“As a general rule then, cultural hybridity under colonialism seems to be a close cousin of mimicry.” (Amardeep Singh)
And that is how I came to understand it. How one simple sentence could untangle the web of confusion that was Homi Bhabha’s writing “Of Mimicry and Man”, how one simple sentence could define two words, two completely different (and yet similar) concepts, how one sentence has opened a door of complete fascination into something I didn’t know had a name. Until now.
(I cannot wait to delve into hybridity next week)
Though mimicry is just as fascinating, if not more so. Now, I know how to define mimicry -and I will further into my writing- a definition I came to understand, fully grasp, when I read Singh’s piece. I now see why our professor suggested we read Singh’s piece before delving into Bhabha’s.
However, I’m an educational/intellectual masochist. I read Bhabha’s essay first, just to see if I could come away understanding this weeks’ concepts, and got a headache for my effort. “I do respect the sophistication of Bhabha’s thinking — and the following is not meant to be an attack on his work — but I do not think his essays were ever meant to be read as pedagogical reference points” (Amardeep Singh). Agreed.
What is mimicry? In simple terms it is to imitate. But when defining mimicry in terms of PoCo literature I must give credit where credit is due, I did enjoy this sentence by Bhabha “colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite” (Bhabha 266).
Mimicry: the process by which the colonized imitate and adapt modes of behavior, language, religion, lifestyle of those doing the colonizing.
The more I was able to understand and define mimicry, the more I was able to understand Tambu. Tambu, the teenaged narrator of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s book Nervous Conditions. I was confused by Tambu’s resentment (I mean, not the resentment that reflected her envy) towards her brother Nhamo or her cousins Nyasha and Chido. There is one passage in particular where Tambu’s disgust was palpable. On page 37 Tambu says “I could not condone her lack of decorum. I would not give my approval. I turned away” (Dangarembga 37), her disapproval directed at her cousin Nyasha’s choice of clothing after Nyasha’s return from living in England. Tambu’s displeasure also extends to that of her cousin’s adoption of the English language. “They have been speaking nothing but English for so long that most of their Shona has gone” (Dangarembga 42), but what is interesting is that it’s not only displeasure that Tambu is feeling; “What Maiguru said was bewildering, bewildering and offending. I had not expected my cousins to have changed, certainly not so radically, simply because they had been away for a while. Besides Shonda was our language. What did people mean when they forgot it?” (Dangaremga 42). The above passages show a direct reaction of the consequence of mimicry. Nyasha and Chido, both taken to England, both mimicked and adapted to the English lifestyle to come back to their home having forgotten everything they’d once been a part of.
As another example think of Nhamo’s active form of mimicry, as Tambu describes it of course, his change in clothing, in hair, skin, tastes, language, and disposition. Once he’d been exposed to his uncle’s way of living, he stopped being an Other as his family was, but rather he began to imitate the lifestyle he’d been exposed to while living with his uncle.
I mean, it could be argued that Nyasha and Chido were just “going native” (Singh), and imitating the English.
As I continue to read more of Nervous Conditions, I wonder, will Tambu find herself guilty of mimicry as well?