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Cartography, dualism and identity(1) (II)

Patrick Imbert
This fragmentation leads us to reconsider Bhabha's mimicry. Mimicry is defined by Bhabha as "a subject of difference that it almost the same, but not quite". For Bhabha who analyzes colonial relationships, to be bicultural, to be bilingual such as most colonized intellectuals, was seen by the colonizing power as a disadvantage


"History is written by victors. Legends are woven by the people.Writers fantasize. Only death is certain". (Danilo Kis, The Encyclopedia of the Dead, p. 131).

While reading the problematic of the
Gulf War in this ontological perspective, Shapiro compares Hegel and Lacan. He states that Lacan "privileges the dynamics of representation rather than what is represented" (57) and that the subject "knows itself through others while at the same time misrecognizing this dependence and assuming itself to be wholly self-contained". In this case, the nation-state's aim is to overcode this ontological desire through discursive means(12) which hide the fact that the impulse against alterity is, in part, a stand-in for an inner coherence. This rejection of alterity playing on the definition of spatial relations linked to the dominant practices of intelligibility excluding alternative worlds (Foucault: 1989), is also central to Said's notion of the violence of imperialism (1993), and of its control over stories, be they history (and not "her" story) or the daily information coming from the media (Imbert: 1998).

This rejection of
alterity is also related to the question of the appropriation mimesis (Girard: 1987) whose basic goal is to control "reality" through representational discourses(13) (a process which, in colonial discourses, is inflected towards mimicry (Bhabha: 1984)), and which regularly generates victimization processes. It is by using the example of two babies fighting for one toy, although another identical toy is at hand, that Girard demonstrates the manifestation of the desire to assert one's own symbolic and economic power, and one's individuality and freedom. However, it also leads to a world where violence is grounded in a play of desires based upon mimesis. In traditional societies, this violence is controlled by the fact that the victim is seen as a locus from which new significations arise. The victim is sacred and allows the differentiation process to start again. This process is organized, canalised, made orthodox through rituals by religious institutions. The victim and its dead body is, therefore, at the root of culture.

In a
laicised world, the mimesis of appropriation is as operative as in a religious world. It is based on the victimization process which leads to the numerous wars and genocides committed in the name of "ideals" such as nationalism or patriotism. After the production of dead bodies, however, the world cannot be the same, particularly if the victims can gain enough symbolic and economic power to insist upon the fact that one has to deeply think over what has happened. Movies like Schindler's List or William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice are good examples of these developments. This thinking over what has happened, because of the presence of a third element, in this case the discourse of those who have been lynched, leads to a redefinition of paradigms, because the legitimacy of the discourses (Fascism or Nazism or their contemporary epigones) and counter-discourses (Humanism; Camus: 1954) which lead to the explosion of the mimesis of appropriation is definitively stained.

The appropriation mimesis aims at controlling the platonic mimesis. Through the platonic mimesis, one can assert that one has a direct access to truth, to the world of
ideas or to reality. This alleged access represents a basis which allows the grounding of an argument into facts. Therefore, the one who can tell what reality is, controls the symbolic and often the economic world, because he is able to induce others to behave in a profitable way for him. These behaviors are usually controlled through the process of attribution which defines a supposedly stable identity, a being. In this case, the centralizing nation states engage in a constant display of mimetic appropriation in order to control reality. The nation state controls the capacity to say what is a fact and therefore how people should behave.

However, the mimesis of appropriation displays new features in democratic, postmodern/postcolonial consumer oriented societies. Rivalries are mitigated by the division of power and of responsibilities which prevents the monopolization of decisions. In the postmodern era, the logic of networks is so prevalent that often one cannot speak of decisions but of micro decisions which contribute to avoiding conflicts and to rendering the operating rules more efficient while decisions and discussions pertaining to principles are avoided. Moreover, the multiplication of objects, be they material or symbolic, prevents the mimesis of appropriation from degenerating into a full scale rivalry which would lose sight of the object itself and become a pure conflict rooted in prestige. Conflict is displaced and is transformed into an economic competitiveness leading to capitalize material or symbolic wealth, and to displace paradigms. It is clear when one considers the fate of an "ethnic" Canadian writer born in Sri Lanka such as Michael Ondtaatje. Because the market transformed his books in
best-sellers, he is considered as being part of a new trend in the mainstream. Ethnic writing, in a way, is a calling for recognition. This recognition is what helps to displace these texts from an original place to a new contextualization. Conflicts are also displaced in the case of nations and multinationals which compete for the best minds on a global scale. These people, among them many women, who are rich in symbolic and sometimes economic capital, call for the respect of difference and ask for an equal treatment in a globalizing world, thus opening for a multicultural dynamic, an experience particularly well articulated in a country such as Canada(14).

It is grounded in a series of precise regulations coupled with important references such as the text of the Charter of Rights. For example, it allows for the development and exploration of difference in the daily artistic and literary life through the help of the Canada Council.

Therefore, the representational discourse linked to the valorization of mimesis is fragmented. This fragmentation leads us to reconsider Bhabha's mimicry. Mimicry is defined by Bhabha as "a subject of difference that it almost the same, but not quite"
(1994: 86). For Bhabha who analyzes colonial relationships, to be bicultural, to be bilingual such as most colonized intellectuals, was seen by the colonizing power as a disadvantage, as the fate of those who would never be identical to those who were educated in the midst of the "true" civilization. In one word, others would never be able to control the object and have access to facts. However, in a postmodern/postcolonial context, mimicry is displaced. As it is clearly emphasized by Alfonso de Toro (1999: 47) commenting Bhabha, the new era is no longer contextualized in the legitimation of mimesis, monosemy, and stability.

Therefore, mimicry takes another meaning.
Identities are not definitively locked in stable unequal relationships. They are rather defining each others in unequal power relationships which can be modified. Moreover, nowadays mimicry is also contextualized in a world where the present and the future are more important than the past and rootedness. Therefore, there are now many legitimized ways of working, behaving, and communicating, in order for people to be recognized, to achieve goals, and to redefine their relationships.

This leads us, for instance, to what Nancy Huston,
(an Anglo-Canadian writers writing in French and in English, living in Paris and being married to a French citizen born in Bulgaria) alludes to when she says, in Nord perdu, that she has a positive prejudice in favor of all those who have an accent. The audible minority, soundly manifests that it lives a double life and that it therefore, may have an interesting story to communicate. An individual story which often is a forgotten collective history silenced by the canon, Bhabha would say. However, for Bhabha, in a world where modernity and the nation-states have overvalued territorialization, unity and monosemy, those who are the same, "but not quite", have been subjected to deprecating value judgment. For him, mimicry is a difficult condition which was not chosen but stemming from unequal power relationships, a conception which is still present in the use of such terms as exiled or expatriates.

And it is true that
hybridity or metissage have long been part of those who were colonized by the powers of the Empire and who were obliged to live a negative and unequal biculturalism. However, in Nancy Huston's essay, bilingualism and biculturalism, living more than one life by having lived in more than one country is a challenging advantage. It is a wealth which can easily be carried with one's-multiple-selves everywhere on this planet displaying all the signs of globalization.

"Car dans une langue étrangère aucun lieu n'est jamais commun"
(p. 46). Because in a foreign language, there is no common place, writes Nancy Huston. Here is Bhabha's "not quite" in the double meaning of common place (territorial and argumentative). If there is no common place, if there is no completely shared meaning, there is always place for creativity, surprise, difference, productivity. Displacement has found a particularly clear thinker in Nancy Huston. Displacement is even more fascinating in the novels of Assia Djebar such as L'Amour, la fantasia, or in the Belgian film entitled La vie en rose.


In Shapiro's perspective, the new situation leads to the remodelling of the cartographical imaginary by redefining the subject following a Lacanian perspective instead of a Hegelian one, and by recognizing with Levinas
(1969) that alterity is inherently within. One is also lead to consider identity as relational, and therefore plural and open to change. In order to go beyond the cartographic imaginary particular to modernity, one is lead to a permanent undoing of the said (Derrida: 1981) which allows to eschew any violent appropriation of alterity(15).

Thus, being aware of the cartographic imaginary leads to the criticism of a geopolitical perspective masking the search for an ontological pertinence which, in the postmodern/postcolonial era, is in the process of transforming conflictive relationships into competitive ones. This competitiveness tends to be organized through new values respecting the integrity of the individual
(fight against torture or clitoridectomy), and promoting a democratic dialogue based on the recognition of equality and difference.

(1) University Research Chair Holder: "Canada: Social and Cultural Goals in a Knowledge Based Society." Director of a SSHRC funded project (2002-2005) (program of the new economy) with D. Castillo-Durante (Ottawa), A. Colin (Pittsburgh, USA), A. Rizzo (Rìo Cuarto, Argentine): «Les discours économiques transnationaux et la mondialisation dans les médias et les textes de vulgarisation au Canada en comparaison avec l'Amérique latine: déplacements culturels et économiques»
web site:


(12) "uncooperative" individuals are seen as cancerous cells in Golbery's Brazil or Pinochet's Chile

(13) See F. et A. de Toro, Borders and Margins:Post-Colonialism and Post-Modernism.

(14) See for instance: Will Kymlicka, "Building a modern, pluralist, distinct society in Québec" http://www.mri.gouv.qc.ca/la_bibliotheque/willkym_an.html, or Morny Joy, "Multiculturalism and Margins of Intolerance", in C. Pizanas and J. Frideres, Freedom within the Margins, Calgary, Detselig, 1995; or Morny Joy (1995) "Multiculturalism and Margins of Intolerance", in C. Pizanas and J. Frideres, Freedom within the Margins.

(15) An undoing that the Brazilian thinker Oswald de Andrade was able to hint at through his ludism in Anthropophagies* in 1928. This allowed him to escape from the domination of European codes on Latin American literary works and criticism, and to reread the past from a contemporary perspective in which space was contextualized in the framework of the constant encounter of people originating from the Americas, from Africa and from Europe.


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