‘However, the use of the term ‘dis-cover’ implies that the point of departure in this process is the European ego which is a constituent element of the historical event……. The European ego turns the newly dis-covered primitive native into a mere object a thing which acquires meaning only when it enters the world of the European’ (my italics). (Dussel 1988, p 128)
In simple terms, Hermeneutics has to do with text interpretation. The question the reader will probably ask is why the ‘hermeneutical’? Why the ‘hermeneutical’ when it is well-known that dis-covery was an ‘event’ and not a ‘text’ in the strict sense of the word?
I think that it is not far-fetched to posit that as an ‘event’ dis-covery is amenable to interpretation as it is an occurrence which is constitutive of meaning, and the meaning which is not ‘unilateral and mutually accepted’ by the two parties involved in this occurrence of dis-covery. The underlying argument is that this meaning that is constituted by dis-covery is a contested thing, thus, this event of dis-covery becomes an ‘interpretatively contested text’.
And this is what Dussel has to posit in this regard, ‘thus, the European ego considered the other as something which only acquired meaning because it had been dis-covered, what it had already been was of no consequence’.(Dussel 1988,p 128) Thus, I posit that, hermeneutically speaking, to dis-cover is to reveal, and revelation is a construction of meaning. The paradox of dis-covery lies in the fact that in the revelation Europe was the centre of this very revelation, thus it ‘unilateralised’ Europe’s interpretation of this ‘text’ of dis-covery at the expense of those that are ‘revealed’ to the European. The untenable and ostensible ‘unilateralisation’ of Europe’s interpretation of the ‘text’ of dis-covery doesn’t mean that those that are ‘revealed’ to the European don’t contest this ‘unilateralised interpretation’.
This is what Dussel had to say with regard to this, ‘but if we take a Copernican leap and abandon our accepted worldview of the European ego to look around and try to understand things from the perspective of the primitive American native where the American Indian ego becomes the core of this new solar system, everything takes on a new significance (from below). (Dussel 1988, p 128)
Another germane question which I think a penetrating reader can pose is how is meaning constructed by those that dis-cover, how is meaning constructed in this act of revelation? Phenomenology can come to our rescue in this regard, because, phenomenologically speaking, Consciousness constructs meaning as it intends for something other than itself in its interaction with other entities in the ‘Life-world’. Thus, by transposing itself into a new geographical location, the European ego finds itself in a new ‘Life-world’ and as a result, thereof, its ‘being-in-the-world’ as Heidegger posited takes on a new dimension as it becomes ‘attuned to new entities’.
In light of this, I posit that dis-covery is constitutive of new meaning, in a sense that those that dis-cover construct a new meaning of what they ‘reveal, and this new meaning of the ‘dis-coverers’ is very dissimilar to that of the ‘dis-covered’. The most prominent example of constructing new meaning upon dis-covery is inventing names for that which is dis-covered. Thus, to dis-cover is to construct new meaning and memory and most importantly to create power relations and structures which were not in place prior to the ‘event’ of dis-covery.
The ‘event’ of dis-covery is an ‘ontologico-epistemological tug of war’, in a sense that those that are ‘revealed’ are confronted by a ‘battle’ in which their being and knowledge of this being are ‘contested’ by those that dis-cover them. Those that dis-cover fight to impose their new ‘ontologico-epistemological system’ on those that they ‘reveal’. In essence this means that those that dis-cover usually prefer and fight to start on a ‘new clean slate’ which will record their own ‘new memory’, this takes a form of superimposing their ‘new memory’ on the memory of those that they dis-cover, and thus exercise power over the ‘revealed’.
And this is what Ramose has to say in this regard, ‘the imposition of identities is by no means a trivial matter. It is the concretisation of power through naming. (Ramose 2008, p 327)
Thiong’o corroborates this, when he states that ‘to name is to express a relationship mostly of ownership, as was seen in plantation slavery, when slaves were branded with the name of their owners; when they changed plantations or when the same plantation was taken up by another owner, they were made to take up the new names-a marker of their new identities as the property of the new owner-and were branded accordingly. And is what is really horrible about this whole naming and imposition of identities’ ….and whatever they achieve that ‘name’ is always around to claim its ownership of that achievement. Name given and accepted is a memory planted on the body, of its grateful or unquestioning recipient. The body becomes a book, a parchment, where ownership and identity are forever inscribed’. (Thiong’o 2005, p 158). By giving name to aspect of reality, those who do so arrogate unto themselves the power to describe and define that reality’. (Ramose 2008, p 327)
There is enough historical evidence to show that those that are ‘revealed’ don’t accept these imposed identities and rebel against the attendant exercise of power. And this is the reason why I posit that once the ‘dis-covered’ rebel against the ‘new clean slate’ of those that ‘dis-cover’ this ostensibly ‘new clean slate’ takes the form of a palimpsest, thus there emerge a battle of memories and power. The battle of memories and power is a necessary reaction on the part of the ‘dis-covered’ because if this battle is not waged, Thiong’o posits that ‘somewhere in this process, the original text and memory of the place is lost or becomes forever buried under that of Europe…..’(Thiong’o 2005, p 159)
After all, power is among other things derived from memory, and this is perhaps the reason why those that ‘dis-cover’ fight and strive to monopolise the memory of the ‘dis-covered’. In actual act in this ‘event’ of dis-covery, there is no ‘revelation’ but the construction of new memory and meaning by those that ‘reveal’ in accordance with their interests and value-systems, which to those that are ‘dis-covered’ is alien, and this the reason why those that ‘dis-cover’ use power and violence to enforce and entrench their new and foreign memory and reality. And this is what Thiong’o has to say in this regard ‘first on the landscape; Europe mapped, surveyed the lie of the land, and then named it’. (Thiong’o 2005, p 157).
The ‘Colonising Imagination’ dominates a new landscape, and in dominating this landscape it views that which is ‘dis-covered’ as merely a background to its project of imposing a new ‘system of the order of things’. But we must remember that what the ‘Colonising Imagination’ is encountering is not ‘unreality ‘as the Colonising Imagination would have us believe, thus there is a dialectical relation between the ‘dis-coverer’ and the ‘dis-covered’. The ‘Colonising Imagination’ endeavours to negate the reality of the ‘dis-covered’ in the view to impose its projected ‘system of order of things’ as it envisions it. The envisaged ‘system of order of things’ usually takes many forms, there is economic ‘transformation’ of the mode of production of the ‘dis-covered’ through land dissesin, and this sparks the chain reaction which starts with new social relations and a new colonial legal system which entrenches this new social relation with a view to ‘protect’ values and interest of the ‘dis-covering ego’. The newly imposed colonial legal systems, legalises past injustices of invasion and conquest and this is done through a superimposition of the ‘epistemic paradigm’ of the dis-coverer’. The ‘Colonising Imagination’ conceptualise its colonised legal subject in accordance with its values and interest and through its dominating ‘epistemic paradigm’. The dis-coverer’ disdainfully neglects the dis-covered’s conceptualisation of himself or herself as a legal subject.
The ‘Colonising Imagination’ never stops to pose to itself this very important question, how did the ‘dis-covered’ conceptualise himself or herself as a legal subject, prior to my ‘dis-covery’? Of course there is a reason for this, the reflection on the dis-covered’s conceptualisation of himself or herself as a legal subject is impossible within a Eurocentric vision of the ‘dis-covered’ as an ‘unreality’ a mere background to the ‘Colonising Imagination’s projected new ‘system of order of things’.
Indeed even the ‘dis-covered’ is regarded as a ‘thing’ by the Eurocentric colonising Imagination, and this is historically demonstrated by the fact at some point in time of ‘dis-covery’ the ‘dis-covered’ was reduced to a property, a slave. In the light of the ‘thingification’ of the ‘dis-covered’ by the ‘dis-covering ego’ it will be interesting to delve into how the ‘dis-covered’ as ‘new legal subject of the Colonising Imagination’ views property relations imposed by the ‘dis-covering ego‘ as the ‘dis-covered’ was once a property.
Here we see a ‘Colonising Imagination’ imposing its own projected ‘system of order of things’, the imposition of this new system of order of things is coterminous with the construction of new memory and identities. Thiong’o even posits that ‘the colonial explorer’s journal is a record of efforts to plant memory on the landscape’. (Thiong’o 2005, p 157)
This is what Ramose posits in this regard, ‘to challenge imposed identities, is in effect to question the power of the name giver……’ (Ramose 2008, p 327). I now turn to explain briefly the ‘phenomenological ground’ on which ‘to challenge imposed identities and to question the power of the name giver’.
In the ‘revelation’ there is no pure reflection of that which is ‘revealed’, but rather there is constitutive construal of that which is revealed, the ‘revealed’ has no fixed prior meaning, the act of dis-covery is at the same time an act of construction. More often than not the ‘dis-covered’ is turned into an object, the ‘revealed’ is viewed as a non-ego by the ‘revealing ego’. Here, we have a subject, verb and object relation which characterises Western way of thinking.
The subject, namely the ‘dis-covering ego’ regards itself as Self-consciousness which posits itself in a dialectical relation to its opposite, namely the ‘dis-covered non-ego’, the object. Thus, the subject projects itself, it names, and reveals itself through the verb which it ‘operates’ on the object, namely the ‘revealed non-ego’, the ‘dis-covered’. The ‘dis-covered’ is named simply by firstly being ‘unilaterally’ ossified into an object, we must remember that in this situation the ‘dis-covered’ is viewed as being devoid of Consciousness by the ‘dis-covering ego’ which regards itself as the only Consciousness, as such. Of course this is a delusion.
The ‘dis-covering ego’ which sees itself, ‘delusionally so’ as the only Consciousness, as such arrogates to itself the power to name, thus to construct meaning and memory. The ‘revealed non-ego’ is regarded by the ‘dis-covering ego’ as incapable of ‘counter-naming’ thus as incapable of ‘interpretatively contesting’ this ‘text’ of dis-covery.
Thus, the ‘dis-covering ego’ as the only Consciousness, as such ‘names’ and in this act of naming it creates a reality into which the ‘revealed non-ego’ is drawn. To name is to construct a reality, it is to call into being…… To name is to create a memory from which one is able to derive power. The very act of naming is not just a mere construction of reality, but is also a display of an exercise of power, for that which is named is controlled, is influenced, guided and shaped by the ‘imposed’ name.
To name is to exercise power. The naming of the ‘dis-covered’ by the ‘dis-covering ego’ created a reality which never existed prior to the act of naming, and the ‘dis-covered’ is coerced into ‘participating’ in this new reality in accordance with the power structures and relations which stem from this very act of naming.
Thus, dis-covery is a ‘contested ‘text’, the reason being that the ‘dis-covering ego’ views it ‘actively’, which is, as something which reflects its epistemological and ontological agency. And as this ‘dis-covering ego’ views this ‘contested text’ from an ‘active vantage-point’, it is led to presume that the ’dis-covered’ views it from a ‘passive vantage-point’. After all, the ‘dis-covered’ is regarded as having been ‘acted upon’ by the ‘dis-covering ego’, where is agency on the part of the ‘dis-covered’ in this? And this is precisely how conquest is conceptualised and justified.
I will conclude by quoting Dussel as saying ‘accordingly, the original inhabitants, within terms of their own world, had a very personal perception of the events which followed the dis-covery. The world of foreign oppressor saw things in terms of a discovery cum conquest while within our subjective American world it was a process of bewilderment, servitude and death. The same events, therefore, generated two quite different sets of feelings and effects (my italics)’. (Dussel 1988, p 130-131)
By Masilo Lepuru