Looking Like What You Are by Lisa Walker

Looking Like What You Are by Lisa Walker

Author:Lisa Walker
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: New York University Press
Published: 2001-05-14T16:00:00+00:00

The nigger is shivering because he is cold, the little boy is trembling because he is afraid of the nigger, the nigger is shivering with cold, the cold that goes through your bones, the handsome little boy is trembling because he thinks that the nigger is quivering with rage, the little white boy throws himself into his mother’s arms: Mama, the nigger’s going to eat me up. 9

Subject to the gaze of the white child, who affirms his own identity by turning away from blackness, Fanon becomes nothing more than what the white child sees: the black man as cannibal.

In a fascinating misreading, Bhabha transforms the child, who is male in Fanon’s essay, into a girl. Analyzing the above scene, Bhabha writes: “the girl’s gaze returns to her mother in the recognition and disavowal of the negroid type. … In the act of disavowal and fixation the colonial subject is returned to the narcissism of the Imaginary and its identification of an ideal-ego that is white and whole.” 10 In Bhabha’s version of the story, which rewrites the mirror-stage as a colonial moment in which colonizer and colonized are each bound by the image and the gaze of the Other, the female child returns to an imaginary wholeness in which racial difference can be disavowed because it does not exist between mother and daughter. 11 Here, female identification might be understood to represent a fantasy of “pure identification”—a moment of identification located in a realm of visual sameness that is uninterrupted by difference. In this moment, the subject seeks alignment with a figure that, reflecting its own idealized image of itself, evokes the sensation of wholeness and plenitude.

Presumably, though, all identification is threatened by difference, because the process of identification is itself enacted precisely to refuse the sight of differences that already exist. This, after all, is Bhabha’s premise when he takes the Freudian account of gender difference, which is based in the realm of the scopic, as the paradigm for the colonial stereotype as “an arrested, fetishistic mode of representation within its field of identification.” 12 Bhabha’s work, which very usefully reconstructs psychoanalytic narratives of identity formation in terms of racial difference, represents the girl’s identification with her mother as being unmarked by the physical indices and social structures of racial difference, even as it uses the narrative of her identification to theorize that difference.

In earlier chapters, I examined how fetishism worked through a process of “disidentification,” where the subject consolidates her identity in relation to the Other whose difference is refused in the case of The Well of Loneliness and Strange Brother, or whose difference is erased and absorbed in the case of Women in the Shadows and Loving Her. Although none of these texts articulate a fantasy of pure identification that is completely uninflected by difference, I would argue that such a fantasy always grounds the moment of repudiation and/or erasure, when difference disrupts identification. In other words, every moment of failed identification presumes another, contrasting moment of identification that is uninterrupted by difference.


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