Academic journal article Southeast Review of Asian Studies

Indigenous Epistemology and Placing the Cultural Self in Crisis: A New Hermeneutic Model for Cultural Studies

Academic journal article Southeast Review of Asian Studies

Indigenous Epistemology and Placing the Cultural Self in Crisis: A New Hermeneutic Model for Cultural Studies

Article excerpt

Difference and Culture

While Gadamer, Derrida, and Caputo call into question the subject via their respective hermeneutic approaches, the way that cultural studies have been institutionalized has functioned primarily as an instrument for the subject to interpolate his own preconceptions and misconceptions. As a consequence, a disturbing trend of mis-reading so-called 'marginalized cultures' has cultivated a binary of the culture and its reporter, thereby subverting human experience in the course of its self-objectification. By examining a few historical examples, I analyze in this paper how the construction of cultural selves and particularly the scholar's separation of oneself from the life-events examined, has only furthered cultural misappropriation and turned the field of cultural studies into a hermeneutical battleground. Gadamer, rather than trying to synthesize the perspectives of the self and the other, stresses openness toward the perspective of the 'other.' He is willing to suspend the individual subject's own position, which calls into question what Bakhtin or Caputo have argued in order to maintain difference or assert the irreducibility of the self and the other. By exploring examples from cultural studies where the cultural 'other' is India, I argue that those hermeneutic models that are not willing to call into question the subject itself are epistemologically flawed. A necessary 'fusion of horizons,' a symposium of mutual understanding as it were, is not possible unless the subjects in dialogue are willing to dissolve their differences or come out of the epistemic shell that defines their selves and differentiates one from the other. A dialogue, to me, is inter-penetrative, wherein both subjects merge in constituting a new paradigm. A mere exchange of words cannot be considered a dialogue. Presumed differences, in my understanding, can and often do, stem from misjudgment.

This misunderstanding is not always a cognitive error, but often times, is due to a failure on the part of those engaged in dialogue to put aside their respective epistemological biases. The subjects engaged in this kind of fallacious hermeneutics, in my opinion, can speak but not engage in dialogue. I consider the binary created by these subjects as 'false,' and as long as the cultural selves are not willing to escape their evaluation of others based on faulty parameters, no actual dialogue can occur. I propose in this paper that the construction of the binaries of 'cultural self' and 'the other' has precluded actually knowing other cultural selves or initiating any truly meaningful inter-subjective dialogue. This leads to my proposal that the cultural selves that initiate discourse need to erase their subjective horizon in order to penetrate the realm of the 'other.' This does not preclude subjects from making judgments, but this breach in the horizons of the self and the other will open up a space which can provide a foundation for 'understanding' to occur. As long as the subjects are not willing to relinquish their conceptual boundaries, there is no real 'fusion.' In other words, self-existence is not dependent upon the sustenance of the 'ego,' and when the maintenance of a subjective horizon precludes the possibility of a dialogue, a meta-awareness is required to relinquish subjectivity.

The defining of a culture requires the presence of a cultural other. This 'other' constitutes a difference that allows one culture to identify itself. When different cultures develop a dialogue, numerous binaries can emerge, such as that of insider and outsider, or superior and inferior. Post-colonial studies have deconstructed the settings in which cultures have been studied. This has given a new twist to studying 'other' cultures and has problematized the colonial framework of admiration, adoption, and assimilation, where the eventual outcome of such studies has remained to diminish the cultural other. The question is, can we really know the cultural others that are not our own fabrications? …

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