Bhabha Extra Credit

Because I want to encourage you at attend the Bhabha event, here is the extra credit purposed.

You have a choice.

If you attend the roundtable (checking in with me afterwards), you get credit for 2 comments (which means you can take either this week or next week off).

If you attend the roundtable or the lecture and post your response to the blog, you will receive 5% extra credit to your final grade. NB: attending both does not increase this extra credit.

The Homi Bhabha Roundtable

Parker Reed Room (Alumni Building) from 4-5:q5 pm on Feb 22, Wednesday.

The following students were selected to participate:
Cecilia Conroy (Eng)
Kristen Starkowski (Eng)
Kat McCarrick (Eng)
Hannah Goodwin (French)
Hannah DeAngelis  (French/Antro)
Michelle Mathai (French)

The Lecture

“Between Civility and Barbarism: Some Thoughts on the Fate of the Humanities”

Wednesday, February 22, 7:30 p.m.
Ostrove Auditorium, Diamond Building

Renowned scholar/cultural critic Homi K. Bhabha will address important issues facing the academy and the larger culture. Bhabha is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities in the department of English, the director of the Mahindra Humanities Center, and the senior advisor on the humanities to the president and provost at Harvard University. Bhabha is the author of numerous works exploring postcolonial theory, cultural change and power, and cosmopolitanism, among other themes. Some of his works include Nation and Narration and The Location of Culture, which was reprinted as a Routledge Classic in 2004. Harvard University Press will publish his forthcoming book, A Global Measure, and Columbia University Press will publish his next book, The Right to Narrate.

The library has also set up a page with more information on him:


7 thoughts on “Bhabha Extra Credit

  1. One thing that really stood out to me from the roundtable with Homi Bhabha was his response to the question on his piece, The Right to Narrate, and how his argument that we have the privilege of expression carries over to social media sources such as Facebook and Twitter. As a society that places lots of value on ways in which we receive news, whether it’s via the television or our friend posting something online, I found it very interesting that he found some social media sources to be inhibiting writers from expressing themselves. We hear now and then about the instance where a person’s actions on a social media sites become their downfall in the job market. Now, I understand that there are many cases where a person abuses the freedom of social media and suffers the consequences, but what if others choose to express a belief or an ideal on some database and gets socially punished for it? Can we discriminate that way?

    I Googled The Right to Narrate and I discovered this very interesting quotation from him on a site (listed below) that was transcribed from a lecture he gave after the release of this work:

    “The right to narrate is not simply a linguistic act,” he said. “It is also a metaphor for the fundamental human interest in freedom itself, the right to be heard, to be recognized and represented.”

    Check out more from his presentation HERE:

    What do you think?

  2. I found the Homi Bhabha talk to be particularly meaningful for a number of reasons. The aspect of the discussion I found most beneficial was the ways in which Bhabha’s speech elucidated theories I found hazy in his writing. Personally, I struggled through certain sections of Bhabha’s “Sign’s for wonders” due to the excessive references to other works and writers I did not know. I found myself getting frustrated while reading his essay because I felt like he was just name-dropping in a way that made the work more and more inaccessible to me. However, when I heard him speaking, I was awe-struck by his wealth of knowledge and saw the ways in which his use of multiple theorists and theories was not done pretentiously; he was just drawing from such a deep wealth of knowledge and the constant references merely reinforced his thoughts. I found myself extremely impressed in the ways he responded to questions he had never heard so eloquently all the while operating on such a high intellectual level. I completely support the effort of the humanities department at Colby to continue bring important thinkers and writers to talk about their works. Although the Q+A session was limited due to time constraints, I supported this continued discussion and think it will strengthen our humanities department as a whole.

  3. When I read the Homi Bhabha’s “Signs Taken for Wonders” for class, I noticed that his writing was extremely dense, even for a critical theorist. So before attending the Homi Bhabha roundtable, I did some quick research on Wikipedia; I noticed that my take was not unique. Bhabha won the Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing contest for his 1994 essay “Of mimicry and man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse.” The contest highlighted this sentence:

    “If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.”

    While certain allowances for the lack of context must be made, I did find the sentence nearly completely inscrutable.
    So going into the roundtable, I was prepared to pay attention. But each time Bhabha responded to the students’ questions, I found myself lost after his first few sentences. Besides complaining about being confused, I would like to raise a question: do critical theorists have any responsibility to be accessible? Certainly accessibility is a spectrum, and we cannot expect the writings of a critical theorist to be comparable to a novel or a newspaper article. But complete opacity risks increasing isolation in an already esoteric field.
    Bhabha responded to such allegations in a 2005 issue of the The Hindu:

    “Well, it annoys me that people talk about easy access to a work and a notion of transparency without thinking of what is really involved. For instance, the science section of the New York Times is not immediately comprehensible. Do I therefore say that I am not interested in the whole article? The idea that sources from the humanities have no philosophical language of their own, that they must be continually speaking in the common language of the common person while the scientists can publish in a language that needs more time to get into, is problematic to me.”

    The comparison to science writing is apt; each field rightly has its own argot. But, in my opinion, there is a difference between the use of specific language and needlessly complex sentence constructions. Other literary theorists (Terry Eagleton comes to mind) are able to make complex points with accessible language.

    My question to you: Is Bhabha too inaccessible? Or does he right at a level appropriate to his subject matter?

  4. I also arrived at Homi Bhabha’s evening lecture with some hesitancy, hoping I would understand his message regarding his topic “Between Civility and Barbarism: Some Thoughts on the Fate of the Humanities.” However, Bhabha’s fluent and careful choice of words, combined with his warm charm, make this lecture one of the most understandable and enjoyable ones yet. Unlike his articles, I found this lecture highly accessible for the intended audience of college students and professors.

    Bhabha highlights three essential points in the lecture which include the value of humanities, the decline of arts and the humanities in educational institutions, and the power of language. As the main emphasis of his talk, there are many largely unappreciated values of the humanities. These include its ability to cultivate values of civility, ability to promote cultural citizenship including the ability to emphasize with people in different situations, and to continue the search for justice and knowledge. With such priceless value, it is awful that support for humanities is dwindling throughout the world. Bhabha mentioned that federal funding for science and engineering educational programs is forty-six times the funding for humanities. While science has its importance, this careless neglect for the humanities, as the humanities interpret both cultural and environmental issues by the root of the problem, is inexcusable.

    More so, his explanation of “language as a medium for ethical and activist in the pursuit of fairness and freedom” reaffirms the value of the humanities in contrast with the recognition it receives. In this way, “language itself is the mode of action” or “the material with which we think” that, like humanities, enables you to put yourself in the position of others and reflect. With the power of humanities in mind, why the neglect of humanities? Bhabha summarizes his lecture with his idea that “humanities place you in the most human of all positions: the position of un-satisfaction, not lacking fulfillment, which is then fulfilling by moving towards the other.” As Bhabha believes, humanities keep the eyes and hearts open. I found this idea most inspiring.

  5. Going into Homi Bhabha’s roundtable discussion I was expecting a lot of talk about the colonial history of Europe, which is what I generally think of first when I think of post-colonialism. I was surprised, then, that he spoke only briefly about Europe and barely at all about history. Instead, the questioners drew Bhabha into discussions that penetrated widely disparate areas of scholarship and culture: from race in the movie Black Girl to Barack Obama birthers to the first amendment to social media.

    The two things I took away from the roundtable were, first, the multiplicity of disciplines that use post-colonial theory and, second, the multiplicity of phenomena that can be understood through post-colonial interpretation. Since Bhabha is such a canonical post-colonialist I was very interested in the way he defined, or refused to define, the boundaries of his area of study. For example, Bhabha mentioned that many thinkers that we consider post-colonialist would not, or did not, define themselves as such. They became a part of the post-colonialist canon only after Bhabha and his colleagues read their work, recognized something pertinent there, and adopted them into their studies. In fact, Bhabha mentioned that his as yet unpublished book has several chapters making the case for a particular, not post-colonial writer’s (I can’t remember the name) post-colonialist tendencies.

    Bhabha also discussed the way that post-colonialism intersects with an indefinable number of social and cultural phenomena. For example, Bhabha mentioned that an individual member of a diaspora population avoids the racism that colonialism leaves behind if they enter society as a member of the upper class. A North African doctor in France will not face the stigma that working class North Africans face there. I was particularly interested in the way post-colonialism intersects with social class because, first, class is a fascinating subject, and second, Bhabha’s famous concepts of mimicry and hybridity, while not applicable to Pamela in their most literal terms of nationality, definitely apply to Pamela in terms of class.

  6. I have mixed feelings about Homi BhaBha. Although when meeting him he was definitely “thee homie,” I found him to be condescending at certain points. Yes, he is a critically acclaimed critical theorist of high staus (he has a legit wiki) but I feel that when he told certain people at the roundtable to not look at their questions and just ask him that put the students, who worked very hard to create the perfect questions, a hard time. I’m not saying he was cocky per say, actually, I’m saying the opposite. I guess it’s just hard to realize how big a deal you are/ see yourself in the eyes of others sometimes, and he is quite the intimidating person to go up against. I especially found it ironic when he asked Hannah G to rephrase her question to him when she wrote it in a very BhaBha way!
    I did particularly like his response to Hannah D’s question, even though he had never seen the movie she was relating to her question. His ability to tie her question, which was complex, to sources he did know of (Beloved) was quite impressive and really proved to me he earned his title as a big deal critical theorist. Connecting the ideas of inflicting pain on one’s self or those close to the person, even death, as a form of revolt was an intriguing topic, and he handled his answer very well/ was able to connect violence seen in post colonial societies and slave states.
    As for the 7:30 lecture, my opinion is kind of up in the air. It very much so felt as if he was “preaching to the choir” to me, and hyping up a select audience. I felt he was talking to the faculty rather than the student body, but I did like the optimism and positive views he had for the Humanities. He is incredibly eloquent and has way too much swag. Overall, I liked him, and am glad I was offered the opportunity to hear him talk. Maybe next time a debate rather than students asking their question and just listening to his answer would be more interesting?

  7. Although unfamiliar with the subject matter discussed at the Round Table, I found BhaBha’s idea of “splitting” as an essential part of one’s identification interesting. His breadth of knowledge was evident when referencing a particular scene that occurs in either a book or a movie (I can no longer recall from which medium he drew) where a young white child becomes frightened by the sight of the black man. He elaborates that the man becomes objectified at the moment he recognizes the boy’s reaction. His behavior now does not only reflect his own actions, but that of his ancestors and the black race. He is no longer his own person; the child’s generalization and stereotype interrupts the ability to “split”.

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