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Tue Jan 22, 2013, 07:20 AM


Can non-Europeans think?

In a lovely little panegyric for the distinguished European philosopher Slavoj Zizek, published recently on Al Jazeera, we read:

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.

What immediately strikes the reader when seeing this opening paragraph is the unabashedly European character and disposition of the thing the author calls "philosophy today" - thus laying a claim on both the subject and time that is peculiar and in fact an exclusive property of Europe. The question of course is not the globality of philosophical visions that all these prominent European...philosophers indeed share...The question is rather something else: What about other thinkers who operate outside this European philosophical pedigree...

Why is European philosophy "philosophy", but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic - an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History... you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures...

What in effect Gramsci discovers, as a southern Italian suffering in the dungeons of European fascism, is what in Brooklyn we call chutzpah, to think yourself the centre of universe, a self-assuredness that gives the philosopher that certain panache and authority to think in absolutists and grand narrative terms....It is precisely that self-confidence, that self-consciousness, that audacity to think yourself the agent of history that enables a thinker to think his particular thinking is "Thinking" in universal terms, and his philosophy "Philosophy" and his city square "The Public Space", and thus he a globally recognised Public Intellectual.

There is thus a direct and unmitigated structural link between an empire, or an imperial frame of reference, and the presumed universality of a thinker thinking in the bosoms of that empire...


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Reply Can non-Europeans think? (Original post)
HiPointDem Jan 2013 OP
tama Jan 2013 #1

Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 08:45 AM

1. Can We?


First, is thinking defined by geographical region (e.g. that named Europe by Europeans) or better understood by the languages where thinking happens and/or is expressed?

If you ask speakers of non-Indo-European languages living and thinking in geopraphic area called Europe, the answer from e.g. our Finnish point of view is that European thought is thought in Indo-European languages. Which struggle much which categories of object and subject, ever present in Indo-European sentence structures, and assumption and wish of objective "realistic ontology" beyond phenomenological world of "all our relations" to quote non-European Lakota thought "Mitakuye Oyasin".

Here's article touching the question by a contemporary Finnish philosopher:

And here's an excerpt from Tere's answer to Zizek:

But is there a choice, subjective or asubjective? Žižek points out that ethnic and local
identities are not a real alternative to the globalization of capital, because, in effect, globalization
uses and produces the localities as one of its products. The true opposition to globalization is not
localism, but universalism. However, how much would it help to break the capitalist chains only to
discover that one has, finally, become a Parisian? When the Amazon Indians these days are
attacking illegal miners on their land, it is obvious that the two groups created and exploited by
global capitalism are run against each other in a logic that also in itself serves the capital. But is not
there also an issue of real ethnic battle involved? When Russell Means gives his voice to
Powhatan, his ethnic identity is certainly being manipulated by multiculturalist capitalism. But does
this mean that Means claim (1980: unpaginated) “The US will never have an effective foreign
policy until it deals justly with the American Indians” is not true? Could not an act or a revolution in
this situation be both an ethnic and a materialist-revolutionary one? Yes, it could, if it was an
ordinary act, if it would not have to have the subjectual universal-European structure. The
destruction of non-European or pseudo-European identities or subjectivities by European
revolutions can not be waved back by saying that such identities are never pure, never whole, but
bundles of antagonistic tendencies in themselves. They are such bundles, but becoming a subject,
becoming a Lacanian still means becoming an European bundle and thus losing and destroying
something else. Furthermore, what if the real radicality and revolutionary potential of Lenin's call
for the October revolution was precisely its ordinariness and mundaness: the place was not right,
the time was not right, there was no theoretical duty, no short-circuit, rather just the dogged and, to
the true Europeans, somewhat embarrassing improvisation by Lenin?
In Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism (2001a: 234-235) Žižek tells the story of an Austrian
pacifist who in a TV debate between a Serb and an Albanian urged them to put their animosity
aside, to negotiate, not to use violence despite of their grave hatred of each other. According to
Žižek, at this point the Serb and the Albanian glanced at each other, as by saying "Does this
moron not understand that we are only manipulating the ethnic stories in order to do battle on
power and money?" Žižek's conclusion is that the pacifist was secretly racist, assuming the truth of
the ethnic identities and the stories told about them. This is a great simile, because it allows us to
explore other vistas, too. Let us imagine a Finn or a Pole attending a heated discussion between
Hitler and Stalin just before the signing of the Ribbentrop treaty. Hitler and Stalin are arguing over
the relative merits of their revolutions, Hitler emphasising the unity of spirit in Germany, its radical
transformation, Stalin putting stress on the internationalism of the socialist revolution. The Finn or
the Pole intervenes, tries to cool down the animosity, which makes Stalin and Hitler change
glances: does not this moron know that we are just manipulating these revolutionary stories?
Indeed, still staying on the question of revolutionary identities, is it not possible to use the stories of
both global capital and Lacano-Marxism in a manipulative way? Is there not a not-so-hidden
Europocentrism in taking these two seriously? Could there not be a discussion in which a liberal
democrat and a Lacano-Marxist would discuss on the merits of their views with regard to economic
equality in the world? The observer could be a New Ageist, saying "put the economical side away,
concentrate on your souls"; both parties would then glance at each other: "does not this moron
know that we are only manipulating these stories?" From a non-indo-European perspective, is
there not a sinister side to the utopia of "collectives of material production" (Žižek's positive goal in
2001a)? Is it sure that these are not ensnared in the trap of "survival" and other essentially
Europocentric (scientific, political, philosophical) notions?


In the movie "Dancing With Wolves" when the "gone-native" hero falls in the hands of blue-coats, there is scene where he refuses to speak to them in English and says in his native tongue that they are not worth speaking to and then falls silent. It is interesting to note that Zizek who loves to analyze movies has never mentioned nor touched this scene.

It is true that there is little use of talking to deaf ears of colonialist "universalism" from local (mixed and impure "ethic" point of view and way of life. But from "asubjective" experience of "all our relations" we do listen and speak with all. One at heart.

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