Mediating Homing Desire

Laura Rus

Where is home? On the one hand, ‘home’
is a mythic place of desire in the diasporic imagination.
In the sense that it is a place of no return, even if it is possible to visit
the geographical territory that is seen as the place of ‘origin.’
On the other hand, home is also the lived experience of a locality.

-- Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora

“The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. […] The anxiety of our era has to do fundamentally with space, no doubt a great deal more than with time” (Foucault 1994: 159). Space is not only the setting (real or logical) in which things are arranged, but also the means whereby the positioning of things becomes possible.[1] These intricacies of space, understood both as a complex part of the structural dynamics of the psychical life as well as a lived territory, become well reflected in representations of imageries of ‘home.’ Not only does the notion of home encompass these complex spatial dynamics, but, in the same motion, it also points to their (conceptual) limitations. Consequently, ‘home’ has become a central point of interaction for many different disciplines, triggering their convergence and subverting their own boundaries, the most subversive of all being produced as a category within knowledge, allowing the concept of home to enter the epistemic scene as a discursive formation and also as a commodity.

Not concerned with “what is home” but “where is home?” and “what is being represented when ‘home’ is represented?,” these questions bring into a dialogic relation both the problematics of knowledge, reality, and representation and also of desire and affect within the interstitial spaces of culture/ethnicity and politics. Yet, the question remains: can ‘home’ demand a reliance on the status of knowledge, considering the effects of the epistemic violence and the horrific socio-economic and political consequences of the Western legacy on colonized spaces? Can it rely then on the concept of the ‘real’, given the recognition of the complexity and multiplicity of ‘reality,’ the overlay of voices with conflicting definitions of the real, the inextricability of fantasy, desire and reality?

I take the concept of ‘home’ as my entry point into the complex problematics not only of knowledge and representation, but also of what makes visible these problematics, that is, notions such as: diaspora, gender, identity, and multiculturalism, as they disrupt the apparent homogeneity of the aforementioned epistemic categories, opening them to questions and re-considerations. I start by examining different definitions of ‘home’ to then situate my (critical) inquiry into the dispersed interval opened within this approach. I will continue by arguing that ‘home’ is not a matter (only) of either epistemology (that is, “knowing home”/ “where/what home is”) or of ontology (for instance, “being at home”/”away from home”), but most importantly of an uneven becoming. It is a process of becoming that needs to rethink the notion of ‘home’ to include its own otherness, its own ‘foreignness-to-itself.’ It is a process that involves not only the understanding of home and the formation of the identity (politics) of the diasporic community[2], but also of the structural dynamics of desire and affect as formative of both the self and the diasporic community within the larger dynamics of globalization processes.

The meanings of home – multiple and fluid – shift across a number of discourses: from private to public spheres, between the nation as an “imagined community” to mythic spaces of belonging, ‘home’ can mean “where one usually lives,” says Sara Ahmed, “or it can mean where one’s family lives, or it can mean one’s native country” (Ahmed 86). David Morley argues, with Vincent Descombes, that “[H]ome is not necessarily (or only) a physical place” but rather a rhetorical construction. Given its situatedness between discursive and non-discursive practices, between geography and rhetoric, the notion of ‘home’ cannot thus be fixed in one linear definition without running the risk of excluding a number of processes that would help constitute its meaning(s). Within this range, I will refer, from now on, to the idea of home in the plural, a conflicting site of belonging and becoming where various discursive formations (political, social, cultural, historical and clinical) converge and then diverge only to converge possibly again.

With these plural meanings in mind, in my attempt to address the complex relationalities between home and multicultural diasporic identities, I will be guided by Avtar Brah’s positioning of home between a “mythic place of desire” and “the lived experience of a locality”(Brah 192). The focus on these problematics is contingent on my own situatedness: a gender-marked diasporic subject within a multicultural context. Such a position allows me, on the one hand, to theorize about these categories without losing sight of the crucial role played by affect at every discursive level, and on the other hand, it challenges me to face my own (theoretical) limitations: namely an overemphasis on precisely what in the first place surfaced as an advantage, the formative role of affect in the process formation of a diasporic identity. The risk within the latter framework is not simply the probability of idealization/sentimentalization of a “homing desire,” but mostly of over-looking the importance of defining the grounds for more productive ways of relating the notions of identity–diaspora–multiculturalism to political discursive and non-discursive practices, if socio-cultural and economic changes are to take place. It is with these limitations in mind that I first try to address the intricacies of affect within the imaginary construction of home as a “mythic place” and the effects it has on the social and political relations between diasporic individuals/communities and the nation state. This discussion is divided into two main parts: the first one (re)considers the conflicting spaces opened by affect in the conceptualization of the notion of ‘home’ within diasporic identities/communities, while in the second part I will try to shift the focus to the mediation processes of these (re)conceptualizations and the implications of the (lack of a) dialogic relation(s) between diasporic communities and wider socio-economic and political processes.

Desiring Home / Homing Desire

The concept of diaspora, argues Avtar Brah “places the discourse of ‘home’ and “dispersion” in creative tension, inscribing a homing desire while simultaneously critiquing discourses of fixed origins”(192-193, italics in original). By situating the notion of ‘home’ at the level of psychic life, within the fabrics of affect/desire, Brah followed the same move as Kristeva[3], who brought psychoanalytic discourse in dialogue with other (dominant) discourses, subverting in this very move their claims of stability/objectivity. The inscription of affect in space and the possible dynamics played by the unconscious in the (self)definition of home have a double implication: on the one hand, it problematizes any attempt of rationalization of the notion of ‘home’ which neglects the imbrications of affect, and on the other hand, it might offer an ethics of thinking about home in–the–being/living–with–others. If we take further Kristeva’s understanding of “strangers to ourselves”[4] as the only possibility of living respectfully with the other, and we shift it to the notion of home, we can say that an ethics of thinking about home and the other is premised on the recognition of (the possibility of) irreconcilable tensions between both the unconscious and the conscious and also between home as psychic inhabited space and home as an external place of residence.

As the unconscious knows nothing of the temporal and spatial dimensions[5], it means that the primal home is a timeless and spaceless category that would constantly undermine any attempt to satisfy rationally its loss. And because in the unconscious, there is a constant sliding and concealment of meaning, what the loss of home might then signify is also the loss of the mother(’s desire). It means thus that home is a homing desire due only to not being satisfied, as it is linked not only to the object per se (house) but to the symbolic representation of it. In this way, home manifests itself as desire based on separation, and precisely because of this separation, also on potential antagonism – the split between the wish to return and the impossibility of its satisfaction.

To return briefly to the conflation of the loss of the primal home with the loss of the mother(‘s desire): this separation – meaning the formation of the boundary of the body and the distinction between the self and non-self (m)other – is established, according to Kristeva, through processes of repulsion which occur at a preconceptual stage and before the infant has clearly demarcated the boundaries between the self and (m)other. This means that inner space is secured via an expulsion of things that cannot be embraced within its borders. This is to say, if taken a step further, that the concept of primal ‘home’ is also incorporated and expelled (abjected) within this process of identity formation: “I expel myself, I spit myself out, I abject myself within the same motion through which ‘I’ claim to establish myself” (3). If we extrapolate this inner structure of inhabitation from the loss of the mother to the loss of home and from here to the loss of the nation[6], we can also begin to understand that at the core of identity formation, of meanings of home and nation, lie separation, split, antagonism, feelings of helplessness, of aggression as well as the desire to return to and to recuperate the loss. As such, we can say that desire appears only after the loss, or more exactly within the moment of loss. It means that it is because of these affective entanglements that, in my opinion, the full satisfaction of desire remains impossible.

The congruence of home and nation and their conflation have also been analysed by David Morley. Drawing on Nora Rathel’s and Michael Ignatieff’s analysis of nationalism, Morley argues that “the more strongly someone holds an image of Heimat as something necessarily stable and unchanging, the more likely they are to be hostile to newcomers” and also “the more strongly you feel the bonds of belonging to your own group, the more hostile, the more violent will be your feelings towards outsiders” (Ignatieff, in Morley 220-221). While Morley agrees with Ignatieff in his analysis of this process, “best understood as a narcissistic over-valuation of the self which results in the corresponding devaluation of others or of strangers, and which thus exacerbates intolerance” (221), I would argue that it is prior to the narcissistic process (which takes place only after the split/loss) that we need to look for an understanding of the effects of the conflation of the terms: home-nation.[7] However their approach left out precisely the triangulation with the most important term, that is, the mother. This “castration” obscures the crucial role played by the repository of helplessness, hatred, and aggression in nationalism, and I think that it is only by implicating it in the process, that we can start learning how to live with ourselves and with the others (-in-ourselves).[8]

Recognizing the existence of these psychic dynamics is a sine qua non condition for avoiding social antagonism precisely by recognising the danger of projecting onto others what is felt to be dangerous and unpleasant inside ourselves. Such precondition is also the premise, to follow Kristeva’s thought once again, for an ethical encounter with the “other” – who is not only the foreigner outside ourselves, but most importantly the “foreigner” to ourselves”: “living with the other, with the foreigner, confronts us with the possibility […] of being an other [… which] is not simply a matter of accepting the other, but of being in his [sic] place” (171). In this argument, the forming of community and of ethical relations with the “others”[9] become fundamentally based on the recognition of their own foreignness and of separation and loss (be it of the mother, of the home or of the nation, or of all of them collapsed into each other).

To return once again to the imagery of separation and loss. Linked rather to the symbolic realm of representation than to the object itself, the notion of home suggests a continuous recursion and repetition, similar to the process of Nachtraglichkeit – described by Laplanche and Pontalis as a) an experience that cannot be assimilated into lived experience, b) a revision of the first event because of a second event and c) an uneven development (112). What Nachtraglichkeit might help us understand is that the concept of home – not entirely assimilated into rational meanings – not only disrupts the possibility that its meaning is set within a chronological order, but also references the fact that the unassimilated meaning and lost chronology are found through an affective logic, and as such, the experience of home may emerge through a kernel of incomprehensibility.

From the vantage point of Nachtraglichkeit, it might also be useful to (re)consider (the effects of) the impossibility of return.[10] Return implies in its subtext a departure and an arrival, a point of coming from and arriving at. But because the concept of home is fraught with tensions and conflicts, imbricated in the unconscious, there is almost never a definite arrival “at” the subsequent home(s). It is always only the intermediate detour between leaving and never arriving that defines the (symbolic) oscillatory movement of the diasporic subject. It is the same detour, that can only happen in a belated time, that the diasporic writer[11] also always reinscribes when writing/theorizing about diasporic conditions in general, and ‘home’ in particular. In the latter case the belated detour plays somehow a similar role to the Bakhtian centripetal and centrifugal forces of language, as it confers on the diasporic writer the necessary distance to think about and through[12] home, while maintaining a certain closeness to it that prevents concrete/rational representations.

The problematics of return brings back into discussion the complex dynamics of space and time, as return (traditionally) implies a past – a “there” – considered from a present “here” without losing sight of future. As Brah remarks: “Diasporas are also potentially the sites of hope and new beginnings” (193). Yet as hope might bring about ideas for a better future (better than the past), it might also trigger the idea of a stable self/community into a stable and predictable future. The problem is then that this kind of idealization of a better future life (in the community) may (also) trigger the withdrawal of the libidinal investment into the past (move symptomatic to the melancholic’s) obscuring possible potential conflicts already existent in the present (community). If that is the case, the fissures produced and the non-satisfaction of the desired future may have dramatic consequences on the individual/community – as communication ruptures and boundaries between the self/community and the others collapse -, the self/community becomes more prone to self-blaming and more vulnerable to the internalization of possible forms of oppressive domination.[13]

Another consequence of this kind of idealization (of the future) is, as David Morley remarks, following Robert Young, the possibility of the denial of difference which represents a naïve “urge to see persons in unity with one another in a shared whole.” (Young, in Morley 191). Denying the experiences of difference, asymmetry and conflict, argues Young, means refusing to understand the premises of a democratic culture and politics that involve a “coming together which can only occur in conflict,” for “democracy is neither compromise between interests nor the formation of a common will” (191).

Avoiding such possible kinds of idealization requires a reconsideration of the ways in which we think about spatial and temporal dynamics. Past is not a static rigid category anchored in a “there” that confers distance and stability – to which we can safely return and revisit every time we feel like without feeling threatened by it-, but it is rather a fluid dynamic always already infused inextricably in the present, constantly altering its dynamics. Understanding this also has implications for further thinking about the dynamics of the diasporic community. Past can no longer be conflated with space and community, a conflation which would reference a coherent stable and homogeneous community, if we want to lay the grounds for a “democratic culture.”

To rethink the spatial-temporal dynamics in relation to ‘home’ means necessarily also to reconsider the thorny problematic of “origins.” When associated with home as “a mythic place of desire in the diasporic imagination,” the quest for origins might fuel, as discussed by Sneja Gunew, different kinds of ethnic absolutism (84). In a similar vein, Radhakrishnan argues that “[I]t is precisely this obsession with the sacredness of one’s origins that leads people to disrespect the history of other people and to exalt one’s own” (212). The quest for origins thus becomes premised on processes of exclusion marking territories of belonging while at the same time expelling alterity beyond the boundaries of the community. In this process of purification and construction of a homogeneous enclave, of policing the boundaries to the extent of committing various types of violence (be it epistemic, social or political), that such a diasporic community forecloses any possibility of (transnational) cultural and political dialogue. The effects of such irrational seizure are not gender-neutral in nature. In most cases, the body of the home country/nation becomes conflated with the body of the woman, and the obsessive need to purify the space of “origin” also turns into an imperative to maintain the woman’s body as “pure.” As such, the rules and the dynamics of patriarchal regimes are not only more rigidly enforced on them, but women also become the locus of explanations and justifications of such strict enforcements.[14]

When home is considered a mythic place of origins, says Brah, it is also envisioned as “a place of no return, even if it is possible to visit the geographical territory that is seen as the place of “origin” (192). I agree with Brah in that the return to the place of origin is utterly impossible even when the possibility to visit the geographical territory is within reach, but I part ways with her when it comes to the interpretation of why this is so. While she positions the “origins” in an “imagined” community where return is impossible, I place the impossibility of return on the liminal borders between the conscious and the unconscious. It is because of this unconscious dimension, I would argue, that return is impossible, and not because the origins become displaced and rooted in an imagined community. It is true that imagination has also an unconscious dimension to it, but that does not necessarily mean that it also incorporates the loss (mother-primal home/nation) into its subtext. For it is this loss, as I argued before, that cannot be recuperated and that acquires the dimension of the impossible return. Moreover, Brah seems to link the imagery of the impossible return only to the imagery of mythic origins, connecting them inextricably together and leaving open to fancy that the return home is possible – only if not considered within these parameters: “On the one hand, ‘home’ is a mythic place of desire […]. On the other hand, is also the lived experience of the locality” (192, italics mine). Such situatedness leaves home, open to return. But the return is impossible – in both cases – precisely because of its affective unconscious dimension, and not because of its mythic aspect.

But home is not only the “mythic place of origins,” insists Brah, but it is also the “lived experience of the locality” with “its sounds and smells, its heat and dust, balmy summer evenings, or the excitement of the first snowfall” (193). This imagery of home as lived experience is “the locality [that] intrudes into the senses,” as Ahmed argues. That means “that being-at-home suggests that the subject and space leak into each other, inhabit each other” (89, my italics). I agree with her interpretation of the permeability of boundaries between the self and the space, but I would also like to draw attention, once again, to the importance of problematizing both the effects of the collapse of the boundaries between the self and the primal home and the resulted antagonistic feelings on the “actual locality.” Neglecting the always already existence of the primal loss/separation in any subsequent experiences of lived localities, we might run the risk of naturalizing conflict and tension.

But it is also the notion of “locality” that needs reconsideration. In an era of postmodern fragmentation and disruption, of dislocated and dispersed cultures, of the proliferation of all kinds of communication networks, of capitalist and global intrusion in all aspects of life, “locality” can no longer remain standing as a category per se. In this case, “locality” is no longer defined by what it is, by what constitutes it as an entity with an emphasis on the “inside” but needs to be reconsidered in light of what redefines it from the “outside.” “Local” argues Suzanne Moore, is “more and more made up by that which comes from beyond its borders” and “what we call ‘home’ is increasingly defined by what is outside, not by what is within” (in Morley, 195). In a similar vein, David Morley argues that the “local” is made through a “process of indigenization of originally foreign materials” (195). This is to say that the local and the global fuse, collapse into each other, just as Ahmed’s subject and space leak into each other, meaning, that it is no longer only a question here simply about the space and subject inhabiting each other, but rather about the “global” and subject fusing into one another.

Implicit in the notion of “locality” is also that of “experience” – a key notion to many feminist discourses, especially to postcolonial/poststructuralist/postmodernist feminisms with(in) whose frameworks both Brah and Ahmed work. If for Avtar Brah “experience” is “a site of contestation: a discursive space where different and differential subject positions and subjectivities are inscribed, reiterated and repudiated,”(117) for Ahmed “the lived experience” is thought “in terms of inhabiting a second skin […] [T]he home as skin suggests the boundary between self and home is permeable, but also that the boundary between home and away is permeable as well” (89).[15] I would also like to think of experience as having an affective dimension to it, that is to say, of also being defined by meanings that have not been rationally assimilated.

With these plural meanings of experience in mind, understood mostly in Brah’s terms as “the discursive effect of processes that construct what we call reality” (11), and by way of detour, I’ll bring back the question from the beginning of the paper: are there global instances that could rely on the concept of the “real,” even within the recognition of the complexity and multiplicity of “reality,” the overlay of voices with conflicting definitions of the real, the inextricability of fantasy, desire and reality? And to continue with Brah: “how do we think about the materiality of that which we call real?” (11)

The second part of the paper attempts to mark an intermediate detour between discursive and non-discursive practices, between discourses and real material conditions for the gendered diasporic subject/community. This part will address the problematics of mediation processes, by and through language, looking precisely as the interval between the private and the public and how this is regulated by this very mediation. Questions such as: who is doing the mediation? what is mediated when it becomes mediated? for whom is this mediation done and are what its effects? – will frame my inquiry in this second part.

Mediating Home

Mediation cannot be referred to in the singular, as there are definitely different ways and means of instrumentalizing mediation. In this part I will focus only on one such instrument: language – in relation to the concept of home. Looking at the role of mediation in reconsidering, reconstructing and representing 'home' means also looking at how subjectivities and the structural dynamics of the psychic life are being mediated in the formation of the diasporic identity politics, and how this identity politics is reconstructed as an effect of the mediation. In other words, the process of mediation is a continuous uneven detour, repetition, and return between the affect, social relations, psychic dynamics, culture, and politics.

“Language remains the most portable of accessories,” argues Sneja Gunew as she focuses on the examination of the somatic and corporeal effects and affects of the English language when acquired in an immigrant context and on how and to what effects this acquisition displaces other prior languages (125). If we follow Lacanian psychoanalytic thought, with its claim that any society is regulated by a series of interrelated signs, roles and rituals – termed the Symbolic Order – marking the formative moment of the entrance into language, before meanings are rationally assimilated, it means that the Symbolic Order, inscribed into the unconscious, regulates society through the regulation of individuals. Taken a step further, and coming back to Gunew, it means that the “meanings we first encounter in a specific language […] structure our later lives psychically and physically and at the same time provide a prophylactic against the universalist claims of other linguistic meaning structures” (125).

Gunew links the inability to feel at home to the existence of alternative corporeal spaces “carved out” by primal and subsequent languages and to the awareness of the possibility of inhabiting them “equally well.” I will add that it is also the Real (in a Lacanian sense) that contributes to the unfulfillment of the longing for feeling at home. In language, argues Lacan, we are permanently cut off from the Real – that is, the excess, the inaccessible meanings which spill over from the fixed meanings of words. On these arguments, (the primal) home becomes the inexpressible, that which is beyond the reach of signification and which lies out of the reach of the Symbolic Order. It means that desire doesn’t express itself through the rationally accessible layers of meanings; it cannot be included in the definition of home, whose meaning is present only as an absence. It means that to refer to feelings of being at home, to its signification, the chain of signifiers only has meanings as a result of the absence or loss of that to which they refer. And precisely because of this unconscious dimension, which constantly subverts any fixity of homely feelings, making ‘home,’ to invoke Kristeva, “stranger to itself.” Home is never “at-home with it-self.”

If ‘home’ is a signifier whose meaning depends on its very absence, how can then the desire for home permeate the infrastructure of society? How does ‘home’ acquire its specificity in each culture and how does this specificity transgress across registers and cultures? How do different interpretations with their different meanings create social divisions and have sometimes devastating cultural and/or political consequences, ranging from ethnic absolutism to ethnic cleansing? Brah offers an insightful lead-in to these questions, by arguing that meanings are constructed and not inherently present in a culture and that, consequently, it is the meaning attached to culture that creates social divisions: “Cultural specificities do not in and of themselves constitute social division. It is the meaning attributed to them, and how this meaning is played out in the economic, cultural and political domains, that marks whether or not specificity emerges as a basis of social division” (245).

To look at how meanings of home are socially and culturally constructed and become an effective discourse per se is also to show that neither the relation of the discourse to a “homing desire,” nor the processes of its appropriation and nor its role among non-discursive practices is extrinsic to the laws of its formation. That is to say that the social construction of the meanings of home can only be accessed through the means of its construction.[16] Discourse, argues Foucault in The History of Sexuality, can be both an instrument and an effect of power, meaning that ‘home’ operates as a normative discursive practice while at the same time it is an integral part of its effects. And because discourses can be understood only in relation to other discourses, ‘home’ cannot be dissociated from discourses on gender, class, ethnicity, generation and so on. It is always in intersectionality with these categories that the “homing discourse” reveals its complexity.

If discourse transmits and produces power, “it also undermines it, exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it,” argues Foucault (History, 101). In this way, discourse can also be a “hindrance, a stumbling-block, a point of resistance and starting point for an opposing strategy” (101) – referencing the idea that the discourse on home is never complete, but fundamentally incomplete, never linear but always intricate and unexpected, never only an instrument or an effect of power, but also always a dispersed force that subverts it and renders it vulnerable to itself.

The Foucauldian understanding of discourse and what I fancy to call “homing discursive practices” may be transposed to Judith Butler’s notion of performativity[17] in order to gain an alternative insight into how the notion of home is, on the one hand, manufactured through a sustained set of discursive acts and on the other hand, how these performative acts displace and reposition the subject within the constructed meanings. For instance, in an introductory autobiographical note, Brah recounts how, after a short while in Britain, the country of her “permanent abode,” she becomes quickly “situated”: “Within weeks of being in London I had been called a “Paki” (11). Constituted within the discourse of “Paki” as a racialised insider/outsider, Brah’s boundaries of belonging are also constituted and imposed (both consciously and unconsciously) within the same motion. For what this stereotyped construction invokes is not simply an individual belonging to a nation or to a stigmatized collective per se, but it implies rather an intricate interplay of one into the other. That is to say that the individual belonging – played out through the collective – becomes the collective which manifests itself through the individual. To be more clear: what the stereotype “Paki” invoked was an imagery of belonging, but Brah’s own situatedness within the collective spaces of belonging, of home, had been shattered, thrown into crisis precisely because of the stigmatized collective invocation. What shattered her boundaries was not the stigmatized individual belonging but rather how the stereotype made the space of belonging – home/community – be performed and exercised through her: “The insult and denigration implied in the word ‘Paki’ felt very real to me […] because its enunciation reiterated an inferiorised collective subject through me. That is to say, the power of discourse was performed, was exercised through me” (Brah 11, italics in original).

It is worth pausing here to reconsider a bit more, not only how the idiom of home has been instrumentalized to denigrate and draw (external) boundaries of belonging, but also how its effects affect, displace and reposition the individual into the collective, how the collective is played out through the individual and what the effects for wider social relations might be. Brah mentions feeling hurt and insulted because of the reiteration of “an inferiorised collective subject” through her (11, italics mine). The feelings of hurt and intense vulnerability that the desire for home, for belonging, triggers in us, may be better understood if we turn again to psychoanalytic discourse. I argued before, along with Kristeva, that the formation of identity is secured through means of expulsion and that this identity formation is premised on the abjection of the mother, who can be metaphorically thought of as a space of belonging, home, and by extrapolation, nation. And because these processes of abjection, expulsion, incorporation, and internalization take place before meanings are rationally assimilated, it means that these idioms of belonging are inextricably imbricated into the fabrics of affect and thus constantly undermined by a kernel of unconscious incomprehensibility. This means that the homing desire makes us intensely vulnerable as it drives us back precisely to the moment where we were once “one and yet-not-one.” What produces a feeling of even more profound vulnerability is the impossibility to fully (re)direct desire rationally and to deflect objectively such stereotypical constructions based on idioms of belonging. That is to say that stereotypical constructions have the power to return us to the liminal border between unconscious and conscious meanings, to the site where processes of internalization/filtration are most vulnerable, and the reenactment of affect most susceptible to manipulation.

As such, the implications of stereotypical constructions for the individual/community might be at least four-fold. Firstly, stereotyping might force the individual/community to draw boundaries where they might not even exist, hence (possibly) interrupting the two-way flow of communication. Secondly, it might engender a process of disaffiliation/disidentification[18] with primal spaces of belonging, so complete might be the internalization of oppression/domination. Thirdly, it might generate feelings of antagonism, hatred for the oppressive dominant culture, as a result of its threatening of the stability of home, of collective spaces of belonging: “hatred of those others who do not share my origins and who affront me personally, economically and culturally: I then move back among ‘my own,’ I stick to an archaic primitive ‘common denominator,’ the one of my frailest childhood, my closest relatives, hoping they will be more trustworthy than ‘foreigners’” (Kristeva, in Morley 31). Fourthly, stereotyping might also become a (preliminary) locus of reactive and creative resistance for the diasporic community. I think of resistance, in the Foucauldian vein, as a complex category intersecting psychic as well as political meanings, instruments and effects (Foucault, History 128-30). In this more complex view, resistance remains on the side of agency,[19] but agency itself must be rethought to include its own otherness, its own “foreignness-to-itself,” and that which it resists in the name of resistance. Rey Chow argues that stereotypes “are capable of engendering realities that do not exist” and that means that they insist on the “boundaries exactly at those points where in reality there are none” (59). It means that stereotyping, while constructing boundaries, in the same motion, also assigns meanings to them. At the same time, it makes the community draw its own (imaginary) boundaries, either as a means of protection or as an effect of the internalization of these boundary meanings. That is to say that the constructed boundaries, as a result of the double move, both from the exterior and from the interior, play a crucial role in the process of assigning meanings to the community in the everyday of social relations. As such, by calling Brah a “Paki,” the stereotype, not only “situated” her, demarcating boundaries and hence insisting on spaces of non-belonging, but it also forced her to draw her own imaginative affective and corporeal boundaries within her community of belonging and in the everyday wider social relations.

Is it possible, asks Brah, to feel at home in a place, and yet, to be inhibited by the experience of social exclusions to claim that place as home? (193) Is it possible to be deprived of cultural and historical depth, to be transformed into an imagery of inferiorized collective representation and still be able to “feel at home”? Brah argues that such a possibility is merely contingent on the positionality of the subject within differing political practices. Consider the two cases:

[A] black British young woman of Jamaican parentage may well be far more at home in London than in Kingston, Jamaica, but she may insist upon defining herself as Jamaican and/or Caribbean as a way of affirming an identity which she perceives is being denigrated when racism represents black people as being outside 'Britishness.' Alternatively, another young woman with a similar background might seek to repudiate the same process of exclusion by asserting a black British identity. (193)

What I would like to underscore here is that this situatedness, or border positionality, is inextricably dependent not only on relations of power and politics, but also necessarily on the interpretation of the constructed meanings of the border politics. It is also important to mention here, with Brah, that there are simultaneous situatednesses within the politics of location in the interstices of gender, class, racism, ethnicity, sexuality, age, generation, and so on. Each position shifts the locality of the border, as each position carries within it traces of other positionalities (be them in relation to wider social relations or in relation to its own community). How one becomes situated is then dependent on how one reassigns meanings to the already constructed meanings (of stereotyping) at the confluence of other previous interpretational and conceptual grids (i.e. consider the Symbolic Order, with its set of regulatory practices, already un-consciously internalized, in its encounter with other different socially and politically constructed meanings).

So the question here becomes not so much “who speaks” and “who hears?” but rather how are meanings negotiated between these conflictual zones? How and to what effect does one interpret these multilayered conflicting meanings and how could this interpretation effects an agential position potent with capacity for social change? If the question “who hears?” asked by Spivak, elicits another “Who works for whom?” (in Ahmed, 61) as she argues in an interview, suggesting that “the question of speaking is to conceal the structuration of speech by labour” (61), the question “how/who interprets?” begs the continuation: “in what language, who works for whom?” That is to say that each language has its own regulatory practices, as each labour formation has its own border policing, which means that it is the constant dynamic negotiation between the discursive and non-discursive practices (both of one’s own community and of the nation-state of “permanent abode”) that positions and repositions the individual/community vis-à-vis wider social and political relations. Yet, once again, this situatedness is always fluid, shifting, depending on the context (of other intersectionalities).

So how and why is a border regulated and policed? asks Brah, discussing Gloria Anzaldua’s theorization of border and borderlands. She looks for answers, in the same way that Spivak does, at the contingency of labour formation and immigration regulation, arguing that

'overdeveloped' countries institute measures to control selectively the entry of peoples from economically 'underdeveloped' segments of the globe. This border speaks the fate of the formerly colonized people presently caught up in the workings of a global economy dominated by transnational capital and mediated by politics of 'G-Sevenism' or 'G-Eightism.' (199)

As we can see, in border positionality, discursive processes are mutually dependent on processes of globalization and labour movement control. And stereotyping is an integral part of the discursive materiality of power relations, as they can serve as powerful instruments of the effects of socio-economic and political borders.

“Stereotypes have demonstrated themselves to be effective, realistic political weapons capable of generating belief, commitment and action,” argues Rey Chow (59). She claims that

it is only by considering stereotyping as an objective normative practice that is regularly adopted for collective purposes of control and management, or even for purposes of epistemological experimentation and radicalism, and not merely as a subjective devious state of mind, that we can begin to assess its aesthetic-cum-political relevance. (54)

Yet “[t]he relations between groups are always stereotypical,” underlines Frederic Jameson, “[insofar as they must always involve collective abstractions of the other group, no matter how sanitized, no matter how liberally censored and imbued with respect. […] The liberal solution to this dilemma – doing away with the stereotypes or pretending they don't exist – is not possible” (in Chow, 56-7). Chow argues that “in order to criticize stereotypes, one must somehow resort to stereotypical attitudes and presumptions,” (57) and this argument brings me back to my last implication for the diasporic community, namely the issue of reactive-creative resistance.

It is necessary to insist on resistant (creative) acts of the diasporic community, as resistance can be understood as a process of breaking out of discursive practices (Foucault, “Sex, Power” 168), and as we have seen, the discursive regulatory sets are not neutrally and innocently constructed. But neither is the locus of resistance. If we read the act of resisting through Jameson's understanding that "the relations between groups are always stereotypical" and Chow's argument that “in order to criticize stereotypes, one must somehow resort to stereotypical attitudes and presumptions” we can argue that resistance is also inextricably imbricated in power relations[20] and that power fluctuates between and within borders. That is to say that creative resistance needs to be re-conceptualized to include its own helplessness and vulnerability, its own disposition to aggression, and also the awareness of what resists in the name of resistance.

Consider the proliferation of the diasporic/postcolonial texts – one good example of such acts of creative resistance against the dominance/oppression of the (neo-)colonial, (neo-) imperial West. Many of such texts are written in the West and for a Western audience; I think that it is imperative that they exist as mediating sites of dialogue and openness of different fields of socio-cultural possibilities of transformation/interaction, but I also think that it is important to be aware of the already existent presence of the dominant Other’s positionality – always already inherent in the premise of resistance. As Amitava Kumar remarks about Indian imageries of representation: “We consume images of India in the representational theater of the West” (182). That is to say that not only is there a risk to stereotype the dominant Other in the very motion of resisting them, but also of internalizing the stereotypes unknowingly, and hence unconsciously re-circulating them. The border between stereotyping and being stereotyped, between assigning meanings and being (re)assigned positions is not only permeable but it is essentially constructed.

My own constructed meanings in this detour between a homing desire and a desired home might have drawn boundaries “exactly at the points where there are none” and it might have interpreted other meanings without being aware of their complex construction. In its attempt to map the intricacies of desire through the psychic inhabited spaces within the politics of location and back again, my detour seems to be caught in the very entanglements of what it set out to mediate: a journey from ‘home’ through the self (into the community) to a diasporic space of belonging, back to the self and then again to the “global” community. It has been a detour not in search for “arrivals” but rather in search of learning to live with “leavings.” It has been an uneven detour driven and suspended between “I can’t go on / I can’t go on” and “I must go on!”[21]


1 In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty talks about space as an ambiguous phenomenon, as it is the lived body by means of which it is experienced and known. back

2 I am aware of the risks of universalizing and thus naturalizing the notion of ‘diasporic community,’ to the point of levelling the various dynamics of different diasporic communities to only a single typology of community in diaspora. Not all diasporic communities face the same problematics and so I am also aware of the crucial importance of contextualizing such categories in order to avoid the risk of doing epistemic violence to them. For instance, Chantal Mouffe suggests that we reject the illusory idealisation of some undifferentiated communal experience, based on any presumption of shared interests, consensus, and unanimity, in favour of an “agonistic pluralism” which recognizes that a “healthy democratic process calls for a vibrant clash of political positions and an open conflict of interests” (Morley 191). Thus I will use ‘diasporic community’ discursively at first (Part I) in order to be able to outline the theoretical parameters of my enterprise, and then I will particularize/ contextualize it with examples in the second part of the paper. back

3 Considering the problematic of “strangerness/foreignness” in the traditional epistemic/ontological discourses, from Plato to Kant, and following Freud, Kristeva brings it into the psychoanalytic discourse, giving it an unconscious dimension. That means that it is only on the basis of the recognition of the “strangeness-to-ourselves” (within our unconscious) that we can attempt to live respectfully with the others/foreigners. back

4 The French word étranger has an ambiguous double meaning, depending on the context: on the one hand, it can mean “stranger,” on the other, “foreigner.” Often times, Kristeva herself plays on this semantic ambiguity. back

5 Freud argues in “On the Unconscious”: “the unconscious knows no time” (328). I also suggest that it knows nothing of space, as these two terms are, in my opinion, inseparable. back

6 It is important to draw this parallel here: ‘loss of mother equals loss of home equals loss of nation’ to be able to make visible the dynamics lying behind discourses of gendered oppression, sexual violence, and ethnic cleansing committed against women as a means of destroying not only the symbolic place of home but also of the nation. The repetitive raping (ending in pregnancy) and sexual violence are the most perverse and powerful instruments to defile this space and hence destroy it. In this case, the body of woman becomes the body of nation (-mother), the site where the ethnic, cultural, and political conflicts are being played out. And precisely because of this horrendous form of control, woman ends up suffering a double form of control and domination: one at the hands of the “Other” ethnic oppressor, and one at the hands of her own patriarchal structure, for the more the body of the woman is symbolized as the body of the nation in a culture, the more rigid the patriarchal rules will probably be. back

7 Why I think it is important to insist on this situatedness at the limits of the narcissistic process is because narcissism (manifesting itself in different degrees in different individuals/communities) is not simply a homogeneous category per se. A common distinction is between primary and secondary narcissism, the former referring to the initial (object-less) absorption of the infant in itself, and the latter to the installing of lost love objects in the ego (Freud, On Narcissism 345-6). back

8 This is not to say that I pathologize either the individual or the community. Surely, these dynamics exist in degrees and might remain latent most of the time. What I would like to underline is their existence and the effects that this might generate. back

9 Carefully considering these dynamics also becomes useful when thinking about neighbour relations especially within a Christian (fundamentalist) context, as much emphasis in this religion is placed on loving “thy neighbour as you love thyself.” As Freud discussed in “Civilisation and Its Discontents,” it is impossible to love “thy neighbour” – says Freud – as the self experiences feelings of antagonism against its-self. A community/neighbourhood that recognizes conflict and tension within themselves and between themselves as formative of their identity (politics) might have, better chances to define common grounds of living with each others and of creating strategies of social, political, and economic change. back

10 Sara Ahmed explores as well the impossibility of return, arguing with Poult for an understanding of the concept of place permeating the memory: “it is the impossibility of return that binds place and memory together…. [T]he process of returning home is likewise about the failures of memory, of not being inhabited in the same way by that which appears as familiar” (91). The dissolution of place into memory and the failure of memory to make sense of the place open a different dynamic of interpretation of the return, linked more to processes of forgetting and remembering, which shifts the problematic of return – from the realm of the affect and the structural dynamics of the psychic life, with its antagonism and incomprehensibility – to different grounds which require rather an epistemological and ontological approach that ask for ‘the imperative to remember,’ ‘the responsibility to not forget,’ and so on. back

11 Radhakrishnan recognizes this movement as central to the thinking and writing of his book Diasporic Mediations: Between Home and Location: “The movement away from one’s tradition, the intermediate detour, and the need to return critically to one’s tradition: this seems to be the overall movement in the essays here, a pattern reflected with individual variations in stress and emphasis in my generation of third world scholars and intellectuals” (xix, italics in original). back

12 ‘Through’ here wants to convey a movement, a movement inscribed symbolically by the concept of home in order to arrive at the notion of home. Concept and notion define two different levels in this case: concept refers rather to the mental representations of the object (home) while notion makes reference to the discursive representations of the object. The difference lies precisely in the fact that if ‘notion’ may be able to represent the object – even if only on the discursive level – ‘concept’ is premised on the impossibility of fully retrieving the symbolic representation of the object from the unconscious. Inherent thus in the ‘concept’ is the absence/the loss of the object, the split and hence the antagonism. back

13 I think here of cases of immigrants who, unsuccessful in their endeavours – which are mostly of economic but also of social nature – start blaming themselves for “not trying hard enough” while at the same time incorporating racial/ethnic and cultural stereotypes such as “Eastern Europeans can’t bond together without first killing each other,” “Romanians are Roma,” “Italians are lazy,” etc. back

14 Consider the prescriptions regarding intra-marital laws, the imperative of abortion when impurely impregnated (either out of wedlock or by an “outsider”), the imperative on the other hand to bear as many children as possible to help the nation grow, and so on. These are indeed generalizations, but my point here is that such an enforcement might be present, at one time or another, in any diasporic community obsessed with the quest for its origins. back

15 In this framework, Ahmed seems to run the risk of establishing an a priori chronological and topographical order for experience (i.e. first, second skin and so on) even if metaphorically, so to slide back into the traditional Western taxonomies that she herself set out to critique in the first place. Moreover, the focus on the permeability of boundaries and dislocation, as Doreen Massey argues, is very much a Western, colonizer’s view, “in so far as the sense of dislocation which those in the metropolitan West only now experience … must have been felt for centuries, though from a very different point of view, by colonized people all over the world” (qtd. in Morley 195). From this vantage point, the permeability of boundaries is meaningful and theoretically productive only in the West and senseless in the colonized periphery – for whom “the security of the boundaries of the place one called home must have dissolved long ago in the wake of imperialism’s conquests of other people’s homes” (Morley 195-6). Yet I understand Ahmed’s “failure” to move the imagery of permeating boundaries from the metaphoric realm to the social and economic material conditions of every day experiences as an attempt to remain within the discursive practices of the traditional Western discourses precisely as a means of interrogating, problematizing, and pointing to their limitations in their claims of stability and fixity. It is her subject leaking into place that needs to be, in my opinion, carefully reconsidered, drawing attention to the intersectionalities that mark her: gender, class, race, ethnicity, generation, age. For the “lived experience of a locality” is differently mediated for different individuals and communities, to the extent that the same event can be experienced in a myriad different ways not only by different communities but also within the same community. back

16 In the same vein, Judith Butler talks about the social construction of the category of sex: “But if sex posited as prior to construction will, by virtue of being posited, become the effect of that very positing, the construction of construction” (Bodies that Matter 5). back

17 According to Judith Butler, “gestures, enactments, generally constructed, are performative in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means.” (Gender Trouble 173, italics in original). back

18 Judith Butler talks about disidentification as a productive act of resistance: “disidentification is crucial to the rearticulation of democratic contestation. […] Such collective disidentification can facilitate a reconceptualization of which bodies matter, and which bodies are yet to emerge as critical matters of concern.” (Bodies that Matter 4) I use “disidentification” here not as a process of resistance but rather as an effect of what Fanon called “double consciousness”: “Because it is a systematic negation of the other person and a furious determination to deny the other person attributes of humanity, colonialism forces people it dominates to ask themselves the question constantly: “In reality, who am I?”…Self-criticism has become rather the norm” (1967, 128). We can easily replace the term “colonialism” with neo-colonialism or neo-imperialism and see that the effects of stereotypy may very well enact processes of disidentification and self-criticism. I think here particularly of the Romanian diaspora in Western Europe: to admit that you are Romanian is equivalent to admitting that you are a communist, barbaric, unrefined, lazy etc, and this as a result of more than two centuries of stereotypical constructions and denigration. The Romanian diaspora in Western Europe admits its belongings only insofar as they are re-educated and completely “assimilated” into the Western context: “I am Romanian, but I went to school here...” – this is what most probably you will hear. back

19 I do not want to imply here that in the other aforementioned cases there is no agency, that the communities are (completely) deprived of agency. It’s just that in the latter case, agency surfaces more visibly in the acts of resistance and has more potential in effectuating social/political/cultural change. back

20 Foucault argues that “resistance is never in a position of externality vis-à-vis power” (“Sex, Power” 167). back

21 Adaptation from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. back


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