The Place of Metaphor in a Metonymic World: On Homi Bhabha’s “Democracy De-Realized”

in Art and Visibility in Migratory Culture


In this article I present a cultural analysis of “Democracy De-Realized” by postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha. This lecture, running on RealPlayer software online, deals with questions of globalization and democracy. It was originally transmitted through live video from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Berlin, right after the events of September 11, 2001. I explore the ways in which the author relates to his position of enunciation and their effects in the context of the historical, technological, and immediate socio-institutional circumstances that make the broadcast of his lecture possible. I am particularly concerned with the contradictions between the performative and the discursive aspects of the lecture, and with the way the virtual environment of the transmission plays into that instability. I analyze how the modes of resistance to power that Bhabha proposes involve a displacement from the realm of the real to that of the virtual, and what his reiteratively deferred promise of connectivity implies. In order to bring about such an exploration, I recast Lacan’s concepts of metaphor and metonymy. In recurring to Lacan for an ideological critique of an instance of postcolonial discourse, I seek to exploit a potential in his work that is rarely considered of interest for political analyses