Thursday, 18 June 2015

Homi Bhabha, Sir Edward Cust & the prancing nigger

Sir Edward Cust was a Victorian era soldier and politician. He made a tour of the West Indies after the Emancipation of the Slaves and, as a partisan, if not paid agent, of the White planters there, reported on the supposed negative consequences of that humane Act.
Briefly, the points he raised were
1) That, not withstanding the appearance of self-government,  the truth was that the Colonial Office (which Cust castigates as too pro-Black!) had all the power (since the settlers needed the Royal Navy to keep the Blacks subject to themselves) but was dilatory or negligent in its exercise thus creating confusion and uncertainty on the ground, more especially because Emancipation had been pushed through entirely by the British Parliament and had little indigenous support in the, all White, West Indian Legislatures.

2) The newly liberated 'negroes' were smart, hungry for education but loathe to see their children engaged in field labour and thus eager to take up a trade in the Towns. Cust testified that the 'negroes' were making progress from generation to generation and paid lip service to the notion that proper Christian instruction by the ministers of his own sect would, by some magic, content them to remain in the fields. Since no one in England believed that the Established Church had any such magical power, Cust was strengthening the argument for, or the fait accompli of, the importation of indentured Asiatic labor whose hereditary stupidity fitted them to be hewers of wood and drawers of water from generation to generation to the end of time. (Cust had a poor opinion of the physique of the 'Hill coolie' but owned that they were patient and dutiful. His own proposal- viz. transport captives liberated from intercepted slave-ships to the West Indies- was too obviously flawed being but a hypocritical continuation of the detestable trade compounded by the scandal of legalized piracy.)

3) The pretensions to Westminster like status for the West Indian Legislatures should be quietly abandoned because the Colonial Office had all the power and nothing on Earth could change that brute fact. Instead, these legislatures should function like municipal authorities. However, to protect the interests of white West Indians- more particularly the planters and other men of substance- and put them at parity with members of their own class in England, a Colonial Convention should be convened, as the Superior Legislature under the Crown for the constituent colonies, as a countervailing power to keep in check the excessively pro-Black (!) Colonial Office.

Homi Bhaba, mimicking the soi disant Savants at the University of the Soviet Republic of Sussex- - but mimicking them only, as he, quoting Lacan, hints to us, for a purpose of self-protective camouflage- fastened on a passage in Baronet Cust to make it appear to his increasingly American, that is to say ignorant, audience that, centuries ago, Britain had given its West African colonies miniature Westminsters, complete with be-wigged Speakers and ceremonial maces borne by Serjeants-at-Arms farcically clad in seductive fishnet stockings and stiletto heels- in other words, he conjures up, with the brush of a Fragonard, a Firbankian tableau of hefty West African Chieftains getting gay with each other in-between raising points of order and sipping tea from Dresden china cups with their little pinky fingers daintily stretched out.

From "Of mimicry and man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse," in The Location of Culture, pp.85-92.

 It is out of season to question at this time of day, the original policy of a conferring on every colony of the British Empire a mimic representation of the British Constitution. But if the creature so endowed has sometimes forgotten its real significance and under the fancied importance of speakers and maces, and all the paraphernalia and ceremonies of the imperial legislature, has dared to defy the mother country, she has to thank herself for the folly of conferring such privileges on a condition of society that has no earthly claim to so exalted a position. A fundamental principle appears to have been forgotten or overlooked in our system of colonial policy - that of colonial dependence. To give to a colony the forms of independence is a mockery; she would not be a colony for a single hour if she could maintain an independent station.
Sir Edward Cust, 'Reflections on West African affairs ... addressed to the Colonial Office', Hatchard, London 1839

The discourse of post-Enlightenment English colonialism often speaks in a tongue that is forked, not false. If colonialism takes power in the name of history, it repeatedly exercises its authority through the figures of farce. For the epic intention of the civilizing mission, 'human and not wholly human' in the famous words of Lord Rosebery, 'writ by the finger of the Divine' often produces a text rich in the traditions of trompe-l'oeil, irony, mimicry and repetition. In this comic turn from the high ideals of the colonial imagination to its low mimetic literary effects Mimicry emerges as one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge.
Within that conflictual economy of colonial discourse which Edward Said describes as the tension between the synchronic panoptical vision of domination - the demand for identity, stasis - and the counterpressure of the diachrony of history - change, difference - mimicry represents an ironic compromise. If I may adapt Samuel Weber's formulation of the marginalizing vision of castration, then colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite. Which is to say, that the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence; in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference. The authority of that mode of colonial discourse that I have called mimicry is therefore stricken by an indeterminacy: mimicry emerges as the representation of a difference that is itself a process of disavowal. Mimicry is, thus the sign of a double articulation; a complex strategy of reform, regulation and discipline, which 'appropriates' the Other as it visualizes power. Mimicry is also the sign of the inappropriate, however, a difference or recalcitrance which coheres the dominant strategic function of colonial power, intensifies surveillance, and poses an immanent threat to both 'normalized' knowledges and disciplinary powers.

Bhaba's blathering, as given above, would be justified if it was true that Africans and Indians and Papua New Guineans had really pranced around in miniature Parliaments all through the duration of the Britain's suzerainty over them. Nothing was further from the truth.
Nor, I hasten to add, was it the case that Nehru and Nkrumah and Nyrere got to prance around in nativist garb, only because the Royal Navy was ready to steam in and get them out of a jam. There may be a Francophone neo-colonialism of this type but nothing of the sort obtains for the protection of supercilious Oxbridge sand niggers of Bhabha's ilk or, indeed, us more straight forwardly ooga-booga LSE alumni with darker skin tones.

The West Indian planter was wholly British and, more often than not, an absentee landlord. Like Alderman Beckford- the father of the author of Vathek- he might own a couple of pocket Boroughs, and himself sit in the House of Commons. This wasn't mimicry, it was univocity. After all, the British had learnt the lesson of the Boston Tea Party all too well. Second or third generation Colonialists, who haven't traveled back to the mother country for their education and who own no Estates there nor command any Parliamentary influence by reason of the purchase of pocket Boroughs, don't mimic the mother country to assert their own commercial interests; no, they dress up in the feathers and deer-skin of the indigenous people they have decimated and displaced and, seizing up tomahawks and uttering war-whoops, they attack the corrupt Mercantilist institutions by which the Metropolitan power unjustly enriches itself.

Why is Bhaba pretending that the modern history of people colonized by the British is nothing but a Firbankian farce featuring prancing niggers got up in horse-hair wigs, scarlet ermine and black silk stockings?
Does he not get that Indians are only funny when they say 'Goodness gracious me!' and wobble their heads?
Also, Homo baba, how come your own protective mimicry of Campus Lefties,  is not 'continually producing its own slippage- as in your balls slipping out of your bikini bottom- its own excess- as evidenced by a prolapsed rectum- and difference- as in complaints that your arse burns people's dick off coz u dine only on vindaloo or phal curry?

Mimicry is not about negotiation or subversion or polysemy or semantic slippage. It's about the cost of the information processing involved in finding substantive solutions to co-ordination problems. Mimetic effects are 'small, cheap and out of control'- that's why evolution gave us mirror neurons. Hysteresis still obtains but cashes out as noise because nothing is genealogical, i.e. 'baked in'.

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