Rebecca Capper on Homi K. Bhabha and “Writing the Void”

 

The body is a writing instrument, an agent of inscription as intervention, caught in the restless agony between violence and security, surveillance and protection. The syntax of the body is a struggling sentence that attempts to make sense of living and writing in the void. [1]  —Homi K. Bhaba

 

What Remains, a collaboration between Claudia Rankine, Will Rawls, and John Lucas, premiering at WE’RE WATCHING in April, takes inspiration from the ideas of Homi K. Bhabha, one of the world’s leading contemporary postcolonial theorists. His work offers an examination of human rights, cultural analysis, cosmopolitanism, and social memory. Bhabha’s consideration of the way those in power have shaped the historical narrative and the way in which contemporary thinkers can reevaluate this selective past leads to greater insights about the current global conditions as well as the status of humanities discourse in the university. Bhabha is currently an Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities and the Director of the Humanities Center at Harvard.

What Remains is particularly inspired by Bhabha’s concept of the void, proposed in an article titled “Writing the Void,” published in this past summer’s issue of Artforum. In his writings on the void, Bhabha highlights the link between racialized bodies and language, specifically the erasure of racial injustice and lived experience, as well as historical genocide. In the article, he states that his curiosity stems from the “hermeneutic anxiety and a historical responsibility that lies at the heart of humanistic thought.”[2] The concept of the void, according to Bhabha, is best understood when approached as a non-poetic term as the theory refers to the emptiness that exists in the midst of cultural erasure. It is the work of humanists—writers, philosophers and artists—that allows for a clearer glimpse into the void. Though it must be noted that language and rhetoric used to describe the void are implicated by an unacknowledged agency. Thereby an author can encounter difficulty using language to talk about the void, and yet language is a necessary tool for shedding light on the places, events, and people considered a part of the void. The struggle then becomes a writer’s ability to express and explore this vacancy without attempting to fill it in themselves.

Rebecca Capper is a senior in the Department of Theater and Performance, Bard College.

 

[1] Bhabha, Homi K. Writing the Void: Homi K. Bhabha on Language, Identity, and Migration.” Artforum (Summer 2016). 302-307.
[2] Ibid.