Location and Home in Beckett, Bhabha, Fanon, and Heidegger

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Author: J. P. Riquelme
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 12,203 words

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[(essay date fall 1998) In this essay, Riquelme seeks to align literary modernism, as represented by the writings of Samuel Beckett, with postcolonial theory, as represented by Bhabha's ideas, because of their mutual emphasis on such themes as home, dislocation, mimicry, and identity.]

Think of the long trip home. Should we have stayed at home and thought of here? ... "... No. Should we have stayed at home, wherever that may be?" --Elizabeth Bishop, "Questions of Travel"

"Just let the real French virtues keep going and the race is safe. ... Let's face up to the foreigners (here he turned toward my corner) no matter who they are." (Que les vertus vraiment françaises subsistent, et la race est sauvée! ... Face aux étrangers (et, se tournant vers mon coin:) quels qu'ils soient.)--Frenchman addressing F. Fanon on a train, Black Skin, White Masks

Location Matters

Location matters, especially when the matter of location involves home or the lack of home. In literary modernism and in attempts to theorize about postcolonial situations, home can be the name of a question, as it is in Elizabeth Bishop's "Questions of Travel." Like earlier literary modernists, especially those who experienced the dislocation of living in a foreign culture, Bishop evokes the dissolving of home as a stable location from which the traveler departs and to which the traveler, somehow still the same, returns. Home is displaced and wholly replaced by the transforming experience of relocation, in which we ask:

Is it right to be watching strangers in a playin this strangest of theatres?(Bishop 93)

That is, we watch strangers, presumably the inhabitants of the countries through which we pass, as if they were actors in an unusual theatrical performance. But in the process, we lose our position as removed spectators and become ourselves strangers or foreigners (étrangers) to ourselves by watching ourselves performing in a theatre in which we are not at home because of its strangeness. That experience of estrangement carries over to our previous sense of home, which dissolves. It dissolves by means of Bishop's style when her question about watching in the strange theatre turns out to put us simultaneously in two locations, as subject and as object, because of its double, antithetical quality. There is, finally, no way to remain "at home" and comfortable in the world of this and other texts of literary modernism. Beckett provides an important, and extreme, instance in this regard, one that is definitive of the tendency of modernist writers to produce an anti-locative style, a style that invites and enables the reader to recognize the abiding condition of being a stranger in a strange land.

The centrality of home and of the experience of being homeless, or not at home, in literary modernism suggests the possibility of understanding postcolonial situations and modernist texts in mutually defining relation. Both respond to aspects of modernity, including the opportunity, through dislocations, of imagining something new and bringing it into being. Readings in tandem of postcolonial...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100098284