Tag Archives: epistemology

Walter Mignolo—Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking


 In Local Histories/Global Designs:  Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking, Mignolo describes the role that colonial difference plays in contemporary conceptions of modernity and the enactment of subaltern knowledges operating on the borders of the current world system.   Mignolo calls this current world system a modern/colonial world system to signify the interdependence of modernity and coloniality, which have always been simultaneously at play.  Coloniality (of power), as Mignolo explains, occurs in and from the borders and from particular, local histories of modernity/coloniality.  It is created by what he calls gnosis knowledge, which is “knowledge from a subaltern perspective…conceived from the exterior borders of the modern/colonial world system”… that strives to a.) “foreground the force and creativity of knowledges subalternized during a long process of colonization”…and b.) counter the hegemonic knowledges that govern Western dominant thought and have been perpetuated through Occidentalism (11-14).   According to Mignolo, border thinking creates macronnarratives, which attempt to offer a new logic, for he feels that critique of western knowledge cannot effectively come from Western thinking.  Although he acknowledges the utility of postmodern theories and deconstrtuuction, he claims these ignore the colonial difference and constitute nothing more than a Eurocentric critique of Eurocentricism. (37-39).   Border thinking, on the other hand, which originates from coloniality not from ancient Greek thought, has epistemic potential to decolonize dominant intellectual thought/knowledge—logo and Eurocentric knowledges.   Border thinking is a complement to deconstruction and postmodern theories.



Border thinking entails a double critique that recovers and materialized subaltern knowledges, which make possible an “other way of thinking” (67). Border thinking not only changes content of conversation but the perspectives and terms through which conversations are had (70).  It disrupts dichotomous concepts which currently orders the world by thinking from dichotomous concepts (85).  It disrupts the epistemic hegemony deriving from post-Enlightenment reasoning that currently drives colonialism (88). 


 Interestingly, Mignolo complains that Occidentalism is of main concern to Latin American subaltern knowledges.  He acknowledges that usefulness of post colonial theory but points out the exclusion of Latin America from that theoretical lens.  Post-occidentalism, then, might better describe border thinking deriving from Latin America.  He wants us to understand “subaltern reason…as a diverse set of theoretical practices emerging from and responding to colonial legacies at the intersection of Euro/American modern history” (95).   He differentiates between postcolonial theories (academic commodities) and postcolonial theorizing (“thinking process in which people living under colonial domination had to enact in order to negotiate their life and subaltern condition”) (100).   “Post colonial theorizing as a particular enactment of the subaltern reason coexists with colonialism itself as a constant move and force toward autonomy and liberation in every order of life, from economics to religion, from language to education, from memories to spatial order, and it is not limited to the academy, even less to the U.S. academy” (100). 








Key concepts and points:


Colonial difference:  space where coloniality of power is enacted; space where subaltern knowledge and where border thinking takes place; space where global designs (globalization) meet local histories and are adapted, adopted, rejected, integrated, or ignored; physical and imaginary location where coloniality of power confronts dichotomous local cosmologies


Homogenous entities such as Latin America, the U.S. France, etc. are part of the “imaginary of the modern/colonial world system. They reveal and they occlude.  They are also the grounding of a system of geopolitical values, of racial configurations, and of hierarchical structures of meaning and knowledge” (170).  Local histories constituted of changing global designs question” all national/colonial forms of indenfication in modern/colonial world system…[ which] contribute to the imaginary and coloniality of power and knowledge implicit in the geopolitical configurations of the world” (171).


Theories travel, are transcultured, and become objects 174.  We need to “think more about when and why a theory that was produced to account for a type of question, problem, and historical situation in a geopolitical and geohistorical location within a local history becomes a global design, is desired and invited to a new locale (183).  Theories are marked with coloniality of power. 


National and cultural identities are just one kind of historical sensibility (192).


Provincializing Europe—Europe’s acquistion of adjective modern for itself….


Creoleness—mode of being, thinking and writing in subaltern language, from subaltern perspective and using and appropriating hegemonic language


Border thinking entails inhabiting language in tension with colonial language (245).  We are the words begiing writing (qtd. on 245).


Border thinking is plurilogical and plurilingual; throught billanguaging, we find and create new forms of logic.


Bilanguaging is a way of life – 264.  It engages needs and desires to eact the politics and ethics of liberation; it is way of life between languages:  a dialogical , ethic, aesthetic, and political process of social transformation rather than energeia emanating froma an isolated speaker (265).


Bilanguaging as a way of iving in languages in a transnational world, as an educational and epistemological project, rests on the critique of reason, of disciplinary structures, and cultures of scholarship complicitous with national and imperial languages ( 273).


Global designs:  transform the structure of the coloniality of power within the imperial conflict and the logic of the modern world system. 



Transdisciplinarity is effective means to decolonize knowledge….



Mignolo—The Idea of Latin America


As Mignolo so clearly explains, this book is an “excavation of the imperial/colonial foundation of the ‘idea’ of Latin America that will help us unravel the geo-politics of knowledge from the perspective of coloniality, the untold and unrecognized historical counterpart of modernity” (xi).   Important to recognize in terms of methodology is the framework in which his scholarship is situated—one Arturo Escobar has called the modernity/coloniality reseach project (xiii).  The following presumptions underlie this framework:

  • There is no modernity without coloniality; coloniality constituted of modernity
  • Modern/colonial world originated in 16th centrury; invention of America is colonial component of modernity
  • Enlightenment and industrial revolution—colonial matrix of power
  • Modernity—name for historical processs in which Europe bean its progress toward global hegemony, which carries dark side of coloniality
  • Capitalism is essence of modernity and darker side of coloniality
  • Capitalism and modernity took on new momentum at end of WWII with rise of US imperial power-xiii


The perspective of coloniality, which is very much influenced by Fanon, is situated within an-other intellectual paradigm based on both geo-political and bio-graphical location.  This intellectual paradigm, a decolonial paradigm, does not negate other knowledges; instead it strives for co-existence among other knowledges without negation—xvii.  It uses dialogue for utopistic aims—critique on past to imagine and construct future possible worlds-xix.  The theory that drives this intellectual paradigm is what Mignolo calls decolonial theory, which can be thought of as a “theory arising from the projects for decolonization of knowledge and being that will lead to the imagining of economy and politics otherwise” (xx).  Mignolo’s book employs and embodies decolonial theory as it attempts to contribute to the “decolonization of knowledge and being; an attempt to rewrite history following an-other logic, and an-other language, an-other thinking” (xx). 


Mignolo explains that the methodology of decolonization entails changing terms of conversation not content, as occurs with border thinking.  Mignolo claims that border thinking is exploding on the scene is south America right now under the title of inter-culturalad, which acknowledges that two cosmologies (indigenous and Western) can operate at once –can co-exist-9.  Again, negation is not goal; coexistence is.  Los Coracoles (Mexican economic and political orgnaziations) and Amawtay Wasi (Ecuadorian university) make use of co-existence and interaction of knowledges to create future possibilities beyond imperial paradigms.  An indigenous ethos is at work in these institutions that draw on multiple languages, memories, knowledges, ways of life, and dignities to create new paradigms of thought!  – 128 


In describing these projects, Mignolo identifies a new logic at work on both state and grassroot level in South America that draws on decolonial theory and are waging an epistemic battle with Western knowledge – 100.  New leaders are arising that draw on an-other logic in their struggle for changing the geography of knowledge and liberation – 100.  As Mignolo explains, this other knowledge requires understanding how knowledge and subjectivity are intertwined with modernity/coloniality – 106.  It also demands changing the terms as Afro-Andeans are doing when they create new theoretical concepts that allow them to conceptualize themselves differently – 112.   Lo propio for instance is a “frame for ‘appropriating’ concepts or ideas and redefining them through the colonial wound” 113. 


Such framing is key to developing new ways of thinking beyond modernity; for as Mignolo says, you “cannot envision alternative to modernity if the principles of knowledge you hold, and the structure of reasoning you follow, are molded by the hegemonic rhetoric of modernity and the hidden logic of coloniality working through it (114).  “An-other thinking requires a change in the terms, content and questions” (114). 


Mignolo demonstrates how the Zapatistas draw on decolonial critical theory and make radicals shifts in the geopolitics and body politics of knowledge (115).  One useful strategy they uses is delinking, which believes other ways of knowing are possible and necessary and the best solutions for decolonization 117.  Mignolo also makes clear that bilinigual education is so important because we think from language; therefore, new language affords us access to new logics -118  Mignolo credits Anzaldua for modeling this possibility so perfectly; he claims that while Descarte shifted intellectual paradigm from theological to egological form of knowledge (I think therefore I am), Anzaluda shifted intellectual paradigm from egological to geo-graphical and bio-graphical centered way of thinking-135


Mignolo ends by claiming that border thinking is the catalyst for an “after-America” movement that is eroding ethnic and geographic frontiers. Changing the content won’t do it.  we must form new logics 161






Key Terms:


Colonialism—refers to historical and geographical locations while coloniality refers to underlying matrix of colonial power 69


Coloniality:  attempts to unveil embedded logic that enforces control, domination, and exploitation disguised in the language of salvation, progress, modernization, and being good for everyone- 6.  Logical structure of colonial domination, which helps control and manage entire planet -7  logic of domination in modern/colonial world – 7;


Locus of enunciation—geo-politics of language; place from which knowledge is created and articulated – 8 local historical grounding of knowledge-10 


Occidentalism—from where rest of world is descriped, conceptualized, and ranked – 35  locus of enunciation, not just field of study as Said says, from which orientalism was created -42 


Colonial matrix—1.)economic: of land and control of finance; 2.) political: control of authority; 3. ) civic:  control of gender and sexuality; 4.) epistemic and subjective/personal:  control of knowledge and subjectivity


Geopolitics of epistemology:  uneven distribution of knowledge -44


Americanity—grounded in idea that there isn’t just one history of world; attempt to recover official histories


Historico-structural heterogeneity—historical processes interacting, coexisting – 48 provides theoretical anchor in the perspective of local histories and languages instead of grand narratives;  space made available for multiple and contesting perspectives and historical processes – 49









 “culture” served colonial purpose in classifying alien and inferior cultures- xvii


western hemispher produced wisdom, western Europe produced knowledge  1


border thinking consequence of colonial difference 10


the vital breath of western thought is reason; reason of ‘rectilinear time’ – 51


idea of latin America—it is land rich in raw resources and cheap labor—12


perspective vs. interpretation:  perspective based on locally situated rules and principles of knowledge while interpretation based on common and shared principle of knowledges and rules – 13


decolonial epistemic shifts understanding modernity form perspective of coloniality while postmodernity means understanding   modernity from within modernity itself-34








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Wallerstein, Immanuel European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power


In this tiny but powerful collection of essays adapted from various conference presentations, Wallerstein traces contemporary rhetorics of modernity back to the Sepulveda/Las Casas debate in the 1500s over who has the right to intervene, when, and how in the treatment of Amerindians who were forced to labor in the Spanish system of ecomienda in South America.  As Wallerstein explains, today appeals to European universalism are alive in well the rhetorics of modernity that establishes a right to intervention (including war) in defense of human rights and democracy, its authority as superior civilization based on universal values and truths, and the lack of viable alternative to neoliberal economics. Wallerstein demonstrates that the universal values of civilization, economic growth and development, and/or progress, are passed as natural law today as justifications for impeding on “noncivilized” nations.  These values, however, are not universal; in fact, they bleed of the longstanding justifications to colonize so-called “barbarians.”  For instance, the four justifications of ‘civilized” communities to intervene in “un-civilized” zones are:  barbarity of others, ending practices that violate universal values, defense of innocent among cruelity of others, and the possibility of spreading universal values.  Wallerstein cleverly demonstrates how these justifications were at work in the Sepulveda/Las Casas debate as well as the recent interventions in Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, etc.  Wallerstein wants his readers to realize that these universal values are nothing more than Eurocentric ethics and values imposed on the world and used to maintain structural power and dominance.  Even the postmodern viewpoint that we should be intellectually and politically tolerant of mulitiple views is an Eurocentric ideal. 


Wallerstein says the ultimate challenge for us is how we can create an alternative framework that allows us not to be orientalist.  “To be non-Orientalist means to accept the continuing tension between the need to universalize our perceptions, analyses, and statements of values and the need to defend their partiucularlist roots against the incursion of the particularist perceptions, analyses, and statements of values coming from others who are claiming they are forwarding universals” (49).    We need to dialogue about our need to universalize the particulars and our need to particularize the universals (49). 


He also exlains that capitalistic modernity is contingent on three elements of what he calls cultural-intellectual scaffolding:  combination of universalistic norms and racist-sexist practices; a centrist neoliberal geoculture; and epistemic knowledge that divides the world into the civilized and non-civilized-54.  Scientific universalism is, in Wallerstein’s eyes, the last and most powerful European universalism alive and well in the Western university system today.  Yet even scientific universalism is in crises today. 


So in sum:  three great European universalisms:  right of those to intervene based on ownership of universal values (moral justification to dominate); Orientalism (intellectual justification to dominate) ; scientific universalism (ideological justification to dominate).


Wallerstein says our biggest challenge is how to move beyond Eurpean universalism—to a “’universal universalism,’ which refuses essentialist characterizations of social reality, historicizes both the universal and the particular, reunifies the so-called scientific and humanistic into a single epistemology, and persmits us to look with a highly clinical and quite skeptical eyes at all justificantions for ‘intervention’ by the powerful against the weak” (79).  As intellectuals, we must operate at analyst in search of truth, moral person in search of good and beauty, and political persona seeking to unify good and beautiful (80).  The key question we must ask ourselves is how we can use our knowledge and expertise in the transitional phases we find ourselves (82).  We need to hystoricize by placing object of study in larger context/historical construct as he did with the contemporary rhetorics of power (82).  

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Villanueva, Victor “Memoria is a Friend of Ours: On the Discourse of Color”

In this essay, Villanueva interwines poetry, narrative, and memory to disrupt traditional academic conventions where memory  and emotion have no legitimate place.  Academic discourse, according to Villanueva, is too logocentric in its effort to “reach the Aristotelian ideal of being completely logocentric, though it cannot be freed of the ethical appeal to authority” (12).  Villanueva argues that we need to realize that “the personal” does not have to negate the academic desires to be rational and objective; instead the personal can complement the intellect by produting cognition and affect.  The personal, Villanueva says, is intellectual.  Villanueva also wants us to understand the role that narrative plays in the life of one of color to facilitate memory of possibility realized, processes discovered and openings found.  Memoria, which use to be one of the most important canons of rhetorics, has been relegated to the wayside—a prophecy Plato himself foresaw.  Villanueva wants to reinvigorate the role of memory in rhetoric through narrative.  As he writes, “The narrative of people of color jog our memories as a collective in a scattered world and within an ideology that praises individualism.”  For Latino/a(s), language “contains the interconnectedness among identity, memory, and the personal” as evident in the famous Puerto Rican and Cuban saying Te doy un cuento de mi historia—“’I’ll give you my story about my history’:  me, history and memory, and a story” (16).   Therefore, for people of color, as should be true for all of us, “personal discourse, the narrative, the auto/biography, helps in [the effort of intellectual formation], is a necessary adjunct to the academic” (17).   Therefore, we “must invited [Memoria] into our classrooms and into our scholarship” (19).


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Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture—Chapter 1 “The Postcolonial and the Postmodern”


Bhaba combines interdisciplinary theories into one dense package.  Modernity=order, progress, central meaning, linearity.  Postmodernism=art and lit. movement, no central meaning; everything is text with no single interpretation; everything is text; neo-Marxism drives postmodern theory=agency less important because individual is always constituted with institutional indoctrination and culture always speak through us and ideology is interpolated in us; death of the author; we are discourse; Deconstruction= no center, no meaning, no hierarchy; in different versions of postmodernity, agency is marginalized and thus marginalize agencies were oppressed.  Some modernists recognize dominant and marginal cultures but talk about marginal cultures in discourse of victimhood; dichotomy and binary results and no agency is given to marginal agent.   Talk in power relations and deny subaltern agents productive role. 


How does marginal culture survive???????


Bhaba says agency is important and asks whose voice is talking.  He proposes that we reconfigure discourse of cultural difference because discourse of victimhood is unuseful.  Remember Mignolo’s notion of coevalness.  Enlightenment first denied coevalness.  Now technology denies the denial of coevalness.   Technology allows simultaneous study.  Bhaba says coevalness is not enough.  We must reconceive history, as well as time, and cultural signs.  He reminds us that “culture as a strategy of survival is both transnational and translational” (247).  Transnational because contemporary postcolonial discourses are rooted in histories of cultural displacement; translational because spatial histories of displacement complicate our understanding of how culture signifies and what is signified by culture (247).  Cultural translation becomes a “complex form of signification,” which a postcolonial perspective can help decipher because it resists binary structures of opposition, holistic forms of social explanation, and “forces a recognition of the more complex cultural and political boundaries that exist on the cusp of these often opposed political spheres” –the hybrid location of culture (248). 


In this chapter, Bhabha explores the role of the postcolonial perspective in postmodern discourse, critical theory, and historiography and calls for “a radical revision of the social temporality in which emergent histories may be written, the rearticulation of the ‘sign’ in which cultural identities may be inscribed” (246).   Bhabha challenges us to consider hybrid locations of cultural value embedded in historical traditions of cultural contingency and textual indeterminacy, which give agency to the subaltern subject, which if understood would “transform our understanding of the narrative of modernity and the ‘values of progress’” (249).  No longer can we take a unified sense of culture community for granted, a people from various cultures “produce incompatible systems of signification and engage distinct forms of social subjectivity” (252).  Bhabi calls for us to step outside the “sentence” or discourse of victimhood when we discuss marginal communities.  He calls for a epistemological focus of culture to a focus of culture as enunciation, which is a “more dialogical process that attempts to track displacements and realignments that are the effects of cultural antagonisms and articulations—subverting the rationale of the hegemonic moment and relocating alternative, hybrid sites of cultural negotiation”—his ultimate objective being a “process by which objectified others may be turned into subjects of their history and experience” (255).   According to Bhabha, what is created in the enunciative present is ambivalence, which opens up “new forms of identification that may confuse the continuity of historical temporalities, confound the ordering of cultural symbols, traumatize tradition” (257).  We must move “beyond theory,” claims Bhabha, to “create space for the contingent, indeterminate articulation of social ‘experience’ that is particularly important for envisaging emergent cultural identities” (257).  After all, it is “a representation of social experience as the contingency of history—the indeterminacy that makes subversion and revision possible” (257).

            Moving “beyond theory” of binaries, victimhood, centrality, etc. will help us understand how this location of culture is a means of historical agency that sits among another subversive strategies such as mimicry, hybridity, sly civility, to produce subaltern agency that “negotiates its own authority” (265).  Although it may come across as social contradiction or antagonism, the “problematic of contingency strategically” in fact “ allows for a spatial contiguity…to be (re)articulated in the moment of indeterminacy,” which allows agent to “emerge into the social realm of discourse” (268 and 271).  As Hannah Arendt reminds us, this indeterminacy is created in part because the subaltern agent is always a site of tension between the who of the individual self and the what of the subjective realm (271).  Yet, this tension is productive; “it is the contingency that constitutes individuation—in the return of the subject as agent—that protects the interest of the intersubjective realm” (272).  As Bhabha explains, this site produces “a process of reinscription and negotiation—the insertion or intervention of something that takes on new meaning—[which] happens in the temporal break in-between the sign, deprived of subjectivity, in the realm of the intersubjective realm” (274).  What ultimately emerges is the “process of agency both as a historical development and as the narrative agency of historical discourse” (275).  This process can be articulated as a moment of revision in which the subaltern agent enacts (re)orders symbols in order to appropriate signs originally deprived of the subject in order to create subjectivity aiming at rediscovering truth—an this process is a theoretical form of political agency (275 and 278).   This form of political agency, what Das calls a historiography of the subaltern, is made possible by the strategic use of ambivalence and the historical use of historical contingency and makes possible the interrogation of modernity (278) .

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Said– “Overlapping Territories, Intertwined Histories” –Chapter 1 from CULTURE AND IMPERIALISM

Dominant powers interested in defining homogenous culture so it is easier to manage and within the culture, people want to homogenize culture to gather power against dominant forces….


 “History, in other words, is not a calculating machine.  It unfolds in the mind and the imagination, and it takes body in the multifarious responses of a people’s culture, itself the infinitely subtle mediation of material realities, of underpinning economic fact, of gritty objectives” (Basil Davidson, AFRICA IN MODERN HISTORY).


Said begins this discussion with T.S. Eliot’s claim that writers must have a historical sense.  “This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional.  And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity.  No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone” (4). Said reminds us that “how we formulate or represent the past shapes our understanding and views of the present” (4).


Said defines imperialism as “thinking about, settling on, and controlling land that you do not possess, that is distant, that is lived on and owned by others” (7).   “Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography.  That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings” (8). A more formal definition of imperialism by Said is “practice, theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory; colonialism implants settlements and distant territories and is result of imperialism (9).  Thus, imperialism is result of political, ideological, economic, and social practices (9).


Said says that the American empire is founded on the idea of imperialism even though it couches its intentions in altruism and opportunity (9). Said says that today we do not spend enough time interrogating how the authority of our ideas subjugates other peoples and territories (12). Said wants to know how culture–education, literature, visual and musical arts- is complicit in imperialism (12). Culture is complicit in imperialism because it creates “‘structures of feeling” that support, elaborate, and consolidate the practice of empire” (14).  “Far from being unitary or monolithic or autonomous things, cultures actually assume more ‘foreign’ elements, alterities, differences, than they consciously exclude” (15).


Said also explains that we most often create “useful pasts” in which we exclude unwanted elements, vestiges, and narratives (15). The manufacture of rituals, ceremonies, and traditions give authority to imperializing cultures (16). Said says that one of the tragedies of imperialism is the “limitations of the attempts to deal with relationships that are polarized, radically uneven, remembered differently” (18).  In conducting a comparative literature of imperialism, Said models the ways in which we can look at “different experience contrapuntally as making up a set of what [he] calls intertwined and overlapping histories…[or a] network of interdependent histories (18-19). Contemporary discourse “assumes the primacy and even the complete centrality of the West;” this 

Colonization is dependent on acceptance of colonization.  But colonized are always waiting to for their turn to uprise–see Gua “dominance without hegemony”




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“Codex Scripts of Resistance: From Columbus to the Border Patrol” Damian Baca


In “Codex Scripts of Resistance: From Columbus to Border Control,” Damian Baca (Yeah CCR!) rocks the C & R Ranch with a compelling rhetorical analysis of Mestiz@ rhetorics of resistance and challenges us to reconceptualize our ethnocentric, alphacentric, hegemonic views and pedagogies of rhetoric and writing. Baca, more specifically, analyzes the pictographic rhetorics of the 2000 Codex Espangliensis: From Columbus to the Border Patrol and demonstrates an emerging rhetoric at work in the form of dialectical oppositions and reversals. These distinct rhetorical strategies, which fuse and embellish traditional methods of Mesoamerican pictography into Anglo-European inscription practices, “revise and displace the dominant historical narrative of cultural assimilation through continuous symbolic play with pairs, doubles, corresponding expressions and twins” (105). In addition, the Codex Espangliensis critiques Spanish colonization of the Americas, North American economic and cultural imperialism, the Northern Free Trade Agreement, in particular, and globalization’s impact on immigration, language, and popular culture (106).

Baca begins with a broad description of the Codex Espangliensis, and then quickly delves into the history of the Mesoamerican codex, which Baca describes as “semasiographic, a configuration of permanently recorded marks that signify thought, ideas, and imagery rather than visible speech” (111). Baca explains that Mesoamerican codices were denigrated and demonized during Spanish colonization. Replacing the Mesoamerican codices were colonial codices, which intended to colonize Mexican minds and reconstruct and reorganize Mesoamerican memory (118). These codices, even if crafted by Aztecs themselves, presented a historical narrative from the dominant Spanish perspective through illustrations set beside “the Spanish-Iberian alphabet and an alphabetized Nahuatl, the new prevailing tools of literacy and civilization in the borderlands” (119). Mesoamerican pictographic traditions did not disappear altogether, however; Baca explains that Mesoamerican rhetorics persisted in non-codex genres such as scrolls, lienzos, and techialoyan, otherwise known as “landbooks” (119) (See images below).

As a new era of economic and cultural imperialism and globalization arose in the 20th century, Chicano murals became a popular form of rhetorical resistance to contemporary injustices. Artists such as Diego Rivera and Alfaro Siqueiros employed ancient Aztec writing practices with new Marxist ideals, yet much art produced at this time was interpreted as separate from “true” Anglo-European concepts of writing (120). Baca makes clear, however, that Mesoamerican pictography has maintained a pronounced presence until the present day even if Anglo-European biases toward Mexican writing still persist, Aztec pictographic rhetoric is absent from contemporary conceptions of rhetoric, and Mesoamerican pictographic texts have been reduced to “quaint artifacts of an apparently extinct culture” (122).

Fortunately, Baca explains, anthropologists, archeologists, and art historians are working to revise conceptions of Mesoamerican codex writing. Two of the most important scholars engaged in this work are Elizabeth Boon Hill and Miguel Leon-Portilla. While Hill argues that Mesoamerican pictographs need to be interpreted as independent writing systems, Leon-Portilla “presents evidence for an Aztec pictographic rhetorical tradition and compares several alphabetic and pictographic versions of indigenous texts to show how ‘an authentic thread of the Mesoamerican cultural weaving’ can be reached” (124). In addition, Leon-Portilla working with Ines Hernandez-Avila demonstrates that Mesoamerican rhetorical manifestations of dual expressions and symbolic oppositions exist in contemporary writing practices, which they identify as “Yancuic Tlahtolli” (125). In this chapter, Baca analyzes these dual expressions and symbolic oppositions and interprets them as rhetorical strategies of resistance, which work against “a backdrop of colonial subjugation and resistances in the Americas…[and] revise the dominant narrative of assimilation” (125).

Baca begins the focus of his analysis on the exhibit The Chicano Codex: Encountering Art of the Americas, which Baca claims “illustrates syncretic rhetorical processes that express and enact commentary about these conventions and the hierarchical tensions between notation/illustration, writing/art, and temporal distinctions between sixteenth century Christianization and twentieth century global capitalism” (126). Baca draws on the artist Cherrie Moraga to describe the exhibit as a “anti-colonial map,” moving backward and forward in time between Mesoamerica and contemporary Mestiz@ codices to “advance a rhetorical process of reactivation and variation” (127). Baca uses the remapping as a framework to analyze the Codex Espangliensis, which he claims is “perhaps the most revisionist codex ever assembled and one that directly addresses colonial narratives of assimilation” (127).

The Codex Espangliensis is the product of a collaborative effort between lithographer Enrique Chagoya, performance artist and cultural critic Guillermo Gómez Peña and Felicia Rice, a book artist. Rather than summarize Baca’s rich rhetorical analysis of the Codex Espangliensis, I excerpt a number of compelling analytical insights that Baca presents throughout this section. (See the images from Codex Espangliensis in blog entry below.)

The manuscript conveys a tale of civilizing missions, colonial conquests, and rhetorical heterogeneity using Spanglish, Mesoamerican pictography, twentieth century Mexican iconography, and transnational corporate imagery to weave yet another mythic retelling of history (128-9).

The reversal of Europe and Mesoamerica in the Codex Espangliensis’ remapping of world history works to dislodge the integrity of Christianization and the dogma of European assimilation as they have operated in the past and continue today. Moreover, this retelling constructs a new perspective of global history that emerges from the lived experiences of the México/United States border (129).

Between the borders of Latin America and Anglo America, between a so-called developing nation and monopolizing capitalism, between the Aztec and the European, the Codex Espangliensis critiques across both real and imagined boundaries of a brutal, globalized world (129).

Because narrative and logical order are ultimately not fixed in the text, each folio or screen simultaneously functions as a potential beginning, middle, or end. Multiple reading orders represent an anti-colonial collage, a set of variations around themes of colonialism and civilizing missions. Fundamental Aristotelian laws of aesthetic invention and organization that demand a linear beginning, middle and end are therefore called into question. The material practice of reading the Codex requires a complex visual dance, forward and back, sometimes circular, other times broken (130).

Metiz@ rhetorics: “the available means of identification that are mediated at the intersection of knowledge constructed by the dominance of Western colonialism on the one hand, and on the other hand, knowledge emerging from anti-colonial perspectives in the borderlands” (131).

Rhetorical Strategies Identified in the Codex Rhetorics –

Intermediation: “satirical fusion of two language systems that, when intertwined, supports no intelligible meaning in either tongue” Ex.) Espangliensis

Difrasismo — Combining of different terms to convey new ideas and abstractions; ex.) Yancuic Tlahtolli

Syncretic play with pairs, doubles, corresponding expressions, and twins — repetitive invocation of dualism which is a “metaphorical communicative device central to Mesoamerican cosmology” (135). Baca explains that syncretic movement in the Codex, which relies greatly on juxtaposition of text and image, past and present, necessitates new ways of reading and knowing that “’invent between’” syncretic visions and revisions of geographical colonialism and economic imperialism” (130).

Symbolic oppositions and reversals – “Gómez-Peña’s symbolic reversals and expressions across borders subvert the hierarchies of power between opposites. By inventing between cultural paradigms, codex rhetorics enact possibilities beyond them” (140).

Through these rhetorical strategies, “The Codex warns of…a shift in diction from geographical colonialism to cultural imperialism, from Cortéz to Free Trade, from Columbus to the Border Patrol, a shift that maintains power structures through a thinly veiled rhetoric of popular culture and advertising. Critically reading such colonial power also provokes a global border consciousness, a strategic departure from the site-specific concept of the México/United States borderlands” (140).

Baca concludes his chapter by discussing how Mesoamerican pictography and Mexican iconography are valuable methods of inscription that disrupt the hegemonic view that Western literacy and alphabetic and syllabic systems are the apex of written communication. Drawing on semiotics, Baca challenges readers to expand their conceptions of “graphic interactions,” conceive of Mesoamerican pictographs as parallel and equally valuable systems of writing, and begin focusing on the significant role illustration and image play within language. One of Baca’s most important points is that “If, rather than theorizing rhetoric and writing based on the pedagogically vanguard “Composing-East-to-West” trajectory, specialists instead accept Mestiz@ codices as starting points, we are then left with expressions better suited to emerging non-Western rhetorics as well as current material realities in America and beyond” (143). Ultimately, this realization will help us confront the problematic tendency to link literacy with alphabetic writing–a deeply embedded notion that limits our understanding of “co-evolutionary or parallel histories of writing and rhetoric in the Americas” (144).


I really appreciate the work Baca has done here and the space he carves out for scholars like me who want to conduct similar scholarship. My interest in non-discursive and material rhetorics stems from the same desire he has to expand our conceptions of rhetoric and broaden our understanding of how ancient and contemporary “non-western” cultures use symbols to communicate persuasively. As Baca points out, at the moment, we have such a narrow conception of how inscription behaves rhetorically outside traditional Greco-Roman conceptions of rhetoric. His work is among many contemporary scholars attempting to broaden our perceptions; I hope his book is well received in the field.

I am very interested in the rhetorical strategies Baca identifies at work in the Codex, specifically how image-text works in the Codex to challenge the binary of word/image in our culture and in our field. Baca’s use of the word “inscription” is a clever means to encompass the full range of symbols used in the codices for rhetorical means. I was particularly fascinated with the juxtapositions between Mesomerican pictography, twentieth century Mexican iconography, and transnational corporate imagery and appreciate the humor in the codex’s satirical nature. (Lord of Cross-Cultural Misunderstanding especially cracks me up but strikes a disturbing chord as well.)

I am very curious about the similar rhetorical strategies I see at work between Latina/o rhetorics and Native American rhetorics. The use of difrasmismo, for instance, which Baca discusses, is a rhetorical strategy Powell employs in her discussion of survivance (survival plus resistance) and that Cobb uses in her discussion of communitist texts (community plus activism or activist). I notice that Baca describes the rhetorical strategies at work in the Codex as “tactics,” a concept Powell also employs. I wonder too if the Codex and the exhibit act as forms of communitism for the artists—a wondering that assumes that all art is cathartic in some way.

I admire the way the artists that Baca represents (Montoya, Moraga, Chagoya, Gomez Pena and Rice) enact a rhetorics of sovereignty and appreciate Baca’s challenge for us to honor those rhetorics in our pedagogies and our worldviews of rhetoric. I hear Baca asking for us to listen in similar ways as Powell, Lyons, and Bruegemann.

I want to know where and when this project began, how it evolved, and what Baca’s research process was? What were his major exams in (don’t laugh cohort!)? What figures, texts, theories, etc. do I need to draw on to understand the connections between globalization and rhetoric in global contexts?

I am interested in the fact that Baca doesn’t attempt to demonstrate how Mestiz@ rhetorics share features of traditional Greco-Roman rhetoric nor attempt to explain these rhetorical practices with reference to Western rhetorical theorists. I am curious to know if he makes connections across cultures and draws on Western rhetorical theorists at some point in his book. I imagine his answer will be no since he is determined for readers to see these ancient and contemporary rhetorical practices in their own right and not to conflate this form of writing with Western forms. Yet I wonder if he deems it valuable to make cross connections both in terms of practices and theories.

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Ricouer: “What is text?” and “Metaphor and the problem of Interpretation”

Paul Ricoeur “What is a text? Explanation and understanding” from Hermeneutics and the human sciences. 1981.

In this article, Ricoeur attempts to deconstruct the binary between explanation and interpretation. Explanation, he explains, is thought to be borrowed from the natural sciences and is a central tool of positivism. Interpretation, on the other hand, as the main form of understanding, is thought to be specific to the human sciences and responsible for the division between the two sciences. Ricoeur explains, however, that for one, explanation is actually derived from the sphere of language and more specifically linguistics and two, explanation and interpretation are not opposites per se; rather, they have a complementary and reciprocal relationship and through reading are ultimately reconciled. By complicating the suppossed binary between scientific and philosophical interpretations of interpretation, Ricouer attempts to illustrate how interpretaton uses methodology to develop a hidden meaning of a text. Interpretation is thus both a scientific and philosophical practice.

In order to illustrate this point, Ricoeur begins by addressing the question, what is a text?. Asking this question allows him to explore the act of reading, an act where explanation and interpretation confront one another. Ricouer defines a text as “a discourse fixed by writing” (146). Several “upheavals” occur when writing replaces speech. One, unlike speech in which a speaker presents a “real” world to an interlocuter, the text, represents an imaginary world because of gaps in the text’s references, which ultimately must be filled by the reader. The author also becomes less distinct; the author of the text is constituted by the text rather than be self-designated and immediately identifiable as in speech. This distancing of the author from the text necessitates both explanation and interpretation in order to derive meaning from a text.

Structuralists claim that meaning is revealed through the structure of a text or more precisely, by analyzing the “logic of operations which interconnect” the relations between lower and higher units of language and the actants and actions within the narrative of the text (155). Text, in a sense, then is closed; it is both worldless and authorless. But Ricouer claims that explaining the structure of a closed text does not totally reveal the meaning of a text. Nor does it constitute reading. Reading is made possible because texts “opens out onto other things. To read is…to conjoin a new discourse to the discourse of the text. This conjuction of discourses reaveals, in the very constitution of the text, an original capacity for renewal which is its open character. Interpretaton is the concrete outcome of conjunction and renewal” (158).

Interpretation can be understood as appropriation in three senses. In one sense, the ultimate outcome of interpreting a text is self-understanding (158). In other sense, through interpretation, we make “one’s own what was initially alien” (159). In other words, interpretation overcomes cultural distance because we come to understand the world as well as the self. In the last sense, interpretation can be thought of as appropriation because we gain meaning from the text in the present. The subject of a text then is the world and the reader herself. Meaning is derived with a “realization of the discourse of the reading subject” and the culture around them (159). In this sense, a text takes on both a semiological dimension and a semantic dimension (159).

Ricouer thinks structural analysis is the first stage of constructing a critical interpretation. As he explains it: structural analysis can be regarded as “a stage—and a necessary one—between a naïve and a critical interpretation, between a surface and a depth interpretation, then it seems possible to situate explanation and interpretation along a unique hermeneutical arc and to integrate the opposed attitudes of explanation and understanding within an overall conception of reading as the recovery of meaning” (161).

He goes on to say that if we consider interpretation as revealing the here and now of the text’s intention, we must realize that we are not referring to the “presumed intention” of the author/writer but instead the text’s intention. Most simply then, “to explain is to bring out the structure, that is, internal relations of dependence which constitute the statistics of the text; to interpret is to follow the path of thought opened up by the text, to place oneself en route towards the orient of the text” (162). In this sense, a text objectively interprets itself through the process of signification. Drawing on Aristotle, Ricouer claims “interpretation is interpretation by language before being interpretation of language” (163).

Interpretation is not subjective in Ricouer’s eyes because it is possible to “depsychologise” interpretation and connect it with the text (164). Because of the relation between the text, the structure, and the realized meanings, interpretations are supported by the text. Appropriation as self-understanding, meaning-making, and cultural understanding is final act of reading derived through suspension of interpretation.

“Reading [in turn] is the concrete act in which the destiny of the text is fulfilled. It is at the very heart of reading that explanation and interpretation are indefinitely opposed and reconciled” (164).

“Metaphor and the central problem of hermeneutics” from same text

Ricouer begins by addressing two problems of hermeneutics concerning interpretation’s field of application and its epistemological specificity. Application is tricky because in written texts are autonomous (texts are independent of authorial intention, situaion of work, and original reader) and thus discourse must speak for itself. Epistemologically, interpretation is tricky because of its supposed opposition to explanation—the key to objective science. These two problems lead other scholars to believe in interpretation’s larger problem—that of subjectivity.

To get at this issue, Ricouer says we must go back to the binary of explanation vs. interpretation. Believing in the power of the hermeneutic circle, he explores metaphor as a “work in minature” (166). Work, by the way, according to Ricouer, is “the closed sequence of discourse which can be considered a text” (166). Ricouer explains that “all discourse is realized as an event but understood as meaning” (167) and since a living metaphor is both event and meaning, then it is justified to develop a deeper understanding of texts through exploration of metaphor.

Meaning of metaphor is dependent on context as well as on associations with commonplaces and cultural rules as well as semantic and syntactic rules. To understand new metaphors, we construct a network of interactions by directing our attention to the enitre semantic event, which is constituted by intersecting semantic fields (174). We construct meaning of text in a similar way.

Interpretation of text as well as metaphor is a dialectic of guessing and validating. Construction of interpretation in both cases depends on clues from the text and probability, which is determined both by facts from texts and connotations. Imagination comes into play.

“The world is the totality of references opened up by texts” (177). “Texts speak of possible worlds and of possible ways of orienting oneself in these worlds” (177). Interpretation thus becomes the apprehension of the proposed worlds which are opened up by the non-ostensive references of the text” (177). To interpret means to open one’s self to those possible worlds which texts discloses or opens up.

Ricoeur believes in the ability of the hermeneutic circle to make what is alien in a text familiar. The underlying principle of the hermeneutic circle according to the thinkers of Romanticism is that pre-understanding leads to interpretation leads to deeper self-understanding. Yet, “the hermeneutical circle is not correctly understood when it is presented, first, as a circle between two subjectivities, that of the reader and that of the author; and second, as the projection of the subjectivity of the reader into the reading itself” (178).

In terms of text, understanding parts leads to understanding of whole which leads to deeper understanding of parts. Therefore, according to Ricouer, the text directs itself to possible interpretations. Also, we need to think of a reader understanding herself “in front of a text, in front of the world of the work” (178). Standing in front of a text means that we do not project our own beliefs and prejudices onto the text; instead we “let the work and its world enlarge the horizon of the understanding which I have of my self” (178). Interpretation is ontological in this sense.

Essentially, what Ricouer aims to do is demonstrate that explanation of metaphor contributes to the interpretation of the whole text (180). He thus demonstrates through the hermeneutic circle and structural analysis that interpretation is to some extent methodolgical. Yet because of interpretation’s ontological nature, Ricouer also demonstrates the philosophical nature of interpretation. His scholarship, then, attempts to reconcile the long term debate between the natural and human sciences over the nature, role and potential of interpretation. Interpretation, in a sense, is both a science and an art, perhaps something in between….


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