The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

In Homi Bhabha’s essay, “The Other Question: Stereotype, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism,” he makes a notable move in regards to the propose of his criticism. That is, he markedly shifts from a taxonomic approach which could most readily be contained within structuralist theory to a deconstructist approach in an effort to examine how a particular discourse is functioning. He makes his approach clear, “I do not intend to deconstruct the colonial discourse to reveal ideological misconceptions of repressions, to exult in its self-reflexivity, or to indulge its liberatory excess. In order to understand the productivity of colonial power, it is crucial to construct its regime of truth, not subject its representations to a normalizing judgement.” This is a staunch stance on the part of Bhabha to take; he calls for cultural criticisms that seek to dismantle hegemonic power structures not just to list the effects of such structures, but rather to deconstruct the apparatus that constitutes the structure’s ability to operate. This shift is the second gesture of a criticism which has already successfully delimited the power structures in play. I believe it important to note that a criticism that only lists the effects of a hegemonic political/cultural discourse is not useless; it can serve as a necessary call to action, but, at some point, systems of power which are being protested must be deconstructed to show their inter-workings.

With these two premises in mind ( i: criticism as call to action ii: criticism as deconstruction of apparatus), it is now possible to examine Riche’s exploration into the compulsory nature of heterosexuality. In  her essay,” Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Riche re-situates lesbianism from a simple ‘deviant’ sexual behavior (only deviant if one posits heterosexuality to be the norm) to a continuum of female kinship practices. These kinship practices are created by women to resist the rather terrible cultural, physical, and emotional inculcation practices created by patriarchal power structures in order to ensure heterosexuality and ostensibly male dominance.

Although this paper succeeds quite successfully at enunciating the divers means in which such an all encompassing force as misogyny operates, it does little to expose the operating mechanisms by which it does. Riche’s preference for the taxonomic approach over the deconstruction approach is most apparent in when she borrows from Kathleen Gough’s essay, “The Origin of Family.”  Gough’s essay shows different ways in which men subject women in order to ensure male supremacy and thus create female inequality. Riche repurposes the list to show how men enforce female heterosexuality. She’s does this by offering a quote in italics then offering her own enumerations of the method contained in the quotation.

Certainly all of Riche’s enumerations appeal strongly to empirical and intuitive reasoning; one must simply watch the evening news to find concrete examples of the events she lists. Perhaps this is even her point: misogynic happenings are so ubiquitous they need no explanation. Yet either way it is determined, Riche offers no in-depth examination and explanation of the how and why these mechanisms of cultural control function. Hence Riche’s paper seems to fall readily in the taxonomic class of criticism.

Of course the work of deconstruction has been done by other theorists, and it seems that operating structure of hegemonic discourses, rather it be colonial or patriarchal, come to a Lacanian or Freudian reading of cultural textual systems in order to reason out particular methods. Again these readings could be implicit in Riche’s essay, or perhaps simply not the purpose of the paper. Yet it strikes me if we are to speak of the vast amount of relations between Other and Subject as they appear in various forms, we must name the Subject with the same clarity as we name the Other in order to have an understanding of either.


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