Homi Bhabha (1949-)
Key Figures in Literary Theory
Homi Bhabha was born in Bombay, India, a member of the ancient Parsi community there. He studied at the University of Bombay, where he received his BA, and at Oxford University, where he completed his doctorate. He has held teaching positions at several English universities and at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Chicago. He is now Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Humanities Center.
Bhabha’s analysis of colonial relations owed much to the work of Frantz Fanon, especially his theories of racial difference and mimicry, Jacque Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Lacan. His first major work, an edited volume of essays, Nation and Narration, brought together a wide variety of theorists who challenged the Enlightenment conception of nationalism and nationality and questioned the possibility of an ESSENTIALIST or UNIVERSALIST idea of the nation. Bhabha’s contribution to the debate, “DissemiNation: Time, Narrative, and the Margins of the Modern Nation,” used the tools of Poststructuralism, specifically Foucault’s theories of power and discourse, to critique the Enlightenment tradition of historicism and to develop a theory of emergence to account for the wide variety of nations and nationalist movements. The Location of Culture, a collection of Bhabha’s essays from the 1980s and early ’90s, was an immense success and has remained influential in Postcolonial Studies. Bhabha advanced the concepts of HYBRIDITY and MIMICRY, which
refer to the conditions of AMBIVALENCE that characterize colonial relations and colonial discourse. In the act of mimicry, the colonial subject inhabits and revises the “colonialist script,” using it to express anti-colonial sentiments, even to serve as the rallying cry of insurrection. In the decade since the publication of The Location of Culture, Bhabha has continued to publish controversial works, but his reputation, powerful and wide-ranging, rests on a single collection of often brilliant essays.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.
---- , ed. Nation and Narration. London: Routledge, 1990.
---- . “Postcolonial Criticism.” Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Studies. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: MLA, 1992. 437-65.