Direct Tangent 3.1: Appropriation of the Rhetoric of Power, part 2

There is a book called “Castes of Mind” by a man maned Dirks. It is an historical analysis and critique of 19th century English colonialism through an overtly cultural difference, caste, and how this feature of Indian culture was dealt with both by the English in an attempt to rule, and the Indians attempting to assert cultural autonomy and agency. I do not remember what his argument is beyond a picture of this interaction, but what I inferred from his presentation was this idea of appropriation of rhetoric, what feminists and modern theorists and activists call, but from a slightly but significantly different view, ‘hegemonic discourse’. Dirks is giving us a picture of how ideology asserts itself through a process of discourse, where those who have the power, in the case of colonialism in India: England ( but colonialism in general), dictate the terms of the cultural negotiation upon the colonized, namely, the indigenous Indians. The scheme or group of terms and their definitional relations are seen as a mechanism or tool of asserting power (read: violence) upon those who are colonized, and, as a very light definition, this is called ‘hegemony’.

What this means is that those in power bring the terms by which those not in power may be allowed to exist. And this is literally the case. Dirks paints a picture of how this really means for us that people are permitted to exist through discourse. One example (keep in mind I am not doing a research paper here; I am merely recalling the book from memory – one can easily look up the book for themselves if interested) he gives is about some Indian ritual. If I remember correctly, Dirks is drawing his analysis from written material of the time of the events, from various sources. The significant point here, is that the English there had trouble making sense of it. When they would ask the locals what was going on, or their feelings about it or the reason behind it, the English had no context by which to understand them. The Indians were effectively silent; they could not be heard: they effectively did not exist. Because of this, the English could only act upon the events through the understanding they had, which was total misunderstanding. The English, because of their position of power, were righteous in their view, having little or no ability to understand that they perhaps did not understand the Indian context: the Indian context was exactly what the English thought it was. Thus, the Indian context, the reason and meaning of the ritual in this case, was ultimately written by the English. The Indians, in an effort to establish their cultural legitimacy thus, in various ways and circumstances, developed a position in relation to what the English were saying, and doing, and in this way the Indians began to exist, for if they did not respond to such rhetoric in that fashion, they would in effect ‘remain silent’, and would thus be forced, physically, existentially, out of existence.

This is the typical feminist reading, analysis and comment upon such a situation; there are many such analyses upon various cultural contexts. The feminists propose to reconcile this hegemony, to balance this abuse of power and infringement of human autonomy and rights, by advocating that the colonized people, whether it be women, blacks, Hispanics, Argentinians, Koreans, hair dressers, union workers, or what, raise their voices, as the Indians did, by asserting themselves actively into the discourse, what one could call, the priority discourse, or the discourse of power, what i call a ‘rhetoric of power’ for reasons I will develop later.

What I am saying is a critique of such feminist rhetoric. The Feminists say that one needs to appropriate the hegemonic discourse, so that there is enacted thereby a shift in power, so it loses its effective hegemony. See, hegemony is read to imply agenda that is not recognized or approved of by those who are the subjects of the hegemony. But I suggest that what occurs is not that the people are empowered to their agency, but rather, they themselves become subject of the rhetoric of power such that they then too get to partake in the spoils of – what has developed out of – the hegemony, of colonialism. The people who appropriate the priority discourse lose their identity as individual cultural agents, and instead become, as Paulo Freire might agree ( maybe, but his was not at this level of critique), oppressed: involved in the game of oppression, both the oppressor and oppressed likewise caught in play. The oppressed, who learn the ways of the oppressor, become acculturated such that they are rewarded for their complicity, and thereby sustain the game of oppression. Neither have enacted a true free agency, neither have come upon praxis; both are oppressed.

* *

This is the position Laruelle appears to be presenting, the position I present here. Laruelle has appropriated the rhetoric of power, the priority discourse, in order to present his minority view, which is exactly silent – but as opposed to the movement of feminist-colonialist theoretics, which present the possibility of pushing agencies out of real existence by virtue of the establishing reality of the hegemonic (priority) discourse. And, it is because of this feature of his proposing Non-Philosophy within or by the priority discourse that he appears to be in Bad Faith.

It is thus the explicating of this appearance that is my task at hand here. The existence Laruelle proposes is exactly real opposed to the reality of the rhetoric of power.


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