(In memory of Paul Moritz Strimpel (1914--87): Pforzheim -- Paris --
Zurich -- Ahmedabad -- Bombay -- Milan -- Lugano.)
The time of the nation The title of my essay -- DissemiNation -- owes something to the wit and wisdom of Jacques Derrida, but something more to my own experience of migration. I have lived that moment of the scattering of the people that in other times and other places, in the nations of others, becomes a time of gathering. Gatherings of exiles and emigrés and refugees, gathering on the edge of 'foreign' cultures; gathering at the frontiers; gatherings in the ghettos or cafes of city centres; gathering in the half-life, half-light of foreign tongues, or in the uncanny fluency of another's language; gathering the signs of approval and acceptance, degrees, discourses, disciplines; gathering the memories of underdevelopment, of other worlds lived retroactively; gathering the past in a ritual of revival; gathering the present. Also the gathering of the people in the diaspora: indentured, migrant, interned; the gathering of incriminatory statistics, educational performance, legal statutes, immigration status -- the genealogy of that lonely figure that John Berger named the seventh man. The gathering of clouds from which the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish asks 'where should the birds fly after the last sky?' In the midst of these lonely gatherings of the scattered people, their myths and fantasies and experiences, there emerges a historical fact of singular importance. More deliberately than any other general historian, Eric Hobsbawm2 writes the history of the modern western nation from the perspective of the nation's margin and the migrants' exile. The emergence of the later phase of the modern nation, from the mid- nineteenth century, is also one of the most sustained periods of mass migration within the west, and colonial expansion in the east. The nation " fills the void left in the uprooting of communities and kin, and turns that loss into the language of metaphor. Metaphor, as the etymology of the word suggests, transfers the meaning of home and belonging, across the 'middle passage', or the central European steppes, across those distances, and cultural differences, that span the imagined community of the nation- people. The discourse of nationalism is not my main concern. In some ways it
292 Homi K. Bhabha
is the historical certainty and settled nature of that term against which I am attempting to write of the western nation as an obscure and ubiquitous form of living the locality of culture. This locality is more around temporality than about historicity: a form of living that is more complex than 'community'; more symbolic than 'society'; more connotative than 'country'; less patriotic than pattie; more rhetorical than the reason of state; more mythological than ideology; less homogeneous than hegemony; less centred than the citizen; more collective than' 'the subject'; more psychic than civility; more hybrid in the articulation of cultural differences and identifications - gender, race or class - than can be represented in any hierarchical or binary structuring of social antagonism. In proposing this cultural construction of nationness as a form of social and textual affiliation, I do not wish to deny these categories their specific historicities and particular meanings within different political languages. What I am attempting to formulate in this essay are the complex strategies of cultural identification and discursive address that function in the name of 'the people' or 'the nation' and make them the immanent subjects and objects of a range of social and literary narratives. My emphasis on the temporal dimension in the inscription of these political entities -- that are also potent symbolic and affective sources of cultural identity -- serves to displace the historicism that has dominated discussions of the nation as a cultural force. The focus on temporality resists the transparent linear equivalence of event and idea that historicism proposes; it provides a perspective on the disjunctive forms of representation that signify a people, a nation, or a national culture. It is neither the sociological solidity of these terms, nor their holistic history that gives them the narrative and psychological force that they have brought to bear on cultural production and projections. It is the mark of the ambivalence of the nation as a narrative strategy -- and an apparatus of power -- that it produces a continual slippage into analogous, even metonymic, categories, like the people, minorities, or 'cultural difference" that continually overlap in the act of writing the nation. What is displayed in this displacement and repetition of terms is the nation as the measure of the liminality of cultural modernity. Edward Said aspires to such secular interpretation in his concept of 'wordliness' where 'sensuous particularity as well as historical contingency ... exist at the same level of surface particularity as the textual object itself" (my emphasis),s Fredric Jameson invokes something similar in his notion of 'situational consciousness' or national allegory, 'where the telling of the individual story and the individual experience cannot but ultimately involve the whole laborious telling of the collectivity itself'.4 And Julia Kristeva speaks perhaps too hastily of the pleasures of exile -- 'How can one avoid sinking into the mire of common sense, if not by becoming a stranger to one's own country, language, sex and identity?'5 -- without realizing how fully the shadow of the nation falls on the condition of exile -- which may partly explain her own later, labile identifications with the images of other nations: 'China', 'America'.
The nation as metaphor: Amor Patria; Fatherland; Pig Earth; Mothertongue; Matigari; Middlemarch; Midnight's Children; One Hundred Years of Solitude; War and Peace; I Promessi Sposi; Kanthapura; Moby Dick; The Magic Mountain; Things Fall Apart. There must also be a tribe of interpreters of such metaphors -- the translators of the dissemination of texts and discourses across cultures -- who can perform what Said describes as the act of secular interpretation. 'To take account of this horizontal, secular space of the crowded spec- tacle of the modern nation ... implies that no single explanation sending one back immediately to a single origin is adequate. And just as there are no simple dynastic answers, there are no simple discrete formations or social processes'.6 If, in our travelling theory, we are alive to the metaphoricity of the peoples of imagined communities -- migrant or metropolitan -- then we shall find that the space of the modern nation- people is never simply horizontal. Their metaphoric movement requires a kind of 'doubleness' in writing; a temporality of representation that moves between cultural formations and social processes without a 'centred' causal logic. And such cultural movements disperse the homogeneous, visual time of the horizontal society because 'the present is no longer a mother-form [read mother-tongue or mother-land] around which are gathered and differentiated the future (present) and the past (present) . .. [as] a present of which the past and the future would be but modifications'.7 The secular language of interpretation then needs to go beyond the presence of the "look', that Said recommends, if we are to give 'the nonsequential energy of lived historical memory and subjec- tivity its appropriate narrative authority. We need another time of writing that will be able to inscribe the ambivalent and chiasmatic intersections of time and place that constitute the problematic 'modern' experience of the western nation. How does one write the nation's modernity as the event of the every- day and the advent of the epochal? The language of national belonging comes laden with atavistic apologues, which has led Benedict Anderson to ask: 'But why do nations celebrate their hoariness, not their astonishing youth?'8 The nation's claim to modernity, as an autonomous or sovereign form of political rationality, is particularly questionable if, with Partha Chatterjee, we adopt the post-colonial perspective: Nationalism . .. seeks to represent itself in the image of the Enlighten- ment and fails to do so. For Enlightenment itself, to assert its sovereignty as the universal ideal, needs its Other; if it could ever actualise itself in the real world as the truly universal, it would in fact destroy itself.9 Such ideological ambivalence nicely supports Gellner's paradoxical point that the historical necessity of the idea of the nation conflicts with the contingent and arbitrary signs and symbols that signify the affective life of the national culture. The nation may exemplify modern social cohesion but
294 Homi K. Bhabha
Nationalism is not what it seems, and above all not what it seems to itself... The cultural shreds and patches used by nationalism are often arbitrary historical inventions. Any old shred would have served as well. But in no way does it follow that the principle of nationalism ... is itself in the least contingent and accidental.10
The problematic boundaries of modernity are
enacted in these ambivalent temporalities of the nation-space.
The language of culture and community is poised on the fissures of the
present becoming the rhetorical figures of a national past. Historians
transfixed on the event and origins of the nation never ask, and political
theorists possessed of the 'modern' totalities of the nation -- 'Homogeneity,
literacy and anonymity are the key traits'11 -- never pose, the awkward
question of the disjunctive representation of the social, in this double-time
of the nation. It is indeed only in the disjunctive time of the nation's
modernity -- as a knowledge disjunct between political rationality and
its impasse, between the shreds and patches of cultural signification and
the certainties of a nationalist pedagogy -- that questions of nation as
narration come to be posed. How do we plot the narrative of the nation
that must mediate between the teleology of progress tipping over into the
'timeless' discourse of irrationality? How do we understand that 'homogeneity'
of modernity -- the people -- which, if pushed too far, may assume something
resembling the archaic body of the despotic or totalitarian mass? In the
midst of progress and modernity, the language of ambivalence reveals a
politics 'without duration', as Althusser once provocatively wrote: 'Space
without places, time without duration.'12 To write the story of the nation
demands that we articulate that archaic ambivalence that informs modernity.
We may begin by questioning that progressive metaphor of modem social cohesion
-- the many as one -- shared by organic theories of the holism of culture
and community, and by theorists who treat gender, class, or race as radically
'expressive' social totalities.
Out of many one: nowhere has this founding dictum of the political society of the modern nation -- its spatial expression of a unitary people -- found a more intriguing image of itself than in those diverse languages of literary criticism that seek to portray the great power of the idea of the nation in the disclosures of its everyday life; in the telling details that emerge as metaphors for national life. I am reminded of Bakhtin's wonderful description of a 'national' vision of emergence in Goethe's Italian Journey, which represents the triumph of the realistic component over the Romantic. Goethe's realist narrative produces a national-historical time that makes visible a specifically Italian day in the detail of its passing time, 'The bells ring, the rosary is said, the maid enters the room with a lighted lamp and says: Felicissima notte! ... If one were to force a German dockhand on them, they would be at a loss.'13 For Bakhtin it is Goethe's vision of the microscopic, elementary, perhaps random tolling of everyday life in Italy that reveals the profound history of its locality (Lokalitat), the spatialization of historical time, 'a creative humanization of
this locality, which transforms a part of terrestrial space into a place
of historical life for people',14 The recurrent metaphor of landscape as
the inscape of national identity emphasizes the quality of light, the question
of social visibility, the power of the eye to naturalize the rhetoric of
national affiliation and its forms of collective expression. There
is, however, always the distracting presence
of another temporality that disturbs the contemporaneity of the national
present, as we saw in the national discourses with which I began. Despite
Bakhtin's emphasis on the realist vision in the emergence of the nation
in Goethe's work, he acknowledges that the origin of the nation's visual
presence is the effect of a narrative struggle. From the beginning, Bakhtin
writes, the realist and Romantic conceptions of time co-exist in Goethe's
work, but the ghostly (Gespenstermassiges), the terri- fying (Unerfreuliches),
and the unaccountable (Unzuberechnendes) are consistently
'surmounted' by the structural aspects of the visualization of time: 'the
necessity of the past and the necessity of its place in a line of continuous
development ... finally the aspect of the past being linked to a necessary
future'.15 National time becomes concrete and visible in the chronotope
of the local, particular, graphic, from beginning to end. The narrative
structure of this historical surmounting of the 'ghostly' or the 'double"
is seen in the intensification of narrative synchrony as a graphically
visible position in space: 'to grasp the most elusive course of pure historical
time and fix it through unmediated contemplation'.'6 But what kind of 'present'
is this if it is a consistent process of surmounting the ghostly time of
repetition? Can this national time-space be as fixed or as immediately
visible as Bakhtin claims?
If in Bakhtin's 'surmounting' we hear the echo of another use of that word by Freud in his essay on The Uncanny, then we begin to get a sense of the complex time of the national narrative. Freud associates surmounting with the repressions of a 'cultural" unconscious; a liminal, uncertain state of cultural belief when the archaic emerges in the midst or margins of modernity as a result of some psychic ambivalence or intellectual uncer- tainty. The "double' is the figure most frequently associated with this uncanny process of 'the doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self'.17 Such 'double-time' cannot be so simply represented as visible or flexible in 'unmediated contemplation'; nor can we accept Bakhtin's repeated attempt to read the national space as achieved only in the fullness of time. Such an apprehension of the 'double and split' time of national representation, as I am proposing, leads us to question the homogeneous and horizontal view familiarly associated with it. We are led to ask, provocatively, whether the emergence of a national perspective -- of an élite or subaltern nature -- within a culture of social contestation, can ever articulate its 'representative' authority in that fullness of narrative time, and that visual synchrony of the sign that Bakhtin proposes. Two brilliant accounts of the emergence of national narratives seem to support my suggestion. They represent the diametrically opposed world views of master and slave which between them account for the major historical and philosophical dialectic of modern times. I am thinking of
John Barrell's18 splendid analysis of the rhetorical and perspectival status of th9 'English gentleman' within the social diversity of the eighteenth- century novel; and of Huston Baker's innovative reading of the 'new national modes of sounding, interpreting and speaking the Negro in the Harlem Renaissance'.19 In his concluding essay Barrell surveys the posi- tions open to 'an equal, wide survey' and demonstrates how the demand for a holistic, representative vision of society could only be represented in a discourse that was at the same time obsessively fixed upon, and uncer- tain of, the boundaries of society, and the margins of the text. For instance, the hypostatized 'common language' which was the language of the gentleman whether he be Observer, Spectator, Rambler, 'Common to all by virtue of the fact that it manifested the peculiarities of none'2° -- was primarily defined through a process of negation -- of regionalism, occupation, faculty -- so that this centred vision of 'the gentleman' is so to speak 'a condition of empty potential, one who is imagined as being able to comprehend everything, and yet who may give no evidence of having comprehended anything'.21 A different note of liminality is struck in Baker's description of the 'radical maroonage' that structured the emergence of an insurgent Afro-American expressive culture in its expansive, 'national' phase. Baker's sense that the 'discursive project' of the Harlem Renaissance is modernist is based less on a strictly literary understanding of the term, and more appropriately on the agonistic enunciative conditions within which the Harlem Renaissance shaped its cultural practice. The transgressive, invasive structure of the black 'national' text, which thrives on rhetorical strategies of hybridity, defor- mation, masking, and inversion, is developed through an extended analogy with the guerilla warfare that became a way of life for the maroon communities of runaway slaves and fugitives who lived dangerously, and insubordinately, 'on the frontiers or margins of all American promise, profit and modes of production'. From this liminal, minority position where, as Foucault would say, the relations of discourse are of the nature of warfare, emerges the force of the people of an Afro-American nation, as Baker 'signifies upon' the extended metaphor of maroonage. For warriors read writers or even 'signs':
these highly adaptable and mobile warriors took maximum advantage of local environments, striking and withdrawing with great rapidity, making extensive use of bushes to catch their adversaries in cross-fire, fighting only when and where they chose, depending on reliable intel- ligence networks among non-maroons (both slave and white settlers) and often communicating by horns.22
Both gentleman and slave, with different cultural means and to very different historical ends, demonstrate that forces of social authority and subalternality may emerge in displaced, even decentred, strategies of signification. This does not prevent them from being representative in a political sense, although it does suggest that positions of authority are themselves part of a process of ambivalent identification. Indeed the exer- cise of power may be both more politically effective and psychically
DissemiN ation 297
affective because their discursive liminality may provide greater scope for strategic manoeuvre and negotiation. It is precisely in reading between these borderlines of the nation-space that we can see how the 'people' come to be constructed within a range of discourses as a double narrative movement. The people are not simply historical events or parts of a patriotic body politic. They are also a complex rhetorical strategy of social reference where the claim to be representative provokes a crisis within the process of signification and discursive address. We then have a contested cultural territory where the people must be thought in a double-time; the people are the historical 'objects" of a nationalist pedagogy, giving the discourse an authority that is based on the pre- given or constituted historical origin or event; the people are also the 'subjects' of a process of signification that must erase any prior or originary presence of the nation-people to demonstrate the "prodigious, living principle of the people as that continual process by which the national life is redeemed and signified as a repeating and reproductive process. The scraps, patches, and rags of daily life must be repeatedly turned into the signs of a national culture, while the very act of the narrative performance interpellates a growing circle of national subjects. In the production of the nation as narration there is a split between the continuist, accumulative temporality of the pedagogical, and the repetitious, recursive strategy of the performative. It is through this process of splitting that the conceptual ambivalence of modern society becomes the site of writing the nation.
The space of the people
The tension between the pedagogical and the performative that I have identified in the narrative address of the nation, turns the reference to a 'people' -- from whatever political or cultural position it is made -- into a problem of knowledge that haunts the symbolic formation of social authority. The people are neither the beginning or the end of the national narrative; they represent the cutting edge between the totalizing powers of the social and the forces that signify the more specific address to contentious, unequal interests and identities within the population. The ambivalent signifying system of the nation-space participates in a more general genesis of ideology in modern societies that Claude Lefort has described so suggestively. For him too it is 'the enigma of language', at once internal and external to the speaking subject, that provides the most apt analogue for imagining the structure of ambivalence that constitutes modern social authority. I shall quote him at length, because his rich ability to represent the movement of political power beyond the blindness of Ideology or the insight of the Idea, brings him to that liminality of modern society from which I have attempted to derive the narrative of the nation and its people.
In Ideology the representation of the rule is split off from the effective operation of it .... The rule is thus extracted from experience of298 Homi K. Bhabha
language; it is circumscribed, made fully visible and assumed to govern the conditions of possibility of this experience .... The enigma of language -- namely that it is both internal and external to the speaking subject, that there is an articulation of the self with others which marks the emergence of the self and which the self does not control -- is concealed by the representation of a place 'outside' -- language from which it could be generated .... We encounter the ambiguity of the representation as soon as the rule is stated; for its very exhibition undermines the power that the rule claims to introduce into practice. This exorbitant power must, in fact, be shown, and at the same time it must owe nothing to the movement which makes it appear .... To be true to its image, the rule must be abstracted from any question concerning its origin; thus it goes beyond the operations that it controls .... Only the authority of the master allows the contradiction to be concealed, but he is himself an object of representation; presented as possessor of the knowledge of the rule, he allows the contradiction to appear through himself.How do we conceive of the 'splitting' of the national subject? How do we articulate cultural differences within this vacillation of ideology in which the national discourse also participates, sliding ambivalently from one enunciatory position to another? What comes to be represented in that unruly 'time' of national culture, which Bakhtin surmounts in his reading of Goethe, Gellner associates with the rags and patches of every- day life, Said describes as 'the nonsequential energy of lived historical memory and subjectivity' and Lefort re-presents again as the inexorable movement of signification that both constitutes the exorbitant image of power and deprives it of the certainty and stability of centre or closure? What might be the cultural and political effects of the liminality of the nation, the margins of modernity, which cannot be signified without the narrative temporalities of splitting, ambivalence, and vacillation?
The ideological discourse that we are examining has no safety catch; it is rendered vulnerable by its attempt to make visible the place from which the social relation would be conceivable (both thinkable and creatable) by its inability to define this place without letting its contingency appear, without condemning itself to slide from one posi- tion to another, without hereby making apparent the instability of an order that it is intended to raise to the status of essence .... [The ideological] task of the implicit generalisation of knowledge and the implicit homogenization of experience could fall apart in the face of the unbearable ordeal of the collapse of certainty, of the vacillation of representations of discourse and as a result of the splitting of the subject.23
But in certain areas, there will be in certain periods, practices and meanings which are not reached for. There will be areas of practice and meaning which, almost by definition from its own limited character, or in its profound deformation, the dominant culture is unable in any real terms to recognize.26When Edward Said suggests that the question of the nation should be put on the contemporary critical agenda as a hermeneutic of 'worldliness', he
is fully aware that such a demand can only now be made from the liminal
and ambivalent boundaries that articulate the signs of national culture,
as 'zones of control or of abandonment, of recollection and of forgetting,
of force or of dependence, of exclusiveness or of sharing' (my emphasis).27
Counter-narratives of the nation that continually evoke and erase its totalizing boundaries -- both actual and conceptual -- disturb those ideological manoeuvres through which 'imagined communities' are given essentialist identities For the political unity of the nation consists in a continual displacement of its irredeemably plural modern space, bounded by different, even hostile nations, into a signifying space that is archaic and mythical, paradoxiically representing the nation's modern territoriality, in the patriotic, atavistic temporality of Traditionalism. Quite simply, the difference of space returns as the Sameness of time, turning Territory into Tradition, turning the People into One. The liminal point of this ideological displacement is the turning 9f the differentiated spatial boundary, the 'outside', into the unified temporal territory of Tradition. Freud's concept of the 'narcissism of minor differences'28 -- reinterpreted for our purposes -- provides a way of understanding how easily that boundary that secures the cohesive limits of the western nation may imperceptibly turn into a contentious internal liminality that provides a place from which to speak both of, and as, the minority, the exilic, the marginal, and the emergent.
Freud uses the analogy of feuds that prevail between communities with adjoining territories -- the Spanish and the Portuguese, for instance -- to illustrate the ambivalent identification of love and hate that binds a community together: 'it is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left to receive the manifestation of their aggressiveness',29 The problem is, of course, that the ambivalent identifications of love and hate occupy the same psychic space; and paranoid projections 'outwards' return to haunt and split the place from which they are made. So long as a firm boundary is maintained between the territories, and the narcissistic wounded is contained, the aggressivity will be projected onto the Other or the Outside. But what if, as I have argued, the people are the articulation of a doubling of the national address, an ambivalent movement between the discourses of pedagogy and the performative? What if, as Lefort argues. the subject of modern ideology is split between the iconic image of authority and the movement of the signifier that produces the image, so that the 'sign' of the social is condemned to slide ceaselessly from one position to another? It is in this space of liminality, in the 'unbearable ordeal of the collapse of certainty' that we encounter once again the narcissistic neuroses of the national discourse with which I began. The nation is no longer the sign of modernity under which cultural differences are homogenized in the 'horizontal' view of society. The nation reveals, in its ambivalent and vacillating representation, the ethnography of its own historicity and opens up the possibility of other narratives of the people and their difference.
The people turn pagan in that disseminatory act of social narrative that
Lyotard defines against the Platonic tradition, as the privileged pole of the narrated, 'where the one doing the speaking speaks from the place of the referent. As narrator she is narrated as well. And in a way she is already told, and what she herself is telling will not undo that somewhere else she is told',s° This narrative inversion or circulation -- which is in the spirit of my splitting of the people -- makes untenable any supremacist, or nationalist claims to cultural mastery, for the position of narrative control is neither monocular or monologic. The subject is graspable only in the passage between telling/told, between 'here' and 'somewhere else', and in this double scene the very condition of cultural knowledge is the alienation of the subject. The significance of this narrative splitting of the subject of identification is borne out in Lévi- Strauss' description of the ethnographic act.31 The ethnographic demands that the observer himself is a part of his observation and this requires that the field of knowledge -- the total social fact .-- must be appropriated from the outside like a thing, but like a thing which comprises within itself the subjective understanding of the indigenous. The transposition of this process into the language of the outsider's grasp -- this entry into the area of the symbolic of representation/signification -- then makes the social fact 'three dimensional'. For ethnography demands that the subject has to split itself into object and subject in the process of identifying its field of knowledge; the ethnographic object is constituted 'by dint of the subject's capacity for indefinite self- objectification (without ever quite abolishing itself as subject) for projecting outside itself ever-diminishing fragments of itself'.
Once the liminality of the nation-space is established, and its 'difference' is turned from the boundary 'outside' to its finitude 'within', the threat of cultural difference is no longer a problem of 'other' people. It becomes a question of the otherness of the people-as-one. The national subject splits in the ethnographic perspective of culture's contemporaneity and provides both a theoretical position and a narrative authority for marginal voices or minority discourse. They no longer need to address their strategies of opposition to a horizon of'hegemony' that is envisaged as horizontal and homogeneous. The great contribution of Foucault's last published work is to suggest that people emerge in the modern state as a perpetual movement of 'the marginal integration of individuals'. 'What are we to-day?'32 Foucault poses this most pertinent ethnographic question to the west itself to reveal the alterity of its political rationality. He suggests that the 'reason of state' in the modern nation must be derived from the heterogeneous and differentiated limits of its territory. The nation cannot be conceived in a state of equilibrium between several elements co-ordinated, and maintained by a 'good' law.
Each state is in permanent competition with other countries, other nations ... so that each state has nothing before it other than an indefinite future of struggles. Politics has now to deal with an irreduci- ble multiplicity of states struggling and competing in a limited history ... the State is its own finality.33Continued in Part II