2 Marginal Positions: Constructing Cultural Differences on Various 'Posts'

Framing aesthetics

Being marginalised cannot be reduced simply to a struggle between oppressor and oppressed in which the latter remains utterly passive. In their spatially conceived representation of exclusionary gestures, margins have always been ambiguous signs which have served to frame the centre in terms of indictment as well as approbation. This point is raised in all its complexity in Derrida's essay 'The Parergon', which examines the terrain of aesthetic judgement by means of a reading of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment, by way of Martin Heidegger. After pondering the nature of parerga (ornamentation), and specifically the drapery surrounding statues, Derrida moves to consider the columns adjacent to buildings, and from thence to the concept of the border or frame. This process raises fundamental questions about what is excluded and what included in the operation of aesthetic judgement. First, how is the object defined in terms of its relevant constituent elements, and then how is it evaluated? As Derrida puts it:

No 'theory', no 'practice', no 'theoretical practice' can be effective here if it does not rest on the frame, the invisible limit of (between) the interiority of meaning (protected by the entire hermeneutic, semiotic, phenomenological, and formalist tradition) and (of) all the extrinsic empiricals which, blind and illiterate, dodge the question . . . Every analytic of aesthetic judgment presupposes that we can rigorously distinguish between the intrinsic and the extrinsic. (Derrida, 1979:24---6)

Later he refers to the 'violence of framing'. The rationale for this procedure is precisely the underlying logic of classic deconstruction, which posits that the elements excluded in the analytical process are the conditions of its possibilities. Thus the exclusions or marginalisation of certain writings in fact frame the conditions of existence of those other writings which are included or endorsed by the analytical process. 'Framing always sustains and contains that which, by itself, collapses forthwith' (ibid.:36). It is in this sense that 'ethnic minority writing' may be said to 'frame' Australian literature. The discussion of the frame may be seen as a variation on (or adjunct to) the concept of the supplement, which has proved helpful for those interested in theorising a legitimate place and role for marginalised or minority cultural productions. But it is necessary to move from this abstract meta-level to the particular, even though this means taking a route through the universal.

Universal culture

The question of a common cultural literacy for the Anglophone world is much debated in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. English has become the language not only of those who comprise but also of those who aspire to be part of the advanced capitalist world. Those in the market for buying English language teaching waver between the desirability of the American-accented or British-accented versions. The cultural embeddings of this language are a related issue. 'Will English survive without Shakespeare?' trumpet the daily papers whenever curriculum reform is being debated. Since the answer to this is obviously affirmative at one level, 'Shakespeare' clearly functions here as a signifier of English (in the sense of specifically British) civilisation.

But how does one begin to approach this question of a desirable cultural literacy, embedded as it is in assumptions about the cohesiveness of national cultures? What should every (English-speaking) child know? Can ex-Commonwealth countries like Australia afford to dilute the British cultural legacy with those other cultural traditions which inform the backgrounds of one in four, or even one in three, of the Australian population? Will this allow them to have the same chances in later life, and equip them for the tough economic struggle which lies ahead? It may be that this is a spurious way of putting it, but consider the following questions. Why and when are certain cultures given a universal status, and what are the implications of this, for themselves and for other cultures? To what extent can we make room for competing cultures within a national framework? How can we represent the cultural difference of the 'other' without appropriating it?

Civilised (male) subjects

the history of the concept of man is never questioned. Everything takes place as though the sign 'man' has no origin, no historical, cultural, linguistic limit, not even a metaphysical limit. (Derrida,1969:35)

The notion of 'universal man' has received such a battering in the latter half of this century that we cannot invoke it quite so easily as pundits in previous eras used to do (Eagleton, 1991). The concept of a transcendent and unified human subject as the origin of meaning dates back to René Descartes ('I think therefore I am') and the Enlightenment (Grosz, 1990; Rothfield, 1990). Furthermore, in the last few decades philosophers such as Jean-François Lyotard (1984) have defined our current episteme, the postmodern, in terms of a loss of faith in meta narratives. Such developments come in the wake of Jacques Derrida's demonstration that western epistemology is based on a metaphysics of presence and a logocentrism in which speech is privileged over writing (see Norris, 1982).

In other words, in the last two decades or so certain frames that represent dominant ways of thought have been made visible. The corollary is that the same process has exposed those elements hitherto excluded or on the margins, and whose existence makes possible both the dominant and the norm. Feminism's analyses of patriarchy were among the first to take advantage of this new turn in philosophy. In Genevieve Lloyd's work, for instance, the concept of reason itself is revealed to be predicated on a masculinist model (Lloyd,1984; see also Grosz, 1989; Jardine, 1985). The critique of White dominance by critics involved in Black studies (Dyer, 1988) is a further example of such critiques. In Australia, analyses of the marginalisation of both Aboriginal and non-Anglo-Celtic Australians have also benefited from these new developments in philosophy. These varying interrogations of the 'standard' and the 'measure' have undermined the Enlightenment construction of the human subject as transcendent, fully conscious and rational (Belsey, 1985; Henriques, 1984).

One of the meta narratives targeted by Lyotard (1989) is that apparently paradoxical notion of the universal history of Western civilisation. This supposedly universal account, which is of course quite culturally specific, has provided the model for various narratives of national culture, including Australia's own. Paradoxically, and once again, certain specific national cultures are traditionally seen as emblematic of Western civilisation--France, the UK, and the US. It may not surprise us to note that they are all colonial powers. Indeed, one of the most productive areas of critical analysis in the last decade has been the examination of links between various allegedly trans national imperial projects and their very specific national starting-points (Said, 1993).

Edward Said, a Palestinian and Professor of English at Columbia University in New York, has significantly shaped contemporary debates around imperialism and culture. His own landmark work, Orientalism (1979), looks at the ways in which the 'Orient' exists primarily (perhaps even exclusively) as a projection and confirmation of the West, functioning to condone the West's treatment and exploitation of those diverse cultures it traditionally homogenises under this inadequate term. Said's study highlights the fact that representation itself--that crucially mediated way in which we construct and interpret reality--always contains a kind of violence, in the sense that it involves selections and exclusions which are carried out from certain positions and perspectives whose operations are usually rendered invisible:

Certainly representation, or more particularly the act of representing (and hence reducing) others, almost always involves a violence of some sort to the subject of representation, as well as a contrast between the violence of the act of representing something and the calm exterior of the representation itself, the image--verbal, visual, or otherwise--of the subject . . . What we must eliminate are systems of representation that carry with them the kind of authority which . . . has been repressive because it doesn't permit or make room for interventions on the part of those represented. (Said, 1990: 94---5)

Thus the fictions or narratives with which we make sense of the world are subject to all the contradictory codes inherent in textuality. This is not to argue that there is no reality outside textuality, but merely to point out that many of our perceptions come to us 'textualised' as representations in some form or other. When considering the central role of representation, it is useful to recall that we use the term in at least two senses: representation as 'depiction' and representation as 'delegation', that is, when someone represents a group or an individual (Spivak, 1988:276; Julien and Mercer, 1988:4). Increasingly over the last two decades, critics who are delegates for marginal or minority groups have attempted to focus on those hitherto invisible lineaments of the West, namely Western metaphysics and material practices. 'The hegemony implicit in the phrase, "the Western tradition" ', notes Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1987:32), 'primarily reflects material relationships, and not so-called universal, transcendent, normative judgments. Judgment is specific, both culturally and temporally' .

For instance, in analysing the attributes of the West as continuous with White hegemony, Richard Dyer (1988:45---7) describes the power of whiteness as its ability to be both no colour and all colours, so that it apparently avoids or transcends the typical, and comes to represent the full diversity of human experience. Those who represent whiteness, in both senses, are rarely seen as doing this. Developing further this concept of an invisible norm, Robert Young (1990:19) states that 'postmodernism can best be defined as European culture's awareness that it is no longer the unquestioned and dominant centre of the world'. Young's book anatomises the imbrication of White civilisation with concepts of universalism. The guiding question which informs both his own work and that of the critics he summarises is how to change this focus on 'white mythologies'. How do we represent other cultures in such a way as to avoid 'mastering' or appropriating them? A variety of answers is provided by Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and others whose work is described below.

The problem of representing (in both senses) alterity has dominated post-structuralist and postmodernist thought, particularly in relation to political agendas. In this respect it is useful to note Homi Bhabha's comments on an often invoked binary opposition, the relation of theoretical to political practices:

The function of theory within the political process becomes two-edged. It makes us aware that our political referents and priorities--the people, the community, class struggle, anti-racism, gender difference, the assertion of an anti-imperialist, black or third-world perspective--are not 'there' in some primordial naturalistic sense. Nor do they reflect a unitary or homogeneous political object. (Bhabha, 1988:11)


In order to relativise the universalist tendency to assume centrist positions of power and truth, how can we accommodate difference without appropriating the 'other', whether that other is female or someone from a non-Western or non-English-speaking culture (bearing in mind that these terms too are highly reductive)? Recent emancipatory movements are characterised by their frequent references to the 'other', as in relations of women to men, Blacks to Whites, or working class to middle class. What is noticeable is that this oft-invoked 'other' usually occupies a subjugated position. Even (or perhaps particularly) those intellectual endeavours which purport to analyse and deconstruct such relations are often predicated in fact on their maintenance. The impulse toward mastery, the nexus between knowledge and power, is a sustaining one (Foucault, 1979, 1980).

A disciplinary area where this is most easily exemplified is anthropology, which is traditionally the place in which one culture is scrutinised and summed up by another. Recently, post-structuralist upheavals have occurred in this discipline also, and critics such as James Clifford articulate the problem of alterity and ethnocentrism succinctly in the statement, 'we have history, they have myth' (Clifford et al., 1987:125). Abdul JanMohammed and David Lloyd point out that 'minority individuals are always treated and forced to experience themselves generically' (JanMohammed and Lloyd, 1987:10), that is, they are excluded automatically from claiming universality (see also Trinh, 1989; Chow, 1989:161). Gayatri Spivak (1990) offers a sustained analysis of the many ways in which, by this process, the all-knowing analyst remains supposedly neutral and invisible, and therefore in a position of immense power. This point is echoed by Nancy Hartsock (1987:195): 'the creation of the Other is simultaneously the creation of the transcendent and omnipotent theoriser who can persuade himself that he exists outside time and space and power relations'. Here is a terse statement of what it means to exist as other:

But can you even imagine what it is to live in a culture, and live as one of that culture, which owes nothing to, say, Christendom and Christian ethics and the history and legends and traditions of Western civilization? Imagine rethinking all your language and all your exchanges and encounters, all your greetings and your jokes and your insults. And above all imagine having to do this, having to do this in the face of the arrogance of a culture which has not only ruled much of the world but also finds it inconceivable that a culture formerly its subject and slave might possess anything even resembling knowledge, let alone wisdom.

(Sivaramakrishnan, 1989:6)

Literary criticism forms part of this analytical hegemony, which is analysed by Edward Said (1984a) as following two trajectories: the sacred and the secular. The sacred seeks to fill the gap left by the decline of religion in the modernist era, in the traditional sense that we have models of truth sustained by acts of faith. We have erected, says Said, a new 'religiosity in criticism', a class of priests promulgating a sacred language which excludes non-initiates. It also excludes an awareness of the specific historical and material conditions which produce certain texts and certain readings; in other words, the process involved in interpretation becomes transparently an act of faith accepted by the congregation of readers. Such 'expertise is therefore supposed to be unaffected by its institutional affiliations with power' (Said,1983:152; see also Said, 1987:140---1).

In Orientalism Said (1979) exemplifies the other trajectory, secular criticism, when he traces the history of a sustained construction of otherness (see particularly ch. 1). About a decade later he reformulated his project in this study as being not

a defense either of the Arabs or of Islam--as my book was taken by many to be--my argument was that neither existed except as 'communities of interpretation' which gave them existence, and that, like the Orient itself, each designation represented interests, claims, projects, ambitions and rhetorics that were not only in violent disagreement, but were in a situation of open warfare. So saturated with meanings, so overdetermined by history, religion and politics are labels like 'Arab' or 'Muslim' as subdivisions of 'The Orient' that no one today can use them without some attention to the formidable polemical mediations that screen the objects, if they exist at all, that the labels designate . . . The Orient was therefore not Europe's interlocutor, but its silent Other. (Said,1985:16---7)

Now, in the wake of this study, the 'Orient' and the culturally marginalised the world over have indeed become the interlocutors of the West, as exemplified in the title of a recent study in post-colonial literature, The Empire Writes Back (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin,1989).

Following Said's endeavours, Homi Bhabha departs from his precursor and to some degree provides a critique of aspects of Said's work, notably in relation to the over-simplification of the supposed binary opposition between coloniser and colonised (Young, 1990:ch. 8). This has implications for the question of locating agency in bringing about social change. In other words, what is the nexus between critical analysis and social change? According to Robert Young's critique, Bhabha himself does not answer this in terms of an easily apprehended politics of change; that is, his readings of the texts of colonialism (particularly those related to India) reveal their covert subversions but do not make clear how or when these were examples or acts of rebellion. Put another way, how do they differ from other deconstructive or psychoanalytic readings which function to unravel any text?

Using psychoanalytic techniques of textual interpretation, particularly in his early essays, Bhabha concentrates on undoing the monological and unisonant authority of colonial discourse. Assuming as the basis of its power that it can fully define knowledge, it produces 'otherness' as stereotypes or the fixing of difference; and its implication in psychoanalytic economies of fantasy and desire is illustrated by an emphasis on that 'scopic' drive which reproduces the colonised as the object of the colonising gaze, 'the look'. For example, writing of Fanon's importance in the critique of colonialism, Bhabha states: 'The black presence ruins the representative narrative of Western personhood . . . The white man's eyes break up the black man's body and in the act of epistemic violence its own frame of reference is transgressed, its field of vision disturbed' (1990c:185). Stereotypes are seen here not simply as false images but as a process of constituting difference as though it were transfixed and paralysed by full knowledge:

The objective of colonial discourse is to construe the colonised as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction . . . Colonial discourse produces the colonised as a fixed reality which is at once an 'other' and yet entirely knowable and visible. (Bhabha, 1983b:23, 33)

In sum, colonial discourse is 'one powerful nation writing out another' (Bhabha, 1985b:74), a movement back and forth between visibility and invisibility. There is no simple division here into a binary opposition between coloniser and colonised--the two are locked into each other:

The Nationalist critic, caught in the problematic of image analysis, speaks against one stereotype but essentially, and inevitably, for another. The static nature of 'stereotype-analysis'--which is the image caught outside the process of the text--demands that the derogatory stereotype must be replaced by positive ('Nationalist') images, which oppose the undifferentiating liberal humanist discourse of Universalism . . . In shattering the mirror of representation, and its range of Western bourgeois social and psychological 'identifications', the spectacle of colonial fantasy sets itself up as an 'uncanny' double. (Bhabha, 1984a:105, 119)

Just as post-colonial history in general takes place in a scheme adjacent to 'universal' history, so the post-colonial moment, argues Bhabha, is caught in a different time-scheme from that which governs the metropolitan centre; there is always a time-lag involved. This in turn leads post-colonial subjects to perform their inevitable exclusion from humanist discourses in repetitive stagings or performances that mark the process. In opening up modernity to post-colonial translations, one needs to look for the petits récits (those 'minor narratives' as distinct from the grands récits analysed by Lyotard) as well as for supplementary sites, moments and events.

Another critic often associated with Said and Bhabha in the post-colonial enterprise is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Her concept of the 'native informant' as the 'self-confirming other' of Western civilisation (1988:284) provides a further perspective on the problem of alterity. Spivak (1983; 1986; 1987) also tackles, in ways that neither Said nor Bhabha do, the question of sexual difference as a crucial element in these positionings . Spivak came to fame as the translator of Derrida's Of Grammatology (1974), and continues to focus on Derrida's political significance in the face of critiques that deconstruction is somehow intrinsically apolitical. Always careful to analyse her own project and her own positioning, she might be described as offering a mixture of feminism, deconstruction and Marxism.

National cultures: Englishness/English studies

But what happens when we move from the wide-angled perspective of imperialism to a focus on the national? Edward Said has defined nationalism in the following way:

Nationalism is an assertion of belonging in and to a place, a people, a heritage. It affirms the home created by a community of language, culture and customs; and, by so doing, it fends off exile, fights to prevent its ravages. Indeed, the interplay between nationalism and exile is like Hegel's dialectic of servant and master, opposites informing and constituting each other. All nationalisms in their early stages develop from a condition of estrangement. The struggles to win American independence, to unify Germany or Italy, to liberate Algeria were those of national groups separated--exiled--from what was construed to be their rightful way of life. Triumphant, achieved nationalism then justifies, retrospectively as well as prospectively, a history selectively strung together in a narrative form: thus all nationalisms have their founding fathers, their basic, quasi-religious texts, their rhetoric of belonging, their historical and geographical landmarks, their official enemies and heroes. This collective ethos forms what Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist, calls the habitus, the coherent amalgam of practices linking habit with inhabitance. (Said, 1984b:162)

Another recent critic, already mentioned, who has been influential in setting up the ways in which we read the story of a culture, of a nation, is Benedict Anderson.

All the great classical communities conceived of themselves as cosmically central, through the medium of a sacred language linked to a superterrestial order of power . . . In fact the deader the written language--the farther it was from speech--the better: in principle everyone has access to a pure world of signs. (Anderson, 1991:13)

Anderson develops a concept of 'imagined communities' as ways of organising a national culture on various levels. This has influenced the analysis of English studies in relation to Englishness, in various parts of the Anglophone world. Also relevant here is Eric Hobsbawm's notion of an 'invented tradition', defined as 'a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past' (Hobsbawm, 1983:1).

An apt illustration of the invention of tradition is described in The Function of Criticism (1984), where Terry Eagleton traces the development during the eighteenth century of a 'public sphere' in which the bourgeoisie established themselves in opposition to the aristocratic state as an assembly marked by a civilised consensus exemplified in such journals as the Tatler and the Spectator. In the wake of the decline, this century, of this lucid and participatory model of analysis and debate, Eagleton argues that it is necessary to construct a counter-public sphere in which the role of the critic should be that of 're-connecting the symbolic to the political'. The public sphere comprises a series of discursive formations which legitimise and institutionally endorse a set of cultural practices. A counter-public sphere, on the other hand, qualifies and interrogates such authorisations by means of rational critique. An example of such a counter-public sphere, Eagleton suggests, is the women's movement. The Australian critic Andrew Milner (1985), drawing on the work of both Perry Anderson and Ben Anderson, as well as Eagleton, suggests that in Australia one of the totalising discourses of the public sphere has been located in history rather than in Leavisite literary criticism, which is what Perry Anderson (1968) had argued with respect to England. But let us consider further the nature and implications of public and counter-public spheres.

Postcolonial critiques

Edward Said (1984b:159) has suggested that 'modern Western culture is in large part the work of exiles, émigrés, refugees': in other words, it is the work of those who are separated implicitly from a notional public sphere. From this starting-point Said, in contrast to Eagleton, develops the notion of the critic as an exile imbued with 'contrapuntal' awareness, a term he borrows from music to indicate a productive tension resulting from a type of double vision. In an interview two years later, Said (1986) sets up this kind of critic in opposition to that theological mode of criticism discussed above. The critic as exile exemplifies a concept of criticism based on geography rather than history; it is a matter of overlapping and contested terrains rather than the search for a sacred originating point.

The development of post-colonialism has enabled those who are not part of the dominant and universalising culture to occupy a space from which to interrogate that very concept, and to put in its place a relativism in which cultural difference points to those varieties of subject-position which are part of all textual production. For example, Gayatri Spivak has formulated the concept of 'regulative psychobiographies'. By this she refers to those

model narratives that give 'meaning' to our readings of ourselves and others. We are used to working with variations on, critiques of, and substitutions for, the narratives of Oedipus and Adam. What narratives produce the signifiers of the subject for other traditions? Always in a confrontation and complicity with the epistemic re-constitution of the subject-in-imperialism, traces of this psycho-biography can be found in the indigenous legal tradition, in the scriptures, and, of course, in myth. (Spivak, 1989a: 227)

She traces such psychobiographies in her work on suicide/sati (Spivak,1985; 1988; see also Mani, 1985). Spivak distinguishes between post-colonialism and neo-colonialism as a way of drawing attention to the fact that colonialism is still operating, since the advanced capitalist nations quite clearly continue to exploit the Third World materially. This exploitation is supported by various regimes of representation and interpretation that constitute what she calls 'worlding' (Spivak, 1985; 1986b; 1990; see also her analyses of the subaltern, 1987: ch. 12, and 1988).

Another strategy within post-colonialism has been to develop the concept of cultural difference alongside more familiar analytical categories such as class and gender. Spivak (1987:254) does this when she states that 'knowledge is made possible and sustained by irreducible difference, not identity', and again when she develops the notion (derived from Derrida) of the 'complete other' as distinct from the 'self-confirming other' (Spivak, 1988; see also Trinh, 1989:28ff.). Homi Bhabha has also been particularly useful in developing this concept of cultural difference, notably in relation to the difficulties of extricating such a critical category from its complicity with prevailing power structures:

In order to be institutionally effective as a discipline, the knowledge of cultural difference must be made to foreclose on the Other; the 'Other' thus becomes at once the 'fantasy' of a certain cultural space or, indeed, the certainty of a form of theoretical knowledge that deconstructs the epistemological 'edge' of the West. More significantly, the site of cultural difference becomes the mere phantom of a dire disciplinary struggle in which it has no space or power . . . However impeccably the content of an 'other' culture may be known, however anti-ethnocentrically it is represented, it is its location as the 'closure' of grand theories, the demand that, in analytical terms, it be always the 'good' object of knowledge, the docile body of difference, that reproduces a relation of domination and is the most serious indictment of the institutional powers of literary theory. (Bhabha, 1988:16)

It is illuminating to examine further some of the other concepts Bhabha develops in relation to his larger project of mapping the parameters of cultural difference. Particularly influential have been his concepts of 'incommensurability', 'hybridity' (1990d:211, 1990a; 1991b), 'mimicry', and what he terms 'sly civility' (1984b, 1985a, 1985b). For example, by looking at the discourses of civility emanating not simply from the West in general but from the British empire in particular, he illustrates the ways in which in various contexts 'God' is equated not invariably with Englishness (Bhabha, 1985a). In developing these concepts, Bhabha focuses not on binary oppositions but on what he calls 'hybridity' (ibid.:174ff.). This term avoids the mutually stabilising effect of binary representation; he does not see it as passively reflective of socio-political relations. Instead, 'hybridity' emphasises that representation both produces such relations and structures the potential for meaning (Bhabha, 1984a:100). Bhabha emphasises cultural difference instead of cultural diversity, because 'diversity' is a conservative concept: often it simply comprises that spectacle of the exotic (Bhabha, 1988) which is consumed by hegemonic power relations and sustains them. Cultural difference, on the other hand, incorporates and draws attention to incommensurabilities not only between but also within cultures--in other words, to their essential untranslatability.

Following in the footsteps of Said, Bhabha and Spivak comes Tim Brennan's study of Salman Rushdie (Brennan, 1989). Brennan distinguishes usefully between the postmodernist writer (as categorised by dominant institutional structures) and what he calls 'Third-World cosmopolitans'. These are energetic exiles who use some of the techniques associated with postmodernism, and whose work functions as a constant critique of nationalist and imperialist projects, thereby foregrounding their politics in ways not always associated with adherents of postmodernism. Rushdie himself is also highly articulate about his own position in these debates, as is illustrated in his collection of essays (Rushdie, 1991). He has become of course a prime example of the ways in which cultural work is embedded inevitably in political contexts over which the author has no automatic control.

Trinh T. Minh-ha, a Vietnamese cinematographer and academic now resident in the US, has developed a related theory of post-colonial difference. This emphasises the positioning of women in these debates as well as questions related to oral story-telling, which is usually accorded an inferior status in cultural hierarchies. Other directions in recent studies have focused on the way in which in the new era of advanced capitalism the Third World is mined as much for its cultural as for its more obviously material resources. As Barbara Harlow puts it, Western theory creates a new international division of labour, 'whereby the cultural raw materials are mined in the Third World and delivered to the manufacturing and processing centers of the First World where they are transformed into commodities consumed by an educated elite' (Harlow, 1989:168; see also Kaplan, 1987). Said's warning (1989:213) against the ways in which difference is ominously and consistently transformed into a spectacle is worth recalling here. So too is Kum-Kum Sangari's account of modernism as contemporaneous with the classification of various cultures as 'Third World' (Sangari, 1987; for a critique of some of these theorists see Porter, 1983; Parry, 1987; and Young, 1990).

Minority cultures/ literatures

While post-colonialism represents a clear example of cultural criticism emanating in part from minority perspectives, it is not the only one. Black studies is another such case: now fitting to some extent into post-colonialism, it predates the general use of the term, and is not entirely subsumed by it. Another example is the feminist enterprise, which has also undergone many changes. Under the influence of recent post-colonial feminism of the sort exemplified by the work of Spivak and Trinh, feminism has also had to come to terms with versions of itself as an orthodoxy. It has had to deal with critiques emanating from minority groups of women, who have felt marginalised by what was seen initially by those who practised it as a powerful and unified criticism of hegemonic and centrist enterprises (Gunew 1990b; Gunew and Yeatman, 1993).

The term 'minority literatures' is usually associated with the work of Deleuze and Guattari (1986), and especially their study of Kafka who, as a Jew writing in Prague, is perceived as exemplifying the category. Summarising their work, David Lloyd characterises a minor literature in the following manner:

Any definition of 'minor' writing is obliged to take into account its oppositional status vis-à-vis canonical or major literature . . . Deleuze and Guattari . . . differentiate a literature of minorities written in a 'minority' language from a minor literature which would be that of minorities composed in a major language. For 'minor literature' is so termed in relation to the major canon, and its characteristics are defined in opposition to those which define canonical writing. To enumerate them briefly . . . the characteristics of a minor literature would involve the questioning or destruction of the concepts of identity and identification, the rejection of representations of developing autonomy and authenticity, if not the very concept of development itself, and accordingly a profound suspicion of narratives of reconciliation and unification. (Lloyd, 1987:173)

Other theorists of minority perspectives have been quite critical of this work (Kaplan, 1987). The minority perspective involves, as Said also points out, not only the construction of a new or counter-canon, but also the question of how the current ones function (Said, 1986:8; cf. Spivak, 1987:ch. 10). Minority discourse is thus not simply an oppositional or counter-discourse: it also undoes the power of dominant discourses to represent themselves as universal.

As a result of the making of these distinctions, other theorists have responded by developing a variety of strategies. Stuart Hall (1987; 1990), for example, concentrates on the notion of 'positionality', and relates this to a careful redefinition of 'ethnicity'. The responsibility for cultural translation involves learning to listen rather than to speak, and learning to speak to rather than for others (Spivak, 1987:135). Here once again Bhabha's notion of alertness to the incommensurable within cultures is important: 'it is the articulation through incommensurability that structures all narratives of identification, and all acts of cultural translation' (Bhabha, 1990b:313---9; see also Bhabha 1988, 1990d). He describes the turning of boundaries into in-between spaces available for purposes of negotiation. This is not unlike what Said suggests when he privileges geography rather than history (or space rather than time). Bhabha also suggests that

the marginal or 'minority' is not the space of a celebratory, or utopian, self-marginalization. It is a much more substantial intervention into those justifications of modernity--progress, homogeneity, cultural organicism, the deep nation, the long past--that rationalize the authoritarian, 'normalizing' tendencies within cultures in the name of the national interest or the ethnic prerogative. (Bhabha, 1990b:4)

Gayatri Spivak and other commentators on the positioning of post-colonial 'minority' women alert us to the need for what could now be called hegemonic or orthodox feminism to deconstruct its own authoritarian and racist assumptions (see Spivak, 1987:ch. 12; Carby, 1982, 1986; Mohanty, 1988; Trinh, 1989). As Trinh puts it in relation to the dilemma faced by 'women of colour': ' The precarious line we walk on is one that allows us to challenge the West as authoritative subject of feminist knowledge, while also resisting the terms of binarist discourse that would concede feminism to the West all over again' (Trinh,1 990:68; see also 1990a:7).


Like Spivak (1987:107, 1989b), Trinh (1989;1992) also points constantly to the dangers of tokenism, which occurs when certain spokespeople for the marginal are consistently singled out as fully representative of those constituencies.

In the US and the UK as well as in Africa, Black culture, in its many manifestations, has been theorised in a variety of ways. Stuart Hall has used this example to make more general points about the crucial factor of positionality in all constructions of subjectivity. 'The term ethnicity', he writes, 'acknowledges the place of history, language and culture in the construction of subjectivity and identity, as well as the fact that all discourse is placed, positioned, situated, and all knowledge is contextual' ( Hall, 1987: 29).


Situated knowledge: The local

Current emphases on the 'local' (or the politics of location) are in some ways a logical development in the move away from universalism. To a certain extent, this emphasis has existed in feminism for some time; Teresa de Lauretis (1984), for example, defines 'experience' in such a way that it is not perceived as being in opposition to theory. Recent writings on the body and corporeality are another version of this trajectory (Grosz, 1994). However, the two essays which are directly relevant to location in the wake of post-colonialism are those by Rich (1986) and Haraway (1991:ch. 8). In a characteristically stringent reassessment of her earlier theories and practices, Adrienne Rich analyses the tendency towards abstraction and universalising that in the past had characterised both her own work and that of other white feminist theorists.

Haraway's essay is a complex analysis that places feminism in relation to what she calls 'situated knowledge', which is characteristic of all knowledge, although it does not proclaim itself in such terms. She deals with the discourses of science, which traditionally have laid claim to a defining objectivity. Haraway proves that this is as false as any other such claims to universalism, and critiques the argument often advanced to counter this move, namely that a departure from objectivity will simply land one in rampant relativism:

the alternative to relativism is not totalization and single vision, which is always finally the unmarked category whose power depends on systematic narrowing and obscuring. The alternative to relativism is partial, locatable, critical knowledges sustaining the possibility of webs of connections called solidarity in politics and shared conversations in epistemology. (Haraway, 1991:191)

This is similar to Trinh's argument (1992) that the fragment is not necessarily defined exclusively as part of a whole. Haraway's essay ends with the crucial comment that the object of such situated knowledge needs to be seen as an actor and agent rather than as the the victim paralysed by the all-knowing look (Haraway 1991:198; cf. Bhabha, discussed above, on the power of 'the look' in colonialism).

Taking a slightly different line on the local (or located) knowledges and knowers, Stuart Hall has written a series of important studies (1988a, 1988b, 1988c) which define latter-day multinational capital as having appropriated the desire for ethnic diversity. In other words, ethnicity has been progressively commodified by a flexible capitalism able to cater for all tastes and to target numerous specialised consumer groups. The prevalence of ethnic diversity, however, is no guarantee of a new political awareness; on the contrary, ethnicity and difference are translated into both spectacle and depoliticised aesthetics as the 'exotic accessory'. Hall (1989) argues for a new concept of identity as process rather than fact, and the need to position oneself both inside and outside certain systems of representation. Although such systems are inescapable, it is possible to use these positions strategically. Referring to Derrida's concept of différance as encompassing both 'difference' and 'deferral', Hall remarks that this does not mean that because there can be no permanent positioning there can be no meaning, but rather that because positioning is always temporary, meanings are always provisional. The importance lies in always recognising the role of history and the prevailing circumstances of power :

Far from being grounded in a necessary 'recovery' of the past, which is waiting to be found, and which, when found, will secure our sense of ourselves into eternity, identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past. (Hall 1989:70)

In the long run, to 'situate' knowledge in this way is to acknowledge the need for accountability in all our theorising and research endeavours (see also Said, 1984a:226---47, and the comments on this essay by Clifford [1989]). To discover ways of addressing such local manifestations is part of the enterprise of multicultural critical theory.

Multiculturalism: Between ethnicity and race

Multiculturalism, as noted, is a term with global resonances but very different national inflections. In the UK and the US (and to a lesser extent Canada and New Zealand) it has become a coded way of addressing issues to do with race. It amounts to recognising and managing the heterogeneous composition of modern nation-states, and devising ways of addressing it in relation to cultural literacy. But even this formulation is of course far too general.

In Australia there has not been the same emphasis on race. This is because questions of cultural difference have been played out within a Western and largely European framework, where the difference appears to be between Anglo-Celtic and non-Anglo-Celtic languages and cultural traditions. In other words, the inevitability of having to deal with heterogeneity in the wake of postwar migrations was on the whole confined to those large groups comprising Mediterranean or southern Europeans, mainly from Italy and Greece. Although there are histories of these groups having been treated in racial terms, they were not significant in the long run. In the wake of later and so-called Asian migrations, race increasingly became both a covert and an overt factor, and debates on immigration in the Australian context became a coded way of addressing 'racial' differences perceived as more challenging than 'ethnic' differences.

But increasingly the movement between race and ethnicity has merged in the global context. In some ways these Australian distinctions, born out of the historical accidents of migration, offer a way of dealing with the current state of such debates as they have emerged elsewhere. Increasingly one could say that the over-simplified categories of race have been retrieved or rehabilitated for the purposes of more precise analyses by becoming 'ethnicised'. Thus the old opposition of Black versus White has been broken down, and not before time, into their differences. For example, it has been pointed out that although racism may often be signified in terms of Black victims, this does not offer any causal explanation for the details of discrimination (Anthias and Yuval-Davis, 1992). Similarly, White (often the unmarked norm) is in need of being deconstructed into its own internal differences. In both instances ethnicity offers categories for locating such differences. In Australia 'White' is an unmarked category implicitly opposed to Aborigines or Asians. But just as these categories in themselves need to be de-homogenised, so too 'White' needs to be unpacked, at the very least in order to dissociate older colonial settlers from those newer groups who settled in significant numbers after World War II. Here Australia's tradition of using multiculturalism as a way of distinguishing ethnic groups within Western and European frameworks offers a possible model for other societies to scrutinise. Australia, on the other hand, needs to rethink race in the light of analyses and distinctions that have taken place elsewhere in other comparable societies.

But let us pause here and rehearse some of the theoretical positions taken up around those poles of race and ethnicity--a particularly urgent task in the current climate of 'ethnic cleansing'.

The earliest use of the term 'ethnicity' had connotations of 'heathen' or 'pagan', but by about the nineteenth century the word had acquired implications of both 'race' and 'nation'. This reveals that ethnicity and race were linked from an early period. It also indicates certain assumptions about the nation and nationalism, namely that the secular is often linked to the theological, and that the secular narratives of nationalism often require a sacred justification (Anderson, 1991). In the seventeenth century, the adjacent term 'ethos' had the sense of a 'characteristic spirit, prevalent tone of sentiment of a people or community' (OED). This connotation underlies the current use of 'ethnicity' to distinguish between 'race' (in the biological sense) and 'custom' or 'history', or, to put it another way, between 'body' and 'spirit'. But before we move on to consider race, we should note that a second meaning of 'ethos' links it to aesthetic criticism and rhetoric, and to the portrayal of 'character through mimicry' (OED). Here, then, we have a highly charged chain of meanings with contemporary significance. As with the now outmoded distinction between 'sex' and socially constituted 'gender', one emphasises biological fact and the other a social construct . Nowadays, in the wake of the work of feminists such as Elizabeth Grosz (1994) and Moira Gatens (1990), we know that 'sexuality' is as much a construct as 'gender', and indeed that the body is as much an inscribed terrain as any other signifying system. Similarly, the old distinction between body and spirit no longer holds.

In the past, 'race' was invoked in comparable ways as a science for differentiating in essential (and thus essentialist) ways between the various peoples comprising humankind. Indeed, as the work of Donna Haraway (1989) shows, it was a way of distinguishing rather anxiously between humans and non-humans such as primates. As one of the 'irreducible' differences, 'race' conveyed a certain reassurance, as all such allegedly irrefutable distinctions do. 'Male' and 'female' are similar categories, each of which, as we know, has been confounded. 'Ethnicity', in contradistinction to 'race', was seen as a 'function of sociology and culture rather than biology' (Outlaw, 1990:60). For a while 'ethnicity' was the favoured term, because it was perceived as denoting a temporary state that would end eventually and inexorably in integration or assimilation. It was seen also in terms of individualism rather than relationship to a group, and the individual is never as threatening or potentially disruptive to the status quo as is the group. 'Ethnicity' had the quality of the self-chosen appellation; ethnic communities and ethnic identity are often perceived as being self-identified (Pearson, 1991); this remains a customary way of distinguishing 'ethnicity' from 'race'.

In Australian debates around ethnicity, 'race' dropped from usage as a classificatory term. It was replaced by 'ethnicity', which neither carried the same connotations of biological or physical reductionism nor had the same negative historical legacy (Kee, 1986), until the outbreak of civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Kee distinguishes 'ethnicity' from 'nationality', which indicates citizenship or legal status, and denotes adherence to the political unity of the nation-state. In other words, since we retain our nationality over and above our ethnic affiliations, 'nationality' allays the old fear that if the 'ethnics' were permitted to retain their cultural differences, they could not be trusted to maintain their political allegiance to Australia in times of crisis. Kee defines 'ethnicity' as a complex amalgam of language, religion, customs, symbols, literature, music, food and, at its core, an internal and external perception of difference. In other words, 'ethnicity' is defined by one's sense of both belonging to a group and being 'exclu[ded] from the national definition of a country' (Kee, 1986:7). Thus ethnicity appears to exist always in a marginal, and often negative, relationship to the mainstream or hegemonic group.

According to the 'poetics' of ethnicity developed by the US anthropologist Michael Fischer (1986), ethnicity is something reinvented for each generation; it represents a type of psychic excess that is not necessarily part of the conscious cognitive processes. Fischer locates it in the psychoanalytic terrain of dreaming and transference. It is predicated not on coherence but on the plural and the fragmentary, and takes for granted the several, often contradictory components, that comprise identity for the material subject caught up in a specific history. Thus ethnicity searches continuously for voices and not for a definitive stance. It seeks mutual illuminations in reading those juxtaposed dialogic texts or utterances that swerve away from the binary structures which traditionally have been the model for establishing the ground of culture. Perhaps most importantly of all, this particular way of conceiving of culture substitutes irony, one of the most intractable areas of so-called marginal or minority discourse, for authenticity. Irony is one of the most problematic characteristics for the mainstream to bestow on the marginal; it is apparently reserved for and is thus a mark of a dominant or privileged group. At its best, Fischer contends persuasively, ethnicity promotes the play between cultures, and emphasises that 'revelation of cultural artifice' which by its very nature deconstructs claims for cultural hegemony.

Like Fischer, Werner Sollors (1986:9) is also concerned with the invention of 'ethnicity', its codes, mental formations and cultural constructions: Sollors (ibid.:11) traces the role ethnicity has played in the movement in the US from a culture predicated on descent to one of consent: in other words, from notions of national cohesion (based on kinship or descent) to their necessary reformulation in a new world context of consent. In some ways ethnicity was a reminder of the old within the new, at least in the older scholarship on ethnic literatures. In contrast to this tradition, Sollors (1986:7) argues that ethnic literatures in fact provide grammars of new-world imagery and conduct. He also suggests that studies of ethnicity tend to homogenise ethnic groups and contrast them with those so-called 'unethnic' groups which constitute the unmarked majority (ibid.:178 ff.). Even transnational cosmopolitanism, he suggests, is predicated on 'monistic little nationalities' (ibid.:185). He further makes the point that while ethnic literatures are in fact intertwined with the formal innovations associated with modernity, they tend to be seen in terms of content and unreconstructed parochialism rather than form (ibid.:237ff., 1989:xix). Thus, repeatedly, we encounter in critical analyses of this writing a search for the traditional and the authentic. When writers from ethnic backgrounds become famous they are no longer marked as ethnic, since this equates them with the limited and the parochial (Sollors, 1986:41). Finally, he suggests that since ethnic writers always address at least a double audience, their work accommodates the play of particular kinds of irony (see also Hutcheon, 1991:69---95).

But how does ethnicity relate to race? Because references to 'race' fell into disrepute, especially after World War II, it seemed almost an insult to use the term. Increasingly it became clear that whereas there is no question of the reality of racism, the notion of 'racial purity' in biological or genetic terms, which underpins the concept of race, is a myth. At best one could talk only of 'clines', that is, 'gradients of change in terms of measurable genetic character such as skin colour' (Outlaw, 1990:64). At this juncture we might recall that the link between genes and culture is always problematic, and shapes such questions as, does one write differently as a woman or as an 'ethnic'? Nowadays 'race' tends to be spoken of as a social formation rather than in terms of bloodlines. Indeed, to quote a current theorist on the subject, it is 'an unstable and decentred complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle . . . [and] political contestations over racial meanings' (ibid.:77).

But why are unproblematised references to race coming back into circulation and not always negatively? For instance, 'Black' is a shifting term: in Australia, both Southern Europeans and Arabs refer to themselves as Black. Those involved in the Black struggle use the concept of race as a way of signalling their determination to resist assimilation and to pursue cultural difference and autonomy. In the Australian context, notes Fazal Rizvi in a forthcoming book, certain European (and other) groups such as Greeks and Italians, have been 'racialised' in very particular ways. The indigenous peoples of many cultures use the term 'race' because their culture has been disenfranchised and rendered invisible. And it is for similar reasons that other 'minority' groups also reach for the term. It embodies the magic of irreducible difference, a non-negotiable space which heralds a separate history, no less phantasmatic at its edges, however, than all histories. It is also tied in disturbing ways to the notion of primordial rights to land (Geertz, 1973)--disturbing because such claims about bloodlines and land have fuelled the fascist doctrines of recent history, including the upheavals in what used to be Yugoslavia.

In an important recent publication Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis (1992) analyse the various components that comprise the relationship between race and ethnicity. They conclude that no unitary system can be labelled racist, and that in fact it is not possible to distinguish in abstract terms between racial, ethnic and national collectivities. The only way of highlighting their differences is via their different histories, discourses and projects (ibid.:2---3). Focusing on ethnicity, they contend that discourses and practices around race have indeed become ethnicised. The racism directed at 'Blacks'--in England this tends to mean those whose countries of origin used to be part of the British empire (ibid.:147)-- is embedded in the process of 'inferiorising' ethnic groups rather than being based on such biological differences as skin colour. Thus, to take other examples, Muslims are seen as 'non-civilised', and American Blacks are discriminated against because of the history of slavery rather than their skin colour (ibid.: 133---7). Somewhat ominously, Anthias and Yuval-Davis contend that notions of cultural difference have displaced notions of biological difference as a basis for excluding or denigrating a group.

Like other theorists, they locate the basis of ethnicity in notions of community. In other words, there is too great a readiness to homogenise the ethnic community and to see continuities between ethnic groups and cultural groups. Culture in turn often collapses into religion, and when it does so it releases and gives legitimation to varieties of fundamentalism (ibid.:193). If 'ethnicity' is simply located in unproblematic concepts of community, it becomes as generalised a category as 'race' tends to be, and does not allow for nuanced analyses. Nor should concepts of multiculturalism be reduced merely to the 'compatible boundaries of difference' (ibid.:196). In other words they must allow for both the incompatible and the incommensurable. This is a disturbing prospect for those who manage cultures in the name of cultural diversity.

Thus in many and various ways the idea of a homogeneous culture imbued with universal values has been undermined by those many perspectives which, in the past, were marginalised and excluded from the frame of reference which sustained such a concept. The next chapter will scrutinise more closely the ways in which a traditional minority framework, namely feminism, may in turn be challenged about its own exclusions when questions of cultural difference are posed in relation to the framing orthodoxies of sexual difference.