One of the most important voices in postcolonial studies, Homi K. Bhabha is the author of the widely influential books, The Location of Culture and Nation and Narration. He is also editor of Edward Said: Continuing the Conversation, and co-editor with Carol A, Breckenridge and Sheldon Pollack of Cosmopolitanism. He has also written about contemporary artists Mary Kelly and Anish Kapoor. His writings are characterized by a close attention to the details of discourses and by an equal attentiveness to socio-cultural histories and conceptual theories. This interview took place in Beijing when Bhabha was an invited keynote speaker at a postcolonial forum and a visiting lecturer at Tsinghua University in China. The first question I asked was about significant influences on his writings.
In your work you refer a lot to Frantz Fanon, Walter Benjamin, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Fredric Jameson, Sigmund Freud, Edward Said and, among the novelists, you seem to be extremely interested in Toni Morrison, V. S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and a few other authors. So by whom are you most importantly influenced? Why and how?
I think you have given a list of the many influences on my work, but it will be very difficult for me to address each of these influences, because an influence is not necessarily to be seen as a body of work that impresses itself upon you as an uninterruptedly ideal narrative. Very often you turn to the work of somebody when you have a problem in your own thinking, so an influence is less like a stream of thought and more like a problem solving exercise, or more like an intervention in your own thought or the thoughts of others. So influences are more like networks than total traditions of thinking. But let me attempt to address some of the figures you mentioned.
You started with Frantz Fanon--my interest in Fanon emerged because of his attention to the whole question of the psyche and to psychic fantasy and psychoanalysis in understanding any form of political or social agency. Fanon was one of the very early thinkers in the field of colonization to make a direct reference to Lacan, in Black Skin, White Masks. Lacan, as you know, is a notoriously complex thinker. This reference to Lacan by a writer who was as much a political activist as he was a psychoanalytic therapist really intrigued me. My interest in Fanon began with his insistence that desire, the unconscious, dreams and psychopathology must be accounted for when you attempt to address the questions of anti-colonialism, nationalism, independence, or indeed any such political act.
The work of Lacan was important to me because Lacan questioned both the totality of subjectivity and the sovereignty of subjectivity. In Lacan's work, the subject is only ever a subject if it emerges into a dependent relationship, a relationship of secondarization through alterity, through what he calls "the other." The subject for Lacan is always constituted through an enigmatic and illusive instance, which he calls the objet petit a. The subject is constituted not as a total person, not as a totality, not as an individual, but as a series or a set of metonymic relationships. The subject in Lacan is a network. One of the interesting things in the literature of colonization was this idea that colonial subjects were always dependant subjects, that they feel secondary to the hegemonies of western or Eurocentric thinking, that they were secondary to Eurocentrism. Dependence or secondarization in psychoanalysis and in Lacan are not the same as, and should never be seen as analogical with, the notion of a dependant colonial subject who is dependant for cultural value and also for political positioning, who is dependant on the West or the colonizing society. Secondarization or dependence in Lacan and dependence in the political sense of colonization should not be seen as analogical.
However, what did intrigue me was the way in which colonized people had been colonized, creating both a sense of dependence on the colonial power and on colonial culture, and how through the experience of colonization, colonized people began to deconstruct the ideas of Eurocentrism. …