language and mimicry

To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture. The Antilles Negro who wants to be white will be the whiter as he gains greater mastery of the cultural tool that language is. Rather more than a year ago in Lyon, I remember, in a lecture I had drawn a parallel between the Negro and European poetry, and a French acquaintance told me enthusiastically, ‘At the bottom you are a white man.’ The fact that I had been able to investigate so interesting a problem through the white man’s language gave me honorary citizenship” (38).

This extract to me really summarises what the article is all about. it is about the appropriation of a language that is foreign in an attempt to be something that one cannot (Liz explained this really well in her post). And what really troubles me is the fact that the Antilles Negroes still persist in wanting to speak French because they see it as “the key that can open doors which were still barred to his fifty years ago” (38). They wish to be seen as equals to their European counterparts but this cannot ever be achieved because no matter how good their French is, as it is only seen as a good imitation of an original. It is like a layman trying to sing Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” in Singapore Idol. It will never ever be able to measure up to the original version and what will you get? lots of backlash from the judges about poor song choice and a possible boot from the show. Anecdote aside, the Antilles Negroes will always be “measured up to the culture” (39) and even if their “gift of eloquence… leaves any European breathless” (39), their ‘achievement’ will be met with praise laced with condescension, oh he was a “great black poet,” or here’s a “black man who handles the french language as no white man can” (39). Race always comes to the fore and it just seems to me to be another pat on the back on the colonizer’s part.

But this is not to mean that they should stop speaking French, because mimicry as suggested by Homi Bhabha could also disclose the ambivalence of colonial discourse and disrupt its authority in creating a kind of “double vision.” This double vision is the “inappropriate” repetition of partial presences of the colonial subject that subverts the “appropriate objects of a colonialist chain of command, authorized versions of otherness”(87).

One thought on “language and mimicry

  1. interesting, caroline… but how do you view the fact that some of the best writers in the english language are now not english? the most famous writers now are people like salman rushdie, anita desai… are their works only “imitation of an original”, or is english now also an indian language?