Beyond Solidarity: Pragmatism and Difference in a Globalized World

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Beyond Solidarity is an impassioned argument for a sharable morality in a world increasingly fractured along lines of difference. Giles Gunn asks how human solidarity can be reconceived when its expressions have become increasingly exceptionalist and outmoded, and when the pressures of globalization divide as much as they unify.
He finds the terms for answering these questions in a more inclusive, cosmopolitan pragmatism—one willing to explore fundamental values without recourse to absolutist arguments. Drawing on the work of William and Henry James, John Dewey, Primo Levi, Richard Rorty, and many others, as well as postcolonial writing, Jewish literature of the Holocaust, and the cultural and religious experience of African Americans in slavery, Gunn points pragmatism in a transnational direction and shows how it can better account for the consequences of diversity. Beyond Solidarity, then, is a study of the difference that difference makes in a globalized world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226310640
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Giles Gunn is a professor of English and Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Thinking Across the American Grain: Ideology, Intellect, and the New Pragmatism and The Culture of Criticism and the Criticism of Culture.
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Beyond Solidarity: Pragmatism and Difference in A Globalized World

By Giles B. Gunn

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2001 Giles B. Gunn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226310647

Chapter 1 - Multiculturalism, Mourning, and the Colonial Legacy of the Americas: Towards a New Pragmatics of Cross- and Intercultural Criticism

One of the many questions posed by the passage nearly a decade ago of the Columbus quincentenary had to do with the relationships among the various cultures that Columbus's voyage, or rather our reconstruction of its consequences, has bequeathed to us. For Columbus's voyage, while producing a holocaust for native peoples, also resulted in an explosion of new cultures in the Americas that has now left us with an elaborate assemblage of societies and nations whose relations with one another, however carefully documented in other terms, are still comparatively unexplored in cultural terms. In other words, despite the fact that these new nations and societies arose out of a common experience of European settlement and colonization involving not only the conquest, displacement, and near extermination of almost the entire indigenous population but also the domestication, often with the assistance of enslaved Africans, of immense tracts of undeveloped wilderness; and despite the fact that the basis of virtually all of the imaginative, and many of the discursive, arts in all of the countries ofthe Americas would subsequently be furnished by the way these hybrid American societies would eventually undergo a revolutionary break with the colonizing power and then reconstitute themselves as something self-consciously different from their European parents--despite these shared experiences and interpretations of experience, no one would describe the comparative study of American cultures as a thriving academic industry.

This is, of course, not to suggest that the cultural relations among and between the many societies and political formations of the Americas both North and South, together with the Caribbean world, have gone unexamined. From the period of earliest contact between native and nonnative peoples, these relations have been a source of profound interest in texts ranging from the Mayan "Books of Chilam Balam," Bernal Diaz's The Conquest of a New Spain, and The Narrative of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca to Alejo Car-pentier's Explosion in a Cathedral, Manuel Puig's Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, and Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy. These works of primary reflection have been supplemented in recent decades by various distinguished studies of secondary reflection that include everything from Pablo Neruda's meditations on Walt Whitman, Octavio Paz's The Labyrinth of Solitude, and Jorge Luis Borges's Introduction to American Literature to Howard Mumford Jones's O Strange New World, Tzvetan Todorov's The Conquest of America, Carlos Fuentes's The Buried Mirror, and Doris Sommers's Foundational Fictions.

Yet for all its intelligence and insight, such writing--and the enormous body of literary testimony that surrounds it--has not managed, at least in the United States, to diminish, for all but specialists, the general state of ignorance on these matters. Few U.S. students of American history, politics, or literature, for example, think that much light can be shed on their own subjects by a study of racial practices in the Caribbean, or of the appeal of dictatorships in South America, or of environmental policies in the Canadian provinces, or of modernist aesthetic experimentation in Central America. Moreover, the development, during the postwar era, of an interdisciplinary field spanning the humanities and the social sciences called "American Studies," and devoted to the examination of the history of American culture "past and present and as a whole," to quote a famous formulation, has yet to de-provincialize the word American in that title so that it may encompass all of the New World societies that find some kind of interpretive shelter beneath its umbrella.

One could, I suppose, try to account for these lapses by resorting to a reductionist argument that lays the responsibility for this ignorance at the door, say, of U.S. imperialism, or Western capitalism, or institutional Eurocentrism, or even of Spanish-American chauvinism, and no small amount of the scholarship that accompanied the quincentenary and has followed it, at least on the left, has been tempted to take such a line. But even if one acknowledges the genocidal horrors that the anniversary of Columbus's voyage brought home to us in the United States and elsewhere--horrors whose replication throughout the centuries and across so many of the emergent cultures of the Americas lead one to reach for explanations that link the structuration of socioeconomic issues to fixed ideas about race and ethnicity--there are surely other reasons why, when employed as a term of hemispheric or continental designation, the word American evokes for so many so minimum a sense of solidarity.

No doubt one of those reasons has to do with the entirely different grammar of motives that fueled the original processes of colonization in British and Spanish America and the different effects that these motives were to have not only on the kinds of societies they produced but also on the ways they dealt with everything from native peoples and African slavery to the desire for independence and the rise of nationalism. A second reason why the term American is so difficult to bring into focus in a hemispheric or intercontinental context is that even where the cultures of the Americas border one another, they display considerable variations among themselves and, like any cultures, are anything but homogeneous or tightly integrated. Mosaics of diverse, conflicting, and constantly changing traditions whose own inner principles of coherence are frequently provisional, inconsistent, and self-contradictory, the cultures of the Americas represent fairly unstable fields in which distinct and often divisive, or at least contested, social, economic, psychological, political, ceremonial, and aesthetic processes all intersect (when they intersect at all) at odd angles. A third--and, for my purposes here, more interesting--reason for the referential incoherence of the word American as a term of hemispheric designation (a reason with special significance for students of literature and ideas) has to do with the extent to which all American cultures were initially, and continue to remain, the products of a complicated process of rhetorical invention and reinvention.

This is as much as to say, following Edmundo O'Gorman, that America was not discovered so much as fabricated or created, and created by Europeans less interested in determining, in all their empirical distinctiveness, the reality of New World conditions than in reimagining those conditions as forms of alterity against which they as Europeans might redefine them-selves. To say that they defined themselves against the forms of alterity or otherness by which they imagined American conditions is not to claim that there was nothing to be found on Friday, October 12, l492, at around 2:00 a.m., when Christopher Columbus first made landfall in the West Indies, on the island of what is now called San Salvador. It is only to assert that Colum-bus's mistake about what he had come upon that morning was then compounded in characteristic ways when he resisted the subsequent corrections of experience for the sake subsuming his encounters with New World otherness within the image of himself and his mission that he brought with him from the Old World. Looking for a sea passage to India, Columbus supposed that he had actually managed to reach the Orient, but then steadfastly refused to relinquish this conviction despite three later voyages that never carried him further west than, at most, the Paria peninsula of Venezuela.

Columbus was certain that he had found a passage to India because he viewed everything before his eyes with a mental picture he had already constructed. This mental picture derived chiefly from his reading of the Bible, together with his familiarity with the accounts of Marco Polo's overland journey to China and his knowledge of Ptolemaic geography. Ptolemy had postulated that the earth was considerably smaller than we now know it to be and that the Asian landmass extended much farther into the ocean than it does. As it happens, this theory turned out to be admirably suited to Columbus's purposes, since it tended to confirm Marco Polo's speculations about the proximity of Japan's position relative to Portugal and was reinforced by certain prophetic claims found in the Bible. One of the apocryphal Books of Esdras, for example, held that the world was six parts land and only one part water. The Book of Ezekiel, in turn, maintained that Jerusalem was at the center of the world. Such assertions not only persuaded Columbus that the sea voyage from Portugal to Asia was comparatively short (2,700 miles, as opposed to the actual 12,000), they also assured him that in undertaking this expedition he was merely fulfilling the injunctions of the Old Testament. But however much Columbus thought he was fulfilling the words of Isaiah, he was also driven by a complex of other emotions besides religious piety: dreams of glory, the desire for wealth, scientific curiosity, an extraordinary egotism, remarkable courage, and much more.

Amerigo Vespucci, on the other hand, was prepared to take credit for discovering a New World even if he had to fabricate his own account of it. According to his own account in Mundus Novus, or The New World, ten years later, Vespucci did not actually land on the coast of what is now Brazil until 1501, recording that they had come upon "a new land which . . . we observed to be a continent." But the validity of this achievement was immediately placed in jeopardy by the speculation that Columbus might have touched on the coast of Venezuela during his third voyage in 1498. Thus in his next book, Vespucci changed his story to claim that he, in fact, had reached the South American mainland on a voyage made a year earlier than the one recorded in Mundus Novus in 1497.

Nonetheless, Vespucci's fabrication that he was the first navigator to reach the New World might still have come to nothing if his claim had not caught the attention of a little-known German geographer named Martin Waldseemuller who was then preparing a new edition of Ptolemy. Though Waldseemuller was later to express second thoughts about his decision, and other interested parties, such as the Spanish and Portuguese, were to object to it for centuries, he determined that the new continent ought to bear the name of its first discoverer, and once attached to the newly delineated territory of Waldseemuller's 1507 world map, the name became fixed. At no little cost of symbolic misrepresentation, the New World was from henceforth to be known as "America" (or, to the Spanish, "New Spain").

Both tales tell us something of what it means to say that America was invented as much as discovered. In addition to emphasizing that "America" was hereafter to be a world shaped as much by the energies of the imagination as by the substance of the actual, as much by the ambiguities of desire as by the structures of the empirical, it also makes clear that misinterpretation was subsequently to become a motive force in America's continuous self-making and remaking. Indeed, nothing demonstrates this more dramatically or, perhaps, tragically than the effects this process of misinterpretation was to have on America's original inhabitants.

Whether Columbus reached the shores of the new continent before Vespucci or Vespucci before Columbus is finally of little moment; the point is that neither of them, as even they could see for themselves, were America's first discoverers. That title belongs instead to the ancestors of, as Columbus and Vespucci themselves both reported, those singular and remarkable human specimens who confronted them on the beaches of the Americas. People who, as the Italian cleric Peter Martyr described them, "go naked, . . . know neither weights nor measures, nor that source of all misfortunes, money; living in a golden age, without laws, without lying judges, without books, satisfied with their life, and in no wise solicitous for the future," these natives and their ancestors had already occupied for many millennia these lands that Columbus and Vespucci claimed to have discovered for the first time. Descendants of nomadic peoples from Asia who, it is still generally believed, first made their way across a land bridge linking the Bering Strait nearly 22,000 years before, these peoples had over thousands of years worked their way down and settled almost the whole of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, creating in the process some of the great civilizations of the ancient world: the Mayan in southern Mexico and Guatemala, the Incan in Peru, and the Aztec in Mexico. So numerous, in fact, had these descendants of America's nomadic first discoverers become that, by the time Columbus and Vespucci arrived at the end of the fifteenth century, there were then living in the Americas, according to various estimates, somewhere between 60 and 100 million people, speaking as many as 2,200 different languages. All the more ironic, then, that despite the heterogeneity and sophistication of the societies and cultures these people created in the so-called New World (while some Native Americans remained hunters and gatherers, others created written languages, became expert at engineering and astronomy, mastered the art of mathematical calculation, and built such magnificent cities as Palenque, Tikal, Tula, Monte Alban, Uxmal, Tenochtitlan, and Chichen Itza), they were to be lumped together by the name they received from Columbus when he mistook their homeland for Asia and called them "Indians."

All of this merely helps underline the fact that, if America was from the beginning a product of rhetorical inventions frequently based on misinterpretations, those inventions and the misinterpretations they carried along with them were to compound themselves with each successive wave of reinvention. The first of them began with the appearance of chronicles of discovery, conquest, and settlement--Christopher Columbus's Letter to Lord Raphael Sanchez, Treasurer to Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Spain (1493), Amerigo Vespucci's Mundus Novus (1503), Thomas Hariot's Brief and True Report of the New-found Land of Virginia (1588), Richard Hakluyt's Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589), Sir Walter Raleigh's The Discovery of Guiana (1595)--which erased pretty much the whole inventory of what we might call, within these indigenous societies, "local knowledge" for the sake of celebrating their own triumph over it. But this process of narrative triumphalism then left the descendants of such chronicles with the task of reinventing themselves all over again if they were to develop any form of New World identity independent of those initial colonial stories. Hence, the Empire first began to write back in such early texts as The Araucaniad (1569, 1578, 1589) by the Chilean epic poet Alonso de Ercilla y Zuniga, The Royal Commentaries of Peru (1609, 1617) by the Spanish-Incan writer Garcilaso de la Vega, the intellectual autobiography entitled Reply to Sir Filotea de la Cruz by the Mexican poet, playwright, and essayist Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, and The Uruguay (1769) by the Brazilian writer Jose Basilio da Gama, and in such later ones as, say, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789) by the African American Gustavus Vassa, Son of the Forest (1829) by the Native American William Apess, Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism (1845) by the Argentinian Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (1880) by the Brazilian Machado de Assis, and Les Anciens Canadiens (1890) by the French-Canadian Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspe. This process of postcolonial rhetorical invention and reinvention was made more complex still when several of the Americas created out of the inspiration drawn from such early postcolonial texts began to exhibit new colonial ambitions of their own, thus prompting a wave of revisioning, essentially a third fold in the palimpsest of colonial rewritings of America, in such more recent texts as V. S. Naipaul's The Mimic Men or Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The General in His Labyrinth.

Now, however, this history of rhetorical reinvention and inscription is being extended even further in the Americas, as scholars and interpreters attempt to bring the counter-colonial texts produced in response to it into some form of critical contact and comparison with one another. Such efforts inevitably raise a question as to whether this latest scholarly stage of cultural production can do something other than merely add yet another layer of fabrication to the process. In other words, can it initiate, through the use of comparative and other dialogical techniques, something like a "mutual interrogation" that, in addition to revealing the diverse strategies of representation differentiating this succession of colonial, postcolonial, and neocolonial texts, can also possibly throw into critical relief some of the inner assumptions of the divergent constitutive principles that are buried within these texts?4What we need to learn is not simply how people sharing similar rituals of self-creation could have come to inhabit such utterly different social worlds but how, despite the divergences among their narratives, they still share a similar history and are even implicated in each other's fate.

At present the possibility of pursuing this kind of inquiry is still hindered by two kinds of intellectual suspicion. The first has to do with whether comparing and contrasting cultures is anything other than an attempt by one culture to subordinate another. The second has to do with whether cultures, even when, as in the case of the Americas, they are produced by the same processes of invention and redaction, can be compared at all. Implicit in the first suspicion is the assumption that all intellectual work is potentially political and that the politics of the intellect may ultimately be assimilated to the politics of identity. Implicit in the second suspicion is the presupposition that cultures may be inherently incomparable, in which case any attempt to bring them into discursive relations with one another risks violating the integrity of each. If expression of the first suspicion has taken the form of what has typically been called "political correctness," expression of the second has taken the form of what is usually meant by "multiculturalism." Notwithstanding the general erosion of support for the first, which was never entirely acceptable even among some of its strongest advocates, and waning confidence in the second, which is not without its contradictions, both have played an inordinately important role in shaping the critical study of the Americas.

The issue of political correctness originated initially, as is common knowledge, over the need to impose standards for appropriate public behavior and practice in American higher education. But this issue quickly metamorphosed from an interest in regulating campus discourse and conduct, enforcing affirmative action policies, and encouraging the inclusion of more academic subjects in the curriculum into a surveillance operation designed, at least according to its critics, not only to determine what subjects are suitable for academic study but also to challenge the disciplinary boundaries and broader institutional hierarchies that currently define such matters. Carried to extremes, then, the project of political correctness extended well beyond the critique and, if possible, alteration of the self-interested character of all disciplinary and pedagogical arrangements within the academy to encompass a challenge to the cartographic practices of the wider society that legitimates them.

Such arguments were--and still are--often made in behalf of protecting the notion of "difference," and the notion of "difference" is then turned into an unquestioned, even unchallengeable, source of social and political legitimacy. At the geopolitical level, this sometimes leads to the absurd proposition that any people who can differentiate themselves by whatever hereditary or historical arguments from any others deserve, by that very fact, to become a nation. At the social level, it leads to the view that anything that can define itself as "other" to the dominant ideology or group is thus rendered beyond criticism except by its own representatives. Either way, the preoccupation, and in some quarters the obsession, with political correctness has by its very nature actively discouraged intellectual travel across cultural borders in the Americas and elsewhere. As with international travel generally, intellectual exploration beyond one's own country has too often become an affair of valid passports and legitimate visas. Unless one is furnished with an approved ideology of interpretation, a certified subject of inquiry, and the requisite credentials of group membership, the best rule of thumb has been to stay close to home. Educationally this has too often meant in America that, except in selected circumstances, women study, teach, and write about women, blacks study, teach, and write about blacks, Chicanos study, teach, and write about Chicanos, and so on down the line.

Yet, by the same token, this depiction of the climate of restricted movement in the academy, and particularly within the humanities, can be, and at times by the right has been, overdrawn. Fractured as the world of the university may be for other reasons, it is neither as divided as conservatives have made it out to appear, nor divided along the lines that so many of its critics--most of whom are not members of university faculties and are thus ill-equipped to understand the subtlety of academic politics--have caricatured it as being. The great preponderance of those divisions are not sexual, ethnic, or racial, but generational, disciplinary, and methodological, and very few of these divisions set those who want to save the humanities against those who want to destroy them. The real divide within the humanities, though rarely acknowledged as such, is between two strategies for combating their increasing marginalization within the academy. This is the divide between those who believe that the real purpose of humanistic study is to determine the values by which the world should be organized and governed, and those who insist instead that its purpose should be to determine which values should define our experience of the world.

There is substantial irony in the fact that, for all their heat, neither group has shed much light on the far graver issue of how American education as a whole is being transformed. For the new managerial and professional classes currently served by, and increasingly in control of, higher education, public institutions have become too slow to respond to corporate needs and the humanities have lost much of their former glamour and rationale. As private companies generate more proposals for turning much elementary and secondary education into skills training, as businesses set up their own colleges or ask institutions like the for-profit University of Phoenix to train their employees, and as giant corporations like Microsoft and Motorola redescribe their world headquarters as, respectively, campuses and universities, the time is fast approaching when the humanities may be, except in elite institutions, relegated to a supporting role in the world of multinational capital, representing the communication arts and teaching business writing.

But the recent obsession within the humanities (and some social science) disciplines with what constitutes political rectitude is only one factor that has limited interpretive transit between cultural territories in the Americas. A second factor that has inhibited cross-cultural and intercultural interpretation in the Americas has been the debate about the now recherche term multiculturalism. Regarded by some, because of its association with a kind of racial, ethnic, sexual, or nationalistic essentialism, as one of the most dangerous and divisive orthodoxies of our time, multiculturalism has been touted by others as one of the only real orthodoxies ever seriously supported in the United States. While the former claim is preposterous and the latter scarcely accurate, the term derives its appeal from the belief that the nation's distinctiveness as a culture and society, if not its very integrity, has always depended not on the uniformity of its citizens but on their heterogeneity. In the minds of its proponents, then, multiculturalism turns on the word diversity rather than difference and translates diversity into a call for a new reign of openness and inclusiveness.

Nonetheless, serious difficulties arise for multiculturalism when "diversity" is transformed politically into the sole, or at least the principal, source of cultural authenticity and then all forms of cultural authenticity are held to be equally inviolate and pristine. At this point, multiculturalism gives up its air of tolerance and flexibility and begins to provide the rationale for a world always on the verge of splintering along lines of prejudice, resentment, and enmity, always ready to fragment into hostile camps. Or when this unhappy fate can be avoided, then the world begins to give way to a more banal environment where wearing one's "differences" simply becomes the only way to belong. Whichever the case, multiculturalism is then quickly transformed into to just another form of monoculturalism, and monoculturalism has a tendency all too often to move in the direction of one of two political extremes: either, where difference is essentialized, in the direction of pogroms and ethnic cleansing or, where difference is normalized, in the direction of conformity and regimentation. In the first scenario, difference becomes sacralized in behalf of a politics of what Kenneth Burke once termed "Holier Than Thou." In the second, difference is "mainstreamed" to satisfy the self-consuming appetites of global popular culture.

No doubt one of the more obvious reasons why multiculturalism is vulnerable to these distortions--distortions that prevent it from fulfilling its otherwise admirable aim to stimulate the exploration and appreciation of cultural distinctiveness wherever it is found--is because the symbolic sedimentation of cultural differentiations goes so deep. However integral and often indispensable such differentiations are to the organization of human life as we know it historically, they derive much of their power from their status as fictions. Cultural differentiations deserve to be called fictions in at least a limited sense both because they often tend, when absolutized as some element of the cultural template, to presuppose a homogeneity or uniformity of experience that their historical development actually belies, and also because they derive their authority from assumptions that are, among other things, decidedly aesthetic. This is not to argue that such significations are any less real or legitimate--or are experienced as being any less real or le-gitimate--because they are imaginative as well as political, tropological as well as social or economic. It is merely to assert that whatever the experiential terrain on which such artifacts, and the deep attachments they afford, are expressed, these same artifacts, and the emotional appeals with which they are identified, are cultural before they are anything else. They are forms by which people make sense of the sense their experience makes to them, and make more valuable sense the more that sense can be expressed in figurative terms, the more it can be rendered semiotic. Little wonder, then, at the volatility and power of such forms. On the one side, cultural symbols serve as instruments in and through which groups may express an understandable desire to honor and enact their own legacies of identity. On the other, by "naturalizing" those boundaries between peoples, they tend to render them experientially problematic, even impassable.

But this only raises all over again the question about whether it is feasible, or even possible, to look for, or try to define, some common essence or substance that all the cultures of the Americas may be said to share and in terms of which they might be critically compared and assessed. Do the terms for a common American culture lie within history itself, say, in some mythic framework from which all the culturally specific stories of the Americas somehow narratively derive? Or might they be found instead, if not in some genetic link between general myths of origin and specific narratives of destiny, then in the connection between generic interpretive possibilities and diverse interpretive practices in cultural traditions that still remain differentiable? Or yet again, could the premises and procedures of a common culture of the Americas be found in the crosslights that are produced when differing ideational, emotional, and ritual elements from distinctive, discriminable historical traditions are brought into apposite but meaningful relations with one another? Or rather might the preconceptions and customs of an inter-American culture lie embedded, perhaps, within some text, such as Jorge Amado's Tent of Miracles, or Isabel Allende's The House of Spirits, or embodied in some figure, like Jose de San Martin, or the woman the Spanish called Dona Marina and the Indians La Malinche, or represented by some territory, such as the Caribbean which, as Antonio Benitez-Rojo has noted, may serve to bridge the differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres?

As it turns out, each of these possibilities has been explored with some care during the last several decades. Just as many of the individual cultures of the Americas share a common myth of genesis that is clearly indebted to the Biblical depiction of Eden and the counter-image of humanity's expulsion to an outer wilderness of uncertainty and strangeness, so one can describe systematic relationships between, let us say, the Hispanic and the North American understanding of the family, or between the labyrinth of solitude in the Latin American literary soul and its echo in the soul of North American writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson. Or, again, just as one can see affinities between the career of a Simon Bolivar and an Abraham Lincoln, or discern telltale similarities and differences between the response to the history of miscegenation in Brazil and the American South, so one can find literary figures like Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Anne Hebert, Clarice Lispector, or Luisa Valenzuela who seem to absorb and express many of the contradictions that make up at least some of the Americas at any given moment. Or, one can discover in a concept such as the mestizo something that, on the authority of individuals as various as the African American intellectual Albert Murray, the Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario, or the Mexican graphic artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, characterizes the cultures, like the peoples, of both hemispheres.

The question is whether such inquiries finally get us very far, or at least as far as we now need to go, in conceptualizing the kinds of relationship that the cultures of the Americas may potentially have with one another critically. While it is true that common essences can be detected beneath cultural differences, that sets of traits have been shared across cultural boundaries, that cultural homologies can be discovered in the origin and development, as opposed to the appearance and function, of otherwise disparate social practices, and that representative figures may be found who unify, or at least bridge, contiguous cultural traditions, these discoveries merely disclose materials of experience that, for the most part, have yet to be made visible to one another. The real issue is not so much how to bring these things into view as how to make them interpretively accessible and accountable to one another; not how to conceptualize their similarities and differences but how to permit them to have a reciprocal, if not a corrective, influence on one another.

For this to be accomplished, we need an interpretive method that is not only adept, as Clifford Geertz once put it, at translating the performances and practices of one culture into the idioms of another, but that is also capable, as Renato Rosaldo has insisted, of submitting the cultural positioning of its own idioms and perspectives to the critique of the performances and practices it would translate into them. In anthropology this amounts, among other things, to acknowledging that the social analyst is not a tabula rasa but a positioned subject who must accept "that the objects of social analysis are also analyzing subjects whose perceptions must be taken nearly as seriously as 'we' take our own." This is far from easy, not only because the cultural field is a site of contestation, of struggles over power, but also because its boundaries are now seen to be infinitely more fluid and permeable than they once were. Hardly more than a space where various trajectories of race, gender, ethnicity, age, class, religious belief, or sexual orientation intersect and diverge, culture is characterized at one and the same time by patterns of movement and by zones of difference, the latter often located, to utilize Gloria Anzaldua's fruitful term, in the "borderlands" between as well as within cultures.

In a world where "change rather than structure becomes society's enduring state, and time rather than space becomes its most encompassing medium," how, Rosaldo wants to know, is one to bring the other's subject position into view, much less to take it seriously enough to influence one's own? This becomes still more difficult because of the paradox of all ethnographic description: as the "other" becomes more visible "as other" to the ethnographer, the ethnographer becomes less visible "as other" to him-or herself. Thus, what the "other" acquires by virtue of being brought into ethnographic focus, namely cultural distinctiveness or "difference," the ethnographer loses by becoming "culturally invisible." According to James Clifford, what the ethnographer cannot see are the "multiple subjectivities and political constraints beyond the control of the writer" that make up his or her "specific strategy of authority."16These subjectivities and constraints include such things as the professional protocols of the discipline of anthropology itself, its institutional positioning within a world that links universities and museums to foundations and governments, and the historical relations between the development of anthropology as a "human science" and the expansion and refinement of European colonization as a political practice. Ethnographers thus find themselves in an epistemological box. The more clearly they see their subject, the less clearly they see, or can correctively discount for, the apparatus of seeing itself.

John Dewey was one of the first philosophers to suggest a way out of this epistemological box when he observed, in his book by this title, that the "knowing and the known" are not wholly independent, much less opposed, entities. Far from being separate, autonomous, and, as it were, self-governing, they are actually reciprocally dependent, really interdependent, in at least two important senses: not only is the "known" in part a construct of the "knower"; the construction and positionality of the "knower" is inevitably affected by the constructedness of the "known." While this is not the same thing as saying that we can see, as the traditional locution has it, "from the native's point of view," it is to say that there is nothing that prevents us from learning how to see ourselves as in some sense "a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds." Seeing ourselves as natives among natives is not, to be sure, the same thing as taking our subject's point of view as seriously as we take our own, but it carries us some way toward recognizing at least some of the things that currently limit our view.

In addition, Clifford proposes that we try to make ethnographic writing more dialogic and polyphonic. The first would exploit the difference between the context in which research is conducted and the interlocutory situation that research wants to explore; the second would open up the field of inquiry to the plurality of voices that currently inhabit it. The problem with both strategies is that, no matter how many voices are added to the mix, nor how successful its various participants are in discursively deepening the relationship between them, any text created out of such discourses will still be the creation of a single author. Short of imagining an ethnographic utopia where responsibility for producing texts would be shared equally, or at least proportionately, by members of all the cultures to be represented in it, we seem to be left with a textual situation where one writer, however adept at ventriloquy, is obliged to speak for others.

Jose David Saldivar believes that we can circumvent some of the problems associated with this situation if we adopt a self-consciously comparativist perspective that is as seriously prepared to question such oppositions as to acknowledge them. This would entail a rethinking and rewriting of the history of, to recall Jose Marti's famous essay, "Our America" in terms of "the other America, which is not ours." From this perspective, the challenge is not to rehistoricize cross-cultural comparisons as such but rather to rehistoricize such comparisons, in Carolyn Porter's reformulations, "as intercultural relations."20What needs to be played off against one another are not the historicized differences between "us" and "them" but the way those differences as historically constituted have created forms of life in which both of us share and by which both of us have variously been shaped.

Such sharings and reshapings bring us back to Dewey, who defined his version of pragmatism as a critique of prejudices that involves a kind of "intellectual disrobing." Without pretending that the garments of cultural sense-making can ever be shed entire, Dewey held that there is "a discipline of severe thought" that enables us to determine not only what cultural garments do to the wearer but also what the wearing of them does to the garments. If this form of immanent critique still fails to let us know what cultural forms mean to the "other," it does enable us to gain a deeper comprehension than Rosaldo and, perhaps, Clifford allow of what cultural forms and their instrumentalities do for those who try to use them dialogically to understand and, if possible, engage the "other."

Problems arise for pragmatism, as they do for most other theories of cultural hermeneutics, chiefly when particular cultural perspectives prove impervious or inimical to one another or, almost worse, incommensurable with each other. Liberals have typically responded to these challenges by attempting to create the kind of pluralistic system recommended by the late Sir Isaiah Berlin, where one tries insofar as possible to prevent situations from arising in which human beings are necessarily compelled to act in ways contrary to their own deepest convictions. But this liberal tactic has proved notably ineffective in curbing the use of those more insidious symbolic practices where the opposition or at least difference between various cultural mindsets is turned into an instrument for idealizing, if not reifying, one of them at the expense of deprecating another. Often linked to the construction of identity, this psycho-moral reflex works to shore up and defend senses of self, whether collective or individual, that are threatened or at least unstable. The triggering device is usually some experience of loss, or the threat of such an experience, which can then be assuaged only by laying blame for the distress on someone or something else who or which can then be stigmatized, even demonized. The question to be asked is whether there are any intellectual remedies for such practices and for the social and political pathologies they trail in their wake. Though the word "remedy" may convey the wrong impression, implying that these problems merely await the application of the right medicine to undo the psycho-cultural knots they tie us in, pragmatism seeks to combat the effects of this practice by, in effect, ministering to its cause.

The source of such practices most often lies in a sense of identity that has been weakened or endangered, presumably through exposure to and encounters with senses or expressions of self that are different, or, more precisely, through threats to those idealizations of the past that permit identity to be constructed around a self-reinforcing dialectic of sameness and difference, of "I" and "other." Pragmatism, on the other hand, is to be associated with those interpretive strategies that, like psychoanalysis, cultivate what the cultural psychologist Peter Homans has described as "the ability to mourn."


Excerpted from Beyond Solidarity: Pragmatism and Difference in A Globalized World by Giles B. Gunn Copyright © 2001 by Giles B. Gunn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

I. Rethinking Solidarity
1. Multiculturalism, Mourning, and the Colonial Legacy of the
Americas: Towards a New Pragmatics of Cross- and Intercultural
2. Rethinking Human Solidarity in an Age of Globalism
II. Jamesian Matters
3. William James and the Globalization of Pragmatism
4. Pragmatism and The American Scene
III. Pragmatist Rereadings
5. Religion, Rorty, and te Recent Revival of Pragmatism
6. Rhetorical Pragmatism and the Question of the Historical
7. The Pragmativs of the Aesthetic
IV. Beyond Solidarity
8. Beyond Solidarity
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