Tuesday, 30 August 2016

On Bakhtin's concept of 'Exotopy'

An adjunct to today’s class on Postcolonial Studies [II MA English]

Michael Taussig throws light on Walter Benjamin’s insight into mimesis as a compulsion of persons to ‘become and behave like something else,’ and so he argues that, Benjamin’s discovery of the importance of mimesis in modernity fits ‘a sudden rejuxtaposition of the very old with the very new.’

- Richard Werbner: Holy Hustlers, Schism, and Prophecy
As a corollary to the above statement, noted critic David Barton tries to equate this ‘rejuxtaposition’ with what Mikhail Bakhtin calls ‘exotopy’.

Exotopy, to Bakhtin is the technique of turning the gaze onto the gazer, or looking at yourself from outside – literally ‘finding onself outside’. Exotopy is the ability to project yourself through another’s eyes,  or better to hear yourself on another’s tongue, to remove your ‘self’ from the conditions of ‘self’ production, and project the complex of self production onto a resistant alternative subjectivity. It is a ‘ghosting of the self’!

Mikhail Bakhtin writes: “When it [seeing oneself from the outside] succeeds, what is striking, in our external image, is a sort of strange void, its ghostlike character, and its somewhat sinister loneliness.”

To Bakhtin, in the realm of culture, “exotopy is the most powerful tool for understanding”.

As it is this exotopy which provides the ‘groundlessness’ necessary to ‘creative understanding’ for representing ‘cultural differences’!

In this context, it would be pertinent to discuss the concept of ‘Imaginary Homelands’ by Salman Rushdie, through Homi K. Bhabha’s concept of the Interstitial Space or the Liminal Space or the Third Space. This liminal space is (compare it with Bakhtin’s heterotopia) marked by ambivalence, mimicry and hybridity, which is instrumental in the creation of imaginary homelands. Salman Rushdie celebrates this liminality or hybridity in his Imaginary Homelands, when he asks, "What does it mean to be an 'Indian' outside India?"

This liminality or hybridity gives rise to what Bhaktin calls ‘a plurality of consciousness, with equal rights, each with its own world’.

With inputs from

Re-Placing America: Conversations and Contestations: Selected Essays. By Ruth Hsu, Cynthia G. Franklin, Suzanne

Music in Renaissance Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others. By Gary Tomlinson

Pic: arquazuarma.blogspot.com

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