Philosophy, the Conquest, and the Meaning of Modernity: A Commentary on "Anti-Cartesian Meditations: On the Origin of the Philosophical Anti-Discourse of Modernity" by Enrique Dussel
Alcoff, Linda Martin, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge
In his "Anti-Cartesian Meditations: On the Origin of the Philosophical Anti-Discourse of Modernity" (see the version on www.enriquedussel.com used for page citations below; it also appears in this issue of the journal) Enrique Dussel makes a major contribution to the developing work in post-colonial philosophy, an area or subfield within philosophy that is not yet recognized by any major philosophical association or research department. Because this area of philosophy remains unrecognized, there is the real danger that Dussel's critical text will go unrecognized, just as Felipe Guaman Poma's did for so many generations. The problems and obstacles that Dussel analyzes in the history of philosophy have not by any means been solved, and they continue to threaten to disable the reception of his own contributions. In this commentary, therefore, I want to think through the issue of how Dussel's historical revisions affect the doing of philosophy, its conditions of reproduction particularly in contemporary graduate departments, and its own self-understanding of its history and current disciplinary definition.
Even today, in the 21st century, there are no required courses in post-colonial philosophy in any department in the Americas, no comprehensive exams or advisory committees in this area, no associations, conferences, or journals, no compendiums of the major papers, nor encyclopedic overviews. Nor do the various programming committees of the major philosophical organizations recognize this as an area that merits its share of panels at the annual conventions, alongside, for example, early modern philosophy or ethics. Post-colonial philosophy exists only in the sense that there exists scholarly work that would fit within such a rubric, but it does not exist in the sense of being an acknowledged reality or recognized category. "Post-colonial philosophy" is like the categories "alternative medicine" or "racism" or "sexual harassment" in the not too distant past, categories with a referent (plenty of referents, actually), but no recognized reality or accepted linguistic usage. Let me begin, then, with a characterization of what the area of post-colonial philosophy concerns, and how it relates to other subfields within the discipline, as a way of placing Dussel's own analyses within a legible framework.
The term "post-colonial" is meant to refer not to a period after colonialism but to the analysis of colonialism in relation to the formation of the modern capitalist world system. (1) Although most formalized systems of colonial administration have been dismantled, neo-colonialism is alive and well, colonialism lingers, and what Anibal Quijano calls the coloniality of power--or the organization of power and status through social identities constructed within colonial relations of production--remains as strong as ever in literature as well as in the meta-narratives of culture, history and global political conflict, the representations of the West and its others, and so on. Another way to put this is that colonial ideologies remain strongly influential of new discourses and new theories even in the contemporary moment. The project of post-colonialism is to trace out these influences, to search them out, even where we might imagine them not to have much relevance, as Dussel does here and in his other work in the philosophical sub-field of epistemology.
As we might imagine, colonial narratives have had the most influence over the canonical histories of western philosophy, its periodizations, its ways of categorizing the major periods, and its organization of geographical borders. Still in graduate schools today the history of philosophy is grouped within the following categories: Ancient (meaning fourth century Greece), Early Modern (meaning 17th century northwestern Europe, excluding Spain), Modern (meaning the same area in the 18th century), and Nineteenth and Twentieth Century (including here England, Scotland, the U. …