CPD Annual Workshop: (Un-)Making Borders

CPD Annual Workshop: (Un-)Making Borders, BISA Colonial /Postcolonial /Decolonial Working Group Annual Workshop  (19th September 2018. Queen Mary, Univeristy of London).

Session. Border as Method. Addressing On Decoloniality (2018) by Walter D. Mignolo.

By Dr. Fernando Gómez Herrero, Teaching Fellow (Modern Languages, University of Birmingham, f.gomezherrero@bham.ac.uk, fgh2173@gmail.com).

I attended the CPD Annual Workshop at Queen Mary, University of London in the multicultural Mile End Park area of the global city of London. Summoned by young colleagues from Queen Mary and SOAS, a group of about 25 individuals met in the Law Building of the Queen Mary Mile End Campus. The building was facing a historic Sephardic Jew cemetery (diasporic community par excellence) and it was within easy walking distance from the Mile End canal area where few narrow boats and a handful of flora and fauna could be spotted framed by abundant graffiti, rubbish and debris. Signs of the times?

The theme of “borders” opened up to three possibilities:  method, control and struggle inside contemporary Britain and its imperial legacy, but also elsewhere. “Hostile environment” was explicitly included. Post/De-Colonial Studies still constitute a genuine shock and challenge to narrow Euro-American frames of intelligibility typically inside the “small society” of university life typically reconfigured around the academic disciplines (social sciences and humanities), at least since the 1980s, the Reagan-Thatcher decade, in the Anglophone world, or the “North Atlantic.” There is tension between the two pronouns (“post/de-“ at least added to the “colonial,” instantly summoning a vast and challenging world out there). I addressed a few issues within the “Border as Method” session and I did so, for clarity’s sake, within the parameters of the recent On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics and Praxis (2018) by Catherine Walsh and Walter Mignolo.

The day-long meeting was structured in three sessions built around group discussions preceded by brief presentations. I will be bringing this format to Birmingham this year. Plurality of voices was heard with native and foreign accents, different intonations, melodies, traditions, trajectories, emphases. There were children of “Empire” and children of “Empire strikes back” inhabiting “White” and “BAME” categories and others less visible. We were British and European and (Latin) American and others. Women constituted parliamentarian majority vote. The gathering was veritable vision of the increasingly global configuration of university settings in metropolitan centres. There were representatives from different institutions in Britain and the world (there was a noticeable Spanish-language-speaking table of various provenance). I was the one representing the University of Birmingham. Would you believe it? Yes and Britain was put against other communities for the imagination to take flight (Israelis and Palestinians, the Jewish experience, Kurds, U.S./Mexican & Spain/Morocco borders, etc.). The participants occupied different steps in the ladder. We were (post-)doctoral and early-career scholars, young film producers, sharing something of Mignolo’s general call to “delink” from conventional academic state of affairs in the Anglosphere. The preferred new prefix (“de-“) wishes to take over the earlier standard (the “post-”), possibly deemed co-opted vehicle, or blunt instrument, if contained by conventional disciplinary fields (the ghost of Stuart Hall can be invoked and not only in the vicinity of Birmingham).

Decoloniality remains skeptical of universalist and totalitarian narratives, despite favouring two in the end, the monumental origin of the Anthropos (you and me with no one “out of it”) and the march of the West since the 1500s until today. The “West” is here generic shorthand for what might be addressed as “bad universalism” or “difference-crushing totalitarianism” (I was making comparisons with Hannah Arendt during the entire visit). It is also perhaps something of a simplistic or prefabricated pedagogic device (the invocation of the monstrosity of “the West”) that may be resented by a few looking from afar. But the impulse is to open up and find richer alternatives and there is rich bibliography here (Mexican historian Edmundo O’Gorman is one clear inspiration, somewhat forgotten by Mignolo’s penultimate work). The theoretical attraction is also to follow the “race-and-ethnicity” demarcation possibilities, concretely the “non-white” footprints towards a “non-West.” Mignolo’s “decolonial discontent” does not here reconstruct “positive” ethnographies, however. Decoloniality is no tool box, GPS, or cook book of easy recipes. There is no messianism of chosen people. No unmistakable origin and no final teleology, no scatology either. Historical narratives are in a bind: think of a cats’ cradle. And who is pulling the strings? Be sure that the big names of celebrated thinkers mentioned here will not lead you in the utopia of decoloniality (the concept pushes the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano’s “coloniality”). Decoloniality will not leave the schematic sphere of abstraction or generality. There is idealism and nominalism in the three nouns in the subtitle of the book (concepts, analytics, praxis). For another time, my critique of Mignolo.

And what about the “borders”? I defended it is symptomatic of a non- or even anti-methodological disposition. And this is likely to horrify conventional practitioners in the social sciences and some disoriented “humanists.” Decoloniality is thus non-systematic modus operandi. Its impulse is towards the sharp angles, fault lines, “things not quite fitting,” the broken stone that was discarded in the official building of the imposing civilization. How could “rage against the machine” become mechanistic? Or Bob Marley wear a suit? The impulse is to make “it” [the border] a “dwelling,” the metaphorical language appears inevitable. The appeal is to the lived experience of a supposedly “decolonial subject,” and to move sideways trans- and even post-disciplines. Why? Because these disciplines are always already self-contained Western constructs in the “bad” aforementioned tendencies (universalist and totalitarian). We may say that the desired horizon imagined here is one of “dis-order,” or anarchy, in which plural variety of eco-systems exercise expansively plural tolerance. Is this Mignolo’s ideal at this juncture of global convulsion? How to go about it consistently? The figure of Gloria Anzaldúa is still deemed inspirational. The Zapatistas are invoked, also the experience in the Bolivian Andes. The protest of thousands of Indians near Cannon Ball, North Dakota in the U.S. receive part of the triple dedication in Decoloniality. What would other equivalents be inside and outside academia in U.S., Britain, elsewhere? Inspiration, like “theory,” may come from different “places.” Decoloniality is promiscuous. This is a projective landscape with not many figures. The premises are postmodernist (Foucault and Rorty, explicitly mentioned), anti-representational, if not “anti-identitarian,” with the big influence of Quijano and Dussel. But there is also The Matrix of the Wachowksi sisters, the figure of (Zulu?) Mankanyezi and his recollection of the African knowledge (through Patrick Bowen’s scholarship) is put as good inspirational vignette, even Bob Marley, besides the aforementioned “red” inspiration in the U.S. The desire is to relativize European universalism inside vast timespaces of historical imperialism / colonialism.

Take the great Chilean film maker Raúl Ruiz (1941-2011). I feel Mignolo’s sensibility is not far from him. Ruiz fought his entire life against what he called the “central point theory” of mainstream Hollywood films, and what can be described as Deleuzeanism (i.e. series of slippery evasions, digressions, violations of linearity, betrayals of any type of binary logic informing conflictual structure, the evanescence of predictable subjects, allowing chance operations to eat away at mono-reason, appeals to the “god” of logic, method, etc.). There is also of course a strong desire not to get caught up in the market, bureaucratic rationale, consumerism and “celebrity culture,” not to mention this or that national cage. Cage-free chicken are supposed to live happier lives. Mignolo is a bit like Ruiz in the sense that the main point is to deviate from any congealed centre, “West” or otherwise. Decoloniality is thus soft eyes for universalist and totalitarian Eurocentrism (or North Atlantic). Sharp eyes for you and me for another time and place. Yet, the challenge is to know no borders.

Do you want to read more? Do you want to test your knowledge of the Spanish language? This work continues previous reflexions of mine, “Desapegos de todo Universalismo, incluido el de Occidente” (Revista Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana, Año XXXVIII, Núm. 76, Lima-Boston, 2do. Semestre, 2012): pp. 471-506; and “Sobre la diferencia colonial, o acerca de la emergencia de un pensamiento que no ha sido considerado como tal. Entrevista con Walter D. Mignolo,” Ciberletras: Revista Crítica  (Dec. 2002; 25pp): http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ciberletras/v08/gomez.html.

My personal site: fernandogherrero.com

My departmental site: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/hispanic/herrero-fernando-gomez.aspx