The Sunday News
Western philosophy specifically and Western thinking in general puts much premium in the idea of meaning.
The meaning and in other words the truth of things is made to be the whole purpose of researching, thinking and speaking. To think as the act of searching for meanings and truths makes one a complete human being that like Rene Descartes can exclaim: “I think therefore I am!”
Today I posit to highlight the importance of the position or location from which thinking, speaking and writing takes place. Positionality and location cannot be ignored in the process of meaning and knowledge production.
To think, speak and write alone is not enough. From where are we thinking and about what is a principal decolonial question that can only be ignored at the dear price of endorsing Western thinking that carries with it coloniality and epistemic fundamentalisms of all kinds, from racism to sexism, and ableism to ageism.
Before we accept or reject a certain truth or a piece of meaning we must, otherwise, investigate and understand the location and positionality from where it has originated. Thoughts and ideas emerge from somebodies and somewhere. They carry the flavour or the poison of their origins.
The Body Politics of Knowledge
Sociologists and psychologists, combined, still have not explained the statement with which Frantz Fanon concluded his classic; Black Skin White Masks: “Oh my body make of me always a Man who questions!” Was Fanon praying to his body as a competent atheist that did not believe in God and anything or was he so proud of himself that he made a god out his body?
The decolonial interpretation that I proffer here is that Fanon was aware of the human body, including his, as a site of thinking and production of reality. The body carries the senses through which we sense and perceive; and understand our reality and the world.
The first thing that conquerors, in shape of enslavers and colonisers, had to overcome, discipline and dominate was human bodies. Before the land was conquered it is bodies that had to be conquered and disciplined.
What Michel Foucault called “Biopolitics” is the power over bodies that Empire achieved through force and fraud. It is from the body that both conquest and liberation begin.
And as such, the body is a vivid site of power and politics, a locus of enunciation from which we feel, see, think and speak. It is no accident or is it an exaggeration that the Abrahamic religions, that is Judaism, Christianity and Islam refer to the human body as a shrine and a temple. It is important in politics and education to note what body is speaking, from where it is speaking and what it is saying for what reason. That, in short, is the body politics of knowledge. The body is the first locus of enunciation and the positionality and site from where knowledge is produced as feelings and thoughts. Just like people and their bodies, ideas, thoughts and knowledge have a biography that traces their genealogy and provenances. Thoughts and ideas cannot be innocent of biology, history and geography. That is, in essence, the biography of reason that emanates from the body politics of knowledge. The human body is a world of feelings and ideas of and about the world.
The Geopolitics of Knowledge
It is the decolonial feminist, womanist to be precise, Paula Moya, who wrote the influential paper: “Who we are from where we speak.” This paper clarifies the connection between body and geographic location in the production of thoughts and knowledges.
The Argentinean semiotician, Walter Mignolo went further to write another paper titled: “I am where I think” which collapses body identity together with geographical location in a philosophical and possibly spiritual way. People are not only who they are but also where they are.
So, when Empire conquered and dominated bodies it had not finished its work. It had to go on to conquer lands and territories upon which the bodies of human beings are located and also cultured. People’s bodies, their lands and their thoughts cannot be disconnected. The reason why decolonial scholars talk of the “geography of reason” is exactly that geographic location and epistemic reasoning have a symbiotic connection that can only be ignored at the risk of ignorance.
Thinking and speaking happen in a political and spiritual landscape that is located and cultured by the geographic landscape of soil and history. True to Paula Moya and Walter Mignolo, we are who we are and we are where we speak. Ideas are embodied and also landed at the very same time. Before we swallow an idea, in politics and in the academy, it is important to understand its Bodiness and its geopolitics.
The Egopolitics of Knowledge
Most African students and enthusiasts of philosophy make the mistake of thinking that they can also say “I think therefore I am” in reference to their own ability to think and reason. Rene Descartes spoke those words from the Eurocentric ego of Empire.
It was a white, Christian, male, military and western ego that spoke. Rene Descartes, besides being a philosopher was a competent Jesuit and a trained soldier. He was, therefore located on the side of what Mignolo called the “imperial difference.” Frantz Fanon spoke from the “colonial difference” and was not as arrogant as Descartes who declared that he thinks and that he knows. Fanon asked of his body the ability to question and not to give answers and declarations. In that way, Descartes and Fanon spoke from different egos.
Descartes spoke from the position of a conqueror while Fanon took the location of a freedom fighter and philosopher of liberation. It is important therefore, when we receive ideas and knowledge of any kind to appreciate the ego that speaks and from which location it articulates itself.
What is Border Thinking?
Amongst decolonial scholars it is Gloria Anzaldua and Walter Mignolo that popularised the idea of border thinking. Border thinking is an avoidance of fundamentalism. Very easily geopolitics can lead us to nativism where our own territorial and geographic location becomes more important than others. Body politics can also very easily lead us to the fundamentalism of races, sexes, genders and cultures.
Egopolitics can lead us to the essentialism of egos that keeps the divide between identities and locations. Border thinking or thinking from the borders allows us to avoid both First World Fundamentalism and Third World Fundamentalism. We stop the dangerous belief that the world is ours alone and that power and freedom are only deserved by us and not others. We abandon a sense of entitlement to power, privilege and freedom.
Thinking from the boarders means that we can live in a territory but not epistemically dwell on it as a fundamentalism.
We would rather, like Frantz Fanon, ask questions than declare answers the way Descartes would do. Border thinking allows us to think of and about ourselves and also of and about others. The colonial world, as Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni would state, is a world without others where the colonial ego thinks that it is the only ego that has the right to life and the world. Border thinking is liberation thinking.
It gives us a locus of enunciation that is above and beyond ourselves. It allows us to live with different others and to understand that the world is not built through consensus but disensus. In border thinking, human and other differences are not criminalised but legitimised.
Political and intellectual opponents are not made into enemies that must be destroyed but are legitimised as adversaries that have a right to exist alongside us. Border thinking gives us a wider and deeper locus of enunciation that allows us to see when black bodies speak white consciousness and where women defend patriarchy.
When the conquered embody conqueror consciousness and when the colonised become colonisers we can see them.
Fundamentally, border thinking allows us access to the deep truth that there are human beings beyond differences of skin colour, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and spirituality. With border thinking we can access humanity beyond colonial borders and other human constructions that divide us so that we can easily be conquered and ruled. Border thinking is a liberating locus of enunciation that protects us from political and intellectual fundamentalism.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from The Farm Inn, Pretoria East: [email protected]