Critical Inquiry 12 (1):144-165 (1985)

Abstract
How can the question of authority, the power and presence of the English, be posed in the interstices of a double inscription? I have no wish to replace an idealist myth—the metaphoric English book—with a historicist one—the colonialist project of English civility. Such a reductive reading would deny what is obvious, that the representation of colonial authority depends less on a universal symbol of English identity than on its productivity as a sign of difference. Yet in my use of “English” there is a “transparency” of reference that registers a certain obvious presence: the Bible translated into Hindi, propagated by Dutch or native catechists, is still the English book; a Polish émigré, deeply influenced by Gustave Flaubert, writing about Africa, produces an English classic. What is there about such a process of visibility and recognition that never fails to be an authoritative acknowledgement without ceasing to be a “spacing between desire and fulfillment, between perpetuation and its recollection … [a] medium [which] has nothing to do with a center” ?This question demands a departure from Derrida’s objectives in “The Double Session”; a turning away from the vicissitudes of interpretation in the mimetic act of reading to the question of the effects of power, the inscription of strategies of individuation and domination in those “dividing practices” which construct the colonial space—a departure from Derrida which is also a return to those moments in his essay when he acknowledges the problematic of “presence” as a certain quality of discursive transparency which he describes as “the production of mere reality-effects” or “the effect of content” or as the problematic relation between the “medium of writing and the determination of each textual unit.” In the rich ruses and rebukes with which he shows up the “false appearance of the present,” Derrida fails to decipher the specific and determinate system of address that is signified by the “effect of content” . It is precisely such a strategy of address—the immediate presence of the English—that engages the questions of authority that I want to raise. When the ocular metaphors of presence refer to the process by which content is fixed as an “effect of the present,” we encounter not plenitude but the structured gaze of power whose objective is authority, whose “subjects” are historical. Homi K. Bhabha is lecturer in English literature and literary theory at the University of Sussex. He is working at present on Power and Spectacle: Colonial Discourse and the English Novel and is commissioning and editing a collection of essays entitled Nation and Narration: Post-structuralism and the Culture of National Identity. He is also writing the introduction to the new English edition of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks
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DOI 10.1086/448325
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