Q. Discuss in detail the concept of mimicry by Homi Bhabha.
In his essay “Of Mimicry and Man (1984),” Homi K. Bhabha introduces the concept of mimicry, a key idea in postcolonial studies.
He argues that mimicry can be unintentionally subversive (undermining the power and authority of established institutions), even though the colonized often do not realize they are challenging the powerful colonial systems.
What is Mimicry in Postcolonial Theory?
Mimicry, in the context of postcolonial theory, refers to the tendency of colonized people to imitate or adopt their colonizers’ cultural habits, assumptions, institutions, and values.
This concept goes beyond mere replication; it involves a complex process of forming an identity that is both similar and distinct from the colonizer.
Mimicry is not just about physical or superficial resemblance but also includes intellectual, cultural, and psychological aspects. The key here is that the mimicry is never a perfect copy; it always retains elements of difference, creating a “blurred copy” of the colonizer.
What is the significance of mimicry from a postcolonial perspective?
The concept of mimicry in a postcolonial context, as articulated by Homi Bhabha, is a multifaceted phenomenon. It revolves around the colonial desire to create a “reformed, recognizable Other,” which means making the colonized resemble the colonizers but never completely.
This idea is encapsulated in Bhabha’s statement:
Almost the same, but not quite” or “almost the same, but not white.
This strategy is a tool of colonial discipline and control, creating perpetual ambivalence for the colonized. Mimicry, in this sense, refers to the colonized adopting the colonizers’ traits, culture, and attitudes. However, this adoption is never total or complete.
The colonized remain distinct, creating a “permanent slippage” state where they are never fully assimilated into the colonizer’s culture nor entirely separate from it.
Bhabha notes, “Mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference.” This continual production of difference keeps the mimic (the person who mimics) in a state of ambivalence, unable to fully identify with the colonizer or the colonized.
Macaulay’s Strategy in India
Bhabha uses historical examples to illustrate this concept. He references Macaulay’s Minute, a document from British colonial rule in India, which aimed to create a class of Indians who were “Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and intellect.”
This strategy was designed to create intermediaries to bridge the gap between the British rulers and the millions they governed. These intermediaries were expected to be “Appropriate objects of a colonialist chain of command; authorized versions of otherness.”
The mimic, in this context, is a colonized individual who adopts the culture and attitudes of the colonizer but in a way that is not complete or authentic.
It leads to a constant negotiation between almost being the same as the colonizer and almost being different. This state of “frantic slippage” leaves the mimic in a state of confusion and uncertainty.
From a postcolonial perspective, the significance of mimicry, as conceptualized by Homi K. Bhabha, is profound and multifaceted because of the following points:
- Colonial Strategy
- Ambivalence and Identity
- Resistance and Subversion
- Cultural Hybridity
- Insecurity of the Colonizers
- Critique of Universalism
- Challenge to Colonial Authority
- Empowerment of the Colonized
1- Colonial Strategy
In a colonial context, mimicry was used as a tool by colonizers. They encouraged the colonized to imitate their culture, habits, and values. This imitation was not aimed at making the colonized exactly like the colonizers but to create a ‘blurred copy.’
This process served two purposes: it created a sense of superiority among the colonizers and instilled a feeling of inferiority and dependency in the colonized.
2- Ambivalence and Identity
Mimicry, in postcolonial theory, is inherently ambivalent. It means the colonized subjects resemble their colonizers, but not completely. Homi Bhabha calls this “a difference that is almost the same, but not quite,” or “almost the same, but not white.”
It creates a complex identity for the colonized, who are neither entirely their own nor wholly transformed into the image of their colonizers.
3- Resistance and Subversion
While mimicry was a tool of colonial control, it also offered a means of resistance. The imperfect imitation by the colonized created a subtle form of mockery and subversion of colonial authority. It exposed the artificiality and constructed nature of colonial power.
4- Cultural Hybridity
Mimicry leads to the emergence of new, hybrid identities. Colonized individuals blend their cultural practices with those of the colonizers, leading to a unique cultural space, which is also called the ‘third space.’
This hybridity challenges traditional notions of pure or original cultural identities, showing that culture is dynamic and ever-changing.
5- Insecurity of the Colonizers
Mimicry shows that colonial power is less solid than it seems. The fact that colonized people can mimic the colonizers but still keep their identity shows the limits of colonial control.
It also exposes the anxieties and insecurities of the colonizers, who fear both the similarities and differences of the colonized.
6- Critique of Universalism
Mimicry challenges the idea that Western culture and values are universally applicable or superior. It shows that these values can be adapted and transformed in different cultural contexts, thus questioning the universality of Western ideals.
7- Challenge to Colonial Authority
Mimicry creates a subtle form of resistance. By imitating the colonizers, but not perfectly, the colonized people show they can adopt aspects of the dominant culture but retain their uniqueness. This act undermines the absolute power and superiority of the colonizers.
8- Empowerment of the Colonized
Through mimicry, colonized people can gain certain advantages. By adopting aspects of the colonizer’s culture, they can access education, jobs, and other opportunities that they might have otherwise denied.
In contrast to mimicry, mockery involves a more explicit and critical resistance to colonial power and its cultural norms. Mockery constitutes a form of resistance that is overtly critical and challenges the authority of colonial power structures as well as the cultural norms they impose.
What is mockery?
It is a form of parody or satire through which colonized subjects deliberately exaggerate, distort, or mock the symbols, behaviors, and values of the colonizers.
Mockery is a means of subverting the authority of the colonizer and exposing the contradictions and absurdities inherent in colonial discourse.
Key points regarding mockery from a postcolonial perspective:
1- Subversive Critique: A mockery is a subversive act of critique that challenges the authority of the colonizer. It reveals the inherent weaknesses, hypocrisy, and cultural biases of the colonizer’s worldview.
2- Disruption: Mockery disrupts the colonizer’s attempts to maintain a stable and unchallenged colonial discourse. It destabilizes power relations and disrupts the colonial narrative, making it harder for the colonizer to assert control.
3- Resistance: By engaging in mockery, colonized subjects assert their agency and resistance to colonial domination. It is a more direct and confrontational form of resistance compared to mimicry, which may be more subtle and ambiguous.