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Classics

The Detached and Victorious West

Author: Jean-Loup Amselle

 

 

Title: Il distacco dall’Occidente

 

 

Publisher: Meltemi, Roma 2009

 

 

Original Edition: L’Occident décroché. Enquête sur les postcolonialismes

 

 

Publisher: Stock, Paris, 2008

 

 

 

 

No doubt, ‘the West is full of holes and when the ship goes down the rats flee’ (p. 7). The fact bearing witness to this is that our age is the age of the flight from an idiotically hegemonic West, incorrigibly obtuse and incapable of making room for cultural diversity. From this premise legitimately polemical is born the post-colonial galaxy, which Amselle illustrates in his fundamental theoretical coordinates, without disregarding the infinite variations on the main deconstructive theme: the liberation of subordination, to which the ‘other’ cultures have been reduced, is done by taking the floor against and above all outside the West, in a radical detachment without return. Under this profile Amselle’s work is presented also like a surprisingly accurate historical reconstruction of the numerous debates to which whole generations of ‘subordinate’ intellectuals have contributed, showing the world what there is beyond the West, predator of alterity: India, the indigenousisation promoted by Zapatism, African ‘endogenous knowledge,’ the renewal of a particular Jewish thought, are just some examples of the dissociation that displaces the commonplaces of colonial thought. With French Theory, without forgetting the tutelary deity of the Subaltern Studies, Antonio Gramsci, thus come to light the infinite hermeneutical games of post-colonialism, not without the internal points of contrast which testify their extreme conceptual vitality. It really seems like the day of reckoning: the West, hit by ‘the post-colonial spell’ (p. 185), sees the return of the repressed alterity, which finally subverts the narcissistic hegemonic dream. Today we can speak of ‘Africanity,’ Indianity,’ Amerindianity,’ as that which does not come from the West, or which has simply taken definitive leave of it. And yet Amselle does not share the enthusiasm of the post-colonialists. Doubts cross his mind and, at the end, he expresses his perplexity almost brutally: and if the ‘detachment’ from the West were its umpteenth tragic victory? There is in fact a price to pay ‘for letting ourselves be hit by the post-colonial spell’ (p. 212): to speak of ‘Africanity,’ ‘Indianity,’ Amerindianity’ may perhaps appear to be the goal of emancipation; in the end, however, it is equivalent to an operation of the essentialisation of cultures, as if they were museum pieces to be kept in their intact pureness. The result: ‘All past history, made up of contacts among different cultures and civilisations, is denied in this way, to reconfirm the definition of irreducible cultural specificities. If in the past every culture, every civilisation could and had to be considered the result of a complex series of exchanges and contacts with, and borrowing from other cultures more or less close to it, now the rule consists in reconfirming pure and unalterable identities’ (p. 216). In short, if the post-colonial gain is obtained by emptying the dynamism of intercultural exchanges, the price that we pay is the clash of civilisations, according to Huntingdon’s well-known prophesy. Besides, for Amselle there are no alternatives: ‘given that no form of communication among cultures is practicable, the definition of categories able to transcend each single entity becomes impossible, in such a way only a myriad of fragmented humanities remains, each of which lives withdrawn into itself’ (p. 215). At this point the conflict awaits us around the corner. This is what happens when once again ethnological reason and its implacable ‘museum’ schema wins: ‘recovering to their advantage the same stereotypes that the West had formulated to condemn and exclude them, the post-colonial scholars and the exponents of the thought of subordination in fact fostered Western hegemony – thinking that they could fight it. It is the sad conclusion of a tragic error, which has not yet finished causing damage and devastation’ (217). These are Amselle’s last words, whose bitterness is equal to the implicit invitation to return to practising the mixed-race logic with which the history of man is interwoven. Only in this way, perhaps, can the game of the future of the world be reopened.

 

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