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Journal of Latin American Cultural


Studies: Travesia
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I am where i think: Epistemology and


the colonial difference
Walt er D. Mignolo

Prof essor and Chair of Romance St udies and Prof essor in


Lit eraure and Cult ural Ant hropology , Duke Universit y ,
Published online: 27 Feb 2009.

To cite this article: Walt er D. Mignolo (1999) I am where i t hink: Epist emology and t he
colonial dif f erence, Journal of Lat in American Cult ural St udies: Travesia, 8: 2, 235-245, DOI:
10. 1080/ 13569329909361962
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Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1999

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I Am Where I Think: Epistemology and the


Colonial Difference

WALTER D. MIGNOLO
(1) More than 10 years ago, when The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy,

Territorialit and Colonization (1995) was in the makingbut without me being


aware that this was the caseI had my first intellectual exchange with Peter
Hulme. This was owing to the fact that Rolena Adorno and I were seeking to
publish an article of his in a special issue of Dispositio (1989) devoted to 'Colonial
Discourse', a concept Hulme examined in his landmark book Colonial Encounters.
European and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1797 (1986). I am evoking this moment

for several reasons. First, it was a moment of transformation in Hispanic/Latin


America colonial scholarship, moving away from the double tyranny of the
national values imprinted in Castilian languages and literature written in
Castilian. The transition from 'literature to discourse' was, at the same time, a
transition from the national framing of the colonial period to a new domain of
scholarship that I would today identify as a 'coloniality at large'. Secondly, in
spite of the internal transformation (e.g. the history of Hispanic and Latin
American scholarship), it was not relevant in current debates in which
modernity and coloniality were post-Enlightenment phenomena. Thirdly, I am
evoking this moment to remind the reader that this was the general basis for The
Darker Side of the Renaissance. The notion of 'colonial semiosis' that I employed
in the book was actually introduced in my Afterword to the volume of Dispositio.
The last 5 years of the making of The Darker Side of the Renaissance were marked
by a dialogue with the transformation of the field of colonial studies and the
presence of colonial legacies through the Chicana/os social movement and
intellectual production. Curiously enough, almost at the same time that Peter
Hulme's Colonial Encounter was released in London and New York by Methuen,
Aunt-Lute published Gloria Anzalda's Borderland/La Frontera in San Francisco
(1987). Hulme is certainly perceptive when he observes that 'the language of
transculturation is given fullest rein in the Preface, presumably the part of the
book written last and the one that may best suggest Mignolo's current preoccupations rather than those which led to the project which has just come to
completion'.
Of course, the spirit in which I am engaging in this renewed conversation with
Peter Hulme is not that of defending myself of the weaknesses he has detected
in my arguments. Rather, I would like to engage in a scholarly conversation
focusing toward the future, starting from some of the controversial issues Peter
1356-9325/99/020235-11 1999 Taylor & Francis Ltd

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Hulme examined in his generous and rigorous review of The Darker Side of the
Renaissance. Admittedly, I am also thankful to him for underlining the contribution the book makes to the existing and growing literature on coloniality. By
coloniality, I mean the less visible side of modernity. I will come back to the
coloniality/modernity dichotomy at the end of my reply. First, I would like to
start by commenting on two points Hulme makes at the end of his review.
(2) The first point is that the book deserves recognition 'because its logic and
scholarship and thoroughness and verve make it superior to most of what it
contests. Ultimately, and in accordance with standards which can, with due
tentativeness, be seen as global, Mignolo's work is betterand it should stand
that ground' (Hulme, p. 229). This statement is made to counter my claims
locating my works on the margins. Hulme states: "That interesting work comes
from the margins, however defined, is not to be doubted, but its value does not
depend on its place of origin or on some more broadly defined locus of
enunciation. A politics of location cannot itself become an epistemology'
(Hulme, p. 229).1 Such concern is no doubt behind Hulme's detailed discussion,
in pages preceding this quotation, of my use of 'loci of enunciation'. In a
nutshell, Hulme correctly perceives that 'loci of enunciation' involves a politics
and an epistemology. Yet, he also inserts an aesthetic dimension (e.g. his use of
'better' in the previous quotation). Hulme suggests that the book should be
valued for what it achieves and not for what it announces. I have no intention
of contesting Hulme's recognition of the book's achievement! However, I would
indulge myself in some speculations on epistemology and the politics of location. I will engage in a double set of considerations: on the one hand, the way
I used and argued from the concept of 'loci of enunciation'; on the other hand,
the more general question of epistemology and the politics of location. I will
begin with this last issue, since it is the most important for future scholarly and
political discussions.
'A politics of location cannot itself become an epistemology'. Certainly not
'itself I will agree, but I argue that epistemology implies and is embedded in a
politics of location. This was one of the epistemic quarrels, related to the
question of 'translation' that Hulme himself addresses in his review, and which
I was addressing in the book. In this regard, I have no problem with the two
statements by Said as quoted by Hulme. Quite the contrary, I (like many others)
am indebted to Said's groundbreaking book for having brought to my attention
to what I have recently been calling the '(epistemic) colonial difference'
(Mignolo, 1998, 1999, forthcoming). It is Said, in addition to Frantz Fanon,
Rigoberta Mench, and the Zapatistas, who deserves credit for making the
colonial difference visible in the Anglo-speaking world. The Philosophy of
liberation in Latin America, and its consequences, should not be forgotten either.
It was influential in making people aware of the need of 'decolonizing scholarship' and 'decolonizing the social sciences' (Fais Borda, 1970). Yet the fact
remains that it was Said who produced the impact, backed up by the richness
of French poststructuralism; and this is a fact that has much to do with the
politics of (institutional) location.
Epistemology is embedded in languages and in particular genealogies. To
make a long story short, a 'history of epistemology' would most likely start with
the Greek words 'episteme', 'doxa' and 'gnosis' and run through modern

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vernacular languages and a variety of expressions in order to describe 'epistemology' as theory of knowledge, reflection on knowledge, or (a yet more
restricted definition) reflection on scientific knowledge. Most likely, this genealogy would contemplate ancient Greek vocabulary and then move to German,
French, and English. Latin would be excluded, since it was reached in rhetoric
rather than in epistemology. Latin vernaculars like Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese ended up translating the terminology from German, French, and English. In this scenario, German, English, and French (not so much Italian,
Spanish, and Portuguese, and of course not Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, or even
less Swahili, Aymara or Nahuatl) languages are the house of modern epistemology. I have the impression that, from this perspective, a politics of location can
be in itself an epistemology.
Let me give you another example. There is a splendid moment in Pierre
Bourdieu's 'Thinking about Limits' (1992), in which he places himself in a
disciplinary-theoretical genealogy as well as a national language one. As a
sociologist interested in education, Bourdieu understands the paradox implied
in the process itself: 'if we are not educated, we cannot think much at all, yet if
we are educated we risk being dominated by ready-made thoughts'. Can we
really not think much at all if we are not educated? Is it only education that calls
for thinking? Or is education a manipulation of thinking? Now, think about
education and colonialism, and you will find that what Bourdieu is doing is
mapping loci of enunciation and grounding epistemology in the politics of
location. Let me explain. Let us think about language and education in colonial
expansion and nation-building strategies. Let us concentrate on colonial legacies,
national languages and disciplinary foundations in the education system that
teaches us (those who have access to such an education) how to think. Then tell
me if epistemology does not appear ingrained in the politics of location to the
point where you cannot think the former without the latter. It should appear so
unless one assumes that epistemology is not located; rather, that it is universal
and ungrounded, a neutral guardian of knowledge. I am not saying that Hulme
holds these beliefs. I am just pressing the question of the necessary connections
between the politics of knowledge (epistemology) and the politics of location
(interest) in a non-Habermasian direction (Habermas, 1971).
The epistemological traditions in which Bourdieu began to work, he confesses,
were for him 'like the air that we breathe': it went unnoticed, which in my view
is close to saying that 'we are where we think'. Bourdieu recognized that his is
a local tradition tied up with a number of French names: Koyre, Bachelard,
Canghuilhem, and if we go back a little, Durkheim. Bourdieu further explains:
One should study the historical reasons for its existence, since it was
not all a national miracle but no doubt related to favourable conditions
within the structure of the education system. This historical tradition of
epistemology very strongly linked reflection on sciences with the history of science. Differently from the neo-positivist Anglo-Saxon tradition, it was from the history of science that it isolated the principles
of knowledge and scientific thoughts. (1992, p. 41)
Is it not an epistemic locus of enunciation that is being 'carved' out and
defined here at the same time that the conditions of membership are being
'naturally' laid out without mentioning the connections between language,

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education, epistemology and colonialism? What if you are a Bolivian sociologist


of Aymara descent? Here I am not speaking of blood but education in the
Aymara ayllu. If this is the case, you have to learn Spanish (whose link with the
epistemic foundations of social sciences is not strong, or at least, not as strong
as the scenario or loci of enunciation described by Bourdieu). Finally, you reach
Paris or even better, the US, where French and English will allow the Aymara
sociologist to be recognized and legitimized as a serious thinker. I mentioned
Aymara as an extreme, but I could have run the example with Spanish or
Portuguese and an imaginary sociologist from Chile or Brazil. What I am
referring to here was also articulated for the case of history by Dipesh
Chakrabarty (1992a, 1992b), in an argument that I have referred to as
'Chakrabarty's dilemma' (Mignolo, 1999).
Loci of enunciation are constituted at the intersection of epistemology and the
politics of location. Cultures of scholarship are cast in terms of textual national
legacies, for it is in and by text that the educational system is structured and
sciences are articulated, packaged, transmitted and exported. These are the
conditions for loci of enunciation and epistemology, according to the case of
Bourdieu. When loci of enunciation and epistemology are crossed by the colonial
difference, you find yourself in the situation underlined by The Darker Side of the
Renaissance. I had articulated this frame in the debate published in Latin
American Research Review (1993), prompted by a review article on colonial and
postcolonial discourses by Patricia Seed (1991). Although the topics I deal with
in the book are located in the early colonial period or the initial stage of the
modern/colonial world, I was actually writing the book at the end of the cold
war. I was aware of what political scientist Carl Pletsch (1981) described as 'the
three worlds, or the division of social scientific labor'. The point I would like to
recall here is that the 'three world' order went together with a subalternization
of knowledge and the reproduction of the colonial difference. In this distribution, the production of culture was assigned to the Third World and the
production of social sciences to the First World, in such a way that the
translation of the social sciences to the Third World was a process that should
not have been taken for granted. The introduction of social sciences in the Third
World, during the cold war, was part of the ideology sustaining development
and modernization. At the end of my contribution to the debate surrounding
Seed's article, I wrote: "The "native point of view" also includes intellectuals. In
the apportionment of scientific labor since World War II, which has been
described well by Carl Pletsch (1981), the Third World produces not only
"cultures" to be studied by anthropologists and ethnohistorians but also intellectuals who generate theories and reflect on their own culture and history'
(Mignolo, 1993, p. 131). What happened in the sixteenth century, and the
situation in which Guaman Poma de Ayala and Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl
among others found themselves, was not too different from the situation I have
just described. The 'foundation' of the subalternization of knowledge in the
modern/colonial world took place then, under Christian epistemic principles in
the European Renaissance. In this sense, the 'extirpation of idolatry' was indeed
an epistemic lobotomy (Mignolo, forthcoming). The colonial epistemic difference
that justified Area Studies and Orientalism was put in place in the sixteenth
century. Loci of enunciation was, and still is, a concept that allows me to think
together epistemology, the colonial difference, and politics of location.

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The second point in Hulme's review addresses the difficulties of my own


metaphors to further the argument that I am trying to advance. According to
Hulme, metaphors such as 'loci of Enunciation' or 'center-periphery' play
against my argument. This suggests that the metaphoric field related to movement (travel, routes, diaspora, displacement, detour) would have been more
conducive. Hulme puts 'translation' in this second set, which he identifies with
the work of James Clifford, although in the index of The Darker Side of the
Renaissance, the entry 'translation' refers to 'pp. 63 and passim'. The entire book,
indeed, is built on the question of translation.2 'Pluritopic hermeneutics' in the
frame of coloniality, and the coloniality of power, bring translation constantly to
centre stage. Yet in any case, both centre/periphery as well as diaspora or travel
invoke loci, and loci of enunciation are not necessarily fixed. They could be
diasporic. Travel and travelling are as much locations as is remaining in one
place. Translation takes place between people who arrive and people who are in
place. This leads to two questions. One question is: what do you prefer, to
underline those who travel and arrive or those who are stationary and receive?
The other is the question of translation and the coloniality of power. Briefly
stated, when you assume a frame such as the one described by Bourdieu, you
realize that modern epistemology was founded on the imperial differencethat
is, the distinction between German, French, and English as languages of science
and modern philosophy and Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish as languages of
humanist legacies. Modern epistemology 'carved' its locus of enunciation on the
imperial difference, the difference between the 'new' and the 'old' modern/
colonial empires. However, modern epistemology also found its locus of enunciation on the colonial difference, since the languages and knowledge of colonized
areas (in Asia and Africa) as well as those languages and knowledges 'outside'
its scope (like Mandarin or Arabic or Aymara), were converted into objects of
study but not taken as sustainable knowledge.
(3) I have already written too long and only touched on a couple of issues raised
by Hulme, although these are basic issues that impinge on the rest of the book
as well as on the rest the review. I would like to pursue the argument by
bringing the previous discussion to the very title of Hulme's review article
('Voices from the Margin') and the clarification he offers of this title on page 220.
There he explains a quotation from page 312 of the book, and underlines that
this quotation places the work and myself on the academic margins. Hulme
states: 'which initially struck me as strange: just what is "marginal" about an
expensively produced book published by the University of Michigan Press and
containing the thoughts of a Professor in the Department of Romance Studies
and the Program in Literature at Duke University?' Hulme offers an answer with
which I do not disagree but that I would like to expand on: 'What Mignolo
means, I think, is explained in his Preface: by choosing to write the book in
English, but inscribing Spanish and Amerindian materials and perspectives into
current debate about the Renaissance period and the colonial world, he is
pressing the case for the importance (indeed centrality) of the concerns of the
academic (and political) marginsLatin America, indigenous studies, Spanish
humanism, colonial cultural studiesin a way perhaps analogous to, if less
pointed than, the inclusion of Rigoberta Mench's testimonio on the Stanford
Humanities syllabus' (Hulme, pp. 220-221).

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By definition, loci of enunciation are not marginal. Yet making them visible
also makes it possible to underline that epistemology is not just a happy
universal spaces which everybody can join. As with any thing else, joining
something that is hegemonic means to accept the rule of the game. If you play
the game, but not exactly according to the rules, chances are that you will be
somewhat on the margins. However, I am not interested in either playing the
role of the 'Hispanic' victim or of the successful marginal who publishes in
English in American university presses and works at Duke. I am interested in
making the (epistemic) colonial difference visible. I did not word it like that in
The Darker Side of the Renaissance. It is, however, a key-word in the sequel to The
Darker Side of the Renaissance, entitled Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality,
Subaltern Knowledges and Border Thinking (1999). In this book, I try to clarify the

notion of 'colonial difference' by thinking through it. (Hulme is right, by the


way, that I do not make an effort to define theoretical concepts in The Darker Side
of the Renaissance; I just use them.)

Let us go back to Bourdieu for a moment and pursue the equation texts-national languages-coloniality of power and cultures of scholarship. In an effort to
elucidate the theoretical frame of his own thinking, Bourdieu honestly pursues
a comparison with the German philosophical tradition. The comparison is
necessary in order to justify the transferability of scientific thinking from the
sciences of nature to the human sciences, a step which is more difficult to take
in the German philosophical legacy because, according to Bourdieu, the distinction 'erklaren-Verstehen (explanation-understanding)' builds a wall between the
natural and the human sciences. French legacies, he concludes, 'propose, then, a
reflection which is much more general, from which I have drawn an epistemological program that can be summed up in one statement: "The scientific fact is
conquered, constructed, confirmed. The conquest of the given is a central
concept in Bachelard's thought, and he sums it up in the term epistemological
break. Why is this phase of scientific research important, and why does it
separate, as seems to me to be the case, the tradition I represent from the
dominant Anglo-Saxon tradition? It is because to say that the scientific fact has
to be fought for is radically to defy, in this regard, all of the givens that social
scientific researchers find before them"' (Bourdieu, 1992, p. 43).
This brief description of Bourdieu's self-location (e.g. framing his own locus of
enunciation in the social sciences and in the European tradition) makes clear the
inseparability between epistemology and politics of location. What should I do,
identify and assume the tradition Bourdieu represents or the dominant AngloSaxon tradition he differentiates from? Obviously neither of them, unless I
decide to think from categories, frames and problems that were put in place to
deal with the issues of coloniality and the colonial difference in which I am
interested. If I follow the first route, I have two choices. Either to become a social
scientist according to the rules of the game that were defined in 'a tradition (to
which) I do not belong', and therefore to be marginal, or to 'apply' Bourdieu's
(or any other) 'model' to deal with and analyse coloniality of power and the
colonial difference. In either case, I will be epistemologically marginal, that is,
epistemologically subaltern. This was precisely 'Chakrabarty's dilemma' in the
domain of historiography: as long as you are a historian, you cannot be a "Third
World' historian because history is an activity, institution, and way of thinking
that was instrumental in the colonization of memory. The basis of 'Chakrabarty

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dilemma' is that writing subaltern 'histories' means to remain in an epistemically subaltern position in the domain of cultures of scholarship. This is because
one of the invisible places in which the coloniality of power operates is the
domain of epistemology. Consequently, if you 'study' colonialism or the subaltern but you maintain the rules of the social sciences and humanities game, you
maintain the coloniality of power that reproduces the epistemic colonial difference. Epistemic loci of enunciation are stubborn and, as in the case of Garcia
Canclini (1989), you can describe and 'study' the hybridy of society and culture
in a specific place like Tijuana, while maintaining a pure, non-contaminated,
non-hybrid loci of enunciation. This is why I attempted to think from models
and theories provided by Chicano/a thinkers and Latin American philosophers,
such as Enrique Dussel and Rodolfo Kusch. Yet, I also used the models provided
by 'complementary dichotomies' in Amerindian thoughts (Mignolo, 1995). I
believe that Hulme intuitively understood this when he says, on page 223, T had
the strange impression that Mignolo actually wanted to be doing something
rather different and even more ambitious'. 'Pluritopic hermeneutics' was a
necessary step to avoid the 'non-complementary dichotomy' between the knowing subject and the known, the disciplines and the object of study. Their
thoughts and works were and are in a constant struggle with the epistemic
colonial difference, not as an object of study but as loci of enunciation defined
by the coloniality of powerthat is, with thinking from a subaltern epistemic
perspective (or Voices from the margins' as Hulme's title states). Dussel's latest
work confronts the issue openly (Dussel, 1994, 1996, 1998; Mignolo, forthcoming). My not so kind remarks on Gordon Brotherston's article, though not on
his magnificent book (Brotherston, 1992), were prompted by epistemic, not
nationalist, considerations. National histories are local histories, certainly, but
they cannot be confused with them. Thus, Brotherston's discussion of
Amerindian knowledge of a system of writing, taking position on a dispute
between Derrida and Levi-Strauss (that Hulme rightly critiques on page
225), reminded me of Las Casas and Sepulveda discussing the 'Amerindian
Question'. Amerindians themselves having nothing to say, as they have not been
invited to participate in a debate in which they themselves are objects of
consideration. That is the epistemic colonial difference from whence emerged
Amerindians in the sixteenth century, Chicano/as in the US today, and white,
mestizo, and immigrant crole intellectuals like Kusch, Dussel, and myself.
'Voices from the margins' are voices from and dealing with the colonial
epistemic difference.
This explains the connection between 'darker' and 'hybrid' (a concept I truly
do not use very often in the book) that Hulme notices on page 222 of his review.
Today, this relationship would be recast in terms of the making of colonial
(epistemic) differences. This is what the humanists and men of letters did in the
sixteenth century, and this process continues, through 'Orientalism' and 'Area
Studies', to today.
(4) There are several points that I am interested in pursuing, but that I cannot
engage in detail, as this would mean risking a reply that is longer than the
review itself. Perhaps in the future there will be an opportunity for elaboration
and further clarification.
(i) On Modernity. I did not stress too much in the book that the frame for my

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reflections was what Wallerstein conceived as the 'modern-world system',


and which I develop in my latest book (Mignolo, 1999) as the 'modern/
colonial world system'. The basic idea here is that modernity/coloniality, as
we know it today, is grounded in the emergence of the Atlantic commercial
circuit during the sixteenth century. This was a crucial chapter in the history
of capitalism. Thus, it is not so much a question of pushing 'modernity' back
in time, from the eighteenth to the sixteenth century, but of understanding
the historical emergence of modernity/coloniality. Whether conceived in
space (peripheral modernities) or time (would-be modernities), this formulation has the inconvenience of making you believe that first comes
modernity and then coloniality. This is an image forged in the second half
of the eighteenth century, when building the Europe of Nations (between the
Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the end of the Napoleonic era) was a
concern of nations without, until that point, significant colonial domains. The
colonial empires at that time were Spain and Portugal. However, these
countries, unlike England, France and Germany, were not involved in the
Europe of Nations.
(ii) On 'pluritopic hermeneutics'. Certainly, I start from Pannikar, but I also depart
from him. The main departure is that Pannikar's 'diatopic hermeneutics' (he
also uses 'pluritopic') remain within a certain conception of cultural relativism that I tried to avoid, as I made explicit in the Afterword of The Darker
Side of the Renaissance and as I explore in more detail in Local Histories/Global

Designs. Basically, if you conceive cultures as discrete entities that can be


compared, you remain within the colonial frame that classified the world
and divided it into discrete cultural entities. If you think that modern
epistemology and coloniality of power went together in the classification of
world cultures, then you have to admit that epistemology is located somewhere and, most likely, in that locus of enunciation that classified the world
into discrete cultural entities. This issue is related to my exploration of
epistemology and loci of enunciation in sections (2) and (3).
(5) I shall stop here, just mentioning that if I had time to go into Hulme's long
and careful discussion on maps, ethnic and geometric centres, and loci of
enunciation, I would do so starting from my previous consideration on the topic.
However, I will skip this temptation.
I would like to close this response by recognizing, on the grounds of the
previous discussion, how much I value Hulme's engagement with the book. I
value it first for his intellectual honesty and openness. I also value it for the
critical points he raises and for what he recognizes and praises. Of course I am
not saying this for purely egotistical reasons. Rather, I am concerned with the
closeness of the scholarly mind. The book has been widely reviewed, as Hulme
notices, and the reviews are generally favourable. In general, it is not unreasonable to expect and have negative critics. That goes with the territory. What is
remarkable, however, is a certain uneasiness that the book has provoked. The
book has been reviewed in a significant number of different fields, which of
course is very good. The uneasiness is detectable in those fields which seem to
take the world for granted and in which there exists the belief that all a book
about the past should do is tell what really happened in a straightforward
manner, hi such attitudes, I see the reproduction of the epistemic colonial

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difference, exercising coloniality of power to maintain hegemonic spaces in


cultures of scholarship.
There is one example I would like to explore. The review in question was
written by Alexandra Walsham and appeared in The Historical Journal (1999). It
featured three books, two on modern Europe (Stuart Clark's Thinking With

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Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, 1997; Lyndal Roper's
Oedipus and the Devil: Witchcraft, Sexuality and Religion in Early Modern Europe,

1995) and The Darker Side of the Renaissance. Walsham wrote an introductory
paragraph noticing, first, the fundamental questions proposed by 'postmodernism' and the so-called linguistic turn. Walsham remarks that postmodernism
and the linguistic turn have helped generate innovative and provocative 'historical writing' in recent years. Walsham notices that, taken together, the three
books under review 'highlight both the potential strengths and weakness, the
rewards and dangers of injecting theory into the study of witchcraft, sexuality
and colonization in early modern Europe and the New World'.
I am pleased, in this and similar cases, that the book has been taken as
an important contribution to several fields of knowledge, in this case
'historical writing'. I am not surprised but concerned with Walsham's short
sight when it comes to the colonial difference, the 'interior exteriority' of cultures of scholarship from which the book was written and that the book attempts
to make possiblethat is, to be able to think and write (and teach) from
the 'interior exteriority' of the colonial difference. Modern cultures of
scholarship and disciplines cannot be denied, but at the same time cannot be
accepted as such from the colonial difference. That is 'Chakrabarty's dilemma'.
You have to be an historian, although not quite. You have to be inside, but
at the same time outside, since 'history' was not an activity expected from
the barbarian and the colonizedfrom people who have been labelled
'without history'. This is the 'interior exteriority of the colonial difference',
historically known as 'the darker side of the Renaissance'. Furthermore, this is
where 'voices from the margins' should be located and where a new epistemic
potential is emerging. This is the precisely the fracture that Walsham is trying to
patch.
The scenario drawn by Walsham echoes the debate between the distinguished
French scholar Marcel Bataillon and the distinguished Mexican scholar Edmundo O'Gorman, apropos of the 'discovery of America' (Bataillon &
O'Gorman, 1955). Bataillon charged O'Gorman with not doing what Bataillon, as
a French scholar (by which I mean a scholar working in the French academy,
under academic and national assumption of the French academy) assumed
historians should do. According to Bataillon, a historian should tell the story as
it happened through a careful reading of texts written by those who participated
in or were close to the events themselves. O'Gorman, as a Mexican scholar (by
which I mean working in the Mexican academy, under academic and national
assumption of the Mexican academy, and participating in intellectual debates in
which colonial legacies filtered through the national history of Mexico), however, wrote his book as part of a larger project criticizing the principles of
positivistic historiography underlying Bataillon's project. O'Gorman's goals
were not to tell the story again, using a new methodology, but to question the
very principles and assumptions under which histories of the discovery of
America have been written. In order to show that Colombus could not have

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244

Debate

discovered America because America was not an existing entity awaiting to be


discovered, but rather an invention of European historiography, O'Gorman
engaged himself in an argument that might have appeared to Bataillon to be a
house of mirrors in which the 'historical facts' could never be properly located.
I am not surprised, although I am somewhat disconcerted, by the fact that the
tensions that prompted Bataillon and O'Gorman's illuminating debate in the
1950s are still alive at the end of the century. This is one of many reasons why
I am interested in looking at loci of enunciation, and in revealing the inextricable
links between epistemology and the politics of location.
For Hulme, the 'overall thrust' of the book is 'clearly postcolonial in one of the
important senses of that word: it aims to undo that aspect of the work of
colonization which one critic, in his review, describes as "cognitive imperialism"' (Hulme, p. 223). Walsham, however, read it as a postmodern study that
she found 'obfuscating' and 'irritating' (Walsham, 1999, p. 274). As such, Walsham fails to see the difference between two books devoted to 'early modern
Europe' and one book devoted to 'colonization of the New World' because she
sees the world as a given and cultures of scholarship as describing or representing it, with new postmodern 'theories'. What concerns me here is that Walsham
reproduces the epistemic colonial difference by putting the three books at
the same epistemic level (although not at the same level of achievements).
The three books, in this review, have been written within the same postmodern
turn, the obfuscating moment of modern epistemology, because from this
perspective epistemology has only one location, which is a non-location; it
is a non-located 'matrix', like 'whiteness'. Failure to perceive the colonial
difference is at the same time failure to perceive the coloniality of being.
Therefore, it is to think being and space, being and the coloniality of power from
the colonial difference. 'Being' is not a universal entity ingrained only in timeit is ingrained in space as well. The colonial difference is constitutive of the
modern/colonial world, its exterior-interiority where a new form of 'being'
emerged, the 'coloniality of being', or if you prefer, 'otherwise than being in the
colonial difference'. In this argument, epistemology cannot be detached from the
politics of location.

Notes
1.

It feels natural (e.g. within the 'same' tradition) that a source of Martin Heidegger's thought is
Greek language and philosophy, although Heidegger himself is not Greek. It would not feel
natural if a Chinese philosopher built her philosophy on the Greek tradition only. It would
sound conservative if she only paid attention to Mandarin and ancient Chinese tradition, and
not to Western philosophy. However, it feels even stranger to think of the possibility of thinking
from Aymara language and categories of thought, in the same way that Heidegger thinks from
Greek language and philosophy. In a way, epistemology and the politics of location always go
together.
2. Hulme mentions, in passing, that some of my analysis of translation between Spanish and
Nahuatl, and vice versa, has already been corrected. He refers to an observation made by J.F.
Schwaller (1996, p. 947). While Schwaller provides a new word to ponder (amoxpohua),
unfortunately his 'corrections' of my translations are done from a perspective on translation that
my entire analysis attempts to displace. A 'new' word does not solve the problem of principles
under which translation is being enacted. It adds, certainly, a new important empirical element,
although maintaining the same theoretical matrix.

Debate

245

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