Walter Mignolo

Thoughts on modernity/coloniality, geopolitics of knowledge, border thinking, pluriversality, and the decolonial option.

On “The Idea of Latin America”

There is a recurrent blindness among readers and commentators of The Idea of Latin America. Although in the third part of the book I argued that “After”Latin America is the work of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Andean, of Indigenous intellectuals and political projects and that Latinos and Latinas in the US also contribute to dismantling the “idea of Latin America”forged by Creoles elites after independence in complicity with France, readers are still caught in traditional conflicts between Spaniards and Indians. Afro-Caribbeans (both insular and continental—Brazil) as well as Latinos and Latinas in the US remain invisible. Take for instance this paragraph from a comment posted in Amazon.com, signed as Kinohi Nishikawa:

Missing from Mignolo’s account is any consideration of how indigenous intellectuals (whom he supports, over and against Eurocentric, modern/colonial intellectuals) might not exactly “represent” the will of the communities they come from. He too readily accepts that these intellectuals speak the voice of “the people.” I appreciate Mignolo’s desire to critique Western epistemology and colonial regimes of knowledge, but I don’t think he questions the category of “intellectual work” enough, even in indigenous contexts. A more ethnographic approach to indigenous intellectual work might have helped his account here.

Two comments on this comment:

a) I do not think that there is missing from my account “any consideration of how indigenous intellectuals (…) might not exactly “represent”the will of the communities they come from.”I suspect that this is rather “missing”from the reader who posted this comment. First of all, in Part III I describe Indigenous, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Andean and Latino/as epistemic and political projects. I distinguish carefully (and I do so also in other articles, a couple of them posted here in this blog: Papers and Lectures ), between identity politics on the one hand and identity in politics on the other. The comment assumes that I am talking about identity politics while I am talking about identity in politics. Identity in politics defines epistemic and political projects based (explicitly or implicitly) on a given identity. “Republican intellectuals”in the US, very much like “indigenous intellectuals”in Bolivia or Ecuador, “might not exactly ‘represent’ the will of the communities they come from.” However, Republican intellectuals, as well as indigenous intellectuals, put forward, argue and defend political and epistemic projects grounded in their histories and subjectivities, whether or not that project represents the communities they come from. Samuel Huntington and Gloria Anzaldúa, for example, are clearly grounding their epistemic and political projects in linguistic, ethnic and disciplinary communities. That is undeniable. At the same time, they do not have to represent everyone in that community and not everyone in that community has the moral and political obligation to join. Take another example: Condoleezza Rice and the politically extinct Alberto Gonzáles, do not represent the communities they are coming from. And as Latino in the US I do not want to be represented by Alberto González and as US citizen I do not want to be represented by George W. Bush.

b) The other misunderstanding, which comes from coloniality of knowledge, is the difficulty of understanding whatever is not cast in terms of “representation”. Since The Darker Side of the Renaissance (1995). I have avoided, carefully, the use of the word “representation”and given my best to avoid the trap of Western de-notative philosophy of language and Western foundation of modern/colonial epistemology: the idea and concept of “representation”is linked to the distinction between knowing subject—known object. If you are not able to think beyond those parameters, you may have difficulties in understanding the thrust of the argument in The Idea of Latin America.

Coloniality of knowledge is pervasive. It convinces you that there is no other game in town and if you do not play the game according to the rules of the town, well, you are a candidate for a penalty by the officers of the town, who are less interested in understanding what you propose than in making sure you do not play the games as the Town Mayor and officers would like you to play.

I had a similar question in a dialogue I entertained with Antonio Lastra, from Valencia, editor of La Torre del Virrey. This time it was about whether I believe I am “representing the subalterns.”You see, readers focusing on Latin America see only “Indians”(no Afro-Latinos as it is common to say nowadays (see my piece on Afro-Latinos, in this same blog) and even less Latinos-as in the US as a “problem”for “Latin”America. For those more interested in theoretical and global debates, “the subalterns”appear in the picture not as an “agency”but as an “object of representation.”Well, the entire point of geo-politics and body-politics of knowledge, of shifting the geo-graphy of reason is precisely that: that way of looking at things not longer held: “we”(intellectuals with different shades of Whiteness and Americans from European descent) do not have the monopoly on knowledge and, of course, shall arrogantly assume that “we represent them”. “We”and “they”have our and their projects moving in the same direction, although walking parallel and convergent, but always distinct, paths. (1)

The fact that the book received “The 2006 Frantz Fanon Prize for Outstanding work in Caribbean Thought”speaks clearly to the fact that “Indians”are not the only actors the argument considers, and that the argument is built on “thoughts”not on “representations.”

This is the Manifesto that The Idea of Latin America intends to be. It is not a descriptive book of history, describing and explaining an “object”. On the contrary; it is an argument that begins by interrogating the “historical formation of the object and the power relations implied in such formation”while at the same time the argument dissolves itself in the history of that formation while dissolving the historical formation and its imperial underpinnings. If you would like an example of a full-fledged understanding of what I intended to do in La idea of Latin America, see the comment by Eduardo Mendieta posted, no in Amazon.com, but in The Intelligence Daily.com.

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1) Some of these issues have been discussed in the well thought-out interview conducted by Mónica Gonzáles, and published in Lucero 2006 (University of California at Berkeley), Towards a Decolonial Horizon of Pluriversality: A Dialogue with Walter Mignolo on and around The Idea of Latin America. I have also addressed some of these issue in the prólogo (“Separar las palabras de las cosas”) to the Spanish translation, La idea de América Latina. La herida colonial y la opción decolonial (Barcelona, Gedisa, 2007)

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