Posts Tagged ‘Zizek’

meditation iii (exophilosophy)

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum [2006]), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row. — Hamid Dabashi, Can Non-Europeans Think?

I agree with this statement in fighting spirit — indeed, don’t get me started on the incredibly ignorant genre title of “world music” — in regards to my research on Afrofuturism, which argues for the consideration of other forms of knowledge as “philosophy.” Specifically, I campaign for forms of thinking that are otherwise excluded from an increasingly professionalized philosophical discourse; and forms of thinking that are materialized in different ways other than argued essays and books. What is philosophy? Here’s a provisional phrase: philosophy is a working form of thinking through thought, of considering the balance of nearly unanswerable questions, of probing deep into uncertainties and impossibilities. This need not occur through its elaboration in scripted forms of writing, and certainly not in peer-reviewed journals and other sites of careerist discourse. It is for all these reasons that I argue for Afrofuturism, or rather, for exophilosophy in general: for all the approaches that ascertain thought through ways that are otherwise in the “margins of philosophy.” Graffiti, rhyme, movement, gesture, beats, art, sampling…

But is this all philosophy? Should it all be flattened to philosophy? Is philosophy still the signifier to be retained? Or should it not be historicized and geographically delimited for a reason?

For philosophy is philosophy. It is not “European philosophy” and “African philosophy” but philosophy. This is not Eurocentrist; it is to respect the Greek origins of the name “philo-sophia.” The signifier of philosophy names a certain history. To argue for philosophy means also to argue with this history. If this is Eurocentrist, it is historically so. Playing with philosophy means respecting its roots.

In this respect, Dabashi is entirely on point when he critiques the postulate that only Europeans think — as if, in short, philosophy is the only form of thinking. For me this is the stronger argument. Not that there are different philosophies measured against Philosophy (which is what Dabashi critiques) but neither that all is philosophy (which is what Dabashi suggests). Rather, that there are different forms of thinking materialized in different ways. The Greek tradition of philosophia, from which not only Europe inherits but a huge part of the world (thanks to empire, colonialism, etc., but also trades of thought, intellectual spin-offs, exchanges of ideas, and so forth), is philosophy. But exterior to philosophy are other domains of thought just as powerful which claim universalities of application insofar as they advance the question of the question, the principle of the principle, the reflection of the reflection. Yet they need not be wrapped into philosophy, collapsed to its discourse, its rules, its convention, its history — and above all its signifier, meaning, at base, the “love of wisdom.” Other names abound that could mean something else than a love for wisdom: a distaste of unthought, for example; a longing for the alien; a thought of the uncertain.

Delightfully, Dabashi sustains the principle of the universal to begin with, which is also what I like about his argument: that all persons in all cultures have the ability to think in such a self-centred fashion that they consider themselves yardsticks of globality (to paraphrase from this essay). Whereas Dabashi sees this as the universality of philosophy, I see this as the universality of thought from which “philosophy” is but a variant, a stream from the spring.

There are other barriers to break down. Damashi’s article maintains a weak bias toward naming professionalized intellectuals in other countries than Europe as exemplary of philosophy’s globalization. Of course I support this move, insofar as he is critiquing the perennial go-to of European and North American “public intellectuals.” But why should the go-tos also be of the same class of thought?  So, despite his attack not only on Eurocentrism, he (perhaps unwittingly) maintains that philosophy solely operates within certain strictures of academia. In this respect, he is correct: it is but philosophy, a discourse of the tradition of the discourse. But there are other forms of potent thought lurking beyond the campus walls. They rap into place, form beats about space… and perhaps today have more to say about the changes of life actually throwing down.


Wednesday, April 11th, 2012


Yesterday — a day of mourning. Close family, a beautiful & pioneering female skier, and CBC. But right now it’s the Harper agenda against our public broadcaster that has me infuriated. Radio One’s Dispatches has been axed completely — one of the only venues for independent, international, investigative news reporting. Gone. Should we speculate why? Perhaps one Canadian mining or oil and gas expose too many? The erosion of democracy is so easy to accomplish against the backdrop of complacency. Ownership of the media — à la Berlusconi — is the first step to consolidating absolutist power. Dispatches is but one casualty in a coordinated, slow erosion of public institutions and media in Canada. Fight back, Dispatches crew. DO NOT GO QUIETLY.

Berlusconi’s reign over Italy is an interesting example. Did he go because of public uprising, because of political overthrow? No, it was only when Berlusconi’s use of the State as his personal fiefdom endangered the power of capital that the multinational bankers stepped in and installed a technocratic council to rule the State. The catalyst to this was not social unrest, mass protest, or democratic upheaval, but the 2008 financial crisis. Like Greece, Italy is now run by unelected technocrats. Berlusconi has managed to evade every single charge brought against him; he publicly flaunts his largesse and lack of ethics.

Harper is the shadow to Berlusconi’s fireworks. All the same strategies are in play — slow erosion of democratic institutions; the flaunting of power and wealth; the complete monopolization of state media. Unlike fascists of the 1930s, today’s neoconservatives know to move slowly by strategically defunding independent public services from the environment and sciences to public broadcasting and food safety. The result is an unstable state lacking the communications and critical media to report upon its wholesale privatization.

A week ago I heard an anti-CBC caller played back on As It Happens: “You should compete like everyone else,” she said, “If I had my way the CBC would receive no funding at all.” Here we have a perfect example of neoconservative, capitalist ideology: here, it is the market, and not public space, which is the norm. Compete like everyone else, join the market; the idea that the market is a private space, and that the space of collective realisation — the “everyone else” — is that of public space, publicly funded from the common wealth, has been completely reversed: now it is the market of competing monopolies that is the “everyone else,” the “we” in which we all feel included. Of course this makes sense given that the self-identity of the caller assumes that of the consumer; the CBC is an imposed purchase under this logic, and s/he doesn’t like what s/he’s hearing. The logic is simple: news is a product, as is all media, and I only want to buy what I like, what I want to hear or see. Of course, such consumerist self-identification undermines the basic principle of journalism, which is to expose all to the ugly truths we don’t like to hear or see.

The more the world approaches ecological catastrophe, increasing impoverishment, permanent militarization, rogue state conflict, the inequality of wealth and power, etc., the more this “everyone else” rebels, creating bunkers of ideology, erecting barriers and fences to the in-common, collective experience of facing ugly truths. The right-wing, Tea Party insanity of the GOP and militant Islam are reactions to the destabilizing and ultimately self-destructive effects of global capitalism. That both aim to fight each other in a duel to the death ignores the true apocalypse brought on by global capital itself—a simultaneous erosion of democracy and the pending ecological catastrophe.

The lesson is bitter and clear: the state political elites serve capital, they are unable and/or unwilling to control and regulate capital even when the very survival of the human race is ultimately at stake. (Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times 334)

This is the final logic, the end times. Zizek’s book is highly recommended.