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 the colonized. 
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 of Domination

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 Chinese. Hence: 
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 ego cogito. 

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 was: 
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 needs”. 
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. 

3    Assimilation

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 European.  This 

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 scholar be. 
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 restoring” . 
“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)


* Abbas Manoochehri is a professor at Tarbiat Modarres University, Tehran, Iran 


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