Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Indigenous and Popular Thinking in America (Latin America Otherwise)

Indigenous and Popular Thinking in America (Latin America Otherwise)


In America we treat philosophy in one of two ways, an official way and a private way. From the university we learn of a European problematic translated philosophically. The other is an implicit way of thinking lived every day in the street or in the countryside. Felix Schwartzmann had already hoped to resolve this problem in his book El sentimiento de lo humano en America, where he notes that a philosophy typical of America at this point exists only in poetry and in the novel, as he demonstrates in his analysis of Pablo Neruda's work and of the Brazilian novel.

Clearly, the issue is not to negate Western philosophy, but to look for a formulation closer to our own lives. When Kant enunciates his theory of knowledge, he does so because it was necessary at that moment. The same is true of Hegel, who expresses the intimate feeling of the German bourgeoisie of his time. Descartes had thought his cogito ergo sum because the century of Richelieu, with its reason of state, demanded it. European thinking, as Dilthey has so ably demonstrated, always linked itself to a way of life. In this sense philosophy has the same degree of receptivity as art and religion.

It is also true that Nicolai Hartmann was not in agreement with this approach. But his defense of a philosophical "science" is nothing but the ideal of every philosophy professor. It is true that a harmonious and coherent doctrine fits the nature of teaching. Yet every generation demands, in spite of what Hartmann may think, the philosophical conceptualization of its particular sense of life.

But this is what is so weighty. In order to carry out such a conceptualization, it is necessary not just to know philosophy, but above all-and this is very important-to face reality abiding a degree of distortion few can sustain. To investigate daily life in order to translate it into thinking is a dangerous venture, since it is necessary, particularly here in America, to make the grave mistake of contradicting the frameworks to which we are attached.

Colloquia on indigenous thinking in some Andean universities evidence this tendency. It is not possible to begin the rescue of Inca thinking with, for example, a philosophical attitude still entangled in a Comtean system of a hundred years ago, or with a phenomenology studied only so as to be repeated in the university classroom. All that would result from this practice is a version of Inca thinking entangled in the researchers' fear of overcoming their own philosophical prejudices.

And if we ourselves still cleave to this perception; if we are used to invoking a comfortable and worn positivism-and to this we add contemporary North American neopositivism-the work of translating our life into philosophy becomes doubly unrewarding.

And let me add one more thing. A uniform way of life does not exist in America. The ways of life of the Indian and the well-off city dweller are impermeable to each other. On the one hand, the Indian retains the structure of an ancient form of thinking, a thousand years old, and on the other, the city dweller renews his way of thinking every ten years.

If Europe has succeeded in solidifying a philosophy, it has been because since the end of the Middle Ages it established a relatively homogeneous social body, in spite of Tonies's theory of the transition from community to society. Evidently, an elite has promoted that specific manner of thinking and was able to make it official without further ado. We should not forget here the "School of Wisdom" in which the principal German thinkers of the first half of the twentieth century participated.

What to do, then, in America? I have never before seen with such clarity the radical contrast that runs through everything American as when I examined the curious map of Peru drawn by the chronicler Guaman Poma. It is oval shaped, and in its center one finds four couples ruling the four cardinal points, with a sun and a moon presiding over the picture and a series of monsters disseminated throughout its contours (figure 1). Such a map is today discarded as something "subjective," and considered incommensurate with a modern map of Per? scientifically in sync with reality.

What Guaman Poma drew does not accord with reality, but it does encapsulate all of its Indian and Inca inheritance; and whether one likes it or not, it is his map-the real habitat of his community, we are tempted to say. In this sense his four ruling couples, presiding over the four zones of the old Tahuantinsuyu, symbolize the maternal protection within which the ancient Indian found himself sheltered. In the final analysis, the Peru Guaman Poma traversed must have been the one reflected in his map and not the one plotted by contemporary science. If we take this into consideration, can we reject without further ado the "subjectivity" contained in his drawing? Furthermore, a map of Peru made with modern instruments will be real, but it will have nothing to do with what Peruvians think of their country. It is an impersonal map, produced by the anonymity of science, and statistically accepted by the majority, but it is not my country, the one each person lives daily.

Geographically, it is possible to plot a map from the scientific angle while living in another country. Such cannot be done in philosophy. That is because philosophy manifests itself as a translation of a subjectivity-such as Guaman Poma's-to a conceptual level, according to a jargon minted by the academy and upheld even when it contradicts the rigidity of scientific formulations. I think America oscillates to a great extent between two things: a candid subjectivity that affects all of us and that follows a downward path to the simple formulation "it seems to me" and the scientific attitude whose rigidity is used precisely to mask in each of us a subjectivity we do not succeed in channeling. Let us think about the pressure exerted on our interiority by an imported culture, and the importance of that interiority in the elaboration of a culture that is our own.

That same pressure in Argentina does nothing more than perpetuate and legitimate a way of thinking which has been meticulously imported, perhaps due to the absence of a pueblo who would challenge it with its own formulations. But is it different in the rest of America? Can the resounding opposition between indigenous people and the bourgeoisie give rise to an autochthonous way of thinking?

The real distance between an indigenous way of thinking and a way of thinking consistent with traditional philosophy is the same as that between the Aymara term utcatha and the German term Da-sein. Heidegger takes up this word from ordinary German speech, first because Sein signifiesbeing (ser)-which allowed him to take up again the themes of traditional ontology-and second because Da-which means "there"-signaled the circumstance into which being had fallen. Heidegger's problematic is centered on an awareness of a diminished being, a thrown being. His merit lies in having taken up in the twentieth century the theme of being with an exactitude that befitted the lives of the German middle class. This class had always felt the fall of being as its own, with all of the anguish that implies. If we add to it the concepts of time and authenticity, we notice that a thematic so threaded is not so far from the thinking of a European bourgeoisie which feels the crisis of the individual and tries to remedy it.

It is different among the Aymara. An equivalent to Da-sein might be cancana. According to Bertonio, cancana means "barbecue spit, being, or essence"; it is also linked to "flow of events." But the term utcatha is much closer to the indigenous sensibility. Bertonio translates utcatha as "estar." Moreover, it appears to carry in the first syllable a contraction of the term uta, or dwelling, which would link it to the concept domo-that is domicile or being-in-the-house (estar en casa)-so vilified by Heidegger and Gusdorf. It also means "to be sitting down," which paradoxically takes us to sedere which is the source of the Spanish word being (ser). Finally, Bertonio mentions the formutcana, "the seat or chair and also the mother or womb where woman conceives." In short, the meanings of utcatha reflect the concept of a mere givenness or, even better, of a mere estar, but linked to the concept of shelter and germination.

The depth of feeling of an Indian when he is on Buenos Aires Street in La Paz and decides to take a bus to his ayllu must be understood in terms of utcatha and not Da-sein. That is, he will inhabit his mere estar and under no conditions will feel the fall of any being (ser). Why? Because it appears that in that mere estar of utcatha, another element is present, which Bertonio points to when he transcribes a related term, namely, ut.ttaatha, "to exhibit or take things out to sell ... in the plaza." Here the concept of plaza has an evident archetypal sense from the point of view of deep psychology since it is a symbol of the center of a world plotted in a magic plan-my world-the same one that Guaman Poma plots when he draws the map of Peru with the four couples that govern it. It is the existential and vital world of Guaman Poma and of the Indian in general that consequently has little or nothing to do with the real world detected by science, but rather with thereality lived daily by each person. And now the question can be posed: is this preference for the real which comes from a full feeling of estar no mas [mere estar]-is this not perhaps profoundly American-something in which both Indians and whites participate?

It is evident that a way of thinking sparked by a term lik

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