Homi K. Bhabha

  • PROCESSIONAL ETHICS: WILLIAM KENTRIDGE’S MORE SWEETLY PLAY THE DANCE

    THE DAY DIES SUDDENLY in the heat of Bombay. The late breezes coming off the sea blow a shadowed light across a city that moves at the pace of its pedestrians—twenty-two million on the streets every day. Like nowhere else I have ever lived, the sound of feet marks the time of day, the mood of the hour. Small steps rushing to school in late morning; the dragging scrape of load-bearing men and women throughout the day; the shuffling thud and tread of bare feet everywhere, all the time. Late evening approaches and crowds slowly flatten into dark shapes moving against the last evening light;

  • WRITING THE VOID: LANGUAGE, IDENTITY, AND MIGRATION

    AMONG THE MANY VIRTUES and vituperations that course through Ta-Nehisi Coates’s cri de coeur Between the World and Me, there exists a quieter argument about the importance of enunciation—poetry, dialogue, the act of writing—in interrogating one’s own humanity and learning to think like a humanist. “Poetry was the processing of my thoughts,” Coates writes, “until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.” He continues:

    I had forgotten my own self-interrogations. . . . I was only beginning to learn to be wary of my own humanity, of my own hurt

  • IN CONVERSATION: DOMESTICITY AT WAR

    IN HER NEW BOOK, Domesticity at War, published by MIT Press this spring, architectural historian Beatriz Colomina writes that “war does not end but evolves, and so does architecture”—as does our fundamental experience of space, she might have added. Colomina’s study looks specifically at the cold-war era in the United States, where domestic environments in the wake of World War II were, she says, made totally modern both in material and mind-set—inscribed by military technologies being assimilated into daily life and by a changed awareness of global geopolitics requiring a normalization (or “

  • Edward Said

    When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it. A very rich, also very tragic, also in many ways desperate history of extremes . . . that is yet to receive its due.

    —Edward W. Said1

    THE UNTIMELINESS of Edward Said’s death was persistently mentioned in the press and poignantly remarked upon, again and again, by his friends. By the time he passed away in the early hours of September 25, Edward Said had survived a decade of disease, his leukemia always lying in wait for him, drenching

  • MAKING DIFFERENCE: THE LEGACY OF THE CULTURE WARS

    “Catch the spirit of the decade?” she said. “Like how?”

    “Maybe,” I urged her, pouring some fizzy water, “just think back . . .”

    At first it was easy. Dates. Times. Places. Facts. The whole Afghanistan business started with the Soviet invasion in December 1979 and Zbigniew Brzezinski exhorting the mujahideen in the early '80s to fight back in the name of their God. The space shuttle Columbia was launched in '81, followed some years later by the Challenger disaster—shades of our times. Qaddafi was the much feared terrorist czar of those days, the pre-Sadaam on everybody's wanted list. In

  • Reading 9-11-01

    IN THE DAYS immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, titles that promised answers in the face of the disaster threatened to keep retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch's straight-talking memoir out of the top slot on best-seller lists. Studies of the Taliban movement, Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, and the ill-fated twin towers themselves predictably climbed the charts, but according to the New York Times, king of the hill was Nostradamus: At the online bookshop Amazon.com, three editions of the prophesies of the sixteenth-century mystic, into whose

  • The art that inspired them in 2000

    Those of us who live and breathe contemporary art will hold to the idea that art does change, if not the world, then the way we live in it. But our “world” can be more insular than we care to admit. So to open our look back at 2000, we asked twenty-one “outsiders” we admire—from novelist J.G. Ballard to musician John Zorn—to tell us about the art that inspired them this year.

    Dave Eggers (novelist)

    About a year ago, I saw Marcel Dzama’s stuff in zingmagazine and fell madly in love. Then his show at David Zwirner just killed me. A hundred or so drawings (bears with handguns, whale-men

  • BEST OF THE ’90s: BOOKS

    Homi K. Bhabha: The times are out of joint, perhaps never more so than when we are seduced by that decade-end desire to say, One last time, what was the great work of the ’90s? The ’90s began in the late late ’80s with the big bang of The Satanic Verses, and the decade dribbles on with small arms sniping around an elephant-dung madonna. In between times, we realize how powerful is the appeal to religious orthodoxy; how insecure our sense of the secular; how fragile any idea of global cultural understanding; how the politics of art rarely lies in the artifice itself, but all around it, in the

  • whiteness studies

    IT’S REMARKABLE HOW MUCH we express our political lives in the language of color—conservatives with blue, radicals with red, queers with pink, liberals with lilac; Indian Congress Party patriots de rigueur in white, African Nationalists in black, red, and green, avant-garde apparatchiks, unfortunately like fascists, in black. The lesson of this political palette may indeed go beyond flags and festoons. In the visual display of colors lie those “shades of opinion” that modern democratic societies see as their saving grace. But there is something even more significant about the association of

  • Diana's Subjects

    A PHONE CALL FROM a friend in Milan brought the news that Gianni Versace had been shot in Miami. On Lake Como, where we spent some weeks this summer, an hour away from the Versace estate near Cernobbio and the resting place for his ashes, his tragic death was at once an incessant and evanescent item in the international news, and at the same time, a very local affair.

    “Gay-boom-boom,” said Franca, the perfumed and petite woman who cuts my hair, the next day, acting out the curbside assassination, horrified and hungry to talk.

    “A beautiful son of the lakes,” I said piously and provocatively, testing

  • Hybridity

    Whose house is this?

    Whose night keeps out the light

    In here?

    Say, who owns this house?

    It’s not mine. I had another, sweeter, brighter

    With a view of lakes crossed in painted boats;

    Of fields wide as arms open for me.

    This house is strange.

    Its shadows lie.

    Say, tell me, why does its lock fit my key?

    —Toni Morrison, “Whose House is This?” 1992

    WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be at home in the world? Home may not be where the heart is, nor even the hearth. Home may be a place of estrangement that becomes the necessary space of engagement; it may represent a desire for accommodation marked by an attitude of

  • Ebonics

    [Gary Dauphin]: So Black English is for secret stuff?

    Reesie: It’s not secret secret. But it’s private.

    —“Schoolyard Sages: New York City School Kids Weigh In on Ebonics,” The Village Voice

    RETURNING THIS WINTER to Chicago from Bombay with the sweet singsong of my native Bombay Bazaar English still sounding in my ears, I’m confronted with the latest American cultural brouhaha—the Ebonic plague. Like my friend and quasi-compatriot Mr. Rushdie, I am now quite convinced that writing about something can actually make it happen—to you. So there I am, Ms. Respected Reader, Dear Madam, as we are politely

  • The Sokal Text Scandal

    HISTORICAL COINCIDENCES CAN HARDLY compare with the strange synchronies Nature sometimes throws up. Think back to last spring and summer, try to take a binational view, and wonder aloud why, suddenly, on both sides of the Atlantic the air is heavy with the unpronounceable words and mystifying acronyms of the Science Wars. March in London, and even the crocuses are going crazy. There is something rotten in the beef of Olde England (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE, more prosaically known as Mad Cow Disease), and while the politicians are desperately hiding behind the latest scientific “

  • Victim Art

    THERE WOULD SEEM TO BE NO reason in the world why readers of Artforum should want to hear about Professor Harish Chandra, chairman of the Literature Department of the University of Pataniganj—a small cantonment town, 350 dusty, derelict miles from Bombay, where the oranges are sweeter than almost anywhere in India. But the kind of “connectivity” that comes with the entanglements of E-mail turns us all into vernacular cosmopolitans, and it is unwise, anymore, to presume we know where the center lies and where the periphery falls. And there is another reason: like the U.S., the University of

  • Culture’s In Between

    A RECENT CHANGE in the writing of cultural criticism has left the prose plainer, less adorned with the props of the argument’s staging. Where once “scare quotes” festooned the text with the frequency of garlands at an Indian wedding, there is now a certain sobriety to semiotic and post-Structuralist celebrations. The “isms” and “alities”—those tails that wagged the dogma of critical belief—no longer wave new paradigms or problematics into being. The death of the author, or the interral of intention, are occurrences that arouse no more scandal than the sight of a hearse in a Palermo suburb.

  • DOUBLE VISIONS: “CIRCA 1492”

    AS YOU ENTER the first gallery of “Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration,” your Acoustiguide—J. Carter Brown himself, the director of the National Gallery—leads you to a cabinet of late-medieval treasures: an ostrich egg, brought to Europe from North Africa in classical antiquity, and turned into a gold jug sometime in the 14th century; a rock-crystal elephant, carved in India in the 15th century, caparisoned with gold and enamel mounts somewhere in Europe during the 16th century, and made up as a salt cellar. In these exotic transformations, wide geographical distances conjure cunningly

  • The Power of the Text

    SALMAN RUSHDIE HAS PUBLISHED, and he has been damned. To be damned now is to be handed a death sentence by a head of state and to have a million-dollar tag on your life. To be damned is to see your own people, Indians and Pakistanis, die in the streets. It is also a kind of damnation to find that your words are remembered only for their doubt and disbelief, and not for their faith and commitment to the cause of racial justice; to the world of the migrant and the exile; to the erasure of simplistic cultural boundaries between Self and Other, East and West, myth and modernity.

    The Satanic Verses