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Homi K. Bhabha on language, identity, and migration


In a moving piece for the summer issue of Artforum, Homi K. Bhabha employs Ta-Nehisi Coates and Frantz Fanon as points of entry for discussing the body and “writing the void” as they pertain to the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda. Read an excerpt below of the full text here.

Reading Between the World and Me makes me increasingly aware that the protagonist of the narrative is neither the subjectivity of personhood, nor the identity of the citizen, but repeatedly and relentlessly the body—the black body, which, of course, immediately implicates the white body and interpellates the otherness of the body itself. In a similar vein, it could be said that the writerly persona of Frantz Fanon’s work is the “psycho-affective” body. The body is a writing instrument, an agent of inscription as intervention, caught in the restless agony between violence and security, surveillance and protection. The syntax of the body is a struggling sentence that attempts to make sense of living and writing in the void. There is, of course, a danger that the “body” may subsume incommensurable differences—psychic or social—whose representational force lies primarily in signifying conflicts of interests and contradictions within and across identities.

That said, the figure of the body-in-writing, or the beacon of the void-in-the-world, are signposts of our times that are remarkably open to humanistic translation across time and place. There is a political and pedagogical urgency in reading and writing the lethal “voids” that emerge in our local neighborhoods—Ferguson, Baltimore, San Bernardino—while setting our sights across the world. And this is not because the world is suddenly more “global” or because the nation is suddenly less sovereign. Both are egregious exaggerations. Writing the void across the world is significant because, as Coates puts it, “I saw that we were, in our own segregated body politic, cosmopolitans. The black diaspora was not just our own world but, in so many ways, the Western world itself.” It is from the position of such a cosmopolitanism that I want to turn to the writing of the void—the abyss of the language of humanism and the humanities—as it shadows the genocide in Rwanda.

Image: Photo album found at a massacre site, Nyamata, Rwanda, 1994. Via Artforum.