Pereda on Latin American Philosophy

Some notes about our condition as latin american philosophers. In first place, about our condition of invisibility:

“We are invisible”: this melancholic assertion alludes to the “non-place” that we occupy as Latin American philosophers or, in general, as philosophers in the Spanish or Portuguese languages. We tend to survive as mere ghosts teaching courses and writing texts, perhaps some memorable ones, which, however, seldom spark anybody’s interest, among other reasons, because almost no one takes the time to read them. In saying this, I do not mean to call upon a useless pathos, nor do I mean to complain, or thrust forth a challenge. I am simply confirming a fact, and a widely acknowledged one at that [...]

The invisibility of philosophers whose means of expression is Spanish or Portuguese is twofold. In the first place, there is an immediate invisibility: we are invisible before our colleagues and even before our very students. In the most influential traditions of philosophy, those expressed in the French and German languages, and in recent years, above all and overwhelmingly, in English, a philosophical book has the group of scholars in that discipline as its main audience, who oftentimes await that particular publication. In Latin America and, more generally, among speakers of Spanish and Portuguese, we care very little about what is believed, wished, and argued by those who also speak our tongues. Rarely is a book published in our languages discussed seriously. It is even rarer to consider it necessary to make it known, involve students in its exploration, and least of all—what a commotion this would cause!—to consider organizing a seminar around what those nearest to us think. We rarely cite—though we may be their friends—those authors whom we have read and admire. Agreed, sometimes a colorful compliment is paid, out of pure obligation, but we generally refuse to advance any serious, minute, or fruitful criticisms.

Pereda finds three vices that underlie this condition of invisibility:

We may call the first vice “subaltern fervor.” A current of thought impresses youth and is then carried on for the rest of one’s life in vain repetition of its formulas. In this way, implicitly and, sometimes even explicitly, it is considered that the Headquarters of Thought are elsewhere; thus, succumbing to the power of simplification, we reduce reflection to the diligent administration of those headquarters in our own locality. For example, if the tradition is of French origin, in the 1940s we were vitalists and followers of Bergson, in the 1950s we became impassioned existentialists, devotees of Sartre and the Rive Gauche, in the 1960s we practiced the science fi ction of structuralism, including Althusser’s delirious, Marxist structuralism, just to convert after the 1970s to hermeneutics, postmodernism, deconstruction, and, above all, to the vertigo of the sublime regarding the Other [...]

The second vice is the “craving for novelty.” One may object: what’s wrong with being curious? No doubt, curiosity is a desire to know, it is the incentive and even a fi rst step of every knowledge process. The trouble begins when the curious individual becomes addicted and aimless. For when curiosity becomes a craving for novelty, one is no longer concerned with knowing something in order to think for oneself regarding that issue, but to be “up to date,” “keeping up with current events.” Note that the concept of wanting to know and the concept of wanting to be up to date refer to two opposite attitudes: in the fi rst case there is active, exploring, deep, learning; in the second, passive, superfi cial receiving that merely seeks information on what transpires in other landscapes. Furthermore, the concept of knowing is regulated by validity criteria such as having true, justified beliefs; the concept of being up to date only admits patterns that appeal to systems with social currency [...]

Against these two vices, we in Latin America are constantly being called to liberate ourselves: to stop looking outside so much, toward the shining Headquarters of Thought, to start appreciating who we are and what surrounds us. We must decolonialize, though it may be difficult and painful. Of course, we must decolonialize. Unfortunately, though, this sensible invitation soon degenerates into another vice: into that arrogance of collective identities that conform to “nationalist enthusiasms” and their consequence, a monstrous idea, “national philosophies.” [...]

A fatal threading of intellectual habits is here before us. It is formed by these three vices, so characteristic of Latin American philosophy and, to a certain extent, although in many different versions, of all philosophy in Spanish or Portuguese: subaltern fervor, craving for novelty, nationalist enthusiasm. If I am not mistaken, the presence of these three vices partly explains our invisibility. And partly also justifies it.
Source: Carlos Pereda. (2006). Latin American Philosophy: Some Vices. Journal of Speculative Philosophy 20-3, 192-203.

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