Friday, 7 October 2011

Lewis Gordon: Avatar of Post-colonial Humanism

by Marilyn Nissim-Sabat, 7th Annual Phenomenology Round-table Meeting, Temple, 2007

Is humanism possible today? This question motivates another: Is humanism
desirable today?

Given the view prevalent in contemporary philosophy and cultural studies that colonialism was and is an outcome of European humanism, anti-humanists, e.g., adherents of Foucault, Althusser, Lyotard, Lacan, and others will likely construe the notion of a postcolonial humanism to be oxymoronic, a contradiction in terms, and a step in the wrong direction. One wonders, however, whether such anti-humanists have attended to the voices of the victims of colonialism. For, more often than not, those voices of the oppressed, and the voices of those who listen to and hear them, express their
anguish as an experience of dehumanization.

For this reason, oppressed people would, I think, construe ‘postcolonial humanism’ as a rational conjunction of concepts that registers their struggle against the dehumanization enforced on them by colonialism, apartheid, segregation and Jim Crow, and, at the same time, as affirmation of their
ineradicable sense of their own humanity. What anti-humanists overlook, then, is that oppressed people experience oppression as dehumanization. Why? Because, as Fanon unequivocally showed, that is what oppression existentially is. This then raises a question as to the human as such: does not fully comprehending the modus operandi of oppression as practices of dehumanization which impose immense, horrific, unnecessary human suffering compel us to the view that to be human is not nothing, to the view that being human, human being, matters, qua human? Is it not our humanness in virtue of which we can be subject to dehumanizing practices? And, if so, what should we infer
about humanness and dehumanization?

Click here to download this paper in pdf.