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So What If I Haven’t Read Homi Bhabha?

September 23, 2009

One time during a discussion following a paper I gave, a member of the audience noted that something I had said in my paper connected with something said by Homi Bhabha. Unfortunately, at the time I had never heard of Homi Bhabha. When I expressed my ignorance, it was received with incredulity: “you don’t know who Homi Bhabha is?!” At the time I was embarrassed, but now I’d be inclined to retort with something like: “So what? I bet you haven’t kept up with your Jean-Luc Nancy, have you?”

There are thousands of important theorists out there, and we can never have read them all. I’ve read plenty—enough to consider myself well-read. If I haven’t gotten around to reading your favorite, so what? I bet you haven’t gotten around to reading my favorite.

Those of you who would be incredulous that I haven’t read Zizek’s latest: screw you. I bet you haven’t read Bruce Lincoln’s latest!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2009 9:59 am

    Not that I would be such a jerk as to actually do this, but… The solution is to just make a person up. Better yet, make a ‘theorist’ up. Since nobody has read Jacques-Robert al-Hajj’s ‘essential’/’devastating’ ‘deconstruction’/’reassessment’/’treatment’ of whatever ‘discourse’ is in question – which really is rather revealing, even revelatory – everybody in the room can just fuck off.

    Or else you just come up with a glib one-liner that’ll get you out of whatever academic corner you inadvertently paint yourself into.

    “I have no interest in metaphysics.”

    (Shrugs. Walks off.)

  2. September 23, 2009 10:50 am

    Homi Bhabha ranks alongside people like Benedict Anderson as third-rate theorists in poststructuralist, postcolonialist discourse. Though I have referenced them and their fellows in the past, it’s mostly as part of a tick-list, because then it means some twatty professor can’t fault me for not mentioning them. They are all eminently forgettable.

  3. September 23, 2009 12:49 pm

    I remember my first Grad seminar where I gave a paper on intertextuality, a concept that was new to me at the time, having been self taught, I botched all of the theorists names with my stodgy american accent. Good times as I remembered my profs squirming to correct me, but gracious enough not to!

    Next time your response should be, yea but I’ve read of the 40 thieves! so suck it!

    cheers,

  4. vidya108 permalink
    September 23, 2009 4:20 pm

    Different theorists seem to have their niches in particular disciplines.
    However, I remember being shocked when I moved beyond religious studies to find that there are quite a few theorists — Foucault, Butler, etc. — read across disciplines and fields, often at the undergraduate level, to whom I had never been exposed to in my religion classes (I had a completed MA by this point). This was perhaps partly a consequence of my own frozen-in-time department, but I also noticed an overall paucity of this sort of theory in RS scholarship in general, which I found disheartening.

  5. September 23, 2009 5:09 pm

    That’s the same in ancient history and classics; completely frozen in time. Every sort of theory is derided as dangerous a priorism. Rubbish.

  6. vidya108 permalink
    September 23, 2009 5:30 pm

    Yeah, I’ve heard that from people in (or now out of) Classics depts, too. It’s sad, really; in retrospect I feel I was denied a real, critical education for so many years. I feel so far behind my peers even now that it’s behind me; it’s much easier to shape your mind to think through the lens of theory when you’re 18 or 19 than when you’re in your 30s.

  7. fuzzytheory permalink
    October 26, 2009 1:51 pm

    I’m deep into Homi Bhabha now, and I say don’t waste your time. Read a small piece of secondary literature or two (Like _Beginning Postcolonialism_). He has some interesting points, but he is so obtuse that trickle down works best. Here, I’ll give it to you now in 3 sentences. Colonial discourse is not a homogeneous discourse and it deconstructs itself. It is continually contradicting itself with positive/negative, heterogeneous/essentialist, etc. portrayals of the other. At the same time as colonialism shows its shaky ground and its fundamental insecurity of the Other as both threatening and controlled, the Other’s double consciousness is a site of powerful resistance.

    As an aside, I once did a guest lecture on the problem of Orientalism to a large Intro to South Asian Religion classroom. The five or six MA TAs had never heard of this before. It was at that moment that I decided to inject it into every class I teach.

  8. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    October 29, 2009 7:53 am

    fuzzy theory, thanks for the nice summary!

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