…finishing the post

Back to Da Silva and the modernity thesis. Of course Dussell has pointed out the colonialist tropes in Hegel, etc., with juicy quotations.

Greg McCarthy’s summary of Da Silva is better than mine, for its concision. Note that Da Silva can help with Anzaldúa too.

My thesis for paper #1 is that the evoke-and-elide movement in the 19th century novels is enacting or dramatizing the move Da Silva describes (the engulfment); there is no way out in the modern paradigm. Moving on to Anzaldúa: it is possible that she (and decoloniality generally) are trying to be the resistance to this, the path out of it. The question becomes how well does this theory or does Anzaldúa in particular do it.

We shall see.


One thought on “…finishing the post

  1. McCarthy 2008:

    An engagement with racism, nation and sovereignty stands at the core of the three books under review. The first, Denise da Silva’s Towards a Global Idea of Race, is a philosophical journey taking the reader from the foundations of humanism in post-Enlightenment Europe to notions of globality and race in modern-day United States and Brazil. The second, edited by Suvendrini Perera, Our Patch, is grounded in Australia, exploring the country’s post-colonial anxiety over Indigenous sovereignty and its long held fear regarding territorial security. The last book, edited by Jon Altman and Melinda Hinkson, Coercive Reconciliation, is an immediate response to the Howard government’s decree of a State of Emergency in June 2007 that was to enable the government to take control over Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

    Da Silva’s book is divided into three parts: Part I, Homo Historicus; Part II, Homo Scientificus; and Part III, Homo Modernus. Part I follows the archeological and genealogical footsteps of Michel Foucault, discovering the foundations of humanism in Europe. This journey involves scaling the mountains of Kant’s ‘Transcendental’, Herder’s ‘History’ and Hegel’s ‘Spirit’. The climb is one of self-discovery. On ‘his’ travels between the countries of the madman and the poet, the European subject finds an intrinsic sense of self-determination and self-consciousness. In scaling ‘Spirit’ mountain, the human subject reaches a point of epiphany, where the social, the political, the economic and the moral combine to create ‘the moment of transparency’, where ‘universal reason’ is perceived as ‘freedom’ (p. 258). For da Silva, this moment of revelation is racially inscribed into the minds of the European intellectual climbers, as they perceive that they alone can carry the ‘backpack’ of universality. At the top of the ‘mountain’ of reason, interiority and exteriority meet the ‘Other’ as inferior, and unable to be universalised. The ‘Other’ cannot be the self-determining subject but only exterior to it, the object of analysis and wonderment but not of transcendence.

    Nevertheless, for European ‘man’ to be truly transcendental, natural science had to give the imprimatur to the ‘Other’ as the object of the gaze of the superior transcendental scientist. Da Silva argues, in Part II of her book, that scientific discourse provided the discursive knowledge/power confirmation of the racial superiority of European man. At the very core of the interior/exterior humanist subject was racism. Transcendental belief and natural scientific discourse came together to support the violent subjugation of subaltern subjects who, not having the knowledge/power of transcendental self-determination, were merely the objects of those who carried that Spirit. In short, Historical man and Scientific man were the intellectual force bolstering colonialism and imperialism, taking colour as its marker of those who could and could not transcend from individual to universal, from conqueror to conquered.

    However, each instance of the racially-charged colonial conquest was different. In Part III, da Silva details how the historical narratives of nation in the United States and Brazil are deeply inflected by this racial discourse. This is a highly nuanced explanation of how the inscribed racial subject ‘European man’ became globalised and inscribed in national narratives. In the United States, racial difference was represented as a series of affected opposites to the transcendental Anglo-Saxon American subject. These opposites could be subjugated through violence against the American Indians and African-Americans. The ‘others of Europe’ were regarded as inferior beings unable to carry the transcendental power of the Anglo-Saxon (liberal) subject.

    According to da Silva’s schema, the global configuration of race became encrypted in Brazilian national representation via miscegenation. At the turn of the twentieth century, Brazil celebrated its modern status through the process of miscegenation that presupposed a desire-power subjectivity. However, this representation of a European desire was problematic as it was manifested through the bodies of racially inscribed (black) women. The Brazilian moment of transparency consequently was delayed. Brazilian modernity is now absorbed into a new global power-desire relationship that is:

    … no-longer solely European and white (European, U.S. American, and Japanese) power/desire, which no longer needs to occupy the lands or enslave the bodies of their ‘natives’ to exploit them because the always-already affectable global subaltern subjects have also been engulfed by disembodied, virtual, strategies of power that hijack their future without … having being held accountable for their past. (p. 250)

    The last section of the book takes the theory forward to consider how the racially charged account of humanism and its global representation have strong implications for contemporary emancipation struggles of subaltern peoples. Da Silva writes that:

    Today’s racial subalterns, finding themselves struggling for juridical and economic justice in an ontoepistemological context, globality, in which they stand always already before the ruling ethical principle of transcendentality, face the horizon of death: existing in urban spaces marked by urban revolts, suicide bombings, or drug-related violence or troubled by wars for the scarce resources and land riches of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands, and the United States that insatiable neoconservative capitalists desire. (p. 267)

    The book ends with the question: What lies ahead? For da Silva, the answer is in mapping out how ‘critical strategies’ can undermine the ‘tools of obliteration’ that use transparency to perform violence against regions and peoples in the name of freedom. This strategy must not only challenge the power-desire of the powerful but also act as a corrective to those who seek to use universalising strategies, such as racial difference that have contextual consequences, so that they may obliterate the multiple affectability of subjugation on, for example, African-American, welfare-dependent women in the US. Likewise, da Silva notes that on a global scale ‘people of colour now inhabit a sort of “state of nature” to which juridical devices that classic liberal theorists saw as necessary for the protection of life and liberty do not apply’ (p. 267).

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