Home(s) Abroad: Diasporic Identities in Third Spaces

Sura P. Rath, Louisiana State University -- Shreveport

Copyright © 2000 by Sura P. Rath, all rights reserved. This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the editors of JOUVERT: Journal of Postcolonial Studies.

  1. This is the central issue, the core of my argument: the construction of the Other, the necessity for this Other, and the importance of the presence of the Other to a continued definition of the Self. In Margins of Philosophy Jacques Derrida says: "Philosophy has always insisted upon this: thinking its other. Its other: that which limits it, and from which it derives its essence, its definition, its production"(x). I would like to take a somewhat different route here, though, using as my springboard a model of the self provided by Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness. Sartre offers a three-part model of the Self: Being-for-Itself, Being-for-Others, and Being-in-the-World. Later embraced by Maurice Merlau-Ponty, Georges Gusdorf, and Ernst Cassirer, this model of the Self helps explain, I believe, the subjective postcolonial experience and the postcolonial world view in a more inclusive and less traumatizing way; it also enables the postcolonial, himself/herself ‘othered’ in a hegemonic dominant culture, to engage the othering forces themselves as Others and to express them as supplements to the subjective self-consciousness.

  2. We begin with "the perceiving ‘For-Itself’ which is constituted as consciousness by distinguishing itself from the world of which it is conscious and to which it is present" (Kinneavy 398). This ‘For-Itself’ is therefore in need of the world to establish itself as consciousness; in fact, "to establish itself as a knowing self-consciousness it must be aware of other knowing consciousnesses from which it is also distinct, and these other consciousnesses are the ‘Others.’" As Being-for-Itself, the Self is constituted by its past, present, and future; it is an image of the self that has its genesis in history but that encompasses the fluid uncertainty of the present moment as well as the unrealized potentials that lie far in the future. Thus it combines both the concrete and the abstract, the known and the knowable unknown, the genesis and the apocalypse; it is the sum-total of the ‘I’ as seen through my own eye (Sartre 152-72). As Being-for-Others, the subject Self constructs an image of itself as an object, as it is observed by everybody beyond the borders of itself. This reverse virtual image lies in a twilight zone, for the Self’s apprehension of the Other’s perception of itself is at best partial and incomplete, and more likely mistaken, though the benign ignorance is likely to follow one to one’s grave. The Being-in-the World derives from my consciousness of the world as the sum of the possibilities. These possibilities, Sartre says, are "something which the For-Itself lacks in order to be itself" (125), instruments of supplementation. The Self remains splintered in a million consciousnesses as the bits of potential for-itself.

  3. In this model of the Self, the consciousness has three components, two of which -- the second and the third -- are outside the subject self’s total comprehension; the first, Being-for-Itself, incorporates the subject self’s action, will, and idea. Yet to satisfy its hunger for complete self-knowledge, the Self seeks to supplement its self-image, to fill the absence(s), the missing pieces, by constructing an ideal Other against which it can articulate its identity, see its own mirror image, an image confirming the subjective view already projected into the consciousness. In my earlier work I have examined the obsession in each culture to discover and maintain its own tribal past as a means to gauge its progress from the savage stone age to its present ‘civilized’ status. I have argued that the self’s irrepressible desire/need to define itself in terms of an Other results in the ubiquitous images of romanticized and idealized portraits of tribes and tribal lives in works such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. In order to fit the historical processes of transformation to conform to the myth of our cultural origin and evolution, we sometimes have to modify or even imagine the exact outlines and features of this Other. Always polarized between the civilized (here) and the primitive (there), this inter-dependence is a curious bond that binds the colonial power and the colonized.


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Last Modified: 7 March 2002