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Interview with Walter Mignolo, part 2
by La Tronkal

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Click here to read Part 1 of the Walter Mignolo Interview

Christian León: In recent months in La Tronkal we’ve been discussing the critical school of thought that reads the speech related to anthropophagy or cannibalism as forms of control and resistance in the colonial discourse in Latin America. Based on the idea that anthropos cannibal is a condition for humanitas, it seems that this form of enunciation is on the margins of the genealogy of border thinking put forward in your texts. What do you think of this tradition, which has recently been taken up again by authors such as Jáuregui and Barriendos?

Walter Mignolo: Yes, it’s true there’s a tradition of border consciousness in the genealogy of critical thinking in Brazil. Silviano Santiago, in his book “The Space In-Between: Essays on Latin America Culture”, for example, perceives the inevitable: on the one hand not being European by the descendants of Europeans, and on the other being surrounded by the indigenous and Afro histories throughout South America and the Caribbean, or in Brazil alone. Rodolfo Kusch in Argentina spoke of “fagositocis”to mean what in Brazil was conceptualized as cannibalism. So yes, as you say, this is a case in which anthropos takes the lead, no longer to imitate humanitas, but to show that humanitas is a self-creation used to justify the control of populations and regions by those who control knowledge and institutions.

Your question makes me think that the fact that we haven’t established a dialogue with this Brazilian tradition is due to a series of conditions: the coloniality project draws from the legacy of the theory of dependence and liberation theology/philosophy, which are schools of thought that are strongly connected to political/epistemic transformational work, whereas cannibalism and anthropophagy are more cultural issues. Perhaps that is why Barriendos and Jáuregui resort to them, since they “seem”similar to what we conceive as border thinking. I recall that the idea of border thought sprang from the experience and reasoning of the Chicana author Gloria Anzaldúa, who summed it up in the following phrase (from her book Borderland/La Frontera): “the 2,000 miles of borderland are an open wound where the third world chafes against the first and bleeds”. It would be important to check whether cannibalism and anthropophagy as conceived in Brazil maintain that dimension of colonial violence and whether it has been reduced to a cultural metaphor. Another reason could be on the one hand the scant dialogue between lines of thought in Hispanic America and Portuguese Brazil, and on the other to focus attention on the colonial history of Africa and Asia, since in the final instance anthropophagy and cannibalism are concepts pertaining to white intellectuals in Brazil, just as coloniality stems from white/mestizo intellectuals in Hispanic America. Unconsciously we needed to step out of family reunions while maintaining the security that families provide. Coloniality invited us to come out of our extreme ignorance, while anthropophagy and cannibalism are generally familiar concepts to educated people in South America. We felt a more pressing need to establish dialogues with indigenous and Afro peoples in South America and the Caribbean, with Africans and Southern Asians, with peers in Eastern Europe, with Central Asian and Caucasian intellectuals and artists, rather than with Brazil, which is close to us but different.

We could also say that this is an interesting case in that it is in a blind spot, in the shadows: those who are involved in a project need someone who is not part of the project to be able to see what those viewing it from within cannot. We could also explain it by saying that perhaps what took place here is the coloniality of the geopolitical formation of regions, because whether we like it or not the modernity/coloniality project fundamentally refers to Spanish-speaking America.

We are now paying attention to Brazil as a country, due to its economic impetus and its international influence. If you think back 20 years to 1990, however, I think we still had that image of Brazil. We knew Brazil was there, we knew it had great potential, not just economic but intellectual, artistic, etc., but viewed from a Hispanic, a Spanish-American perspective, Brazil didn’t seem to enter the picture. Perhaps this was also because the colonial history of Brazil is different; it became independent much later, at the end of the nineteenth century, and for a time was the seat of the Portuguese empire; in high school and at university we didn’t study the literal and cultural history of Portugal as we studied, or are made to study, that of Spain.

CL: And the case of cannibalism comes from the encounter with the Caribbean and the initial colonizing imaginary…

WM: That’s another pending question. Peter Hulme’s thesis, in which he talked about the whole issue of cannibalism, how the word cannibal came to be, etc. formed part of the postcolonial course of development, so to speak. Although the notion of cannibalism came from Columbus himself and subsequently extended to all the European countries that colonized America, Hulme re-embedded the concept into the context of postcolonial history. From that point of view, “cannibalism”(see Theodor de Bry’s late sixteenth century lithographs for a clear, non-written “visual”image) is a concept that stems from the rhetoric of modernity. It’s a racist concept, since it views other human beings either as non-human or as less-than human. Decolonizing cannibalism means decolonizing the racism that gave rise to humanitas, which needed a notion such as that of cannibalism. A borderland, decolonizing approach would be a way of thinking that assumes the reality of anthropos and tears down the magical illusion of humanity. That is to say, not an approach to anthropos that argues in favor of its right to humanitas, but instead rejects both the sovereignty of humanitas and the right of humanitas to universality.

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