Center for Global Studies and the Humanities

Duke University

01Oct2006 The Worlds & Knowledges Otherwise Project Presents

Volume 1, Dossier 3: Post-continental Philosophy

Introduction — Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Coordinator

Post-continental philosophy refers to philosophies and critical theories that focus on questions and concerns that emerge in the interstices, margins, and racialized spaces of the modern world. These spaces are often found in borders, Diasporas, migratory movements, isolated rural spaces, so-called ghettos, and wherever the radically abject dehumanized sub-others of modernity are forced or choose to inhabit. The main questions found in these places are connected to issues of identity and liberation as well as to material, symbolic, and epistemic decolonization. Post-continental philosophy aims to highlight the work of figures and organizations whose contribution to theoretical knowledge in the human sciences is driven by such questions and concerns.

In philosophy, the dominant trends in raising critical questions and pursuing knowledge are often defined in terms of the analytic and continental distinction. Analytic philosophy tends to be understood as a philosophical style that pursues fundamental epistemological questions (what is knowledge?, what is truth?, how do humans perceive and know?) by bracketing geo-political space and history or time. Analytic philosophers often focus on the conceptual clarification of mind, world, and their connection or interaction. They seek to articulate the conditions of possibility for knowledge through formal logic and the analysis of language. Continental philosophy is to some extent a more speculative enterprise that pursues similar questions but considers time, history, and the significance of negation and dialectics, rather than formal logic, to be of the essence. Geo-political space is also relevant to it but in a limited form. Both the history and the conceptions of space that tend to shape, orient, and delimit continental philosophy are European. The concerns and questions that continental philosophy explores are tied to a “continental” conception of spatio-temporal and spiritual or conceptual and mental unity. With few exceptions continental philosophy arguably thus names not only the place of origin, but also a certain commitment or view of space and time that is linked to the history of the European continent.

There have been different critical responses to analytic and continental philosophies, as well as new contenders. In the United States, U.S. American pragmatism has served that role. In 1985, John Rachjman and Cornel West introduced U.S. American philosophy, particularly pragmatism, as a distinct form of doing philosophy. Their edited volume Post-Analytic Philosophy represented a turn away from the scientific pretensions of analytic philosophy and from the more experimental and not entirely liberal philosophical positions that found expression in existentialism, deconstruction, and genealogical post-structuralism, among other “continental” philosophical variants. The text also questions the dominance of analytic philosophy, not only in relation to problematic philosophical assumptions, but also in terms of its disconnection with U.S. American ideals and values. U.S. American pragmatism, as articulated by Cornel West, Richard Rorty, and others, has a unique nationalist character. Its success in interrupting the analytic/continental divide cannot be entirely understood without considering the extent to which it is part of a larger nationalist reaction in the United States against the anti-patriotic wave of the late 1960’s, the obsession in the academy with European theories in the 1980’s, increasing immigration from the global south, and the wave of neo-liberal globalization in the last decades of the twentieth-century. If during the 1950’s and 1960’s McCarthyism, as John McCumber persuasively argues, facilitated the dominance of analytic philosophy over its contenders, it is clear that pragmatism, in its nationalist expression, has been aided not only by the crisis of paradigms in analytic and continental philosophy, but also by a return to patriotism and nationalism in the United States after the end of the Cold War.

Post-continental philosophy represents an alternative to the usual ways of doing analytic and continental philosophy as well as to the intervention into the conflict between these two philosophical tendencies by some of the most influential nationalist U.S. pragmatists—recognizing, of course, that not all pragmatists are invested in nationalism. It also aims to make clear the philosophical import of critiques of positivist, continental, and national forms of reflection that are implicit or explicit in the work of many scholars on race, gender, and ethnicity. These categories (race, gender, and ethnicity) are central to post-continental philosophy because they denote sites of exception, fracture, dehumanization, and liminality, as well as hope and radically humane visions of humanity that cannot be properly understood by bracketing space and time or by conceiving them in relation to the history of the European continent or any particular nation-state form. Post-continental philosophy is a critical intervention that seeks to recognize the production of theories stimulated by the questions and concerns of those whom Frantz Fanon called the condemned of the earth. It celebrates efforts to explore the significance of forgotten histories and spaces in our understanding of the world as well as promotes the remapping of conceptual territories in light of those explorations. Different from analytic, continental, and U.S. pragmatic styles and philosophical presumptions, post-continental philosophy seeks to locate and elaborate philosophical work that is guided by or gives expression to temporal and spatial coordinates that allow one to see and understand the significance of the darker sides of modernity. It aims to provide responses to questions of truth and rigor in modern philosophy and the sciences in light of their contradictions and limits as they are revealed in the experience and social conditions of populations whose identities, knowledges, and very existence have been systematically questioned or denied.

The task of post-continental philosophy is pursued in institutions such as the Caribbean Philosophical Association (CPA). The CPA was founded at the Center for Caribbean Thought in the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica in 2002 and now counts with over one hundred and fifty members primarily from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, the United States, and Canada. The motto of the Association, Shifting the Geography of Reason, reflects its commitment with epistemic decolonization. The contributors to this dossier are originally from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States, but they all take the CPA as one of their homes.

This dossier is divided in two parts, preceded by an introduction by Nelson Maldonado-Torres. The introduction aims to clarify the possibility, meaning, and significance of doing post-continental philosophy. It also provides comments of the different contributions to the dossier. The first part of the dossier focuses on key figures: Frantz Fanon, Manuel Zapata Olivella, and Enrique Dussel. This part is comprised of essays by Lewis R. Gordon and Alejandro de Oto on questions of ontology, history, and writing in Frantz Fanon, and Gertrude Gonzalez de Allen on understandings of subjectivity, memory, Diaspora, and trans-modernity in Zapata Olivella and Dussel. The second part of the dossier focuses on post-continental phenomenology. In the first essay, Paget Henry, author of Caliban’s Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy and first winner of the Frantz Fanon Book Prize by the Caribbean Philosophical Association, explores the philosophical implications of Africana phenomenology, particularly in the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, and Lewis R. Gordon. In the second contribution to this part, Jane Gordon takes on Henry’s reading of Du Bois to articulate the relevance of the notion of “double consciousness” for the understanding of legitimacy in political theory. Then Kenneth Knies elucidates the meaning of “post-European sciences” through transcendental phenomenology. Finally, in the conclusion, Esiaba Irobi proposes the “sea” rather than the “continent” as the spatial figure that is central to Caribbean philosophy and Diasporic peoples.

Articles & Commentaries

  • Post-Continental Philosophy: Its Definition, Contours, and Fundamental Sources Nelson MALDONADO-TORRES Nelson Maldonado-Torres looks toward the boundaries of analytical and continental philosophy and augurs a post-continentatl philsophy that uses the arsenal of these bodies of thought to analyze and interpret problems related to colonialism, racism, and sexism in the contemporary world. Additionally, he points toward the new sciences and forms of study, such as African Diaspora Studies, Ethnic Studies and related programs, which demand a self-reflection of their own, without submitting their imperatives and unique approaches to the evaluation of analytic and continental philosophers.
  • Through the Zone of Non-being: A Reading of Black Skin, White Masks in Celebration of Fanon's Eightieth Birthday Lewis R. GORDON In celebration of Frantz Fanon’s eightieth birth, Gordon explores Fanon’s socioigenic approach in Black Skin, White Masks and argues that through Fanon's particular engagement of human failure and “non-beingness” that a new type of text and discourse emerges. He proposes that Fanon traverses both disciplinary and linguistic boundaries to challenge the viability of any single science providing a comprehensive analysis of human beings.
  • Apuntes sobre historia y cuerpos coloniales: algunas razones para seguir leyendo a Fanon Alejandro de OTO De Oto argues that in the same way that modern and imperial/colonial epistemology (knowledge) emerged from modern bodies (generally bodies located in the colonizer's frame of mind and carrying the imprint of the modern trace (from Greece and Rome to Western Europe)), a de-colonial epistemology emerges from the forces, energies and angers of colonial bodies. He, therefore, insists upon a continued and sustained reading of Frantz Fanon as Fanon critiques capitalism, imperialism, and their racial/colonial violence.
  • Enrique Dussell and Manuel Zapata Olivella: An Exploration of De-colonial, Diasporic, and Trans-modern Selves and the Politics of Recognition Gertrude James GONZALEZ DE ALLEN This paper represents a conversation between Enrique Dussel’s interpretation of trans-modernity, Afro-Latin thinker Manuel Zapata Olivella’s ideas about identity, and Gonzalez de Allen's articulation of the “discourse of memory.” Specifically, it makes linkages between knowledge, memory, and Diaspora and Enrique Dussel’s engagement of the politics of recognition and Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self, in the book The Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor and the Philosophy o f Liberation.
  • Africana Phenomenology: Its Philosophical Implications Paget HENRY Paget Henry explores the theoretical side of African studies through a discussion of the field of Africana phenomenology. Henry outlines its contours, problems, and theorists by attending to the works of WEB Dubois, Frantz Fanon, and Lewis Gordon. Finally, Henry argues that the emergence of African Philosohy, particularly Africana phenomenology, demands that philosophy adopt a more comparative approach.
  • Legitimacy from Modernity's Underside: Potientated Double Consciousness Jane GORDON Jane Gordon addresses the question of legitimation from the standpoint of those who are in tension with the system, of those who offer themselves as friend but are treated in turn as the antithesis of the presented legitimate order. She engages the thought of WEB Du Bois and particularly his construction of double consciousness as a means to further understand legitimation and its relationship to the post-continental project.
  • The Idea of Post European Science Kenneth KNIES Kenneth Knies argues that the attempt to think beyond the imperial reach of Europe has generated new forms of systematic inquiry that signal a new epoch of Science. These new inquiries or Post-European sciences are actual disciplines, such as Africana Studies, Ethnic Studies, Latin America Studies, that point toward a radical rethinking of theory itself or what Knies calls a turning point in the life of Reason. Knies locates the significance of this turn by looking at these sciences’ relationship to transcendental phenomenology.
  • The Philosophy of the Sea: History, Economics, and Reason in the Caribbean Esiaba IROBI By using Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s redefinition of phenomenology, Irobi shows, from an African and African diasporic epistemic and performative perspective, how phenomenology is best understood not through abstract thinking or intellectual sumo wrestling or literary textbook-bound knowledge but through the experiential, physical dimension of embodied performance as realized in many African and African diasporic working class, religious, social and political communities.
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