Monday, January 23, 2012

Alberto Moreiras, "Hybridity and Double Consciousness," Exhaustion of Difference

To argue for hybridity against the reification of cultural identities as some kind of recipe for perpetual flexibility overdoes its usefulness once it is made clear that hybridity can also produce a form of conceptual reification. It certainly becomes a reified notion as it assumes the performative role of naming a space "where disintegration is elevated to diversity and inequalities... are reduced to differences." As hybridity moves through the power-knowledge machine toward its particular form of conceptual closure, it keeps us from understanding that the world is something more, and other than, the sum of its subjects: in other words, that a politics of subjectivity does not exhaust politics altogether. I want to propose a particular understanding, or critique, of hybridity along the lines of a double articulation that might enable us to retrieve it at the service of what I have called perpectival or relational subalternism. By  that I mean an understanding of the subaltern position in merely formal terms, as that which stands outside any given hegemonic articulation at any given moment. Relational subalternism can perhaps, as I will try to show, offer a sort of abyssal ground for a critique of the social able to see beyond some crucial ideological narratives of the present, and thus freer to confront the "central axis of conflict" in Paul Gilroy's sense. For Gilroy, writing a few years ago about the near future, "the central axis of conflict will no longer be the colour line but the challenge of just, sustainable development and the frontiers which will separate the overdeveloped parts of the world (at home and abroad) from the intractable poverty that already surrounds them" (Black Atlantic 223).

Walter Mignolo has used the conceptual pair "allocation/relocation" to point out that "identities are dialogically constructed within a structure of power. Hegemony and subalternity are two major players in this scenario: hegemony with the power of allocating meaning, subalternity as the relentless place of contestation and reallocation of meaning" ("Allocation" I). Subalternity is the site, not just of negated identity, but also for a constant negation of identity positions: identities are always the product of the hegemonic relation, always the result of an interpellation and, therefore, not an autonomous site for politics. With difference or hybridity, as with identity, the problem is elsewhere and cannot be circumscribed to the subjective terrain. A subalternist politics would entail for Mignolo the necessary theorization of that elsewhere, under "the double experience of simultaneously dwelling within the epistemology of Western modernity and in the difference created by modernity's subjugation of alternative epistemologies" ("Espacios" 8; my trans., here and below). Mignolo's "border epistemologies are based on the force of a double consciousness that incorporates civilization to barbarism at the same time that it negates the hegemonic concept of civilization" (8). For him, "borderless capitalism" paradoxically creates the conditions to "rearticulate modern epistemology in the encounter with local knowledges" (15). Against the danger that contemporary reflection can only rather feebly oppose capitalist flexible accumulation with a flexible identity under the name of hybridity, Mignolo's reflection alerts us to a possible alternative: a radicalization of the interplay between "local histories" and "global designs" on the grounds of their mutual incommensurability might lead into new determinations for thinking historically and geopolitically that would not appeal to identity/difference or its domestication as hybridity as a primary referent. A certain concept of subalternity might do for hybridity what heterogeneity did for, and to, transculturation.

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