Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Uncanny/Unhomely in Bhabha's "The World and the Home"

In his essay titled "The World and the Home" Homi Bhabha draws on Sigmund Freud's concept of the "Uncanny" ("unheimlich"). In its original sense, Freud's uncanny or "unhomely" refers to the estranged sense of encountering something familiar yet threatening which lies within the bounds of the intimate.

In "The Home and the Home" Bhabha uses Freud's concept of the uncanny to describe the somewhat dismal state of (post)modern sense of belongingness and the sense of "home". According to Bhabha the state of the "unhomely" is not a state of lacking a home, or the opposite of having a home, it is rather the creeping recognition that the line between the world and the home are breaking down. As Bhabah puts it: "In that displacement the border between home and world becomes confused; and, uncannily, the private and the public become part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting".

For Bhabha the unhomely is expressed in the sensation that your home is not yours, and he broadens Freud's discussion from personal to political causes. Bhabha's unhomely appears through "holes" in the fabric of reality, things that remained unsaid, questions that remained unanswered, a place "where the relation of "object" to identity is always split and doubled" at the edge of the knowable.  The unhomely for Bhabha, like "the uncanny" for Freud, is the result of repression:  "To "un"-speak is both to release from erasure and repression, and to reconstruct, reinscribe the elements of the known. "In this case too," we may say with Freud, "the Unheimlich is what was once heimisch, home like, familiar; the pre-fix 'un' is the token of repression". It is the repression of certain expressed truth which has suddenly turned foreign. Bhabha concludes his discussion of the unhomely by arguing that "As literary creatures and political animals we ought to concern ourselves with the understanding of human action and the social world as a moment when something is beyond control, but it is not beyond accommodation".