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Difficult but rewarding
on 29 January 2004
Anyone who hasn't read this book should be warned that it is not easy reading. There's a lot of vocabulary taken from poststructuralism and critical theory in here, and readers whose familiarity with such work is limited would do well to avoid this book until they've familiarised themselves through easier texts.
That said, this is a very rewarding book which raises important issues. Most political theory and philosophy is all about Europe and North America, and Bhabha is one of the handful who realise that the remaining 3/4s of the world actually exist. I find him quite an open-minded thinker; like all critical theorists, he has his shibboleths and his preferred theoretical vocabularies, but he doesn't let this get in the way of his analysis of specific situations and texts. In addition, this is a hopeful text, insisting on the possibility of change for the better.
The "location of culture" of the title is a location in contingency, perhaps the Lacanian Real or some other such non-place; the basic point is that culture is not a fixed entity and that it can be reconstructed through various discursive manoeuvres such as hybridity (the fusion of two or more cultures) and "sly civility" (the ironic or dishonest maintenance of a cultural facade). Do not expect a structured narrative; each chapter basically stands on its own, and most are actually reproduced articles and essays from elsewhere. Nevertheless, they link together quite well because they all deal with similar issues about culture, oppression and change.
If you can't manage the whole book then at least try out the chapters on stereotyping and on how newness enters the world, which are pure genius - Bhabha at his best.
A word of warning, though - Bhabha at times endorses a heavy Lacanian ontology, only to apparently abandon it again in the next chapter, and to resurrect it again in the one which follows. He doesn't seem to be able to make his mind up whether he endorses the whole Lacanian package or not. This isn't a disaster because it means his approach is open and fluid, but it can make an already difficult text even more difficult. All in all, though, this is well worth a read.