- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Sharing a postrevolutionary sympathy with the struggles of the poor, the contributors to this first comprehensive collection of writing on subalternity in Latin America work to actively link politics, culture, and literature. Emerging from a decade of work and debates generated by a collective known as the Latin American Studies Group, the volume privileges the category of the subaltern over that of class, as contributors focus on the possibilities of investigating history from below.
In addition to an overview by Ranajit Guha, essay topics include nineteenth-century hygiene in Latin American countries, Rigoberta Menchú after the Nobel, commentaries on Haitian and Argentinian issues, the relationship between gender and race in Bolivia, and ungovernability and tragedy in Peru. Providing a radical critique of elite culture and of liberal, bourgeois, and modern epistemologies and projects, the essays included here prove that Latin American Subaltern Studies is much more than the mere translation of subaltern studies from South Asia to Latin America.
Contributors. Marcelo Bergman, John Beverley, Robert Carr, Sara Castro-Klarén, Michael Clark, Beatriz González Stephan, Ranajit Guha, María Milagros López , Walter Mignolo, Alberto Moreiras, Abdul-Karim Mustapha, José Rabasa, Ileana Rodríguez, Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, Javier Sanjinés, C. Patricia Seed, Doris Sommer, Marcia Stephenson, Mónica Szurmuk, Gareth Williams, Marc Zimmerman
When the first volume of Subaltern Studies, the journal named after our project, was published in 1982 in Delhi, we did not count on any readership abroad. For throughout the long period of colonial rule we were always represented by the colonizers, and it is through them-their academics and other intellectuals, their publications and other media-that the West had come to know about us. The fact that the colonized in the subcontinent had been writing about themselves not only in their own languages but also in English since the beginning of the nineteenth century made little difference, and the legacy of that alien representation seemed destined to continue even after decolonization. We had accepted this as a sort of fate. It was therefore with a degree of genuine surprise and delight that I came to learn of the interest taken in our work by scholars concerned with Latin American studies in Latin America and the United States. Some of them have done our project a singular honor by allowing it to take its place alongside theirs under a common designation. It is gestures like these which, more than anything else, make it possible for us to break out of our containment in two hundred years of solitude. I am deeply moved and dedicate this essay to my colleagues of the LatinAmerican Subaltern Studies Group as a token of our solidarity.
Our project, Subaltern Studies, had its genesis in the South Asian experience. Informed by the immediacy and urgency of the subcontinent's political and social conditions, it identifies itself by such names, thematizes itself according to such problems, chronicles itself in terms of such events, and expresses itself in sentiments that are all unmistakably South Asian. This may, of course, make one wonder whether it is at all possible to make something so area-specific comprehensible to those who do not belong there. Doesn't the very concreteness of its regionality make this project useless to scholars, such as Latin Americanists, with no specialized interest in that part of the world? The answer, I think, is no. For it is not territoriality that relates our project to theirs in a bond of mutual relevance, but temporality.
Our project belongs to our time. It made its debut at a time of turbulence marked by the difficulties facing India's new nation-state, by acute civil disturbances that occasionally threatened to tear it apart, by a common anxiety in which the frustration of the "Midnight's Children," those born since independence, blended with the disillusionment of older generations to produce an explosive discontent. One could go on adding to this list, but what is curious about it is that not one of its items has only local time as its referent. In each instance, a "when" assigned to it within the Indian experience has a corresponding "when" in a global register in which phenomena of longer duration designated as eras and ages (e.g., the age of superpower rivalry or the electronic era) have been contemporaneous with a countless number of relatively short-term events, ranging from the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam war to fluctuations in world commodity prices and race riots in Britain. In other words, our time in the Subaltern Studies project concerned with South Asia is one that has been thoroughly overdetermined by global temporalities.
This is also true for the time of the Latin American Subaltern Studies project, a time it can legitimately be called "our time," as witness the periodization that provides the group's formation with a historical background in its founding statement, and the observation in the introduction to the anthology, Subaltern Studies in the Americas that connects "the specific nature of [that] project" to "such historical and geographic determinants as the so-called demise of socialism after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the loss of the elections by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1990."
Such a collapsing of local and global times-the time of the Naxalbari uprising in India and that of the Cultural Revolution in China, the time of the Nicaraguan elections and that of the fall of the Berlin Wall-is of course one of the most salient features of capital's "self-realization process" (Selbstverwertungsprozess), in the course of which it strives to annihilate space with time, as Marx has argued. Since this process underlies all that has gone into the making of the modern age as the age of capital, its intensification in our time is designated, justifiably, as the condition of postmodernity in much the same way as an aggravated phase sometimes acquires a special name in the diagnosis of a prolonged illness. This goes to show, among other things, that the phenomenon of postmodernity stands no less for a movement of capital than for a movement of ideas.
It is in this overarching temporality that "our time," with all its South Asian specifications, intersects with a distinctively Latin American "our time." And since comparison between any two terms requires a third term in which both can be expressed, we have in this particular phase of global temporality-call it postmodernity, if you like-the ground that should suffice to compare these projects. However, before proceeding any further in this direction, it may be worthwhile to pause for a moment and consider whether the significance of this intersection is best grasped by a comparative exercise, for the latter often tends to degenerate into a sort of contestatory evaluation that is as gratuitous as it is unhelpful for any genuine understanding of the entities compared.
In numerous instances, our humble project, with no claim at all to universal validity, has been summoned to stand trial by comparison and has been found wanting as measure or model for studies based on very different regional material. I have come to doubt the value of such an approach, which usually relies on the most slender trace of an analogy here, a touch of resemblance there, and a suggestion of parallelism in yet another respect to produce, at best, what Wittgenstein has called the "experience of comparison," indicating that one is only "inclined towards a comparison," that one is inclined "to make a paraphrase." There is nothing wrong with such an inclination in itself; however, it is not the same thing as a comparison that combines with reflection and abstraction to generate concepts in the process of understanding. Yet this is not always kept in mind. On the contrary, superficial inclination is too readily accorded the status of conceptualization, allowing it to sit in judgment over works concerned with widely disparate phenomena before thinking its way through to the ground where these may be brought together for a proper consideration of what is unique about each of them and what they share.
That ground, as we have already observed, is nothing other than an overarching temporality subsuming local times. We shall try to approach it not in a spirit of comparison and competition, but of convergence. To converge is to meet in a point as lines do in a figure, or to approximate as numbers do in a mathematical series, toward a given limit. Generally speaking, it is one thing to incline toward another in a specified direction and approach it closely enough to verge on it. There is nothing in these meanings shown for the phrase in the Concise Oxford Dictionary to impute to it any presupposition of similarity or to tie it to the notion of parity, as in comparison. For tendencies can be dissimilar and unequal in important respects and yet share an orientation toward some horizon each can recognize as its own. What is of crucial significance here is the dynamics of "towardness," with its characteristic movements of inclining, approaching, and approximating. It is these that make it possible for drives, initiatives, and ideas to coalesce without any of them compromising the identity and originality of the projects to which they belong. There is room enough in such coalescence for all such tendencies to come alongside each other and let their borders touch in a lateral solidarity. None of these has to race against any of the others. As neighbors they are free to look over the fence, inspect each other's gardens, engage in mutual criticism, and do so, as it befits good neighbors, without mutual antagonism. Indeed, criticism anchored in convergence will find all the strength it needs to overcome the petty jealousies and rancor that so often usurp its place in academic discussion.
However, for any such solidarity to take effect in a convergence, it is essential that the ground for the latter is clearly delimited. How is that to be done? There is no single formula to guide all tendencies in dealing with that task in a uniform manner for they differ in their formulations, inclinations, and paths to convergence. I see the delimiting done for our project by all those considerations that the Latin Americanists and other scholars have brought to bear on our writings, which is to acknowledge straightaway that convergence relies on reciprocity as the very condition of its possibility.
It is the interest taken in our work on South Asia by intellectuals engaged in the study of other regions and within other tendencies which alone enables us to reach out to them. All their questions addressed to us, all expressions of doubt or approval, all suggestions including even those which signal nothing more than the merest "experience of comparison," are indeed so many points where their concerns touch ours. To join up those points of contact in an outline, however irregular, broken and roughly sketched, would be to map out a space for all ways of thinking on the problem of subalternity to gather in a congress of critical exchange. That would make a rather large map no doubt judging by the range and volume of discussions on Subaltern Studies amongst the Latin Americanists alone, not counting the numerous interventions made by other regional specialists. I can't chart all that extensive territory in a talk of this length and must be selective in my exploration of the delimited ground visiting, on this occasion, only a few of its many interesting sites. I make no claim however for my itinerary as either the best or the only possible one.
Let us start with postmodernism. I choose this rather than any other as my point of departure not only because our project has been drawn into some of the recent debates among Latin Americanists themselves on this problem, but also because of its timeliness. For one thing, it highlights the intersection of our time with theirs. Furthermore, the question "What is postmodernism?" is timely in much the same way as was that other question "What is enlightenment?" asked over two centuries ago. That, too, was asked from within its own time as the articulation of an actuality, of a present, a "now" to which the philosopher, its contemporary, related as if to a predicament and was driven by his doubts to inquire, "What is it that we call enlightenment? Where does it come from and where is it taking us?"
The contemporaneity of Kant's essay "An Answer to the Question, 'What is Enlightenment?,'" is fairly well documented in all its circumstantial aspects. It was a partisan intervention published in Berlinische Monatsschrift, the principal organ of the Berlin school of enlightenment philosophy with which he had allied himself. Joining the battle of ideas against political and intellectual reaction in Prussia, "he had gathered up all the threads clustering around the name of this party" in this article, says Ernst Cassirer, "and endeavoured to define their one most integrating tendency," namely, the conception of autonomy.
This local battle of so long ago, and with so provincial an air about it, would have mattered little to us had it not been for the fact that its challenge, "Have courage to use your own reason," has not spent its force even today. To the contrary, it appears to have gained not merely in urgency but also in complexity and scope. Of the many different aspects of its continued importance, at least one bears directly on our present discussion.
This aspect concerns the question of autonomy, that is, what Kant calls "man's release from his self-incurred tutelage" so that he can "make use of his understanding without direction from another." Insofar as such direction had traditionally been the prerogative of institutional or individual authorities exercised in the name of an age-old wisdom, to rebel against it would be to assert the primacy of the present as a time reclaimed from its assimilation to tutelary pasts and made entirely one's own. The moment of such self-assertion, with humanity proclaiming the autonomy of reason, would be the moment of the critique, as Foucault observes in a brilliant reading of this text. For it was only a critique that could define the legitimate use of reason. "The critique is, in a sense, the handbook of reason that had grown up in Enlightenment; and, conversely, the Enlightenment is the age of the critique" (Foucault, 38). He echoes in these words Kant's own characterization of his time in his preface to the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, "Our age is, in special degree, the age of criticism, and to criticism everything must submit."
What, from our point of view, is important about that critique is its function as a paradox. It heralds the advent of reason and upholds its sovereignty, and yet ends up by defining the limits of the latter. This is nowhere more obvious than the philosopher's own attempt to reconcile the freedom of political argument with an unquestioning obedience to the enlightened despot, Frederick II of Prussia-an ingenuity described by Foucault as "a sort of contract ... the contract of rational despotism with free reason" (Foucault, 37). The irony of this compromise does not lie in the contingencies of political tact alone. It arises out of an iron necessity for reason to have its universalist drive curbed by history-a point that seems not to have received the emphasis it merits in Foucault's overly actualist reading of the text. He sees reason hurtling against insuperable limits ever since its formation, but does not push the limit attitude to the point where the notion of progress itself comes under question. For it is precisely there that human progress "must be connected to some experience," according to Kant, in much the same way that a certain outcome can be "predicted in general as in the calculation of probability in games of chance," although "that prediction cannot enable us to know whether what is predicted is to happen in my life and I am to have the experience of it." Progress still retains its place in this perspective "as an inevitable consequence" but is left "undetermined with regard to time," that is, with regard to history, which as we know from Logic, is another name for experience.
These ideas, elaborated by Kant in The Conflict of the Faculties (1798) were already anticipated in his 1784 article in the form of a cautionary statement: "If we are asked, 'Do we now live in an enlightened age?,' the answer is 'no,' but we do live in an age of enlightenment." Indeed, this gesture of a gaze turning away from the immediate present toward the still unexplored vistas of time helps us to grasp the significance of the copula in the question "What is enlightenment?" For the "is" has for its referent here, one can say, following Heidegger, "not only the currently actual, which affects us and which we stumble upon." It refers also to "the possible, which we expect, hope for, and fear, which we only anticipate, before which we recoil and yet do not let go." With actuality projected thus on a horizon of possibility, that historic question would serve no purpose merely as a cue to some well-rehearsed apology for reason. On the contrary, reason would henceforth have all its certainties invested by an unremitting anxiety, and Enlightenment, racked by self-doubt-a Pangloss haunted by an unhappy consciousness, would herald an epoch for a melancholy optimism characteristic of all that modernity was to stand for.
Excerpted from The Latin American subaltern studies reader by Ileana Rodriguez 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.
|About the Series|
|Reading Subalterns Across Texts, Disciplines, and Theories: From Representation to Recognition||1|
|Subaltern Studies: Projects for Our Time and Their Convergence||35|
|The Im/possibility of Politics: Subalternity, Modernity, Hegemony||47|
|Solidarity as Event, Communism as Personal Practice, and Disencounters in the Politics of Desire||64|
|A Storm Blowing from Paradise: Negative Globality and Critical Regionalism||81|
|Rigoberta Menchu After the Nobel: From Militant Narrative to Postmodern Politics||111|
|No Perfect World: Aboriginal Communities' Contemporary Resource Rights||129|
|Historiography on the Ground: The Toledo Circle and Guaman Poma||143|
|Slaps and Embraces: A Rhetoric of Particularism||175|
|Beyond Representation? The Impossibility of the Local (Notes on Subaltern Studies in Light of a Rebellion in Tepoztlan, Morclos)||191|
|Questions of Strategy as an Abstract Minimum: Subalternity and Us||211|
|From Glory to Menace II Society: African American Subalternity and the Ungovernability of the Democratic Impulse under Super-Capitalist Orders||227|
|Twenty Preliminary Propositions for a Critical History of International Statecraft in Haiti||241|
|Death in the Andes: Ungovernability and the Birth of Tragedy in Peru||260|
|Outside In and Inside Out: Visualizing Society in Bolivia||288|
|The Teaching Machine for the Wild Citizen||313|
|Apprenticeship as Citizenship and Governability||341|
|The Architectural Relationship between Gender, Race, and the Bolivian State||367|
|Gender, Citizenship, and Social Protest: The New Social Movements in Argentina||383|
|Who's the Indian in Aztlan? Re-Writing Mestizaje, Indianism, and Chicanismo from the Lacandon||402|
|Coloniality of Power and Subalternity||424|