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SOMETIME IN THE SPRING of 1984 a remarkable essay arrived at the offices of Critical Inquiry in Chicago: “Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority under a Tree outside Delhi, May 1817,” submitted for a special issue edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I can still recall the wonder I felt in reading those slightly overlong sheets of flimsy onionskin paper, typed with a manual typewriter. The author, Homi Bhabha, was unknown to me, and the topic—the arrival of the “English book” (scripture, literature, technology) at a scene of colonial reception—suddenly made my whole previous sense of “English literature” seem insular and provincial, even as it seemed to speak precisely from the provincial and colonial margins of English culture. Who was this strangely cosmopolitan writer, whose prose moved so effortlessly from Trinidad to the Congo to Delhi, across the disciplines of

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