Homi Bhabha’s Concept of Mimicry

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Mimicry, which is at once resemblance and menace, is the sign of a double articulation, a complex strategy of reform, regulation and discipline, which “appropriates” the other as it visualises power. Macaulay‘s Minutes on Education defines mimicry as “of a class of interpreters between us and the millions of whom we govern- a class of persons Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, opinions, morals and intellect.” For the white man, the native is always the negative, primitive other: the very opposite of what he is and his culture stands for.

Frantz Fanon here develops a psychoanalytic theory of colonialism where he suggests that the European self develops in its relation and encounter with the other. For the native, the only way of dealing with this psychological inadequacy is by trying to be as “white” as possible. However, according to Homi K Bhabha, “The menace of mimicry is its trouble vision which in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourse also disrupts its authority.” Mimicry also fails because the colonial master, on the one hand, wants the native as similar to himself as possible, and on the other, wishes to keep the difference between the native and himself. The mimicry of the native often encodes 1) a facile obedience and obsequiousness and 2) a deeper disobedience and mockery (what Bhabha in his essay of the same title, calls “sly civility“). Mimicry that results in a dualism of deference and disobedience is what Bhabha sees as resistance.

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