When I saw “hybridity” as one of our concepts this week, I was troubled, thinking that its association with biology may cloud its association with people living in contact zones, but Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin had that covered. As well when I approached “binarism” I felt an assumption of meaning but the book helped sharply define my thoughts. “Palimpsest” and “Syncretism” were relatively new, as if I’d seen them in the hallways enough to recognize them, but not formally introduced. “Liminality” I had experienced before in doing my research on fairy tales and in a sense it is no different here, a place of existence–that Third Place as Bhabha calls it–where the colonizer and the colonized cultures battle for dominance. But when a person realizes that they are living in that third space, standing in the doorway between two cultures, how does that push-pull existence manifest?
Perhaps it begins with that first moment in the mirror; when the binary is created for each us. The collapsing of ourselves into an “I” reflected back but not exactly. The reflection pushes back and says ‘I am you, but not you’. And in that space between the view and viewer is where we define ourselves. It is the first contact zone of our consciousness. The whole of our being is invented and investigated in the space between our gaze and the glass. When Walcott conjures up the image of the ape looking at its reflection on the stream as a possible spark of sentience, perhaps he was describing what happens to each of us. We see our mirrored reflection, we see ourselves reflected in our mother and fathers, brothers and sister, our communities and our friends and we continually redefine ourselves based on that push back, that luminal space where all the signifiers and signifieds converge and attempt to form signs. We formulate our self-knowledge in those few inches between ourselves and these reflections. These are the micro-binaries that first tell us who we are and who we are not. It is only later, when the reflection is unrecognizable that we succumb to the more powerful other, the other that insists and defines and refracts (bends the waves of our consciousness) instead of reflects. Nyasha is Tambu’s refraction. Jeremiah is, to a certain extent, Babamukura’s; images that present an awareness of ourselves, but continually trouble our assumed self-knowledge.
Upon reflection, I found myself mixing up scenes between Nervous Conditions and Hamid’s story in The New Yorker. I couldn’t remember which character was sick on the floor under the cot, who rode either inside or on top if the bus…the colonizer had colonized my brain as well, showing me that distinctions between non-whites was not necessary. They are all so alien, it said, what is the difference. They do not exist in reality, it says, they exist in the liminal world.
When the colonizer approaches and the reflection is not imminent, the colonizer slips into that space and invents a new consciousness. Tambu sees a path before her (the convent) but Nyasha is the one to show her the path is actually a tunnel, with walls built by others. And even in knowing this, Tambu understand that while the far end of the tunnel is unknown, at the beginning is the image of her mother, her homestead and one possible future. She has no choice but to quickly sidle along the walls, heading for somewhere else,
The open ending of Nervous Conditions reminds us that there are no neat solutions for those who are colonized. Tambu has to persist, grasping at any shred of agency she can. Nyasha has become too aware of the doorway in which she exists, and her moments of true existence bring only anger, violence and despair from her father. He cannot provide for his family without living in the tunnel. He has accepted this and quite possibly, after so many years believes he belongs there. Nyasha suffocates, Tambu perseveres, and Babamukura oversees. The colonizer delegated his colonization.