注册 登录  
 加关注
   显示下一条  |  关闭
温馨提示!由于新浪微博认证机制调整,您的新浪微博帐号绑定已过期,请重新绑定!立即重新绑定新浪微博》  |  关闭

张在新

John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

日志

 
 

Lois Tyson’s Misreading of “Mimicry”  

2016-03-17 12:51:58|  分类: 后殖民理论 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

  下载LOFTER 我的照片书  |

Student Essay

Lois Tyson’s Misreading of “Mimicry”

Mimicry is an important term in postcolonial theory. In Critical Theory Today, Tyson interprets mimicry as a reflection of “the attempt of the colonized to be accepted by imitating the dress, behavior, speech, and lifestyle of the colonizers” (421). Yet such explanation might be misleading if we highlight the suppressive role of mimicry as a controlling strategy, while neglecting its ambivalent function and destructive potential in postcolonial discourse, where it serves as an effective tool to deconstruct the binary opposition of the Occident/Orient. Therefore, the following essay aims to look into “mimicry” from a more comprehensive perspective with special references to Homi Bhabha and clear up the misinterpretations of the concept in Tyson’s reading of The Great Gatsby.

Mimicry in colonial discourse

Mimicry, literally speaking, means that the colonized imitate the behaviors, attitudes, language and culture of the colonizers (Gupta 3). As a political strategy, it has long existed for imperial control, which is based on the ideology of an Occident/Orient binary opposition. In colonial discourse, the Occident is described as civilized, advanced, and superior, while the Orient barbarian, backwards, and inferior. In places like Africa and India, mimicry serves as part of the constructing tool in the ideological state apparatuses educating the indigenous people about the superiority of Western practices: setting up systems of police and courts and legislatures following British laws, sending missionaries to convert the natives to Christianity and establishing churches and seminaries, and setting up schools to teach British customs, British history, and the English language to children and adults, in order to make them more like British citizens. As a result, the aim of constructing as well as enforcing the binary opposition of Occident/Orient has been achieved: with these ideological exportations comes British, or Western ‘culture,’ in the form of music, art, and literature – so that, regardless of the ancient literary traditions of the colonized countries, their inhabitants are taught that Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton are the ‘greatest’ authors. In short, British cultural standards are upheld and all other notions of culture, of art or literature or philosophy, are denounced as inferior and subordinated to Western standards, commonly referred to as “othering” (Tyson 420).

Thus, the Occident becomes the center and the Orient becomes the periphery. Through the cultural programming process, the indigenous people in the colonized countries gradually accept this binary opposition, and internalize the inferiority the colonizer imposed on them. Therefore, instead of rebellion, they naturally begin to imitate their colonizers from the Occident: their dress, speech, behavior and lifestyle. It seems obvious that, for the colonizers, this is an easy way to keep the colonized under control, and further enhance their authority and power not only in the sense of an economic master, but more importantly, a cultural giant. However, for the colonized, this learning-to-be-civilized endeavor often lets them feel frustrated, dispossessed of their identity, disillusioned and destroyed. To mimic the whites becomes the ultimate goal of all the racially distinguished people. Tyson points out this kind of feeling in her book: “…it reflects both the desire of colonized individuals to be accepted by the colonizing culture and the shame experienced by colonized individuals concerning their own culture, which they were programmed to see as inferior.” (421)

Mimicry defined by Homi Bhabha

So far we have known that mimicry has often been an overt goal of imperial policy in colonial discourse, yet, it is also a counter-discourse against imperialism. This self-contradictory nature can be found in Lord Macaulay’s 1835 Minute to Parliament which derided oriental learning, and advocated the reproduction of English art and learning in India (most strategically through the teaching of English literature). However, the method by which mimicry was to be achieved indicated the underlying weakness of imperialism, for Macaulay suggested that the riches of European learning should be imparted by “a class of interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern – a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in tastes, opinions, in morals, and in intellect” (Lynn & Martin 171). In other words, not only was the mimicry of European learning to be hybridized and therefore ambivalent, but also, as Macaulay seems to suggest, that imperial discourse is compelled to make it so in order for it to work.

And this is where Homi Bhahba comes in with his interpretation on mimicry. He states that it “emerges as one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge” (85). Bhabha illustrates the powerful nature of colonial mimicry, but leaves it ambiguous to whom it gives power and in doing so suggests that the colonized can use it to subvert the colonial discourse of the colonizer.

Defining mimicry, Bhabha borrows his concept from Jacques Lacan and writes: “The effect of mimicry is camouflage.... It is not a question of harmonizing with the background, but against a mottled background, of becoming mottled -- exactly like the technique of camouflage practiced in human warfare (120-21). Comparing Bhabha’s interpretation with Tyson’s as we quoted from the very beginning, we may find that mimicry is not as a simple concept as the willingness of the colonized to be “accepted,” nor in harmony with the colonizer as a source of complete identification for them; but like a “camouflage” against a “mottled” rather than a pure white background, which is characterized by ambiguity and multiple possibilities.

In the chapter on “Of Mimicry and Man” Bhabha defines mimicry and says: “…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” (89). In other words, Bhabha asserts that the colonizer wants to improve the colonized and to make them like himself so that they will be easily controlled, but in a way that still maintains a clear sense of difference. In that sense, the Other becomes “almost the same” as the colonizer, but never “quite” fits in with the hegemonic cultural and political system that governs both of them, which Bhabha terms as “ambivalence.”

Ambivalence and mimicry: the blurred boundary

The relationship between colonizer and colonized is ambivalent because the colonized subject is never simply and completely opposed to the colonizer, thereby challenging the authority of colonial domination. To secure the colonized in a fixed inferior position, the colonizer employs stereotypes and constantly repeats them, which points to a “lack” in the colonizer’s psyche, for the stereotype requires that the constitution of the colonizer’s identity, as the “self,” should depend on this potentially confrontational “Other.” Moreover, the colonizer’s identity is fractured and destabilized by the contradictory responses to the colonized ‘Other.’ This is manifested in a consistent pattern of conflict in colonial stereotypes: “The black is both savage and yet the most obedient and dignified of servants; he is the embodiment of rampant sexuality and yet innocent as a child; he is mystical, primitive, simple-minded and yet the most worldly and accomplished liar, and manipulator of social forces” (Bhabha 82).

This mixed mode of representation suggests the anxiety and ambivalence of the colonizer. Based on such a psyche, as a colonizing strategy, the discourse of mimicry reveals the most striking contradictions about colonialism: the Self at the center requires the Other to “normalize” itself by “repeating” the Self’s norms, values and behavior; however, the authority of the Self requires the distinction between itself and the Other be maintained, so that whatever gets repeated is repeated as something different (88-90). The problem for colonial discourse is that it wants to produce compliant subjects who reproduce its assumptions, habits and values – that is, “mimic” the colonizer. But instead it produces ambivalent subjects. When colonial discourse encourages the colonized subject to ‘mimic’ the colonizer, by adopting the colonizer’s cultural habits, assumptions, institutions and values, the result is never a simple reproduction of those traits. Rather, the result is a ‘blurred copy’ of the colonizer that can be quite threatening. This is because mimicry, as a “partial presence” (Bhabha 86), is never very far from mockery, since it can appear to parody whatever it mimics, namely, to subversively blur the binary opposition of white self and black other in the colonial discourse. Mimicry therefore locates a crack in the certainty of colonial dominance, an uncertainty in its control of the behavior of the colonized.

Mimicry as a subversive force

Bhabha says that “the menace of mimicry is its double vision which in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourse also disrupts its authority” and in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, excess and difference (110). In other words, the threatening force of mimicry does not necessarily emerge from some automatic opposition to colonial discourse (because that risks reconstructing the hierarchy in a reversal), but comes from this disruption of colonial authority. He clarifies that mimicry can be a subversive tool because in its slippage––in its production of imitators rather than real “Englishmen,” which means only a “partial” proliferation of belief systems––the power of the colonizer is undermined. In effect, there is a space between mimicry, which carries a respectful tone, and mockery, which seems more subversive and negative, in which the colonial subject threatens the colonial mission with (partial) lack in mimicry. Because the colonized are only the “partial-other” with a partial presence, the colonizer as the “partial-self” with a partial lack cannot successfully impart colonial beliefs on them.

For instance, Bhabha exemplifies that the Indians refuse to accept the Sacrament and question the authority of the Bible given by the British colonizer (116). They question that first, how can the word of God come from the flesh-eating mouths of the English? Second, how can it be the European Book, when we believe that it is God’s gift to us? Read as a masque of mimicry, this tale emerges as a question of colonial authority. The English book, as a sign of colonial power, in a sense, allows the colonized subjects to resist the oppression from the colonizer in terms of hybridization, a strategy of subversion. It indicates that the colonial presence is always ambivalent, split between its appearance as original and authoritative and its articulation as repetition and difference.

In short, the colonizer uses mimicry as a cultural suppressive strategy to regulate or normalize the colonized who on the surface accept this process of “civilization,” yet in fact, embedded in their acts of mimicry is their resistance to the cultural regulation of the colonizer. Mimicry as a post-colonial discourse becomes a parody full of irony, since once the mimicry starts, the representations resulting from this act will never be faithful to the mimicked ones, and at the same time, exerting counter-discursive power to deconstruct the authority of colonial discourse.

Tyson’s Misinterpretation of “Mimicry” in her Reading of The Great Gatsby

In her postcolonial reading of The Great Gatsby, Tyson has quite ambitiously studied three characters representing different groups of people: Nick the narrator, Gatsby the colonial subject, and Tom the culturally privileged. Nonetheless, when applying Bhabha’s notion of mimicry to analyze Gatsby, Tyson has obviously misinterpreted this concept in two aspects: first, without any discussion of the issue of race, “mimicry” is not used in the context of postcolonialism; second, even if it was related to race, mimicry in her explanation would not be what Bhabha means in post-colonial theory; that is, Tyson’s reading is still stuck in traditional binary oppositions and fails to have the ambivalent and destructive potential.

To start with, in order to justify her analysis, Tyson points out that theoretical “overlap” is quite common for a postcolonial interpretation, which draws on multiple other theories such as feminism, Marxism, etc. (432). There is no problem with such an approach, but the mixture of the other elements such as gender and class does not justify the absence of the issue of race, which sets postcolonial criticism apart from feminism and Marxism. In other words, any discussion without mentioning race cannot be taken as a postcolonial reading, and thus mimicry as part of a postcolonial theory makes little sense in such a context.

In Tyson’s analysis, the term of “colonial” (necessarily linking to race) is constantly replaced by a much broader concept “cultural” (not necessarily connected with race). For instance, Tyson states that The Great Gatsby “helps us understand colonial psychology from the viewpoint of the colonial subject, the cultural outsider who wants only to be accepted by the cultural elite [emphasis added]” (439). Yet Gatsby’s psychology analyzed by Tyson has nothing to do with (racial) colonization, but only class: Gatsby lacks “the proper bloodline, class origin, upbringing, and education for Daisy’s set” and that is the source of his so-called mimicry--“his elaborate attempt to imitate the dress, speech, behavior and lifestyle of the culturally privileged” (439).

Tyson also maintains that mimicry is inseparable from “unhomeliness,” and that “mimicry is an attempt to find a home, psychologically, by finding a culture to which one can feel one belongs [emphasis added]” (440). By the same token, the ambivalent term “culture” replaces that of “race,” and the feeling of unhomeliness is not from colonization but class distinction. In postcolonial criticism, the feeling of unhomeliness happens mostly to the diaspora writers, as the result of neither being accepted by one’s native country (considered as racially inferior), nor the country one has settled in. For example, Naipual who was born in Trinidad India once ruled by the British Empire gradually grows detached from his own country, yet when settled in England, he finds the nation very different from what he learned as a child. He longs for a nation which exists only in the past; therefore he can neither identify himself with England nowadays, nor can he be accepted by his native country. In short, “unhomeliness” in postcolonial criticism is generated by race difference, and results in failure to identify one’s national identity. Obviously, Gatsby does not have this emotional issue. He is alienated by the upper class, but has a clear national/racial identity; he identifies himself with the American style of life and thinking during the Jazz Age, so it’s more accurate to describe him as “unsituated” in the class hierarchy in American society, for he is too shameful of his family background to acknowledge his true origins and at the same time, unsuccessful to blend into his circle of high society friends no matter how hard he tried to look similar to its members. This feeling of belonging to nowhere is quite similar to postcolonial “unhomeliness” but should be clearly distinguished from it. In effect, the moment Tyson acknowledges “he [Gatsby] is white” (439), her argument about the colonial subject is bound to fail[1].

Furthermore, even if Tyson’s interpretation of the text was about race, the analysis would still be confined to the traditional self/other binary opposition, leaving out the poststructuralist subversive power of mimicry. She interprets the text as a reflection of “both the desire of colonized individuals to be accepted by the colonizing culture and the shame experienced by colonized individuals concerning their own culture” (421). In contrast, for Bhabha citing Lacan “the effect of mimicry is camouflage.... It is not a question of harmonizing with the background, but against a mottled background, of becoming mottled - exactly like the technique of camouflage practiced in human warfare (qtd. in Bhabha, 120-21).” It implies that mimicry is not as a simple concept as the willingness to be “accepted,” nor in harmony with the colonizers by assimilating into their dominant culture; but like a “camouflage” against a “mottled” rather than a pure white background. Ambivalence, rather than identification, is what gives colonial mimicry power, and in doing so the colonized can use it to subvert the colonial discourse. If we see mimicry merely as a desire to identify with the white self, as Tyson seems to argue, mimicry is no more than an “attempt to belong that is doomed to failure because, even if one succeeds in adopting the superior culture, one’s feelings of inferiority will ensure that one is never at home in it” (440). Such a misreading by Tyson results from her conviction that mimicry is a passive imitation. According to her, Gatsby “can’t be at home because it’s not his home: it’s a form of mimicry. And mimicry is too outer-directed to provide any space for one’s inner life” (441). As we can see, Tyson attempts to find a stable “home” for the protagonist to live in. She seems to suggest that home is something stable, situated in either pole: the home of the superior colonizer, or the home of the colonized. Nevertheless, the concept of “home” in postcolonialism is characterized by ambivalence, which means that the characters cannot really find a home to settle down in the traditional sense of the term.

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Gupta, Archana. “The role of ‘Mimicry’ in Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse with special reference to Homi Bhabha’s Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.” Irwle 9.2 (2013): 1-6. Print. 

Lynn Zastoupil and Martin Moir, ed., “Minute recorded in the General Department by Thomas Babington Macaulay, law member of the governor-general’s council, dated 2 February 1835,” in The Great Indian Education Debate: Documents relating to the Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy, 1781-1843 (London: Routledge, 1999), 171.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

 



[1]The same mistake has been made in her analysis of Nick and Tom, which is a combination of classism and sexism, neglecting the key element of race. For instance, Tyson maintains that the connection between “classism and colonial psychology is especially evident in the nature of Tom’s womanizing” (442), but ironically there is not even a word about race. And even if black people are mentioned, the ideology behind it is classism rather than colonialism: the sense of inferiority comes from the lack of fashionable dress rather than skin color. 

  评论这张
 
阅读(235)| 评论(0)
推荐

历史上的今天

在LOFTER的更多文章

评论

<#--最新日志,群博日志--> <#--推荐日志--> <#--引用记录--> <#--博主推荐--> <#--随机阅读--> <#--首页推荐--> <#--历史上的今天--> <#--被推荐日志--> <#--上一篇,下一篇--> <#-- 热度 --> <#-- 网易新闻广告 --> <#--右边模块结构--> <#--评论模块结构--> <#--引用模块结构--> <#--博主发起的投票-->
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

页脚

网易公司版权所有 ©1997-2017