Yes, we can: Non-European thinkers and philosophers

Walter D. Mignolo weighs in on the debate on the relative strength’s of Eurocentric and non-Eurocentric philosophy – Published on AlJazeera, Feb 19, 2013.

While Zizek may be the most important European philosopher today, his work is less relevant for many people than the work of other philosophers like Lewis R Gordon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Wang Hui and Enrique Dussel. 

The exchanges between Santiago Zabala and Hamid Dabashi published in Al Jazeera brings about one of the crucial issues of the 21st century: the increasing process of re-westernisation (the revamping of Western ways of thinking, from Christianity to Liberalism and Marxism), de-westernisation and decoloniality in all sphere of life, politics, economy, religions, aesthetics, knowledge and subjectivity.

The exchange focuses mainly in the last two. The exchange was prompted by Zabala’s article on the role of the philosopher celebrating Slavov Zizek. In his response, Dabashi took up on the meaning differential between the names of Western philosophers and the countries where non-European philosophers are supposed to dwell or “come from” to Euro-US academy.

Zabala’s responses to Dabashi opted to emphasise Zizek’s refreshing Communism. I will focus on the issues that emerge in the borders of the exchange. I am, after all, a border and decolonial thinker.

Beliefs in hierarchies:

  • The response by Hamid Dabashi to Zabala’s article on the role of the philosopher, contributed to the circulation of the piece in areas of the public domain where it would not have otherwise been circulated. Dabashi’s response was a reflection on the initial paragraph of said article on Zizek written by Santiago Zabala.
  • There are many important and active philosophers today: Judith Butler in the United States, Simon Critchley in England, Victoria Camps in Spain, Jean-Luc Nancy in France, Chantal Mouffe in Belgium, Gianni Vattimo in Italy, Peter Sloterdijk in Germany and in Slovenia, Slavoj Zizek, not to mention others working in Brazil, Australia and China.
  • Dabashi’s strategy parallels his argument: he doesn’t mention the name of the article’s authors. Dabashi’s silence brings to the foreground the meaning of naming. His response is a sign among many that we, on the planet, are living a change of epoch rather than in an epoch of changes. The change of epoch is announced, in the sphere of knowledge, in the process of delinking from long lasting effects of epistemic colonial and imperial differences.
  • According to this frame, Native Americans have wisdom and Anglo-Americans science; Africans have experience and Europeans philosophy; the Third World has culture and the First World social sciences, including anthropology who study the cultures of the Third World; Chinese and Indians have traditions, Europeans modernity; Islam dwells in religion, Europeans in secularism.
  • Those beliefs in such hierarchies are gone among a growing number of non-European scholars, intellectuals, thinkers, activists. This is for me the implicit call made by Dabashi.

What non-European thinkers think: … //

… Relevance is not universal:

  • The question raised by Dabashi is not new among us, thinkers of the ex-Third World (even if some or many of us are based in the US). Saying that it is not new, I am not implying that Dabashi’s response is outdated. I mean that the issues at hand were debated in Africa, the Caribbean and South America at least since the late 50s and 60s. But they were debated “among us” and not “with them”.
  • Now the differential of epistemic power has begun to be debated among “us” both, non-European thinkers and European philosophers. The exception in the domain of diplomacy was Kishore Mahbubani who raised the issue in his polemical book Can Asians Think? (1999).
  • Now, if we want to use the term “philosophy” to identify thinkers whether European and non-European, I would say that while Zizek may be the most important European philosopher today, his work is less relevant for many people than the work of Jamaican philosopher Lewis Ricardo Gordon; Iranian philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr; Chinese philosopher Wang Hui; Egyptian Nawal El Saadawi; and Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel.
  • And if behind Zizek there is Derrida in continental philosophy, behind Gordon is Fanon in Africana philosophy; behind Seyyed Hossein Nasr is Ali Shariati in Muslim philosophy, behind Wang Hui there is Liu Xun in Chinese philosophy, behind El Sadawi the legacies of Muslim falsafa and behind Dussel is Rodolfo Kusch in Latin American philosophy.
  • Relevance is not universal, but depends on the universe of meaning and the belief system under which relevance is determined. We have here a pluriversal world of thinkers and philosophers in the process of de-westernising and decolonising the imperial legacies of Western philosophy.
  • The question of philosophy in the non-European world has been and is a vexing one. African and Latin American thinkers trained in philosophy debated, around the 1970s, this crucial question: “Is there an African/Latin American philosophy?” This question would have been unthinkable in Germany during the same years.
  • Robert Bernasconi, elaborating on African-American philosopher Lucius T Outlaw, summarised the dilemma as follows:
  • Western philosophy traps African philosophy in a double bind: either African philosophy is so similar to Western philosophy that it makes no distinctive contribution and effectively disappears; or it is so different that its credentials to be genuine philosophy will always be in doubt. (Bernasconi 1998, 188; Postcolonial African Philosophy: A Critical Reader).
  • This is simply the entanglement and the puzzle that tormented thinkers with an academic training in philosophy in Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

Communism is an option: … //

… Building harmonious future:

  • In sum, the exchanges of ideas – in this publication – between Santiago Zabala and Hamid Dabashi, brings to the foreground a fundamental issue in building global and harmonious futures. There is a parallel between the growing convictions of the failure of neo-liberalism in the non-European world that parallels the growing conviction of limits (at the same time the value) of continental philosophy.
  • Sartre summarised it all in his prologue to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961), when he states, addressing a French and European audience, “listen, pay attention, Fanon is no longer talking to us”.

(full long text).

(Walter D Mignolo is William H Wannamaker Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Global Studies and the Humanities, Duke University. His most recent book, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options (2011, Duke UP) is the third of a trilogy that includes The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization (1995, Michigan UP) and Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges and Border Thinking /2000, Princeton UP).

Walter D. Mignolo on en.wikipedia.

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