Logica de la colonialidad y (post) colonialidad imperial

Walter Mignolo

Doutorado pela École des Hautes Etudes, Paris, em 1974, Walter Mignolo foi docente nas universidades de Toulouse, Indiana e Michigan. Desde 1993 é William H. Wannamaker Professor de Literatura em Duke University (EUA), e Professor no Departamento de Cultural Anthropology and Romance Studies. Tem inúmeras publicações sobre semiótica e teoria literária. Nos últimos anos tem trabalhado sobre vários temas relativos ao mundo colonial/pós-colonial, explorando conceitos como colonialidade global, geopolíticas do conhecimento, transmodernidade, pensamento transfronteiriço e di/pluriversalidades. Dentro das suas publicações destacamos: The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization (1995), Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges and Border Thinking (2000); Capitalismo y Geopolitica del Conocimiento: la Filosofia de la Liberacion en el Debate Intelectual Contemporaneo (Ed.) (2001).


Walter Mignolo esteve em Coimbra no passado mês de Janeiro proferindo a aula inaugural do novo curso de mestrado e doutoramento “Pós-Colonialismos e Cidadania Global” (CES/FEUC). A sua conferência intitualava-se “Logica de la colonialidad y (post) colonialidad imperial”. A pequena entrevista pretende dar-lhe uma ideia de algumas das questões abordadas.

- Ao longo da sua conferência, apresentando diferentes problemas, chegava invariavelmente a mesma conclusão: "There is no safe place". Poderia comentar os vários aspectos em que considera que "There is no safe place"?

- What I mean by “there is no safe place” is the following. Christianity, Catholic or Protestant, are not warranty of salvation. Christianity could be as much totalitarian as liberating. Examples abound; the Pope recognized some a couple of years ago. Liberalism is not warranty of any thing it could be liberating and oppressive, as history tells us about the complicities between liberalism in Europe and brutal colonialism outside of Europe. Secular conservatism is not warranty either. It could generate great political thinking like Carl Schmitt and genocidal minds like Adolf Hitler. Marxism could be liberating, but also the ground for dogmatic minds like Vladimir Lenin and blind will to power like Joseph Stalin. Islamism is not a safe place either. It could be as liberating and progressive as any of the above; and it could be as violent and dogmatic as any of the above. That in regard to the ideological articulation of the modern/colonial world - Christianity (Catholic and Protestant version), its secular version - Conservatism; Liberalism and Socialism-Marxism, which are mainly the European contributions to the history of humanity. Now the splendors and miseries of Western leadership since the sixteenth century, and more so in the since the end of the nineteenth century, generated an extreme side of Islamism as contestation to the extreme violence of Western expansion. Islamism, as any of the above Western ideologies and religions, have great promises for the future but also similar dangers. Hindu Nationalism is not a solution to Neo-liberal fundamentalism. Now, take the question of identity politics in the U.S.A., and the same rule applies: “there is no safe place.” To be Black, it is not warranty of liberation, as you can have also Condoleeza Rice; to be Chicano/as is not a warranty of de-colonization, since you can have Alberto González; it is not enough to be a woman, for to be a woman doesn’t mean to fight automatically against patriarchy. You can be a woman and Margaret Thatcher, for example. To be Jewish is not warranty of fight for equality, for you could be Ariel Sharon or Paul Wolfowitz. And you could be white, but not necessarily like George W. Bush but more like Frantz Hinkelammert, Leonardo Boff or Sor Juana de la Cruz. So, there is no safe place that could be invoked as a warranty of liberation from religious, secular ideologies, patriarchal or racial oppression.

Where is that leaving us? How to imagine the future when none of the above offers us the warranty that by embracing one of them we are safe? Well, that is the task ahead. The decolonial epistemic shift (what I described as the geo- and the bio-political re-location of meaning and understanding), starts precisely from that assumption, that there is no safe place. However, the fact that none of the above is by itself a warranty of an equal, just and peaceful world it doesn’t follow that they should be scratched and dispensed with. It means basically two things. The first is that none of the above is a warranty of any thing while, at the same time, all of the above has some thing to offer toward the construction of a just, peaceful and equitable world. The second is that the construction of a future world, a world in which many worlds would co-exist, cannot come only from knowledge and subjective formation canonized by European modernity and its U.S.A. version. It means that knowledges and subjectivities that have been repressed, categories of thought and spiritual formations that have been dismissed by the triumphal march of the self-proclaimed modernity and salvation for the entire world (as far as the entire world think as I do), would emerge, they are emerging, in realizing that the future world cannot be uni-versaly programmed (as we are witnessing today), but shall be pluri-versaly and dialogically negotiated. The main question is this: when the religious faith in that production and accumulation, and technological advances will save the world at the cost of dispensable human lives that get on the way would be replaced for a creative concern for conviviality (instead of greediness), for pluri-versal form of knowing and of being (instead of uni-versal epistemology and imperial subject formations), when the celebration of human life will be the ultimate horizon of our own individual lives (and in that case, abortion will no longer be a problem), then we may find out and identify which one are the safe places and which are not. I am referring here to the conceptual labor. Another matter is how we carry the conceptual labor on. But the World Social Forum provides already a model to start thinking beyond the neo-liberal revolution of our time or the global revolution of the multitude.

- Dentro dos estudos pós-coloniais hoje em dia claramente liderados pelo mundo anglo-saxónico e portanto imperiais na medida em que se produzem (e eventualmente reproduzem) o sistema imperial saído da modernidade europeia, como vê a especificidade do colonialismo/imperalismo ibérico e as suas configurações actuais?

- First, we should distinguish “post-colonialism” as an invention of the U.S. academy (which is not a critique but a description), from the de-colonial attitude (I own this expression to Nelson Maldonado-Torres) and the de-colonial epistemic shift. The de-colonial shift is as old as the emergence of the colonial matrix of power in the sixteenth century, with the Castilians, then Spaniards, and Portuguese controlling the Atlantic commercial circuits and imposing their authority in Indias Occidentales, later America. The de-colonial epistemic shift can be found in Waman Puma de Ayala. His nueva coronica, was written because Spaniards wrote many chronicles of Peru, but none of them had the “subsuelo”, as Ortega and Gasset described it, the underground knowledge and subject formation to understand the past as could be understood by some one speaking Quechua, familiar with Aymara and embodied in the knowledge and subject formation of the social organization of the Incas. Spaniards could only see one side of the story, not the full story. And for Waman it was clear that a nueva coronica was necessary in order to imagine and implement a good government under the current circumstances (Waman Puma was writing in the first decades of the seventeenth century, at the cross road of Tawantinsuyu and the Viceroyalty of Peru). The same could be say about Mahatma Gandhi, in terms of language, knowledge, subjectivity and leaving at the cross road of an Indian memory and subjectivity and the British control of authority and of economy. The same could be said about Amilcar Cabral and Frantz Fanon. The imperial designs in the formation of the modern/colonial world (Christian, capitalist, liberal, socialist-Marxist) generated the de-colonial confrontation and the de-colonial epistemic shift from where critical border thinking emerged.

Thus, what matter then is to understand the formation and transformation of the colonial matrix of power and the de-colonial shift that it engenders. Now de-colonial epistemic shift it is no just something we should understand or know (to “study” it and putting in the museum), but the foundation of a de-colonial genealogy of thought and action (as Aristotle’s politics provided the foundational genealogy for modern European political theory). The de-colonial epistemic shift is spatial and across the colonial difference; it cannot be reduced or subsumed under the linear chronology of Eurocentered history of thoughts, such as Michel Foucault’s epistemic break or Thomas Kuhn’s paradigmatic changes. Because precisely de-colonial epistemic shifts cannot be subsumed under the hegemony of Western thought, is that Waman Puma, Gandhi, Cabral, Fanon remain interesting but marginal; they should be celebrated by the left, but not taken seriously as providing models for the future and even less a genealogy of thought that will displace the variegated models of Western thoughts, including of course, Saint Paul, Spinoza and Marx!

So, your specific question is that the Iberian imperialism/colonialism put in place and set in motion the colonial matrix of power, that was adapted and adopted by British and French imperialism after Napoleon; by Lenin and Stalin, when they changed the content but maintained the logic; and by the U.S. after WWII. It was also adapted and adopted by Japan, after the Meini restoration and above all, after Japan defeat of China in 1895; and of course, by China in very interesting and complex ways from the Cultural Revolution to the Chinese reception of capitalism without neo-liberalism. When we look at the colonial matrix of power, its foundation and transformations, we realize that post-colonial studies was important in the scholarly world and in the U.S. academy, but very limited in its contribution to critical projects at a global scale. As it is know, post-colonialism is mainly a scholarly enterprise related to literary and cultural studies. The scenario I described goes much beyond scholarly skirmishes for turf (post modern against post -colonial, literary critics against cultural studies, etc. etc.). I am talking about all the political and ethical implications of the de-colonial shift that moves beyond academic skirmish toward joining forces with knowledge production from social movements and global institutions like, once again, the World Social Forum and the Social Forum of the Americas.

- Se uma língua é o lugar de onde se vê o mundo, como contornar a tendência de veicular os nossos conhecimentos, sentimentos e ideias apenas através das seis línguas imperiais? Como "traduzir"?

- What to do with imperial languages and how to translate? Good questions. Let’s make a distinction within imperial languages, first. Spanish is an imperial language in Latin America in relation to Aymara or Quechua or Tzotzil, etc. But it is a minority language in the U.S.A. where Spanish has the function that Aymara has in Bolivia or Tzotzil in Southern Mexico. Briefly, since the very inception of the formation of the colonial matrix of power, the question of language and epistemology were companion of the empire. The situation today is that sustainable knowledge is encapsulated in the six European modern imperial languages (Italian, Spanish and Portuguese - Renaissance imperial languages - and French, German and English - Enlightenment imperial languages). Russian and Arabic, Bengali and Aymara, Hebrew and Swahili, Turk and Check, etc., are second-class languages in terms of imperial language-epistemic domination. So, what are the options when imperial language is the second of third language of a person or a national language but marginal in relation to Western national-imperial languages? Well, once again, Waman Puma already offered a possibility: broken Spanish to articulate Indigenous memories and use of drawings instead of words, in a mixture of Western patterns and Indigenous ones. Take Gandhi. His major works were written in Gujarati, and he always maintained a critical stanza in relation to both, English and Hindi. When Amilcar Cabral said in Cuba, in 1966, in his speech The Weapon of Theory that “When the African peoples say in their simple language that “no matter how hot the water from your well, it will not cook your rice”, they express with singular simplicity a fundamental principle, not only of physics, but also of political science. He was probably speaking in Spanish, and I read his discourse in English, but there is something else there: the memory that articulates political theory and a vision of the future is not the memory of the English language; English here have been infected by the knowledge and wisdom that imperial languages, any of them, intent to eradicate. When Frantz Fanon, in the first chapter of his Black Skin, White Masks talks about “”The Negro and Language” and said that every language carries the weight of a civilization, he is not speaking as a French, but as Martinican Negro who have no choice but to use French, although he, the Negro, doesn’t carry the weight of French civilization. So, critical border thinking is the epistemology that emerges from the uses and abuses of imperial languages, countering the purity of language, of memory or blood that the through languages imperial designs attempt to impose in the colonies and even ex-colonies.

How to translate? Well, first, to remember that translation in the modern colonial world was always unidirectional. I did not matter if you translated from Nahuatl into Spanish or Latin or from Spanish or Latin Into Nahuatl (and you can find more examples with the British in India, the Portuguese in sub-Saharan Africa and the French in North Africa). It was unidirectional because it was always to the benefit of the imperial designs and imperial languages. It was a violent appropriation of meaning, since the colonizers (missionaries, intellectuals, etc) wrote the histories that according to them the natives were not able to write, because of their deficient languages and in some cases, lack of writing. With border thinking we assist to a reversal of that situation, to a de-colonial shift in translation which is an also an epistemic shift. With my colleague Freya Schiwy, I wrote an article title Double Translation. Taking Sub-Comandante Marcos example, we showed how double translation works in the Zapatistas’s “nueva coronica y buen gobierno”(notice that Los Caracoles are described as “juntas de buen gobierno”) Sub-Comandante Marcos realized, soon, that Marx was of not avail to a people that had been struggling for five hundred years against imperialism. They did not need to read Marx to know what oppression is. At the same time, the Indigenous leaders and social movements would benefit from becoming familiar with oppositional ideas within the West. There was t here a double translation and a double infection. Marx got infected by Tzotzil categories of thoughts and by Indian cosmology. Indian categories of thought got infected and by Western cosmology in its leftist expression. Now, notice that the double translation is the foundation of critical border thinking which and both are companions of de-colonizing projects, epistemic and political as well as ethical.

- Numa perspectiva pós-colonial, como vê as relações colonizador/colonizado no contexto actual da globalização, tendo em conta a discussão existente sobre o hibridismo, sobre a relação local/global, inclusão/exclusão?

- As I said before, post-colonialism is not a word that makes me comfortable as it is still within the hegemony of Western thought although, like Marxism, of different content. My perspective, as I explained above, is de-colonial and not post-colonial. So, from my de-colonial perspective how do I see the double density relations between colonizer/colonized in the context of globalization? Well, there are one and the same thing. Globalization is not a context, but an imperial design that named as such recently it has been clearly at work since the emergence of the Atlantic, the colonial matrix of power and capitalism, as we know it today. Even Carl Schmitt, in his The Nomos of the Earth, make a distinction between the pre-global and the global age, and the global age located in the sixteenth century with the massive appropriation, for the first time in the history of humanity, of land and exploitation of labor. The term “globalization” today to name the neo-liberal particular project, as enacted from the U.S., is a misnomer that hides the long durée of the capitalist imperial colonialism. There is nothing new about Empire, today, as claimed by Michael Hardt and Anthony Negri. True that imperialism today is not like it was in the sixteenth or the nineteenth century. But that shall not hide from our view the logic of coloniality (e.g., the colonial matrix of power), is the same today as it was in the sixteenth or the nineteenth century. Changes in content, strategies and superficial articulations are the mirror effect of the rhetoric of modernity and, from the perspective of the left, of the rhetoric of post-modernity. The imperial rhetoric has changed today. There is no compulsion for conversion. There is instead a discourse of promotion imperial intervention for “the freedom of the people of Iraq and of the world”. What we need for sure is to keep in mind the temporal and spatial density of five hundred years of imperial designs in the entire globe; and keep also in mind that if China and Japan were never colonized, and Islam (as a world religion never was, but specific countries where Islam is the majority or official religions were), neither of them could and can avoid the imperial violence of Christian, liberal and neo-liberal imperial globalization.

As for current debate on hibridity I would give a compound example. José Vasconcelos wrote in 1928 a classical book, The Cosmic Race. He celebrated the coming of the “cosmic race” in Latin America as the mixture of all existing races, and he mentioned them, White, Indians, Black and Asiatic. The mixture of all these races will produce the fifth race, the Latin America singular mixture, as an exemplar for the future of humanity. In spite of his enthusiasm for mestizaje and hibridization, he never relinquished his epistemic purity. Of course, he did not theorized it, he just assumed that epistemology is none negotiable, that is, no room for epistemic mestizaje and hibridity. His epistemological position was founded in the Spanish and Catholic tradition and in post-enlightenment epistemic principles and assumptions. His celebration of hibridy and mestizaje was chanted and promoted from an assumed epistemology that was white, European and Christian/secular and masculine. Then came Gloria Anzaldua, who in 1987 published her land-mark and ground-breaking book Borderland/La Frontera. A New Mestiza Consciousness. The New Mestiza. The last chapter is titled “La conciencia mestiza/Towards a New Consciousness” (the typography is just as I wrote it, Spanish in italics and English in regular types). The chapter has an epigraph:

Por la mujer de mi raza hablará el espíritu

Whoever is familiar with Vasconcelos’s work and with the institutionalization in México of some of his dictum, will remember that the logo of the Universidad Autónoma de México is a quote from Vasconcelos

Por mi raza hablará el espíritu .

So Anzaldúa twisted the dictum from masculine to feminine epistemology. But no only that, in her book and argument, he twisted still feminine epistemology toward a queerness and women of color. What we have here is a radical de-colonial epistemic shift, not only queering and racializing mestizaje (denouncing the oxymoron of Creoles in Latin America that built on mestizaje the homogeneity of the nation!!) but also queering and racializing epistemology. How does she do it? By taking apart and into pieces the epistemological purity that Vasconcelos so “naturally” assumed. Anzaldúa’s argument, to make a long story short, is built on a mixture of categories from Nahuatl, Spanish and English and none of them having the upper hand. And she ground her argument from the perspective of a queer woman of color and not from the perspective of a Creole male Mexican. The end result is border thinking, critical border thinking as it best.

Debates on mestizaje/hibridity are not going very far if they do not start from taking epistemic power through border thinking and double translation. In my view, Boaventura de Sousa Santos proposal for ”an epistemology of the South” goes in the same direction, as it makes evident the necessity of a geo-political epistemic shift, parallel to the bio-political epistemic shift that we find in Anzaldúa (I develop this argument in my forthcoming book Critical Theory and the De-Colonial Shift, Duke U.P.)

As for local/global I wrote extensively in Local Histories/Global Designs (translated into Portuguese in Brazil and Castilian, in Spain). What I would like to underline here since the title and the argument was misunderstood; and it was misunderstood because it was read within the traditional habits of modern epistemology and the canonical distinction between the local and the global, which I contest through out the book!!! Listen, the two segments of the title are linked by ”/” and not but the conjunction ”and”. Why? –- Because they cannot be dissociated. This is the point: local histories are every where, all are local histories, that of the U.S., and that of Tanzania; that of the European Union and that of the countries of the Mercosur; that of England and that of India, all those are local histories, that can be identified on the bases of languages, memories, food, music, etc. Now, only certain local histories (that of the Iberian Peninsula, of the heart of Europe — England, France and Germany — that of the U.S.A.), were in a position and had the imperial impulse to imagine and spread global designs. One this happened, since the sixteenth century, imperial local histories and colonial local histories have been linked together by the differential power relations; through the colonial difference when the question is between empire and its colonies. And through the imperial difference, when the question is between empires such, for example, the relationships between Western capitalist and Christian empires, on the one hand and the Ottoman empire from the middle of the sixteenth century until its collapse toward 1920; or between the Russian Empire since Ivan the Terrible and the Soviet Union, on the one hand, and Western capitalist and non-Orthodox Christian and dominating empires on the other. In sum: there is no but local histories, and different local histories and linked together in the modern/colonial world power relations articulated around the colonial and imperial differences.

Read in this frame, inclusion/exclusion is a pure imperial design with bad consciousness or with cleaver instinct of survival. Like mestizaje, the idea of ”inclusion” leaves intact the political theory that, generously, yields toward inclusion. The question is no longer inclusion, but ”interculturalidad” in the sense employed by Indigenous intellectuals in Ecuador. Indeed, what they are talking about is inter-epistemology, inter-political economy, inter-political theory and inter-ethical theory. Indians do not want to be ”included”. They just want to be and to participate, in equal footing, on the construction of a pluri-national state, which means, pluri-epistemology; that is, a move toward pluri-versality as universal project and not toward generous inclusion under the control of abstract universals, such as Jurgen Habermas proposes.