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Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse: Cultural Critique or Academic Colonialism?

Author(s): Walter D. Mignolo


Source: Latin American Research Review, Vol. 28, No. 3 (1993), pp. 120-134
Published by: The Latin American Studies Association
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COLONIAL AND
POSTCOLONIAL DISCOURSE:
CulturalCritiqueor AcademicColonialism?*

Walter
D. Mignolo
Duke University

Commentingon PatriciaSeed's well-informedand useful revievA


essay (Seed 1991) withina limitednumberof pages requires selectivity.1
willfirstoffera briefsummaryofmyreadingoftheessay and thendiscuss
specificissues thathave been ofconcernto me in thepast decade.
Seed's "Colonial and PostcolonialDiscourse" raises two distinctive
topics. The introductionand conclusion are devoted to placing colonial
discourse into contemporaryscholarshipand tracingits debts, complic-
ities,and differenceswith poststructuralism, subalternstudies, new his-
toricism,and feministtheory.In between, fivebooks are discussed, three
on Latin America and two on the Philippines. Afterdiscussing the five
books in terms of currenttrends in history,anthropology,and literary
criticism,Seed offersher overallconclusion:

Whatall theseworksdo tovaryingdegreesis to achieveone ofthefunctions ofa


critique:to positan idea aboutthehumanities disciplines-history,
literarycriti-
cism,cultural anthropology-asmorethandecorative knowledge,as knowledge
critical
oftherelations ofauthority
withina society.Theaimofthecritique ineach
ofthesedisciplines is different-economic
relations cultural
ofauthority, relations
ofauthority (thecanon),conventionalpoliticalrelations Butthebasic
ofauthority.
targetof critiqueremainsthe same-the relationsof authority in colonialand
postcolonial states-anditis thusan enterprise ofculturaland politicalcriticism
beingcarriedoutina resolutely postcolonial
era.(P.200)

Because thewhole spectrumofcontemporarytrendsmentionedby


Seed (frompoststructuralism to new historicism,fromsubalternto colo-
nial studies) takes a criticalstance toward knowledge, the reader may
wonder about the differencesof colonial and postcolonial discoursefrom
otherformsofcriticalenterprisesofauthorityand authoritative discourses.
Seed's view is that while the "two fields" share an interestin colonial

*Forinsightsincorporatedin revisingmyoriginalversionofthiscomment,I am gratefulto


Fernando Coronil and the numerous student participants in "Beyond Occidentalism:
RethinkingHow theWestWas Born," a seminarthatCoroniland I cotaughtat theUniversity
ofMichiganin thefallof1992. This essay is dedicatedto thememoryofJosephatKubayanda.

120
COMMENTARY AND DEBATE

discourse,the "new literaryhistoricismis ultimatelyconcerned with ca-


nonicalliterature,while colonial discoursewritersseek to understandthe
dynamicsofthecolonial situation"(p. 199).
On thebasis ofthisgeneralsummary,I would liketo discuss several
related concernsof my own in recentyears (see Mignolo 1989a, 1989b,
1989c, 1992). The most compellingaspects of the review essay are those
dealingwiththe notionof colonial and postcolonialdiscourse ratherthan
the review of the fivebooks in question. The firstissue focuses on what
kind of category"colonial (or postcolonial) discourse" is. Seed takes it to
be a "fieldof study" when she compares it with the new literaryhistor-
icism.Althoughitseems obvious to me thatcolonial discourseis a new or
emergingfieldof study,new literaryhistoricismis a new perspective(or
method)ratherthana field.Yetwhen Seed definesthecolonialaspect, she
seems to take it as both a perspective(comparableto new literaryhistor-
icism) and a fieldof study: "Colonial discourse has thereforeundertaken
to redirectcontemporarycriticalreflectionson colonialism(and its after-
math)towardthe language used by the conquerors,imperialadministra-
tors,travelers,and missionaries"(p. 183).
She furtherspecifiesthat"whetherthe focushas been on the colo-
nial or postcolonialsituation,thecentralconcernofthese studieshas been
the linguisticscreen throughwhich all politicallanguage of colonialism,
includingreactionsto it and liberationfromit,needs to be read" (p. 183).
Thus the method employed in analyzing colonial discourse seems to be
similarto thatused to approach any kind of discourse in any imaginable
historicalor social situation.We seem to be dealing with somethinglike
the"discursiveturn"in various disciplines,fieldsofstudy,or even histor-
ical moments(such as poststructuralism).
My interestin delving into these distinctionsfocuses on a more
fundamentalquestion regardingthe politicalimplicationsofthe scholarly
decision to engage in researchand teachingon colonial (or postcolonial)
discourse.The issue I am tryingto elucidate is addressed by Seed toward
theend ofheressay in discussingthequestions ofwheretheseauthorsare
writing,why,and about what. In doing so, Seed brings in the autobio-
graphicaldimensionofthe scholarvis-'a-vishis or her academic pursuit:

Manyanthropologists, and literary


historians, criticswritingof thosewho are
lumpedtogether as "ThirdWorldpeople" adopta stanceofadvocacyforthose
theyhavebeen studying and workingwith.Hencetheyarereluctant to criticize
post-independence formsofnationalism.... Theearlytheoreticians ofthecolo-
nialdiscoursefield-Said,Spivak,and Bhabha-arethemselves ambivalently lo-
catedbetweentheso-calledFirstand ThirdWorlds:bornand educatedin places
likePalestineandBengal,theyhavenonetheless madetheiracademicreputations
intheWest.TheyspeakfromtheWestbutarenotofit.Yetbyvirtueofreputation
and lengthyresidencein theWest,theyare no longerof theEast. Hence their
contributiontoshapingthefieldhas arisenwithinthesamecontext oftheinterna-
thattheyareattempting
tionalization tostudy.(P. 198)

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The issue here is notwhetherone who is born in Holland should be


a millerand one born in New Yorka stockbrokernor whethersomeone
bornin Holland or in New Yorkhas moreauthoritywhen itcomes to mills
or the stock marketbut ratherwho is talkingabout what where and why.
Certainly,most of the work discussed and cited by Seed has been pub-
lished in theUnited States and addressed to an academic audience. There
are at least two issues to be disentangledhere. One is thepoliticalagenda
of those of us (an empty categoryto be filled)born in North or South
America,India, Iran,or Africabut writingand teachingherein theUnited
States who are concerned with colonial discourse. The otherissue is the
agenda of those (an emptycategoryto be filled)born or writingtherein
India, Iran, Africa,or South Americawho are strugglingto resistmodern
colonization,includingthe academic one fromhere.I am aware thatin the
global village of a postmodern world, such distinctionsmay be viewed
with suspicion. I believe nonetheless that they should be drawn not so
muchin termsofnationalidentitiesbut in relationto thelocus ofenuncia-
tionconstructedby the speaker or writer.Once again, the basic question
is who is writingabout what where and why?
The critiqueof what today is grouped under the label of "colonial
discourse"has a long traditionin LatinAmerica,whichcan be tracedback
to the 1950s when the writingsof German philosopherMartinHeidegger
began to catch the attentionof Latin American intellectuals.The most
spectacularexample to my mind is thatofMexican historianand philoso-
pherEdmundo O'Gorman. His La ideadeldescubrimiento deAmerica(1952)
and La invencion de Ame'rica(1958, English translation1961) representthe
earlydismantlingofEuropean colonialdiscourse. O'Gorman wrotemuch
beforethe poststructuralist wave, althoughhe had a similarfoundation
and perspective.His readingofone chapterofHeidegger's Beingand Time
(1927) made him realize firstthatlanguage is not the neutral tool of an
honestdesireto tellthetruth,as nineteenth-century historiographershad
assumed, but an instrumentaltool forconstructinghistoryand inventing
realities.Using these presuppositions, O'Gorman dismantledfivehun-
dred yearsofWesternhistoriography-colonialand postcolonialdiscourse,
as itwere.
Anothertellingexample is UruguayanliterarycriticAngel Rama's
La ciudadletrada(1982). This magnificentlittlebook offersa theoryabout
the control,domination,and power exercised in the name of alphabetic
writing.Poststructuralismno doubt reached Rama before he wrote the
book, and theguidance ofMichel Foucaultis certainlyvisibleand explicit.
What Rama has analyzed is a complex,changing,and growingdiscursive
formationin which power and oppositional discourses fromthe colonial
period to the twentiethcenturyconstitutethe two sides ofthe same coin.
The power of the "letteredcity" helps indirectlyin understandingthe
silence inflictedby writtenlanguage. One can even say that as far as

122
COMMENTARY AND DEBATE

colonial (and postcolonial) discoursepresupposed alphabeticwriting,the


corpus analyzed by Rama both as a discourse of power and an opposi-
tional discourse obscured and suppressed oral traditionsand nonalpha-
beticwritingsystems,whichwere forciblyrepressed duringthesixteenth
centuryby theletteredcity.
I mentionthese two examples notto claim nationalisticor patriotic
rightof speech but mainlyto underscorethe significanceof the place of
speaking, the locus of enunciation.1O'Gorman's and Rama's concerns
with different formsof intellectualcolonialism and culturaldependency
in LatinAmericaled themto constructpostcolonialloci of enunciationin
theveryactofstudyingcolonial discourses. Thus theirworkcomprisedan
effortto displace fieldand voices: theThirdWorldis notonly an area to be
studied but a place (or places) fromwhich to speak. Both these thinkers
have aided the growingrealizationthatthe "others" are not people and
cultureswith littlecontactwith the FirstWorldbut that "otherness" ap-
plies in disguise among equals, in what Carl Pletsch (1981) termed the
apportionmentof scientific(or scholarly)labor among the threeworlds.
Pletsch, however,was mainly concerned with the distributionof area
studiesfromthe perspectiveof social scientistsand humanistslocated in
and speaking fromthe FirstWorld. O'Gorman and Rama exemplifythe
perspectiveof social scientistsand humanists located in and speaking
fromthe ThirdWorld. They are in one sense contemporaryexamples of
the "intellectualother,"as were Inca noble Guaman Poma and Texcocan
noble Alva Ixtlilxochitlin the early seventeenth century.For example,
Tzvetan Todorov,at the beginningof TheConquestofAmerica(1982), rele-
gated O'Gorman to a footnotewith a shortcommentplacing him among
thosemerelyconcernedwithgeographicaspects ofthe discovery.By quot-
ing Edward Said (whose book Todorovhad translatedintoFrenchin 1978),
Todorovsuggested thathis own descriptionof the conquest of America
could be read as some kind of "occidentalism,"perhaps complementing
Said's "orientalism."But in so doing, Todorov suppressed the factthat
what O'Gorman had done in the late 1950s was verysimilarto what Said
did two decades later.The subtitleof O'Gorman's Spanish edition of La
invencion de Amne'rica, de la culturade Occidente,was not a
El universalismo
celebrationbut a criticaldismantlingof such "universality." Examples like
thismakeone suspectthatthereis littledifference betweenyesterday'sand
today'sdiscoursesofcolonialism.2Forinstance,FrayJuande Torquemada's

1. One can also citeillustriousexamples fromBrazil.Antonio Candido led the way in Bra-
zil and has also provided a guiding example fora decolonizing criticaldiscourse (Candido
1959,1973).Candido also recognizedAngel Rama's contributionto a LatinAmericandecolo-
nizing voice in Candido (1991). Roberto Schwarz, Candido's disciple, has been exploring
the same kind of problems,most recentlyin his studyof JoaquimMaria Machado de Assis
(Schwarz 1990).
2. Here I am using Homi Bhabha's expressionas a synonymforcolonialdiscouirse (Bhabha
1986).

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printedversion of the historyof the Aztecs froma Franciscanpoint of


view, Monarquiaindiana(1615), was widely read, while the manuscript
versionby TexcocanhistorianFernandode Alva Ixtlilxochitl was shelvedin
the archivesand published only in the nineteenthcentury,when his ac-
count was approached as a historicaldocumentratherthan as a political
intervention.
Once again, my concernis with the locus of enunciationand with
dislodgingor multiplyingits center,to use an expressioncoined by Ken-
yan writerNgugi wa Thiong'o.3 In his comparativeanalysis of Joseph
Conrad'sHeartofDarknessand George Lamming'sIn theCastleofMy Skin,
Thiong'o concludes that although both writerswere criticalof colonial
discourse,one spoke fromthe centerof the empirewhile the otherspoke
fromthecore ofresistanceto theempire. Decenteringthecenteror multi-
plyingitprovidesnew perspectiveson colonialand postcolonialdiscourse:
thatof the locus of enunciationcreated in the very act of postulatingthe
categoryofcolonialdiscourseas well as thelocus ofenunciationcreatedin
the act notofstudyingor analyzingitbut ofresistingit.
Once the issue ofcolonial discourse is relatedto thelocus ofenun-
ciation, my interestlies in the interplayamong the configurationof the
fieldof study,the rules of the methodologicalgame, and the feelingsand
passions ofthe individualplayingthe game. I will explorethese issues in
relationto "colonial discourse" as a fieldofstudy,literarystudies as a case
of discourse-centereddisciplinesand an example ofinterpreting and the-
orizingsemioticinteractions,and LatinAmericaas a place where an alter-
native(colonial,postcolonial,or ThirdWorld)locus ofenunciationcan be
constructed.
First,the field of study.Introductionof the termcolonialdiscourse
into the vocabularyof the humanitiesand the social sciences with a liter-
ary bent offered,in my view, an alternativeapproach to a fieldof study
dominatedby notions such as "colonial literature"or "colonial history."
As definedby PeterHulme (one ofthe authorsreviewedby Seed), colonial
discourseembracesall kindsofdiscursiveproductionrelatedto and arising
out ofcolonial situations,fromthe Capitulations of1492 to WilliamShake-
speare's The Tempest, fromroyalorders and edicts to the most carefully
writtenprose (Hulme 1986, 1989). The advantage of the concept of colo-
nial discoursewas thatitunifiedan interdisciplinary rosterof scholarsin
historyand anthropologywho foundtheidea of"discourse"moreappeal-
ing than "facts"or "information"-andin literarystudies,more appealing
thantherestrictedconceptofliteratureor "literarydiscourse."Thus in the
fieldofliterarystudies,thenotionofcolonial discoursealso allowed schol-

3. This sectionis a summaryofThiong'o (1992). A more generalperspectiveofhis critical


positioncan be foundin Thiong'o (1973, 1986). For an alternativepositionon "decolonizing
Africa,"see Appiah (1992, 47-72).

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COMMENTARY AND DEBATE

ars to treatthe concept of literaturein relative terms,which is highly


problematic,especiallyin colonialsituations."Colonial literature"implies
a canon thatdepends on discursivecriteriaestablished in the metropoli-
tan centers,whichmakes itdoublyproblematic:firstbecause the "literary"
productionin thecolonies and in thelanguage ofthecolonized culturesis
moreoftenthannotperceived as a runner-upto theliteraryproductionof
the colonizingcultures;second, because "literature"is hardlya felicitous
termtobe applied to Amerindiandiscursiveproductions(whichare mainly
oral) and writteninteractions(which are mainlypicto-ideographic).
Introductionof the alphabet in some sectors of the Amerindian
populationduringthe sixteenthcenturydid notchange thesituationdras-
tically.Whateverhad been "captured" in alphabeticwriting(such as the
PopulVuh,the ChilamBalam,and the HuarochiriManuscript)was executed
by members of a population who (toward the middle of the sixteenth
century)were forcedto change theirwritinghabitsor by Spaniards inter-
ested in understandingAmerindiancultures(such as the Huehuetlattolli
or theHuarochiri).None ofthesewritingstransformedoral narrativeinto
literature.The denial of "literary"qualities to Amerindiandiscursivepro-
duction is neithera negative value judgment nor a suggestion of their
It is merelythe recognitionthatliteratureis a regional
culturalinferiority.
and culture-dependentconceptualizationof a given kind of discursive
practice,one that is not universal to all cultures. This perspective also
invitesinquiryintothenatureand functionofdiscursivepracticesin their
"original"environment.
When pushed to the limit,however,the concept of "colonial dis-
course," desirable and welcome as it is, is not the most comprehensive
idea possible forunderstandingthe diversityof semioticinteractionsin
colonialsituationsin the New Worldexperience.Hulme made itclearthat
in the area he was studying,the main documentationwas European in
origin.Ifinstead we focus on the entitythatin the sixteenthcenturywas
called theNew World(mainlyby non-CastilianEuropeans) and the"Indias
Occidentales" or West Indies (mainlyby Spaniards involved in explora-
tionand colonization),we musttakeintoaccounta large range ofsemiotic
interactionsbeyondalphabeticwrittendocumentsin European languages.
The idea ofdiscourse,althoughitembodies oral as well as writteninterac-
tions,may notbe thebest alternativeto account also forsemioticinterac-
tionsbetween different writingsystems. The Latin alphabet introduced
by the Spaniards, the picto-ideographicwritingsystems of Mesoamer-
ican cultures,and the quipusin the Andes each delineate particularsys-
temsofinteractionsthattook place duringthe colonial period. Ifwe were
to limituse ofthetermdiscourse onlyto oral and reservetheidea oftextfor
writteninteractions,we would stillneed to expand thelattertermbeyond
therange ofalphabeticalwrittendocumentsin orderto embraceall mate-
rialsign inscriptions.In doing so, scholarswould honorthe etymological

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meaningoftext(as "weaving"or "textile")and justifyincludingthequipus


into a systemin which writingwas always understood as scratchingor
paintingon solid surfacesbut not as weaving.
Because in thefieldofcolonialliterarystudies,scholarsmustaccount
fora complexsystemof semioticinteractionsembodied in the discursive
(oral) and the textual(materialinscriptionsin different writingsystems),
we need a concept such as colonialsemiosis.This termescapes the tyranny
of the alphabet-orientednotions of text and discourse, even though it
adds to a large and already confusingvocabulary.On the positive side,
colonialsemiosisdefinesa field of study in a parallel and complementary
fashion to existingtermssuch as colonialhistory, colonialart,and colonial
economy. Furthermore,the concept of colonial semiosis includes the locus
ofenunciation,a dimensionthusfarabsentfromthecurrentcolonialfields
ofstudy.Forinstance,thefieldofcolonial historypresupposes an "objec-
tive"understandingsubjectand a locus ofenunciationfromwhicha series
of interrelatedevents could be mapped. Briefly,the concept of colonial
semiosis reveals thatlanguage-centeredcolonial studies could move (at
least in LatinAmericaand the Caribbean) beyond therealmofthewritten
word to incorporateoral and nonalphabetic writingsystems as well as
nonverbalgraphicsystems.This concept could also open up new ways of
thinkingabout colonial experiences by bringingto the foregroundthe
political,ideological,and disciplinaryagenda oftheunderstandingsubject.
The nextissue is thequestion ofmethod,itsphilosophicaljustifica-
tion,and theconstructionoftheloci ofenunciation.Viewed in thisperspec-
tive, the idea of colonial discourse invitesrethinkingof the hermeneutic
legacy in the contextof colonial semiosis. If the termhermeneutics is de-
finednotonly as a reflectionon human understandingbut as human un-
derstandingitself,thenthe "tradition"in whichhermeneuticswas founded
and developed (Mueller-Vollmer1985) mustbe recastin termsoftheplu-
ralityof culturaltraditionsand culturalboundaries (Panikkar1988). Thus
colonialsituationsand colonial semiosis presenta hermeneuticaldilemma
fortheunderstandingsubject. Historically,thestudyand analysis ofcolo-
nial situationshave been performedfromthe perspectivesprevailingin
differentdomains of the colonizing cultures,even when the interpreter
favoredcertainaspects ofthecolonized cultures.The termcolonialsemiosis
bringsto theforegroundthefollowingquestion: whatis thelocus ofenun-
ciation fromwhich the understandingsubject perceives colonial situa-
tions?In otherwords, in which ofthe culturaltraditionsto be understood
does the understandingsubject place himselfor herself?Such questions
are relevantnot only when broad culturalissues like colonial situations
and colonial semiosis are being considered but also when more specific
issues likerace,gender,and class are being takeninto account.
Edmundo O'Gorman's TheInventionofAmericaled the way in di-
rectingattentionto this issue. As a Mexican historianand philosopherof

126
COMMENTARY AND DEBATE

history,O'Gorman's engagement with colonial situationswent beyond


the usual relevantdisciplinaryissues. What propelled his researchwas a
political and ideological concern relevantin Mexico in the 1950s along
with a reassessmentof historiographicalgoals promptedby his reading
of Heidegger.O'Gorman's demolitionof fourhundred years of historio-
graphicalwritingabout the so-called discovery was achieved fromthe
point of view of a "creole" and a historian.Althoughhe ignoredthe role
of Amerindians in analyzing this process, he relativized the universal
understandingsubject assumed by the historiographyof the discovery
and changed the culturalperspectivefromwhich the discoveryhad been
construed.
WheneverI raise the issue addressed by O'Gorman, I am accused
ofgivingpriorityto the ethnicand culturalsituationoftheunderstanding
subject. Accordingto this argument,a woman or a Mexican is in a better
positionto understandwomen's issues or colonial situationsrespectively.
Yetthisis not thepoint I am tryingto make. Rather,I am concernedwith
the tensionbetween the insertionof the epistemologicalsubject withina
disciplinary(or interdisciplinary)contextgoverned by norms and con-
ventionsas well as withitsbeing placed in a hermeneuticcontextin which
race, gender,and class compete with and shape the goals, norms, and
rules of a given disciplinarygame. Disciplinarynorms and conventions
are thuspermeatedby hermeneuticneeds and desires.
The pointis thatscholarsstudyingthecultureto whichtheybelong
(whethernational,ethnic,or gender cultures)are not necessarilysubjec-
tivejust as scholarsstudyingculturesto which theydo notbelong are not
necessarilyobjective.In myview,theoriesare notinstrumentsforunder-
standing somethingthat lies outside of the theory: rather,theories are
instrumentsforconstructingknowledge and understanding.Hence my
use oftheword subjective applies to examples,notto epistemologicalstate-
ments.Withina constructivistepistemology,subjectivityimplies knowl-
edge and understandingin which the personal and social situationofthe
knowingsubject prevailsover disciplinaryrules and procedures. The in-
verse holds forobjective:rules of disciplinarycognitionwill prevail over
personal desires, biases, and interests.Accordingly,neither approach
guaranteesattaininga "better"(deeper,more accurate,moretrustworthy,
moreinformed)knowledge or understanding.For ifwe approach knowl-
edge and understandingfromthe perspectiveof a constructivistic epis-
temologyand hermeneutic,the audience being addressed and the re-
searcher'sagenda are as relevantto theconstructionoftheobjector subject
being studied as the subject or the object being constructed.Thus the
locus ofenunciationis as much a partofknowingand understandingas it
is oftheconstructionofthe image ofthe "real" resultingfroma disciplin-
ary discourse (whether sociological, anthropological,historical, semi-
ological, or some otherkind). Consequently,the "true" account of a sub-

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ject matterin the formof knowledge or understandingwill be transacted


in therespectivecommunitiesofinterpretation as muchforitscorrespon-
dence to what is taken for"real" as forthe authorizinglocus of enuncia-
tion constructedin the very act of describingan object or a subject. Fur-
thermore,the locus of enunciationof the discoursebeing read would not
be understood in itselfbut in the contextof previous loci of enunciation
thatthe currentdiscourse contests,corrects,or expands. In otherwords,
it is as much the saying (and the audience involved) as what is said (and
the world referredto) that preserve or transformthe image of the real
constructedby previous acts of sayingand previous utterances.
One example can be found in Michael Taussig's remarkablebook
on terrorand healing, Shamanism,Colonialism,and theWildMan (1987),
which helps clarifythe tensions between the understandingsubject and
the subject to be understood in colonial semiosis. Constructionof the
locus of enunciationin Taussig's study articulatesbeautifullyhis opposi-
tionalpracticesin relationto the disciplinarytraditionin anthropology.At
the same time,he constructsa culturalspace in which Taussig, the Aus-
traliananthropologist,attemptsto finda place withina Latin American
intellectualtraditionvia his carefulattentionto essays and novels written
by Latin Americans condemningcolonialism and oppression (including
JacoboTimerman,ArielDorfman,JoseEustasio Rivera,Alejo Carpentier,
and Miguel Angel Asturias). This approach indicatesTaussig'sopenness
to hearingand rehearsingthevoices oftheotherin theoraltraditionofthe
Putumayoand in the writtentraditionofThirdWorldintellectualswhose
locus ofenunciationTaussigattemptsto join.
A second example can be found in a statementmade by Mexican-
AmericanartistGuillermoGomez-Peina,severalyears ago in L.A. Weekly:
"I live smack in the fissurebetween two worlds, in the infectedwound:
halfa block fromthe end of WesternCivilizationand fourmiles fromthe
startof the Mexican-Americanborder,the northernmostpoint of Latin
America. In my fracturedreality,but a realitynonetheless,therecohabit
two histories,languages, cosmologies,artistictraditions,and politicalsys-
temswhich are drasticallycounterposed" (Gomez-Peina1988).
The interrelationsofcolonial semiosis as a networkofprocesses to
be understood and the locus of enunciationas the networkof places of
understandingdemand a pluridimensionalor multidimensionalherme-
neuticat thesame timethattheyreveal the significanceofthe disciplinary
as well as cultural(gender,race, class) inscriptionof the subject in the
process ofunderstanding.AnthropologistTaussig-born and educated in
Australia,trainedin London, and teaching in the United States-places
himselfbetween a disciplinarytradition(anthropology)and in a personal
and social situationoutside the discipline (certainconstructionsof Latin
Americanhistoryand culture,indicated by the names he cites and sec-
onds or critiques). Meanwhile Gomez-Peina,a Mexican-Americanartist

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COMMENTARY AND DEBATE

livingin San Diego, illustratesboth the survivalof colonial semiosis and


the need fora multidimensionalhermeneuticto accountforit. While un-
derstandingand constructing"our own tradition"implies a unidimen-
sionalhermeneutic,understandingand constructing colonialsemiosis(the
dialecticbetween officialstories and suppressed voices, between signs
fromdifferentculturaltraditions)implies a pluralityof conflictiveand
coexistingworlds and requiresa multidimensionalhermeneutic.4
Finally,I wish to cite a fewexamples ofvoices emergingfromcolo-
nial semiosis thatare constructingalternative(postcolonial) loci of enun-
ciation. When Barbadian poet Edward Kamau Bratwhaiterecounts the
storyofhis search fora rhythmthatwould matchhis livingexperiencein
the Caribbean, he highlightsthe momentwhen skippinga pebble on the
ocean gave him a rhythmthathe could not findby reading JohnMilton.
Bratwhaitealso highlightsa second and subsequent momentwhen he
perceived the parallelsbetween the skipping of the pebble and Calypso
music, a rhythmthathe could notfindin listeningto Beethoven.5IfBrat-
whaite found a voice and a formof knowledge at the intersectionof the
classical models he learned in a colonial school with his lifeexperiencein
theCaribbean and consciousness ofAfricanpeople's history,his poetryis
less a discourseofresistancethan a discourse claimingits centrality. Sim-
ilarclaims could be foundindirectlyin the writingsofJamaicannovelists
and essayistMichelleCliff,who statesthatone effectofBritishWestIndian
colonial discourse is "thatyou believe absolutelyin the hegemonyof the
King's English and the formin which it is meant to be expressed. Or else
yourwritingis not literature;it is folkloreand can never be art.... The
anglican ideal-Milton, Wordsworth,Keats-was held beforeus with an
assurance thatwe were unable, and would neverbe enabled, to compose
a work of similarcorrectness.... No reggae spoken here" (Cliff1985).
While Thoing'o, Lamming,and Bratwhaitesimultaneouslyconstructand
theorizeabout alternativecentersof enunciationin what have been con-
sidered the marginsof colonial empires,Latinos and Black Americansin
theUnitedStates are demonstratingthateitherthemarginsare also in the
centeror (as Thiong'o expresses it) thatknowledge and aestheticnorms
are not universallyestablishedby a transcendentsubject but are univer-
sallyestablishedby historicalsubjectsin diverseculturalcenters.Chicano
writerGloria Anzalduia, for instance, has articulateda powerful alter-
nativeaestheticand politicalhermeneuticby placing herselfat the cross-
road of threetraditions(Spanish-American,Nahuatl, and Anglo-Ameri-

4. Foran example ofthehermeneutic"infiltration" withindisciplinarystructure,see Kel-


ler(1985). To theextentthatthe social sciences and thehumanitieshave been constructedon
the basis of the combinationof certainhermeneuticalconfigurations,theytend to restrain
thosewho would gravitatetowardtheauthoritative configurationofthedisciplinarystructure.
5. I am referring here to Bratwhaite(1992). His generalpositionregardingpoetic practices
in colonial situationshas been articulatedin Bratwhaite(1983, 1984).

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can) and by creatinga locus ofenunciationwhere different ways ofknow-


ing and individualand collectiveexpressionsmingle(Anzalduia 1987).
The influentialquestion asked severalyears ago by GayatriSpivak
was "Can thesubalternspeak?" (Spivak 1985; O'Hanlon 1988).This query
could be answered by saying thatthe subalternhave always spoken, al-
though scholars and social scientistswere not always willing to listen
(Coronil 1993; Wald 1992). The question of whetherthe colonized can be
representedmay no longerbe an issue, and itcould be reframedin terms
of dialogues fromdifferent loci of enunciationratherthan as an academic
monologue performedin the act of "studying"colonial discourse and not
"listening"to politicallyengaged persons (whetherinside or outside aca-
deme), writersfromcolonial, postcolonial,or ThirdWorldcountriespro-
ducing alternativediscourse. Perhaps in the intellectualarena, effortsto
inventan "other"fromafarand long ago disguises new formsofcoloniza-
tion. JeanPaul Sartrepointed out thatall non-Westerncultureshave been
reduced to thestatusofobjectsby being observed and studiedby Western
scholarsaccordingto Westernconcepts and categories.Thus althoughthe
concept of colonial discourse has opened up new areas of inquiry and
helped in rethinking thediscursivedimensionofcolonial(and postcolonial
experience),it may unwittinglymisguide social scientistsand humanists
intoa new formofintellectualcolonization.
I wish to close by citingan exampleofmimicry, postcoloniality,and
academic colonialism. On reading an essay like Roberto Schwarz's "Bra-
zilian Culture: Nationalismby Elimination,"6 one realizes thatthe ques-
tion of "postcolonial discourse" seems farfrom the center of his intellec-
tual and politicalagenda. One could argue thatin Brazil, the new trend
has not yet arrivedbecause it takes time fornew theoriesto make their
way to peripheralregions. But thatis preciselywhat Schwarz's essay criti-
cizes-the culturalinternalcolonialism and the mimeticactions takenby
institutionsand intellectualsin Brazilianpostcolonialhistoryand in many
othercountries.For those in postcolonial or Third World countrieswho
believe thata sign ofprogressis to consume exportedtheories,the ques-
tion of colonial and postcolonial discourse has not yet arrived.For those
interestedin criticallyexaminingthe culturaldependency of postcolonial
countries(whichSchwartzterms"theperipheriesofcapitalism"),theissue
has to be rethoughtin the contextof mimicryand dependency as well as
in termsof intellectualinterventionsand researchprogramsfeedingthe
traditionsand needs of the country.For those of us in exile, when nego-
tiatingthe intellectualproductionin our places of origins(whetherLatin
America,Africa,or Asia) and the intellectualconversationin our place of
residence (the United States or WesternEurope), the question arises of
whetherour functionshouldbe thatofgo-betweens,promotingtheimpor-

6. See Schwarz (1989), 29-48.

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COMMENTARY AND DEBATE

tationof "new theories" into our "backward" countries,or whetherwe


should "thinkfrom"the postcolonial experiences in which we grew up.
How this "thinkingfrom"(which implies a "thinkingin between") could
be constructedis a subject thatcannotbe developed here.7My concernis
to underscorethe point that "colonial and postcolonial discourse" is not
just a new fieldof studyor a gold mine forextractingnew richesbut the
conditionofpossibilityforconstructingnew loci ofenunciationsas well as
forreflectingthat academic "knowledge and understanding"should be
complementedwith "learningfrom"those who are livingin and thinking
fromcolonial and postcoloniallegacies, fromRigobertaMenchuito Angel
Rama. Otherwise,we run the riskof promotingmimicry,exportationof
theories,and internal(cultural) colonialism ratherthan promotingnew
formsofculturalcritiqueand intellectualand politicalemancipations-of
makingcolonial and postcolonialstudies a fieldof studyinstead of a lim-
inal and criticallocus of enunciation. The "native point of view" also
includesintellectuals.In theapportionmentofscientificlabor since World
War II, which has been described well by Carl Pletch (1982), the Third
Worldproduces notonly "cultures"to be studied by anthropologistsand
ethnohistoriansbut also intellectualswho generatetheoriesand reflecton
theirown cultureand history.

7. Some oftherecentcontributionsalong thisline are Anzaldia (1990),Mora (1993),Coro-


nil (1992),Minh-Ha (1989), Appiah (1992), and Bhabha (1992).

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