On colonialism, diversity and resistance: Some concluding remarks

Hello everyone,

I still have some notes from our class that I would like to share here – I’ll do so by commenting on a potential contradiction that I noticed in my paper (of course only after submitting it 🙂 ).

So here is my potential problem: In one moment of the paper I refer to [political, cultural, linguistic…] diversity as a hindrance to imperial domination. I proposed this generalization when analyzing a letter by Christopher Columbus. He writes:

“In all those islands, I saw not much diversity in the looks of the people, nor in their manners and language; but they all understand each other, which is a thing of singular advantage for what I hope their Highness will decide upon for converting them to our holy faith, unto which they are very well disposed.”

Columbus

Under a same language and a same culture, it is easier to propagate the ideology of the ruling class. No wonder, then, that imperial powers throughout history seek to linguistically homogenize the peoples under their control. The language to be spoken is the language of the colonizer.

But then, in another part of the paper, I make reference to the strategy of separating families and tribes brought as slaves from Africa to the Americas in order to difficult their rebellion through ties of friendship and a shared language.

slavedealer

I did not address the potential contradiction, however, that, in this case, diversity seems to rather operate in favor of colonial domination.

The dilemma may help give support to Gabriel’s claim that difference is not be taken as a value in itself. It is clear that both difference and identity can be instrumentalized by colonial powers. Nevertheless, I think there is a qualification I can make that would allow me to still hold that, overall, diversity is more likely to offer resistance rather than support to the perpetuation of a centralized, imperial political power. This is the case as long as diversity is not fragmented. Stagnant diversity – with no creative exchanges, with no communication – is even less likely than homogeneity to develop forms of organized resistance.

That capitalism operates as a homogenizing force in the world is in itself a reason for affirming the value of local languages, local products, local art forms… Having to include pepper, avocado, olives and guarana soda in the menu is something that McDonalds can gladly do as long as those items are largely available and consumed in the newly occupied space. This is diversity put into use. More determinant than that, however, is the homogeneity of a fast-food consuming public on the basis of which ‘”the McDonaldization of society” (George Ritzer) operates. This is homogeneity being simultaneously used and produced.

McDon

The colonial, economic and political occupation of spaces and peoples also operates under the principle of fragmentation (and hierarchization, cf. Lefebvre). Occupied space is divided between rich and poor, between private and public services, between black and white, between the Tutsi and the Hutu, between Dalits and those subdivided within the Caste system, between Palestinians and Israelis, between the settlers’ town and the town belonging to the colonized people. Occupied space is a “world divided into compartments” (Fanon). As the Latin saying goes, Divide et impera!

Let us rather join forces in saying: Stop the wall!

Check out the http://www.stopthewall.org website

And the video bellow!  🙂

So, we have homogenization and fragmentation. The opposite of that is not the mere existence of diversity – at least not a fragmented diversity – but diversity that interacts, that is able to emerge as some form of unity under shared concerns and aspirations, a diversity able to affirm the very right for diversity. I think this is why many of the authors we read in class bring attention to the interconnectedness of different existing struggles as well as the interconnectedness of different forms of oppression in a call for joint resistance. Just to recall a few examples of texts we read:

Luxemburg underlines the equal status that men and women share as proletarians. She does so in the attempt to gain the support of the Social Democratic Party in the struggle for women’s voting rights: “The proletarian woman needs political rights because she exercises the same economic function, slaves away for capital in the same way, maintains the state in the same way, and is bled dry and suppressed by it in the same way as the male proletarian.”

Panafricanism makes the claim that Africa – a continent with so much diversity, with thousand of different languages and ethnic groups – is, in fact, one. “Africa is one,” as Carmichael and many other write, because it stands under the same burdens of colonialism and neo-colonialism; Africa is a unity with a shared history: “the African for the last five hundred years has known neither peace nor justice. His wealth and his labor have built Western Europe and America” (Carmichael); Africa is one in the struggle for liberation of all of her people.

CLR James identifies the shared French language that the slaves in San Domingo had at their disposal as an important element that allowed the revolution. The homogeneity created by colonization was turned into a weapon for resistance and liberation. I think this highlights the importance of shared ideals and communication. Sure, it could also be said to affirm the political power of homogeneity, but then we run into the kinds of problems that Foucault in his analysis of the Iranian Revolution does, which I don’t think I need to go over here again.

One last example: Being interviewed by C. Zetkin, Lenin seemed at first rather intimidated by the thought that questions of sex and marriage could be discussed from the point of view of historical materialism, and that the different struggles at stake could be related under a same, Marxist framework. More towards the end, however, he recognizes that, because the proletarian dictatorship means “complete equality,” all “old uncommunist psychology” must be destroyed. And this requires embracing “a great deal of educational work among men” having as goal to “root out the old ‘master’ idea to its last and smallest root.” In other words, no complete equality is possible without feminism.

So, to go back to the potential contradiction to be found in my paper, I will say that fragmentation is beneficial to the colonial enterprise, but not unity that arises from a vivid diversity, from a diversity that is able to address similar concerns and projects of justice and equality. For how long did the strategy of separating people from different families and tribes from Africa work anyway? Different forms of communication, unity and resistance were found despite of the obstacles. And so they continue to be found! 

casaca

In my home State in Brazil, EspĂ­rito Santo, you find this interesting variation of the reco-reco and the gĂŒiro. The “casaca,” as it is called, has African and American indigenous origins. It is a percussion instrument with a human, totemic form, that was played by the slaves in many of their ceremonies and celebrations. The sound is generated by the symbolic infliction of pain against the ribs of the body that the casaca represents.

People, it was great to take this course with y’all! Sorry about the long post. Hope to see you soon again!

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Metaphilosophical Concluding Questions and Remarks

One crucial theme that we discussed throughout the semester was space and the possibility of its production. In our last session, we touched on some of the various other important notions explored during this term, so I would simply like to offer a few critical questions and reflections in order to connect the theme of space to the other themes of our ongoing dialogue. As a thought exercise, I will briefly touch on a few meta-theoretical concerns that have come up for me in particular.

A question that will occupy a pivotal position in my seminar paper is that of relationship between space and decolonial practices. Simply put, how does the process of decolonization relate to the spatiality? What is the role of philosophy with respect to this particular relation? How does decolonization, in striving against imperialism, cultural hegemony and racism, force us to rethink how space is conventionally understood? Are the theoretical endeavours of those who labour under the broadly construed rubric of the philosophy of ‘space and place’ or ‘critical geography’ in need of some sort of means or process of decolonization in order to avoid replicating on the level of theory the colonial gesture? Or, in other words, can the development of spatial practice be thought apart from the history of imperial expansion and a certain orientalist or exoticist gaze?

In one respect, it might be argued that the reassertion of space in critical social theory (Lefebvre, Foucault, Soja, Harvey) represents something like a decolonial shift, insofar as materialism is no longer confined to a ‘Western’ or ‘European’ dialectic of history that conceals within itself implicit spatial specificities and presuppositions. The spatial axis of historical materialism in fact multiplies history itself: there is no longer History proper, but only a multiplicity of local, regional, cultural and national histories. I tend to think that merely opening up the geographical dimension of history does not at all suffice, especially when we have the aim of working in tandem with colonized people and their struggles. In order to really fulfil the intentions of those who entreat us to spatialize Marxism, I believe that spatial theorists need to become themselves more fundamentally Marxist in their methodologies. Here, I admit to generalizing and it is not at all the case that all the aforementioned theorists are at all times guilty of the charge of Eurocentrism or somehow being disingenuously under the sway of pernicious ‘Western’ assumptions guiding the formulation of their theories. I would like to simply push these ideas in more radical direction by demanding that a rethinking of space in theory should take for its point of departure the specific conjunctural dynamics of the colonized milieu. Decolonization is not achieved solely via a positivist method, that is, we are not in fact decolonizing anything if we start by developing theoretical tools (‘socio-spatial dialectics’ ‘the production of space’ ‘opaque and transparent spaces’ ‘uneven development’) and then turn to applying them to specific conjunctures.

On the other hand, this does not give us recourse to simply jettison the purportedly ‘Eurocentric’ theoretical apparatus in favour of a strictly empirical analysis of colonized societies and their struggles. Indeed the starting point ought to begin with colonized societies in order flesh out the various practices, insights and concepts that they have to offer to the domain of a (now decolonized) spatial theory. How does the understanding of space that emerges from colonial struggles in fact challenge, contradict, or improve the conceptual elaboration of space in the social sciences? Do colonized and decolonized spaces offer a more robust understanding of a socio-spatial dialectic, in which human societies are both space producing and space contingent? Or do they give as an entirely different picture of space, one which forces us to rethink the conventional one or at least expand the ambit of its inclusivity?

Certainly, the colonial and decolonial experience represents a struggle over space. Moreover, it seems that in a certain register it is the struggle over the meaning and definition of the concept of space itself. David Harvey seems to recognize this problematic to a certain extent. Harvey’s remarks appear almost Althusserian, inasmuch as words and concepts become sites of contestation and socio-historical struggle. His words might serve as a provocative conclusion that hopefully produces more questions than answers:

“Gaining some sense how space is and how different spatialities and spatio-temporalities work is crucial to the construction of a distinctively geographical imagination. But space turns out to be an extraordinarily complicated key word. It functions as a compound word and has multiple determinations such that no one of its particular meanings can properly be understood in isolation from all the others. But that is precisely what makes the term, particularly when conjoined with time, so rich in possibilities.” (Harvey, Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development, 148).

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Reflections or ‘So long and thanks for all the questions’

I started reading Cannibal Metaphysics early on in the semester and was blown away by some of the ideas and especially some of the quotable lines: “When everything is human, the human is an entirely different thing” and “Western metaphysics is truly the fons et origio of every colonialism.” Although the way it is articulate in this text, I had encountered the West-as-Cannibal elsewhere particularly in a book by Jack Forbes called Columbus and Other Cannibals. Forbes articulates what he calls the ‘wetiko disease’ of western civilization; a disease that pushes European culture to consume and consume everything. This ‘consumption’ is not only the literal extermination of entire human groups and animal species, but also the ongoing colonization, domination, and exploitation of the human and non-human animal word that survived the initial and previous encounters. Of course, I think ‘we’ can subject his texts/arguments to some of the same critiques that the class put up against de Castro’s book. For Example, we cannot switch the so-called ‘deprived savage’ with the ‘noble savage’ and call it a day

The significance of the text for me was that it was the first to challenge my training and understanding of Reason or what is acceptable as rational discourse opened up conceptual space. Thinking of colonization of land, animals, and humans as the consumption of the lifeblood is helpful in breaking away from, for example, the dehumanizing discourse of the logic of exchange. If we only think of ourselves as purely rational animals motivated by profit is not just ridiculous, but degrading. This seems too obvious to write, but recently a news host bemoaned the fact that people were arguing for the $15/hour min. wage because they need to feed their kids (as if eating wasn’t an economic issue).
To plug another book, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has written an extraordinary book titled An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States that offers a powerful decolonial framework to re-cast indigenous/US history. In the first chapter, she offers a powerful critique of Woody Guthrie’s anthem ‘This Land is Your Land’ arguing that the song exhibits “the unconscious manifest destiny we live with.” Combine this with my research/paper on Malcolm X who emphasizes obtaining land, I’ve had to re-think and re-work much of my understanding of where ‘we’ are and where ‘we’ are going.

This course has problematized my conceptual framework and raised so many questions for me. If we understand US history as an ongoing colonial project, this changes the character and goal of resistance. What would it even mean to revolt and what would it mean for our concept of revolution to be decolonial, stated differently, what does a decolonial revolution look like in the US?

Another aspect I have trouble with is how to know where and when to be critical and assertive without reinforcing white supremacy, or patriarchy for instance. I heard one person speak about the indigenous struggles in Hawaii at an anarchist and decolonial conference. She criticized some anarchists for their discourse around ‘public’ land because she argued it lacked a decolonial critique. Her position was that Hawaii needed to decolonize and the people that lived there then would live under indigenous jurisdiction. It is unclear what ‘indigenous jurisdiction’ would look like, but I’m not interested in struggling to topple one regime for another.

These are questions I don’t have and I don’t suspect anyone necessarily has answers to given that they are not easy. To bring it back around to de Castro and our class discussion, I’m very much struggling with how to understand what it would mean to accept alternative metaphysics, alternative perspectives, yet be committed to ones own perspective without dominating the ‘other’. To add just another layer too, I’ve been reading Spinoza and trying to connect this reading to his Ethics (and there are some interesting overlaps/critiques etc). In discussing this briefly with a friend, they simply retorted, ‘what does metaphysics have to do with politics?’ I think de Castro is offering an answer, but I’m not sure I fully understand the political significance
 but I do have plenty of questions to ponder.

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Closing Remarks

Given the content of the material we covered, as well as the events that are currently engulfing this country I think it’s fair to say that old habits die hard, and try though we might educate ourselves and endeavor to escape closed intellectual loops, there is a certain sense in which we are forever bound by the ideological framework of our forefathers. What I mean by this is that I don’t necessarily believe that there is a real exit strategy from colonial thought because there is a sense in which colonial thought and modern thought are inseparable. Our existing ideological framework was built upon a colonial foundation, be it from a pro-colonial European seating, the imposed ideologies of the colonial, or hybrids of the two as in the American case. As Marx said in his dissertation (and I am paraphrasing), all ideologies that are born out of a particular system are defined and framed by said system. Therefore, anything that is produced within a colonially-dominated realm (the entire world) will be a product of an intermingling of incomplete objections and inescapable dogmas.
Now, do I believe all is hopeless? Not exactly. I do certainly believe that there will always be a certain colonial remnant present in our thought, but, I also don’t believe we are stuck in a position where our only hope is to magnetize our hard-drives. Rather, as I said before, I think that alternative intellectual delivery and distribution methods, such as pen-names and independent journals, could offer us a certain degree of wiggle room insofar as by escaping the invisible hand of the academic system, we are afforded an opportunity to experiment in ‘nonsense’. By nonsense, what I am alluding to is philosophy that has no hope of making waves in the cynical academic arena, but may be able to develop in a more open environment. If we poor a certain amount of our time into cultivating these types of unmarketable, and possibly career-detrimental concepts (here is where the pen names come in handy) we can hope that they develop into meaningful counter philosophies. Perhaps if we aren’t worried about our careers or our reputations we might stand a chance at accidentally stumbling into something great. This might be unduly hopeful, but at least it’s a start, and unlike Chakrabarty, it doesn’t require us to put all of our faith in Heidegger.

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Closing Thoughts/Vague Gestures : What it Means to Demarcate Space & Relegate Time within Colonial Frameworks

Over the course of this semester, we investigated multiple forays into thinking an otherwise beyond the West, doing our best to avoid being reductive within the existing binary universalized-normative framework. Repeatedly the difficulty arose in the attempt to negotiate these encounters without appropriation or projection. In that spirit, two broad yet pressing themes continue to haunt my reflections on our communal investigation. The first is the question of space and what it means to demarcate/territorialize it through discursive registers; the second is how we approach temporality when speaking about an elsewhere.

The space of academia is marked with the legacy of White Fathers in all their mythologized glory. This marker cannot be wished or willed away merely by inviting others to share our discursive space. For to “make room” for an otherwise already reveals an asymmetrical power relation. The view from elsewhere must adapt patterns of Reason and lexical understanding in order to even enter the space created for it. Truly, the subaltern can only speak in this space intelligibly (or perhaps intelligibility is not the problem, but normative expectation is) by abandoning that which invests her with subalternaety. The many texts in this course struggled with this disconnect between the desire to formulate new ideologies and ontological viabilities, while also simultaneously vying for legitimacy under the current regime. This precarious double-bind is neither theoretically sustainable nor just to the thinkers of the disenfranchised. Perhaps what is needed is an overall de(re)territorialization of these discursive spaces to make room for a plurivocity of lexical possibilities. The academics of the future must be polyglots or perish.

Another academic assumption that appeared periodically throughout the class dealt with the issue of differing temporalities. While it is good decolonial practice to acknowledge that there are multiple valid conceptions of temporality, there is a regular trend of projecting European (or generally western) forms of temporality on to other cultures. I turn to W.E.B. DuBois to address this practice: “primitive men are not following us afar, frantically waving a d seeking our goals; primitive men are not behind us in some swift foot-race. Primitive men have already arrived. They are abreast, and in places ahead us; in others behind. But all their curving advance line is contemporary, not prehistoric.” (Dusk of Dawn[1968] 127) Those who have different temporal realities or who occupy separate spaces/locations still share a contemporary circumstance with us and must be respected on those grounds. As we have learned from Foucault, to project a Western temporality onto others is a recipe for myopia and theoretical disaster.

Both of these problems begin with an evaluation of current practices. Without holding ourselves hostage with desires for decolonial perfection, we must pinpoint the important modes of research, pedagogy, publication, writing, and academic community-building  that decenter colonial practices and leave open a vital space for critique. What does it mean to hold a discursive register of self-criticism? We must begin by continually revisiting this very question. These difficult discussions must continue if philosophy is to flourish in a more inclusive manner.

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Decolonial Strategies

Hi everyone, thanks for all of your provoking thoughts last night. I wanted to ask, selfishly, if we might discuss Viveiros de Castro’s strategies for decolonization, especially in light of our earlier class discussions of Spivak and Graeber’s strategies. Could we name or describe this strategy, and does it seem to work? At any rate, it seems quite different from CĂ©saire’s strategy, which at least in part relies on his phrase that ‘clear thought is dangerous.’ Just some thoughts. cheers

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Program Update

Based on our conversation last time, please find our updated program (with paper deadlines) below:

12. Viveiros de Castro in Amazonia
4/20
Cannibal Metaphysics (Introductory Material and Chapters 1-6)

13. Viveiros de Castro in Amazonia
4/27
Cannibal Metaphysics (Chapters 7-13)

Post drafts on google docs for review

14. Conclusion
4/29

5/1
Reviews due

5/13
Papers due

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