Peripheral Modernity

Tracing the pre-history of European modernity that started with the Cartesian cogito, Enrique Dussel (Underside of Modernity, 135-6) calls attention to the role of European exploration and conquest in the Americas. Modernity doesn’t begin with Descartes, but with the European discovery of the new world. From that point, Dussel argues, modernity has been a dialogue of center and periphery; the counter-discourse coming from the colonies isn’t “outside,” but internal to the development of modernity itself.

Dussel writes, “modernity being a world phenomenon (the first epoch that involves all the cultures of the planet, in the manner of a metropolitan center in Europe or as a colony or world impacted by Europe in the periphery), this counter-discourse, precisely this and no other, could emerge within the European critical reason that opened itself and co-constituted itself from the dominated, exploited alterity: the hidden Other of dominating Europe (that always will pretend to negate such counter-discourse). But that European counter-discourse (European because of its geographical implantation) is the fruit of the Euro­pean-center and the dominated-periphery. Bartolome de las Casas would not have been able to criticize Spain without having resided in the periphery, without having heard the cries and lamentations, and without having seen the tortures that the Indians suffered at the hands of the colonizing Europeans. That Other is the origin of the European counter-discourse. It is evident that Europe, as the visible part of the iceberg, had cultural hegemony (economic and politi­cal, ‘information,’ and would be the privileged place on the planet for the ‘discussion’ of world and also philosophical problems. But this intellectual production, when it is anti-hegemonic, although still European (for instance Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau, or Marx), is not only European. It is so neither because of its exclusive origin nor because of its significance.”

He draws the conclusion that the study of European modernity cannot be entirely European: “the study of thought (traditions and philosophy) in Latin America, Asia, and Africa is not an anecdotal task or a task with parallels to the study of philosophy as such (without-anything else coming to bear). Instead, it is a question of a history that rescues the non-hegemonic, dominat­ed, silenced, and forgotten counter-discourse, namely, that of the constitutive alterity of modernity itself” (137).

To reckon fully with this dialogue, the history of philosophy must be rewritten. It cannot simply be a history of philosophy; it must also be a history of European expansion. Even if construed narrowly as a history of philosophical thought, it cannot be confined to Europe: “The future history of philosophy will have a new world vision of philosophy and will deepen aspects thus far unsuspected, when the rich thematic of the refraction of the center of the system (which produced in Europe a center-philosophy, which up to now is the only one taken as ‘philosophy’) in, or by, the periphery (which produced a peripheral-philosophy) is discovered. The center-philosophies and the peripheral-philosophies are the two faces of philosophy in modernity, and the counter-discourse (as much in the center as in the periphery) is a bequest from all the philoso­phers of the world, and not only from European ones” (137).

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