Abbas Manoochehri (Tehran)*
Enrique Dussel and Ali Shari'ati on Cultural Imperialism
In "Culture and Imperialism" Edward Said uses the notion
of "discrepant experiences" and compares the writings of a colonizing
French scholar with that of a colonized Egyptian scholar. At the
time of Napoleonic conquest, the two scholars viewed and understood "the
situation" they were experiencing very differently. These "experiences"
were formulated and expressed through two different textual genres, one
exemplifying a "colonial discourse" and the other the discourse of
According to Said, in the colonial discourse the non-European
is portrayed as the “other” of the European civilization. As such, this
discourse has been the product of the European “will to power” which implemented
in relation to the colonized by making it “the other” of itself.
Fanon, on the other hand, has analyzed the deepest felt injuries inflicted
on the native colonized by the European colonizer. Fanon's genre
has then been extended by post-colonial discourse as a written response
to colonial discourse. One can hence speak of discrepant discourses
by comparing post-colonial discourse with that of colonial discourse; the
colonial discourse being a negating discourse, whereas the post-colonial
discourse is challenging and resisting discourse.
I Discourses on Colonialism
But, how can such discrepancy, challenge and resistance
be read. Edward Said has applied the Foucauldian genealogy and has detected
the "will to power" inherent in colonial discourse. The colonized
discourse, however, can be understood hermeneutically. According to Ricoeur,
a written text has both common and particular characteristics when compared
with the spoken discourse.
As a speech act-event, , the act of discourse is constituted
by the hierarchy of three levels: (1) the level of locutionary or propositional
act, the act of saying; (2) the level of the illocutionary act (or force),
what we do in saying; (3) the level of the perlocutionary act, what
we do by the fact that we speak.
Regarding a text as a "fixation" of "intentional exteriorization",
however, one should distinguish between what is "spoken" in a speech and
what is "said" in a text. Accordingly, what in effect writing fixes
is not the event of speaking but the "said" of speaking,
where we understand by the "said" of speaking that intentional exteriorization
constitutive of the aim of discourse thanks to which the sagen, the saying,
wants to become Aus-Sage, the enunciation, the enunciated. In short what
we write, what we inscribe, is the noema of the speaking, it is the meaning
of the speech event, not the event as event.
Such "exteriorization" also "opens up a world", the world
which is no longer a reference situation in a discourse, but the world
of the text which is not confined to the situational reference-point within
which a speaking discourse takes place.
The written discourse of post-colonialism opens
up a world of double-disenchantment. Post-colonial discourse is a discourse
emanating and exteriorizing the pathos of double-disenchantment.
This is a pathos resulting from the colonial experience, a experience which
in the first instance is similar to what Max Weber refers to as disenchantment,
but goes even further than that. Max Weber has referred to disenchantment
(Entzauberung) in the Modern era as the sense of intellectual and cultural
disassociation with what had formed and saturated the way of living and
thinking in pre-modern era. Weber has argued that such intellectual and
cultural reorientation has had essential association with "calculative
rationality" (Zweckrationalitat) through which Modern European's conception
of the world changed. Economy, politics and culture were recreated
by rationalization of life and life-world. Capitalist economy, breaucratic
system and secular culture were the three fundamental dimensions of the
new “disenchanted world”. Weber, however, did not say anything about
the geo-cultural extension of disenchantment.
In a unique historical conjuncture, the experience
of disenchantment was imposed on the non-western world. Whereas in
Europe “calculative rationality” replaced whatever had been disassociated
with through disenchantment, the phenomenon of acculturation and self-dispossession
resulted in a double-disenchantment. This has been the experience of
simultaneously being disenchanted and becoming a disenchanted being. Being
disenchanted means to disassociate oneself from what belongs to one as
her/his belifs, her/his way of living, ets. Becoming a disenchanted
being, on the other hand, is a loss of one’s self; it is withdrawing
from one’s own selfhood and becoming an absence, a lack, a void. This happens
when one is negated and is deprived of any original identity.
The experience of double disenchantment seemes to be
the predicament of the colonized world and, as such, one of the most fundamental
preoccupations of post-colonial thinking. As a genre, post-colonial
theory owes much to Franz Fanon’s “the Wretched of the Earth”.
Among the Post-colonial thinkers inspired by Fanon's
thought are Enrique Dussel and Ali Shari'ati. Shari'ati and Dussel can
be identified as post-colonial thinkers whose writings pretain a
"message" to be read as an exteriorized intention. As such, their writings
are the illocutionary act of resistance against Cultural Imperialism. They
are, in Homi Bahbah's word, an expression of "the felt experience of the
local", or, as Mary Louise Pratt would put it, they are "auto-ethnographies".
They could also be identified as emanating from the pathos of double enchantment.
Dussel's critique of modern European self-conception and its “geopolitics
of domination, and Shari'ati's notion of Machinism and Third World
Modernization are expressions of such predicament, in response to
which Shari’ati proposes the notion of “Return to the Self”, and
Dussel proposes a “Return to the Subjugated Other”.
II Dussel on Culture and Colonialism
Dussel has analyzed domination both in its actual and
in its symbolic moments. The "Geopolitics of Domination", "Hermeneutics
of Reality", and "Return to the Subjugated Other" are the three fundamental
notions in Dussel’s challenge to cultural colonialism.
1 Colonialism and the Geopolitics
Unlike Newtonian notion of “physical space”, and unlike
the phenomenon- notion of “existential space”, Dussel refers to “Geopolitical
Space”. In this “space” there is a tenuous relationship between center
and periphery, where the center is the core of power and the periphery
is the space of the application of such power. In Dussel's view, what has
happened in the past five hundred years in Latin America is the historical
manifestation of the geopolitics of domination.
According to Dussel, modern philosophy, beginning with
Descart's cogito, has been thought in the center of power and modern cogito
has turned out to be the dominant selfhood of European “I”. The modern
ego cogito has actually been the historical outcome of the ego conquistadore,
the ego of conquering the Aztecs and Incas, enslaving Africans, and vanquishing
From the "I conquer", applied to the Aztec and Inca world
and all America, from the "I enslave", applied to Africans sold for the
gold and silver acquired at the cost of the death of Amerindians working
at the depths of the earth, from the "I vanquish" of the wars of India
and China to the shameful "opium war"- from this "I" appears the Cartesian
This “I” has been the manifestation of a being for which
the "other" is "not-being”. Ontology, hence, took a geopolitical characteristic
in which domination is experienced.
According to Dussel, domination is the act by which others
are forced to participate in the system that alienates them. This
is, in Dussel's view, how the modern Europe has approached the non - European.
The cogito of the center has exercised power over the peripheral other
in the geopolitical space created by colonialism. The actualization of
the modern European selfhood through the proyecto, “the striving to achieve”
of the powerful European has created "the wretched of the earth".
This historical fact has not, however, been headed by modern thought. Therefore,
modern philosophical reflections over the notions of “the meaning
of being", "the truth", "the right method", "ethics", "modernity" "justice"
and "freedom", are self-deceptive. Hence, the concept of "truth" in philosophical
discussions only has meaning in a geopolitical duality of a dominant and
a dominated pole and can be apprehended by the Hermeneutics of Reality.
2 Hermeneutics of Reality
For Dussel, hermeneutics does not merely mean the discovery
of the meaning of what can be observed, but actually "the discovery of
the hidden reality". When one speaks of the hidden dimension, it means
that something might be upholding the reality contrary to the fact that
the colonized masses have been driven to the periphery through domination.
The reality, in Dussel’s view is not merely development in political and
economic fields in one part of the world which is justified and explained
in the framework of the dominant view. Through the discovery of the
reality by hermeneutics, what becomes more understandable than anything
else is the life of “the wretched of the earth”. Such a discovery
of a reality beyond the dominant horizon actually looks into what rules
over the minds, namely into the symbols. This means that the truth is in
the understanding of the reality of the domination of one part of the world
over the other. "Imperialist culture" or "culture of the center" is "the
culture that is dominant in the present order", it is the refined culture
of European and North American elites. This is the culture that all other
cultures are measured against
Therefore, although through symbols we can reach a better
understanding of a culture and the meaning of life in it, dominant symbols
in modern world have been self-defeating, because they ignore what has
occurred between the European world and the Non-European world. We should
therefore, not confine our understanding of symbols to a particular culture
and ignore what has happened between cultures and civilizations throughout
past five centuries. Any Hermeneutic of symbols needs to go beyond
the hermeneutics "of a culture", and take into consideration
the asymmetrical confrontation between several cultures
(one dominating, the others dominated.
3 Colonialism and Assimilation
According to Dussel, the colonial culture also has functioned
in another way, namely through the process of “assimilation”. The effort
of a certain part of the colonized community to "become like Europeans"
has led to the formation of a culture that was neither the original native
culture, nor the culture of the colonizing Europeans, but fabricated culture
made by the local Elites in the image of the imperial culture. This process
particularly refracted in the oligarchic culture of dominant
groups within dependent nations of the periphery. It is the culture that
they admire and imitate, fascinated by the artistic, scientific, and technological
program of the center.. . On the masks of these local elites the face of
the center is duplicated. They ignore their national culture, they despise
their skin color, they pretend to be white ... and live as if they were
in the center. They are the outcasts of history.
Such a cultural alienation, however, does not remain confined
to the elites and, when extended to the colonized masses, plays an instrumental
role for the imperialist economy. Therefore:
The culture of the oppressed, not as a people but as
repressed, is the culture of the masses. It is the reproduction and Nausom,
the kitsch vulgarization of imperialist culture refracted by oligarchical
culture and passed on for consumption. It is by means of the culture of
the masses that ideology propagates imperialist enterprise and produces
a market for its product.
4 Return to the Subjugated Other.
Drawing from Levinas' discussion about the priority of
“the other”, Dussel argues for a trascultural otherness. According to him,
although Levinas has severely criticized modern subjectivism, yet he has
not been able to go far enough in his attention to the "ethics of otherness".
In Levinas' critique, the modern selfhood's domination over “the other”
is traced to the understanding of self as an "autonomous self". However,
Dussel argues, Levinas speaks of such a relationship in the context of
a particular culture and has not paid attention to the domination of "cultural-other"
by the modern "cultural self”. In fact:
The other is the alterity of all possible systems, beyond
“the same”, which totality always is. “Being is, and non-Being is,” or
can be, the other, we could say, contrary to Parmenides and classical ontology.
As a response to such predicaments, Dussel suggests the
notion of "the return to the subjugated other". He discusses the need for
return to the other who in his view is the periphery of the geopolitical
divide created by colonialism.
III Shari'ati and Colonial Experience:
A Challenging Discourse
Shari'ati's writings consists of three interrelated moments:
a genealogy of colonial discourse, a hermeneutic of the assimilated discourse,
and finally, the moment of challenging these two moments. As such, and
in its interconnected totality, Shari'ati's writings tend to be of an insurgent
type of discourse.
1 Machinism and Modern Problematic
Shari'ati analyses Imperialism by discussing modernity.
In his view, in modern Imperialism, cultural and economic dimensions are
inseparable and their interconnectedness can be represented through
the notion of Machinism. In his analysis of modernity, Shari'ati has presented
a thesis regarding the genesis and the historical development of modern
problems which in his view are rooted in the emergence of the private ownership.
According to Shari'ati, human history is composed of
two stages, the stage of collectivity and the stage of private ownership.
Unlike the first stage which was the era of social equality and spiritual
oneness, the second stage, in which we now live, is that of social
domination and exploitation. As a turning point in history, private ownership
has been the starting point for social domination. However, although this
new formation has had private ownership as its founding element, the forms
that it has taken at different points in history includes Slavery, Serfdom,
Feudalism, and Capitalism. Hence, Shari'ati, having the Marxist view on
social formation in mind, says:
There is no more than one foundation, and this is neither
bourgeoisie nor feudal, capitalist nor communist, serfdom nor slavery.
It is ownership which is of two kinds: Private (monopoly) and Social (public).
Unlike the stage of social ownership, Shari'ati adds,
when all material and spiritual resources were accessible to everyone,
the emergence of private ownership polarized the human community and created:
new ills, changing men's brotherhood and love to duplicity,
deceit, hatred, exploitation, colonialization, and massacre.
This polarization has been manifested historically in
various forms, from ancient slave economies to modern capitalist society
up to its latest stage of Machinism.
According to Shari’ati the emergence of the Machine
in the modern times has been the second most fundamental change in the
human condition, the first one being the emergence of private ownership.
Both of these changes, which Shari'ati calls “the two curves of history”,
belong to the second stage of human history.
As a new social order, Machinism began to emerge in the
nineteenth century. By then handicrafts were being left behind and the
emerging Machine age was creating new anxieties and myriads of new problems.
The Machine, however, is not a marketable commodity but
in fact the foundation for the modern social formation of Machinism:
Machinism is a sociological phenomenon. It is a particular
social order, not a marketable, consumable, or technical product or commodity.
Machinism has come to dominate all spheres of modern
life. In a sense Machinism is the sophisticated version of the social formation
which was created by the emergence of private ownership. Just as a new
world vision was formulated with the emergence of private ownership, with
the Machine too a new conception of the world began to develop. As
such one of the characteristics of Machinism is the negation of originalism,
i.e. the negation of authenticities for the sake of uniformity of wo/men
and cultures, the result of which is general submission before the imposed
consuming schemes of Machinism. By replacing "value" by "profit", Machinism
has created a hollow life and a phony man. Such phony individual is trapped
in a vicious cycle of “existing to consume and consuming to exist”. The
Western bourgeois vision of absurdite also reveals this hollowness, this
sense of loss within the consume/exist cycle, resulted from the cultural
domination of the Machine. A founding principle of this whole operation
was, and continues to be “the need for production and the production of
From a philosophical standpoint, Machinism leads to the
domination of the Machine over human life and substitution of the Machine
for creative and determining man. Hence man becomes absent from himself.
As the result of these developments, in Shari’ati’s view,
new problems have been introduced to the human community. In the industrial
world automation, consumerism and technocracy have caused anxiety, alienation,
and distress. These in turn have led to the creation of an atmosphere in
which destructive trends like fascism have taken root and grown rapidly.This
new social order, Shari'ati further argues, has extended itself within
various spheres of Western life and also beyond its geographical borders
of the West.
2 Civilization v.s Modernization
Relating modern technological developments to the realities
of the non-western world, Shari'ati makes a distinction between Civilization
and Modernization. According to him, Civilization involves a long process
of development within a community; modernization of the contemporary Third
World societies, however, has been an apocryphal form of progress. In fact
such modernization is symptomatic of a fundamentally destructive tendency
within the contemporary non-Western world, suffering from various
internal and external forces of domination and exploitation during the
past hundred and fifty years . Imperialism (Iste'mar), tyranny (Istebdad),
economic exploitation (Istesmar), and cultural colonization (Istehmar),
which have been justified by the alleged necessity for modernization, have
together inflicted deep wounds on the peoples of the Third World. Third
World modernization is simply a historical extension of the process which
began with the emergence of private ownership and was then intensified
by Machinism. Having already gained control over a vast part of the world
by colonial domination, Europe now had more reasons to sustain its economic
grip over these areas.
Therefore, parallel to the developments within the European
world following the emergence of the Machine, other parts of the world
have also been greatly influenced by the expansion of the Machine. The
penetration in other societies could not, however, be successful without
the eventual reorientation of their cultures. To be attracted to western
commodities, non-Western peoples had to be “modernized”. Non-Westerners
had to be “Westernized”, that is they had to develop a “modern taste” for
western products. As an essential component of Imperialism, therefore,
acculturation of the traditional societies of the non-European world became
an imperative for the economic interests of Europe. The necessity of finding
markets for the vast surplus of industrial products which now had complemented
the European need for cheap raw material, forced the industrial world to
penetrate the non-European world of Africa and Asia. This historical penetration
then led to the formation of the soico-political realities of the post-colonial
world up to our own time. In Shari'ati's words:
The problem was to make people in Asia and Africa consumers
of European products. Their societies had to be restructured so that they
would buy European products. Literally, this meant changing a nation ……to
accept new clothing, new consumption patterns, and adornments. Now, what
part has to change first? Obviously one's morale and thinking.
In Shari'ati's view, the theoretical and historical mediation
between modernity and modernization of the third world consists of colonialization,
assimilation and comprador bourgeoisie. Colonialism came as the result
of the spread of Machinism and the need for markets. To reach new markets
in turn necessitated political and military maneuvering. This in turn brought
about its functionaries, namely comprador bourgeoisie, who are the ones
benefited from the exchange of consumer products with the resources of
the third world countries. All of this, however, could not proceed unless
the cultural sphere would provide the opportunity. This happened through
“Assimilation”: the non-European becoming, or pretending to be, like a
applies to the conduct of the one who, intentionally or
unintentionally, starts imitating the manners of someone else. Obsessively,
and with no reservations he denies himself in order to transform his identity.
Hoping to attain the goals and the grandeur, which he sees in another,
the assimilated attempts to rid himself of perceived shameful associations
with his original society and culture.
Assimilation is in fact a historical product of the process
of monoculturalization. This in fact is the essential path in the way of
cultural Imperialism exercised by the modern European colonial powers.
Monoculture is a colonial phenomenon-notion [which] …
goes along with monoculturalization of civilizations. All civilizational
lands, with their centuries of various aesthetic and historical experience
should be harvested by the colonial combine, left bare and in need of what
the colonizer can give it. [The point, however, is that] the
assimilated pretends to be more modern than the European whom s/he has
imitated. A European knows her historical past and heritage, the assimilated,
however, disassociates from his past, destroys it and runs away from it.
This is what one can call identity disenchantment, disenchantment
not with one has always lived but with one’s ontological sense of existence.
In this regard, Shari'ati was highly critical of
the intellectuals in modernizing societies for identifying themselves with
Western culture. To him this was as much a consequence of colonialism as
economic exploitation was. He criticized these intellectuals for their
failure to understand these developments in the context of the peculiarities
of their own societies. He believed that they have lost their sense
of protest and creativity. Instead, Shari’ati proposed the need for
a methodological leap towards a more concrete perspective and the courage
to search for and find new ways and fresh possibilities to deal with the
problems of third world societies. As a possibility then he proposed the
idea of “Return to the Self”.
4 Return to the Self
If we were told, says Shari'ati, that we have never had
civilization we could return to what we have had and could disprove such
claim. But, what should we do when our past is metamorphosized and misrepresented?
The fact is that the colonizers have not necessarily negated the
Eastern culture and its history, but they have tryed to convince the colonized
that he is “negative”, he is “of the second ontic rank”, and “unable to
think”. So, Shari’ati asks, what are we to do? Should we let ourselves
to be dissolved in notions such as "internationalism", which would
mean becoming the second ontic rank partners of capitalism. If we lack
culture, what would be our status in such partnership? Would it be anything
other than cultural annihilation. As long as there is such dichotomy as
local (native) verses human, how can we be in a partnership with the colonizer?
To answer these questions, Shari’ati speaks of “a difficult moment
of a great choice" between two poles:
a pole which we have inherited from the past and the
pole which we have imitated form the West.... The first pole is a unique
Weltanschauung, philosophy of life.... and a set of certain social relations.
The second one is a new Weltanschauung, a new school and a new philosophy
of life, new way of being and moving forward, though in various and
even contradictory schools.
But, what is common for the followers of these two is
that they both are imitative. The task of the followers of both ways, Shari'ati
says, is easy, because a traditionalist does not have the difficulty and
the anxiety of choosing; for it is chosen for him and he only follows.
The follower of the second pole too
does not have the responsibility and preoccupation for
choosing. For, as packages of the technical and consumer goods come
from the West to be opened and consumed, various schools too come in ready
packages and known standards.
As a point of departure in going beyond this dual choice,
Shari'ati attempted first to redefine the concept of the intellectual.
He argued that an intellectual is anybody who is aware of his human condition
and whose awareness gives him a sense of responsibility. Such a person
knows his own society, undersands its pains, its spirit, and its heritage;
he is a person who can choose consciously and responsibly. Such a person
should seek intellectual leadership in his own society. Hence, an intellectual
does not necessarily need to be highly educated. In fact, Shari'ati believed,
a worker might be more of an intellectual than might a highly distinguished
Historical self-discovery and cultural self-reliance
are other dimensions of Shari'ati's definition of the intellectual. He
introduced these dimensions via theidea of "Return to the Self". This idea,
he says, does not pretain is to a nostalgic romanticization of the forgotten
past. Rather it is an attempt at creative incorporation of the repressed
historical origin of a cultural self; and this is not sought as an end
in itself but as the beginning of a challenging self assertion by an alienated
and disillusioned generation. This can, in turn, reinforce an historical
self recognition capable of confronting the forces of domination and oppression.
By “Returning to the Self”, Shari'ati means that those
people whose historical and cultural heritage and identity have been either
denied or misrepresented “restore history to themselves”. This notion is
a part of a challenging discourse v.s colonial discourse. Unlike the locus
of the colonial discourse which first negates or misrepresents and then
draws into assimilation, the illocutionary act of textual resistance reverses
this process. This process takes place in three moments of “critical cultural
archeology”, “the refinement of cultural discourse”, and finally “self-historical
“The Return to the Self” then means recovering one's
own human identity and cultural-historical authenticity: it means self-consciousness
and liberation from the illness of cultural alienation and spiritual colonialization.
The encounter between the colonial Europe and the colonized
world has been expressed by two particular textual genres of “colonial
discourse” and “post-colonial discourse”. These two genres are distinguishable
by the discrepancy between the two experiences that they express. These
two typs of writing, however, pretain to two sides of the same experience,
one side being the colonial experince and the other side being that of
the colonized. The textual discourse of the colonized reveals the illocutionary
act of resistance against the cultural domination of colonialism.
The writings of Enrique Dussel and Ali Shari’ati are
noticable examples of post-colonial discourse. They both express a preoccupation
with a long process of annihilating experience of double disenchantment.
They have both analyzed and challenged the colonial act of subjugation
and cultural negation. Their literal work is oriented towards a liberating
self-resurgence and self-reassertion. Thereby, they have brought to light
the impact of cultural colonialism in the creation of the subjugated “other”
and, at the same time, the process of the reemergence of the selfhood which
has been negated and annihilated. The “turn” from subjugated otherness
to that of assertive selfhood in the post-colonial discourse, however,
takes place exactly at the historical juncture in a “post-modern Turn”
the European sense of selfhood is being negated by a disillusioned generation.
In other words, while the colonized tends to assert its negated selfhood,
the colonizing European turns to the negation of “selfhood” per se.
This, however, does not necessarily deter the post-colonial discourse from
its historical task of developing a new selfhood. This is the essence
of the post-colonial discourse exercised by Dussel and Shari'ati.
(Tehran, September 2002)
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