A Question of Survival: Nations and Psychic States

  • Homi K. Bhabha
Part of the Communications and Culture book series (COMMCU)


Can there be culture without melancholia? This seems to be the central question posed by contemporary theories of representation which repeatedly associate the making of narrative with the death of the author. What dies with the author is not merely intentionality in interpretation. In its wake arises the figure of the textual sign that resists the ‘innate’ or autonomous coherence of the corpus and locates meaning on the boundaries of that loss that generates meaning, turning interpretation into an inevitable passage through the intertextual. For Derrida, the process of writing is a form of survival, or living on the borderline1 of the violence of the letter and its doubles — mark, trace, crypt. For Lacan the scenario of the birth of the ego is staged in the ‘fading’ of the signifier, as it hangs over the abyss of a dizzy assent in which, he says, we see the very essence of anxiety.2 Even Lyotard’s comic Oedipus, who refuses the melancholic moment of modernity in the postmodern condition, has finally to concede that the terror of ‘death’ in all its forms traverses the pragmatics of language games and leads him to question the social bond.3


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© Homi K. Bhabha 1991

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  • Homi K. Bhabha

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