of a white person, “Bill”

sly civility: signifies on the ‘man” and makes it clear that while the structure of power can’t be overthrown any time soon there is a way of living, of keeping one’s sense of humor, within the structure of power, while giving the man a ‘hard time’ > hybridity of the colonized ~ signifyin’


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