Postcolonial Ambivalence and Phenomenological Ambiguity: Towards Recognizing Asian American Women's Agency

Critical Philosophy of Race 4 (1):56-73 (2016)
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Homi Bhabha brings attention to the figure of the postcolonial metropolitan subject—a third world subject who resides in the first world. Bhabha describes the experiences of the “colonial” subject as ambivalently split. As much as his work is insightful, Bhabha's descriptions of the daily life of postcolonial metropolitan subjects as split and doubled is problematic. His analysis lends only to the possibility of these splittings/doublings as schizophrenically wholly arising. His analysis cannot account for the agonistic moments when the colonial subject is caught in not knowing, and in developing understanding about present circumstances. A framework with an account of context and horizons, such as in phenomenology, can better depict the experiences of the postcolonial metropolitan subject. Maurice Merleau-Ponty follows a gestaltian contact with the world, which advances that the “most basic unit of experience is that of figure-on-a-background.” One perceives the figure/theme because of and within the background/horizon. In this horizonal framework, human experiences are ambiguously open. The openness in the horizon of the gestaltian framework better accounts for the conditions Bhabha refers to as splitting. The ambivalence can be understood not simply as conundrums that defy understanding but as ambiguous moments for expanding, developing, and growing.

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Emily S. Lee
California State University, Fullerton

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