POST-COLONIAL AND ANTI-RACIST CRITIQUES IN. FEMINIST FILM THEORY
One of the most thoroughgoing critiques of psychoanalytic theory in terms of its white middle-class binary (female/male) frame of reference is provided by Jane Gaines in an essay titled ‘White Privilege and Looking Relations: Race and Gender in Feminist Film Theory’ (1994).8 Gaines considers the problems inherent in psychoanalytic theory for explaining race and ethnicity and its implications for feminist film theory more generally. She claims that the psychoanalytic model functions to ignore or marginalise ‘considerations that assume a different configuration’ (Gaines 1994:177). In this context Gaines maintains that the Freudian – Lacanian scenario serves to ‘eclipse the scenario of race-gender relations in African – American history, since the two accounts of sexuality are fundamentally incongruous’ (ibid,). Further, the model universalises and reaffirms patterns of familial relations based on ‘white middle class norms’.
The psychoanalytic model establishes gender as central in its analysis of oppression by positing the central binary opposition as between male/female. As Gaines notes: ‘to the extent that it works to keep woman from seeing other structures of oppression it functions ideologically’ (ibid,). In this context Gaines explains how psychoanalytic theory was incorporated into the theoretical work of writers such as ClaireJohnston (1973) and Laura Mulvey. As Gaines (1994:178) comments, ‘In retrospect, we understand that the apparent intransigence of the theory of cinema as patriarchal discourse as it developed out of these essays is the legacy of the Althusserian theory of the subject.’ Psychoanalytic theory served to provide a version of the construction of the subject which supplemented that of classical Marxism.
In an unqualified attack on Gaines’ position, Modleski (1993) claims that Gaines has a strong ideological axe to grind in her attack on psychoanalytic film theory, maintaining that psychoanalysis cannot be used to discuss the issue of race in film theory adequately. In her essay ‘Cinema and the Dark Continent: Race and Gender in Popular Film’ (1993), Modleski aimed to show that Gaines’ claim lacks foundation.
Drawing on the work of the post-colonialist writer Homi Bhabha (1984, 1986, 1988, 1994), Modleski shows that his post-colonialist critiques of colonialist discourses draw on a number of psychoanalytic concepts and frames of reference. Modleski (1993:74) claims that ‘Homi Bhabha has shown how colonialist discourse.. .involves a process of mimicry that is related psychoanalytically to the mechanism of fetishization.’ She maintains that by ‘mimicry’ Bhabha seems to imply the imposition of one nation’s values, structures and language on another— a colonised nation. The process of imposition does not imply the complete obliteration of difference but speaks of ‘a desire for a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite’ (Bhabha 1984:131). The position emphasised by Bhabha is one of ambivalence. Elsewhere Bhabha states that
it is the force of ambivalence that gives the colonial stereotype its currency: ensures its repeatability in changing historical and discursive conjunctures; informs its strategies of individuation and marginalization; produces that effect of probabilistic truth and predictability which, for the stereotype, must always be in excess of what can be empirically proved or logically construed.
Yet the function of ambivalence as one of the most significant discursive and psychical strategies of discriminatory power—whether racist or sexist, peripheral or metropolitan—remains to be charted.
The development of the ‘problematics of difference and sameness’ as developed by Bhabha parallel the debates that have emerged in feminist theory. Modleski notes that Bhabha work is important in highlighting ‘the psycho-social dynamics of colonialism and racism’, establishing the relevance of psychoanalysis to areas which have previously been understood as outside its sphere. However, she observes that, while Bhabha draws on concepts which have emerged from feminist theorisation of sexual difference, he himself neglects and dismisses gender and feminist issues.
This issue has been acknowledged, if not more fully addressed, in Bhabha’s text The Location of Culture (1994), which reflects his engagement with elements of poststructuralism as well as psychoanalytic theory. As Bhabha (1994:74) comments, ‘The force of colonial and post-colonial discourse as a theoretical and cultural intervention in our contemporary moment represents the urgent need to contest singularities of difference and to articulate diverse “subjects” of differentiation.’ However, the theoretical emphasis of Bhabha’s work remains undifferentiated in his use of the category ‘race’ and he references only male post-colonialist, poststructuralist and anti-racist writers in this context—notably Edward Said, Franz Fanon and Michel Foucault.
Michele Wallace (1993) is critical of the current debates around the issue of the representation of race from both within and outside the black community. She contends that
it may even be that the economic and political victimization of the urban and rural black poor in the US and worldwide is somehow exacerbated by the deeply flawed and inadequate representations of ‘race’ currently sponsored by both blacks and non-blacks in both ‘high’ and ‘low culture’.
Wallace (1993:655) maintains that the debates around race and sexuality need to be ‘reunited in discussions of post-colonial “minority” discourse’, and she argues that this is where debates in the area of black feminist cultural production should be situated. Gaines (1994:176) also sees a shift in the location of debates concerning psychoanalytic theory and its intersection with discourses in the area of race and ethnicity. She claims that the debate has shifted from film studies to African and African-American studies,9 and maintains that there is already a strong black feminist literary theory and cultural studies emerging, but also a parallel development in both critical and creative work on film and video art.10
Wallace contends that it is imperative that debates around a number of discourses within ‘Marxist cultural criticism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction and postmodernism’ (Wallace 1993:659) are incorporated into the development of a critical practice designed to deal with ‘the complexities of racial/sexual politics as a constellation of increasingly global issues’ (ibid.). However, Gaines is more critical about the implications of psychoanalytic theory and Marxist models for an analysis of race and sexuality. She claims that, while race has been incorporated into Marxist models more smoothly than has sexuality, the interpretation of racial conflict as an aspect of class struggle is unsatisfactory, particularly to Marxist feminists who want to understand the exact nature of the intersection of gender and race. As Gaines (1994:180) notes, the ‘oppression of women of colour remains incompletely grasped by the classical Marxist paradigm’.