Looking Out, Looking In

The colonial mimicry is famously understood by Homi Bhabha as the desire for a reformed (according to coloniser’s rules), recognisable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite; it is an articulation which appropriates the Other as it visualises power. Bill Ashcroft proposes something quite different: ‘When colonial discourse encourages the colonial 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”.’ The middle ground, perhaps, could be found in Lee Oufan’s notion of ‘cultural mediator’, which I might build my own model upon: the seemingly disempowered one locates him or herself as cultural mediator at the intersection between different parts of the world, an active engagement of cultural, political and social circumstances, through action of what Joseph Levenson calls ‘looking out’.

‘Looking out’ is not complete unless there is a counterpart of ‘looking in’, to cross-examine and to even emulate the external factors. Perhaps this is what helps constitute Homi Bhabha’s ‘new modes of agency’, new ‘strategies of recognition’, and new ‘forms of political and symbolic representation’, as in The Location of Culture:

‘Vernacular cosmopolitanism represents a political process that works towards the shared goals of democratic rule, rather than simply acknowledging already constituted “marginal” political entities or identities.’

‘There is a kind of cosmopolitanism, widely influential now, that configures the planet as a concentric world of national societies extending to global villages. It is a cosmopolitanism of relative prosperity and privilege founded on ideas of progress that are complicit with neo-liberal forms of governance, and free-market forces of competition. Such a concept of global “development” has faith in the virtually boundless powers of technological innovation and global communications. It has certainly made useful interventions into stagnant, state-controlled economies and politics and has kick-started many societies which were mired in bureaucratic corruption, inefficiently and nepotism.

‘a global cosmopolitanism of this sort readily celebrates a world of plural cultures and people located at the periphery, so long as they produce healthy profit margins within metropolitan societies. States that participate in such multicultural multinationalism affirm their commitment to “diversity”, at home and abroad, so long as the demography of diversity consists largely of educated economic migrants – computer engineers, medical technicians, and entrepreneurs, rather than refugees, political exiles, or the poor. In celebrating a “world culture” or “world markets” this mode of cosmopolitanism moves swiftly and selectively from one island of prosperity to yet another terrain of technological productivity, paying conspicuously less attention to the persistent inequality and immiseration produced by such unequal and uneven development.’

About ting

from SHANGHAI to the WORLD

One comment

  1. This is an interesting reflection, but remember that there is also a militant agenda within the cosmopolitan subject (how to eliminate the Other (Father)); this involves an adoption of His values in a bid to shock and awe. But to the surprise of the cosmopolitan subject, the Father comes with a pluralism of his own, of which the subject has only minimal capacity to engage with…..

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