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Homi K. Bhabha: ‘The Other Question: The Stereotype and Colonial Discourse’

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An important feature of colonial discourse is its dependence on the concept of ‘fixity’ in the ideological construction of otherness.1 Fixity, as the sign of cultural/historical/racial difference in the discourse of colonialism, is a paradoxical mode of representation: it connotes rigidity and an unchanging order as well as disorder, degeneracy and daemonic repetition. Likewise the stereotype, which is its major discursive strategy, is a form of knowledge and identification that vacillates between what is always ‘in place’, already known, and something that must be anxiously repeated … as if the essential duplicity of the Asiatic or the bestial sexual licence of the African that needs no proof, can never really, in discourse, be proved. It is this process of ambivalence, central to the stereotype that my essay explores as it constructs a theory of colonial discourse. For it is the force of ambivalence that gives the colonial stereotype its currency: ensures its repeatability in changing historical and discursive conjunctures; informs its strategies of individuation and marginalization; produces that effect of probabilistic truth and predictability which, for the stereotype, must always be in excess of what can be empirically proved or logically construed. Yet the function of ambivalence as one of the most significant discursive and psychical strategies of discriminatory power — whether racist or sexist, peripheral or metropolitan — remains to be charted.

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  1. Stephan Feuchtwang, ‘Socialist, Feminist and Anti-racist Struggles’, m/f (1980), no. 4, 41.

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  2. Michel Foucault, ‘The Confession of the Flesh’, in Power/Knowledge (Brighton, Harvester Press, 1980), p. 196.

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  3. See Sigmund Freud, ‘Fetishism’ (1927) in On Sexuality, vol. VII, Pelican Freud Library (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1981), p. 345ff;

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  4. Christian Metz, Psychoanalysis and Cinema: the Imaginary Signifier (London, Macmillan, 1982), pp. 67–78.

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  5. See also Steve Neale, ‘The Same Old Story: Stereotypes and Differences’, Screen Education (Autumn-Winter 1979–80), nos. 32–3, 33–7.

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  6. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks (London, Paladin, 1970); see pp. 78–82.

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  7. For the best account of Lacan’s concept of the Imaginary see Jacqueline Rose, ‘The Imaginary’, in Colin MacCabe (ed.), The Talking Cure (London, Macmillan, 1981).

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© 1997 Macmillan Publishers Limited

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Newton, K.M. (1997). Homi K. Bhabha: ‘The Other Question: The Stereotype and Colonial Discourse’. In: Newton, K.M. (eds) Twentieth-Century Literary Theory. Palgrave, London.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-0-333-67742-1

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-349-25934-2

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