Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative - ISSN 1780-678X
Issue 14. Painting / portrait
In Other Words: Subaltern Epistemologies or How to Eat Humble Pie
Author: Aarnoud Rommens
Abstract (E): This article deals with conceptual and theoretical issues related to Latin America's reappropriation of its own colonized post and its strategies for establishing aesthetic counter discourses in a globalized world.
Abstract (F): Cet article se propose d'analyser quelques problèmes conceptuel et théoriques relatifs aux tentatives d'Amérique latine de redécouvrir son propre passé précolonial et de construire des contradiscours artistiques dans un monde globalisé.
keywords: Empire, post-coloniality, exotism, cannibalism, Adriana Verajão
The central question of Spivak's writing can then be reduced - while keeping in mind that such summaries are always deceitful - as tactics to evade capture (in the Deleuzian sense of the word) while not totally blocking access to hegemonic modes, or, to be more precise, while always being conscious of the inevitable intersections of the subaltern with the hegemonic.
But how to avoid the gravitational pull of totalizing discourse, of somehow protecting the text from total subsumption within a 'global design'? It is my contention that stating things in other words / in the words of the other - which implies a certain proximity or allegiance with the positionality of the subaltern, he or she coming from another world - one can indeed trace other modes of thinking - a subaltern, interruptive epistemology if you will. This essay is an attempt at teasing out - through modest reading hypotheses - these other words that bespeak visions in counterpoint to the clichés of Empire. Other words bearing other worlds, indeed.
Let me conclude these opening remarks by wishing you, dear reader,
In the painting Carne a la manera de Taunay [Meat à la Taunay] (1997; Figure 1), the Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão serves her viewers an uncanny meal. This raw meat or flesh torn from the canvas of a copy of a Brazilian landscape painting by the French 'master' Nicolas-Antoine Taunay (1755-1830), is dished out on seven porcelain plates styled after the colonizing Dutch West India Company's china.  Representation has become veritable food for thought. The canvas is now a carnal space, thereby not only negating the original disingenuous innocence of Taunay's painting, but by extension also the hegemonic imposition of reportedly 'universal' modes of imagining. In fact, the dissected painting refers to a work Tauny finished during his stay in Brazil with the French Artistic Mission of 1816, which carried out its ambition of founding the first Academy of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and Algarve, in order to raise New World aesthetic and moral standards.
A refugee of sorts, as the painter had been a favourite artist of the recently disposed Napoleon Bonaparte, Taunay though it safer to embark for Brazil on this 'modernization' mission with other leading French artists. Together with his brother and sculptor Auguste-Marie (1767-1824), Joachim Lebreton (1760-1819), Jean Baptiste Debret (1768-1848), architect Grandjean of Montigny (1776-1850) and the engraver Charles Simon Pradier (1783-1847), Nicolas-Antoine Taunay arrived in Rio de Janeiro and shortly afterwards the Escola Real de Ciéncias, Artes e Ofícios [Royal School of Science, the Arts and Crafts] - the precursor of the Academia Imperial de Belas Artes [Imperial Academy of Fine Arts] - was established.
Taunay was enchanted by the novelty of the Rio scenery, while keeping strictly within the European canon of representation. His iconography does not deviate from the well-established compositional demands of the pastoral: through the lens of the hegemonic imagination, the tropical Brazilian landscape is romanticized and rendered Arcadian.
Figure 1, Adriana Varejão, Carne a la manera de Taunay [Meat à la Taunay], 1997
It becomes a utopian locus of a boundless yet harmonious nature, devoid of conflict or contradiction. Lavish plants, peaceful friars, elegant architecture, animals (almost every painting contains its quintessentially pastoral cow) and the occasional Rousseauian noble sauvage populate these idyllic visions (for an example, cf. Figure 2). Thus, in addition to importing a distinctively European model of instutionalization, the artists of the French Mission contributed to an iconography that would frame Latin America in terms of exoticism and primitivism, or, more broadly speaking:
Not only were the socio-economic and political realms colonized, pictorial language and representation itself were annexed. This move amounts to what Walter D. Mignolo sees as a local history - emanating from the centre - assuming hegemonic status as a global design (cf. Mignolo 2000). In this case, Western aesthetic ideology, (art) history and artistic developments were naturalized as universal. This constellation was globally adopted as the prototype against which all artistic production was to be measured.
In a furious iconoclastic gesture, Varejão lacerates the full canvas, whose red simulated viscera - a mass of red glossed over paint - expose an unexpected physical fullness at odds with the level surface of the pictorial plane. The wounds left by the incisions are indices of the colonial violence sutured by a hegemonic aesthetics. The smudges on the canvas and its 'insides' are of a bright, almost incandescent hue, attesting to the freshness of the wound, as if assuring its afterlife in the present. Indeed, through her intervention, Varejão confounds the dichotomy between past and present as the painting now "procures to rescue memory, not as the actualization of the past, but rather as its prolongation into the present" (Texeira de Barros: 2000).
Figure 2, Taunay, View of the Santo Antonio hill, 1816
Prolongation is perhaps not the best choice of words, as it might imply duration or even a continuum, whereas the painting itself is more suggestive of an instantaneous interruption of the present through the irruption of an irreducible past, a past that is not to be subsumed within a redeeming teleological narrative. Compromise has been ruled out; no dressing can ever sufficiently cover up this gaping wound, let alone heal it. In the moment of our viewing, this subaltern past returns and ferociously negates Taunay's utopian mirage of exotic lands. It spills over and "shatters the fragile consensus of the present"  (Leslie 2003:178).
Indeed, I believe this is exactly the subversive core of the work: we, viewers, are momentarily forced to suspend our disbelief and break with our usual habits of thinking. If even for a moment, we can intuit a different mode of knowledge - to pass, to halt, perchance even to reflect upon (as in this essay) or simply reject ('why slash up a perfectly beautiful painting?') the possibility of thinking differently, of picking up the scent of a subaltern epistemology.
In light of Walter D. Mignolo's (2000: 22) conception of 'coloniality,' we can now claim that Adriano Varejão, in Meat à la Taunay, shows the dark side of the moon from her own peripheral (i.e. Latin American) point of view.  Varejão seems to heed Foucault's call to arms; her tearing responds to his cry for the "insurrection of subjugated knowledges" (1980: 81).
According to Mignolo (2000: 55-6), the strategy of epistemic suppression inherent in coloniality does not have its roots in the eighteenth century Enlightenment. Instead, it can be traced back to the sixteenth century Spanish and Portuguese polemics and discourses on the rights of natives following the conquest of the New World - discursive intricacies which, one cannot emphasize enough, have already been skilfully extracted by Tzvetan Todorov in his 1982 La Conquête de L'Amérique: la question de l'autre. During the 'second moment' of modernity/coloniality, the initial dream of the Orbis Universalis Christianum of the two empires in decay - Spain's and Portugal's own marginalization within the First World - was displaced by the 'civilizing mission' initiated by Britain, France and Germany who set the new standards of knowledge. The latter phase would constitute a second subalternization of Latin America, as both the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution were derivative in the history of Latin America and entered in the nineteenth century as the exteriority that needed to be incorporated in order to build the "republic" after independence from Spain and Portugal had been gained (19).
Today's emerging global hegemon is Empire (Negri & Hardt 2000), understood as a centrifugal movement of economic proliferation towards an increasingly decentred planetary market place thereby eroding established political forms (i.e. the nation state). Nevertheless, this tendency still bears the marks of the previous modernizing 'moments,' i.e. "the Christian mission of Renaissance colonialism" and the "civilizing mission of secularized modernity" (Mignolo 2000: 21-2).
As such, Todorov's Question of the Other can be restated in terms of the question of the (non-) self, as America was - initially at least - not primarily imagined in terms of radical difference but as an extension of Europe in contrast to Asia and Africa who were envisioned as Europe's other. The naming of the new territories as Indias Occidentales is indicative, with the term "Western" providing an important clue. However, the Americas would soon bewilder the obsessions and fantasies of their intruders.
Latin America would reflect an increasingly rebellious mirror image; what was once the extension of Europe became the 'other' space, or the contradictory realm of what Foucault described as the Heterotopia. His evocation of the mirror (1986) as both Utopia and Heterotopia can be read as emblematic of the present-day interaction and tension ("joint experience") between the hegemonic and its tirelessly counteracting subalternity, in this case between the Anglo-European First World ("myself") and its Third World counterpart in Latin America:
As already suggested by the final phrase, we can invert this intricate metaphor in adopting the perspective of the mirror image (the other space over there), rather than focus on the 'I' ("myself") confronting the mirror. We can as it were 'enter' (or 'become') the mirror image and observe the over there where the 'I' is positioned. Perhaps too ingenuous a rhetorical counterfeit, this turning inside out of perspectives furnishes an entry-point for my exploration of the negotiation of the Latin American periphery with the Anglo-European centre, which, following the change of perspective in Foucault's description, might be seen as an intricate form of shadowboxing. For every move, the subaltern invents its own counter-move. In this complex interaction, the positions are always ambiguous: here and there are only relative; the potential for confusion is always present.
It is perhaps an understatement to say that the colonial legacy still marks Latin American experience. The most persistent of these marks is a certain sense of displacement, or "in-betweenness," between what the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier dubbed "the here and the there," namely the "ever-present reference to the European "there" from which much of what shapes our societies comes, and the "here" of a reality we have trouble defining" (Jiménez 2004: 247). In this framework, Latin American identity is a paradox as it is positioned as "neither here nor there," (ibidem) or, both at the same time to quote the Mexican poet Octavio Paz (1982: 53): "the Creole is like the Native American, from here, and like the Spaniard, from there." Identity becomes contradictory, as it is always suspended between the native (here) and non-native (there). 
The slippage between center and periphery informs Julio Cortázar's short story "La noche boca arriba," translated as "The Night Face up" (1985: 66-76). My reading of the story as an allegory - while keeping in mind that every reading act is in itself already allegorical  - focuses on the unnerving oscillation between the here and the there. "The Night Face Up" allegorizes the tension between the hegemonic space and that of Ancient Aztec civilization, in its evocation of the war of the blossom, a ritual war in which prisoners were ritually sacrificed. The story begins with a motorcyclist euphorically 'zipping' through the streets of downtown Paris, only to crash while trying to avoid a woman crossing the street. An ambulance takes him and once in the hospital, he starts to hallucinate, dreaming that he is being chased in the jungle. Only in waking moments can he bring himself back to the present reality of the accident and the Paris hospital. Slipping in and out of consciousness, he goes back and forth into the dream, and exhausted from running he is finally captured and taken to an Aztec altar to be offered to the gods. The Aztec dream in the end usurps the narrative and assumes the status of waking reality - the motorcycle accident has become "the infinite lie," in which he rides "an enormous metal insect that whirred between his legs," while Paris has become "an astonishing city, with green and red lights that burned without fire or smoke" (76). While being tied down face up just before the sacrifice, the 'reality' of the present and the motorcycle accident are but a dim afterthought.
The text is illustrative of the permanent tension of positions, which, from a subaltern perspective, becomes that of the colonizer in the metropolitan European centre (over there) and the here of the colonized, the local (South-America). The two antipodal realities - the here of indigenous tradition and the there of contemporaneous and cosmopolitan Paris - become entangled. These two spaces constantly change place and form an uncanny in-between. Moreover, the native here is itself already a distant over there, inaccessible through the workings of time. The mythological Aztec past is only localizable in feverish dreams that dislocate it from its colonial heritage, which becomes rather poignant to a reader knowing that it is only a matter of time before Columbus would arrive. There is of course an undeniable irony in the reversal of roles in which the motorcyclist occupying a space in the hegemonic European centre is sacrificed by a local, subaltern high priest, perhaps constituting an act of revenge. The irony is further compounded if we read the motorcyclist as a figuration of Julio Cortázar himself, who, in opposition the Péron regime in Argentina, went into exile to Paris in 1951, remaining in this artistic hub until his death (1984). As such, the here and the there become even further conflated, and the Old and New World constantly shift shape, until periphery and center become almost indistinguishable.
A sensitivity to this constant back-and-forth is highly productive when coming to terms with the workings of Latin American artistic production in relation to the Anglo-European center, and more precisely to the to-and-fro between a subaltern tradition and the legacy of Occidentalism. The cycle of counteractions would take center stage with the emergence of the avant-garde movements in the first half of the twentieth century. In Europe, the "notion of Latin America as the exotic no-place of the European imagination would be quickly replaced by the avant-garde chimera: art itself as a form of Utopia," taken up by such historical isms such as Dadaism, Expressionism, Futurism, Neo-Plasticism, Surrealism and Constructivism (Ramírez 2004: 7). By contrast, the Latin American utopian impulse was assigned to the rediscovery of and interaction with a glorious indigenous past, which would color a peripheral version of European Modernism.
Representative of the dynamics of inversion of periphery and center is the work of the Uruguayan art theorist and painter Joaquin Torres-García. His geographic inversion of the South American continent (Figure 3) is an emblem for the desire for an independent and genuine Latin American art: the scales are reversed; the points of the compass are overturned in favour of the subaltern. After his return from Europe, where he took part in the avant-garde project, Torres-García returned to Montevideo to publish the manifesto The School of the South (1935). In this text, he clarifies his counteractive move of putting the map "face up" (qtd. in Giunta 1995: 59-60):
Figure 3, Jaoquín Torres-García,Inverted map of America, 1936.
This reversal proved foundational as it still informs a cultural practice marked by "irreverent syncretism" and "formal eclecticism" (Ramírez 2004: 11). Torres-Garía's syncretic experimentations, which combined formal aspects of Modernism with prehispanic pictorial elements, ran counter to the European avant-garde imperative of constantly seeking the 'new' and non-traditional as a utopian answer to the devastations ensuing the First World War. By contrast, Torres-García's regressive tactic in his exploration of Aztec iconography was informed by a valorization of the notion of tradition as opposed to the anti-traditional aesthetic ideology of European Modernism. In fact, from the subaltern perspective, the notion of tradition itself was 'brand new' as it was "previously never in force during colonial and post-independence periods" (Olea 2004: 445).
Consequently, Torres-García could formulate a counter-history of art, negating the teleology ingrained and exported through historiographies universalizing the West's own local artistic productions. The Modernist 'innovation' of abstraction - i.e. the traits of bi-dimensionality and frontality - was reframed in terms of a pre-Columbian tradition that had been suppressed by coloniality:
Therefore, genuine Latin American art was to reactivate a proto-cubist legacy.
A rewriting of art history in favour of the subaltern betokens a swap of power positions. Paradoxically, through a politics of radical transculturation, the marginal confers onto a European poetics the status of the 'exotic', that which is out there and will be subsumed within the local paradigm. Such a counter-poetics can be seen as an attempt to formulate an alternative hegemon refusing to heed the premises of a homogenizing 'capture' through the central canon and its concomitant archaeology. Indeed, this tactic obeys Walter Benjamin's maxim "to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it" (1969: 255). However, this cannot be but an equivocal 'overpowering,' based on the co-option of central discourses in order to achieve a maximal overturning.
This stance would receive its most aggressive formulation in Oswald de Andrade's Anthropophagous Manifesto (1928). In this text, the Brazilian writer calls for a radical transculturation through the appropriation of a central trope defining the West's conception of South America, which has also served to rationalize the European 'civilizing mission,' evangelization and actual genocide: the figure of the immoral (un-noble) savage cannibal will now be used against its 'master'. In the manifesto, de Andrade characterizes antropofagia as the "absorption of the sacred enemy in order to transform the enemy into a totem" (qtd. in Olea 2004: 448). Cultural cannibalism is then an act of appropriation in which
Once again, this rhetorical construct relies on the uncompromising reversal of roles in which a literally all-consuming power is ascribed to a traditionally muted minority. In fact, this counter-discourse negates the distribution of historical roles in that the quintessential victim now refuses to play its part within the writing of history, even refusing a contrite modern Western historiography that acknowledges the monstrosities it committed in the colonies. Stepping out of the confines of this logic, de Andrade can now even claim victory in his counterintuitive reading of coloniality: "They were not Crusaders who came; they were the fugitives of a civilization that we are devouring" (Ibid. 448). The de-humanizing discursive logic of the savage cannibal provided by "civilized" Europe is taken up with sardonic relish in order to reduce the colonizer to the position of sacrificial victim by hyperbolically agreeing with the contraptions of the rhetoric of coloniality.
A similar resistance to the traditional dialectic of master-slave in hegemonic discourse can be found in Ashis Nandy's The Intimate Enemy (2005 ). In his controversial focus on the psychological damage inflicted on the British psyche through their colonial practice in India, Nandy deconstructs the clear-cut binary of oppressor/oppressed. In fact, "the ideology of colonialism produced a false sense of cultural homogeneity in Britain," (32) thereby occluding the internal subalternization - along the vectors of class, race, and sexuality - within the hegemonic society itself as a recognition that these tensions might foster unforeseen allegiances between peripheral subaltern groups (the colony) and those marginalized groups within the center. As Nandy points out, there is always reciprocal interaction, and in the case of the colonizing center, there is always a backlash inflicting wounds and pathologies on the hegemonic mode. In this case, the hegemon is subalternized, resulting in a proximity between positions that is perhaps too close for comfort. This fundamental undecidability is precisely what Oswald de Andrade's figure of antropofagia suggests.
These counter-discourses have left an indelible mark on the Latin American cultural paradigm. Present-day artistic practices reveal traces of these counteractions in the self-reflexivity provoked by the subaltern sensitivity to its collusions with and interruptions of the center. Instead of approaching the current Latin American output as merely a synthesis of Old and New World aesthetics, one has to take into account the field of tension giving rise a critical space that interrogates the interaction between the here and the there, the past and the present - an acknowledgement of what Oswald de Andrade already dubbed the tactic of "the permanent contradiction" (qtd. in Olea 2004: 448). In their turn, these contradictions can be restated within the general framework of the parodic.
I should define as baroque that style which deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) all its possibilities and which borders on its own parody.
"I would prefer not to": this formula, repeated to the point of exasperation by the enigmatic main character of Melville's short story "Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" (1853), is remarkable in that it is neither entirely negative nor positive. Rather, Bartleby's mantra is a mild rebellion clothed in the shape of a "non-positive affirmative." (Vitanza 2003) Bartleby's formula is not a direct call to arms; it lacks the necessary confrontational and rousing rhetoric. However, the formula should not be dismissed as an "empty, petrified line of flight from authority lead[ing] to a kind of social suicide" (Negri & Hardt 2000: 203-4). The importance of the formula must be sought in its implied locus of enunciation, which is revealed by the sheer intransitivity of the "I would prefer not to," turning it into an irreducible gesture of dissent. The refusal consists in the refusal to name that which is refused, and as such, it reveals a positionality radically negating any form of accommodation. Bartelby's words, though painstakingly non-confrontational, do succeed in momentarily interrupting Wall Street's capitalist and legal apparatus, however minute the scope of this disruption. Indeed, one has to keep in mind that Bartleby is but a misplaced cogwheel in the legal-capitalist mastodon, resembling Charlie Chapman in the industrialist machinery of Modern Times.
Bartleby's transgression is his polite refusal to reproduce the legal discourse constituting part of the social fabric of the imagined community: he refuses to play his part as scrivener in preferring not to mechanically copy deeds, acts, wills, and other legal documents. Moreover, by his sheer presence, Bartleby, sometimes described as a ghostly spectre, upsets, haunts and irritates the figure of authority (his employer): the unprovoked I would prefer not to of the inferior wage labourer (the subaltern) drives the superior up the wall. As an analogy, one could invoke the wayward child, relishing in pronouncing the no just because language affords this possibility. However, to slightly misquote - or to correct if you will - Wordsworth, the child can become [rather than 'be'] father to the man; positions and power relations can, however briefly, be inverted, even if it merely concerns an imaginative possibility.
The formula governing subaltern thinking might be (reductively) summarized as I prefer no to be assimilated, thus resisting the tendency of the West to exoticize or render 'childish' that which is located on hegemony's outside(s), while at the same time adapting certain aspects of the hegemon. The formula thus retains its equivocalness: to refuse, but to do so by combining a positive moment (retaining something) and a negative (turning down), or, in the case of the South American experience, to negotiate between a subaltern tradition and the legacy of Occidentalism.
The merit of such a conceptual frame is that it foregrounds the intricacies of Latin America and its artistic production in relation to the Anglo-European center. The pair hegemony/subaltern is relevant, at least when refusing to see it as a clear-cut binary opposition. Instead, the dyad multiplies itself when keeping in mind that "there is a Third World in every First World, and a First World in every Third World," as Trinh T. Minh-ha (1987: 140) never fails to remind us. Keeping this maxim in mind can serve to trace the contradictions of one's own locus of enunciation.
Pontificating from its First World ivory tower, art history has reserved an arsenal of labels to fasten onto Latin American art. Latin American art is magical-realist, it is political, it is fantastic, it is baroque. Such ontological reduction is convenient: it is the precondition for the cooption of that 'exotic' and rather wayward colonial child within its European 'parent' culture. Reterritorialized according to the parameters of the canon, Latin American art is a derivation of Anglo-European art history. It is a historical accident, an anachronism, an impure and sometimes comical attempt to copy the genuine original. And if it is not dismissed off-hand, Eurocentrism will stipulate how Latin-American art is to 'behave' (Mosquera 1992: 39):
Let us take the term baroque for instance, a word that seems to be the West's master-signifier for all things Latin-American. Baroque is a compendium of stereotypes harbouring such connotations as excessive, irrational, anti-modern, over the top, antiquated, anachronistic, lacking measure, extravagant, in bad taste hence not to be taken seriously. Indeed, how serious can one take an artistic style - introduced through colonization, let us not forget - that a century after its heydays in Europe still refused to die out in Latin America, and especially in Brazil? While Europe had long overcome the trappings of the baroque, the New World was still obstinately exploring its iconography, giving rise to a mishmash of Portuguese, Italian, French, and Spanish baroque in the so-called Barroco Brasileiro for instance. To make things even worse, after the outbreak of avant-garde modernism, Latin America seemed to regress to its old baroque habits, giving rise to what Alejo Carpentier (qtd. in Armstrong 2004: 4) described as a "baroque of the second power," an intensified baroque that mingled the European baroque with indigenous forms that were also baroque (cf. ibidem).
In sum, baroque, at least from the hegemonic perspective, is the derogatory counterpart to the Anglo-European avant-garde. To Modernist hygienists of form such as Clement Greenberg, the contaminated formulation of a 'baroque modernism' must have sounded preposterous. One need only recall his depreciation (qtd. in Herkenhoff 2000: 150) of the work of the Brazilian sculptor Maria Martins, whose "impulse is baroque, not modern, and is given to Latin colonial décor and tropical luxuriance." Or remember Luis Jorge Borges's (1972: 11) destructive pronouncement that "baroque [is] that style which deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) all its possibilities and which borders on its own parody." The b-word seems the worst insult imaginable.
Incidentally, Ultrabaroque is the title of the catalogue and the unifying principle of an exhibition of the work of a number of young Latin American artists created at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art and displayed in the US and Canada from 2000 to 2003. In the guise of ultrabaroque, as a name suggesting a baroque beyond itself, the insult baroque is now indicative of a counteraction. Ultrabaroque is a parodic amplification analogous to Oswald de Andrade's subversive recuperation and transvaluation of the colonial trope of antropofagia. As such, the terms ultrabaroque and baroque are re-signified as an attitude or trait instead of an easily subsumable historical style. According to Louise Neri (2001: 18), in her discussion of the oeuvre of Adriana Varejão, to work effectively "within the Baroque's convoluted rhetoric," the artist must restate the language of the baroque as a way to allow her to
This is an apt formulation of what could be understood as the ultrabaroque attitude. If indeed, following the logic of Borges's pronouncement, baroque "borders on its own parody," then an intensified baroque can only be its own parody - or rather, as an attitude rather than a style, it is informed by a critical parodic stance. My use of the term parody is derived from Mari Carmen Ramírez's (1999) understanding of the concept as implying "the creation of a counter-discourse or parallel canto" as it "sets up a critical parallelism" (18-19). This understanding of parody in terms of cantos paralelos, is based on a return to the etymological roots of the word. "In ancient Greek, para meant "beside" or "close to" and ode meant "canto" or "song" (Ramírez 1999:18). Marcelo E. Pacheco (1999) offers a similar approach to the concept as he holds that
It is precisely this interaction between parallel discourses that generates a critical distancing that is "distinguished by an ironic inversion" (Hutcheon 1985:6). However, rather than reducing the play of parody between a 'model text' and its counter-version ('second text'), I propose a multiplication of 'models' which the marginalized stance reformulates in its own terms, thereby attaining what Walter D. Mignolo terms gnosis (2000).
For Varejão, painting is an intellectual activity, una cosa mentale
Parody, seen as the intersection of parallel constellations adapted and critiqued within a new 'text'  rather than a purely formal procedure, does not necessarily presuppose the humorous, in the form of mockery or satire. "Tragedy frequently lies beneath parody" (Ramírez 1999: 19), and with respect to (recent) Latin American history, this is certainly the case. As a position operating within a space of risk, parody reprocesses the 'leftovers' of the hegemonic imagination and its colonial 'afterthoughts' - the literally unthought-of traumatic residue that risks upsetting a homogenizing and self-gratulatory Western discourse. Parody is therefore an epistemological tactic, producing an 'other knowledge' or, to use Mignolo's phrase, it brings about (subaltern) gnosis, or to borrow Guattari's and Deleuze's term - despite Mignolo's penchant for conceptual purity - nomadology.  Indeed,
This knowledge is of a different kind: it stands in counterpoint to the epistemological Western tradition marked by logocentrism and its claims to universality; "what is central is neither rationality nor its opposite, but something else, call it wisdom, which not only includes but supersedes rationality" (Mignolo 2000). 'Border thinking' addresses the periphery-center dynamics in all its complexities: the subaltern perspective not only interrogates the effects of the hegemon within its constellation, but it also foregrounds the inner tensions and contradictions between the Third and First World(s) at work within the periphery itself.
But what shape, concretely, can this 'subaltern gnosis' assume? Let us take Varejão's intuition of painting as una cosa mentale as our lead. Perhaps this mental act is another name for gnosis: that through painting, she can hear the deformed echoes of a vanquished knowledge, and feel the intricacies of time and history tugging at her paintbrush. Perhaps by viewing her painting once again, we can participate in this mental act - again we sit at the table, re-imagining the communal rite of eating, with all its sensory, overtly sexual, and sickening (cannibalistic) overtones that seem compressed within the canvas. Could it not be that Meat à la Taunay is heterotopic and heterochronic, the red tear an inverted black hole, simultaneously and contradictorily giving birth to distant pasts and the promise of a future? This is the place of resurrected knowledges and myths, the place where the desaparecidos of so many colonial wars and recent military regimes come back to haunt us, where dreams of Paradise are contained together with their undoing, a place of purity and impurity of blood, the beauty of landscapes, cannibalism, uprisings, poverty and abundance.
The production history and export trajectory of porcelain is in itself an intricate story closely associated with that of coloniality: "The West India Company [was] a Dutch company that engaged in economic warfare with Spain and Portugal in South American territories - and [the porcelain plates] reference the popularity of chinoiserie in the decorative arts of the period. Via trade routes, this style was exported from Asia to Europe, where it became fashionable and was subsequently imported into Brazil (Armstrong 2000: 105).
Incidentally, Taunay himself had built a small cottage in the Tijuca forest. Inspired by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau to live a "natural life," he must have bumped into the odd noble savage. However, this contact with the "state of nature" did not last long. Disgruntled by the new direction of the Royal School where he was teaching landscape painting at the time, Taunay returned to France in 1821, where he would devote himself to historic painting. However, such petty power politics should of course not hinder us in contemplating the harmonious beauty of his Brazilian landscapes.
In her discussion of Walter Benjamin's use of the trope of memory, Esther Leslie refers to his conception of memory's disruptive potential on each new generation in that its traces are "ready to burst out and scatter the fragile consensus of the present."
Of course, this does not hold for only this work, but her entire oeuvre and that of many Latin American artists who, in some form or other, testify to their position in the margins, and their own marginality (e.g. because of sexuality, gender, race issues) within this 'Third World'.
"I call Occidentalism the Western version of Western civilization (its own self-description) ingrained in the imaginary of the modern/colonial world. The idea of Western civilization, Western logocentrism, and the like is a consequence and necessity of the modern/colonial world as the modern/colonial world was articulated in the growing imaginary of the Western civilization, and so on." (Mignolo 2000: 328)
Andrea Giunta (1995: 54) names some of the sources that fixed Columbus's imaginary, namely Pierre d'Ailly's Imago Mundi, Pliny's Historia Natural, Aeneas Sylvius's Historiae Rerum Ubique Gestarunt, and Marco Polo's Voyages.
In addition to this subaltern characterization of the contradiction inherent in a concept such as 'identity,' there are those highly politicized constructs that either over-identify with the here or with the there. Greatly simplifying things, one could say that the two contrasting sides of the spectrum are occupied by indigenismo and hispanidad, respectively. The former movement advocates strong dominant social and political roles for the indigenous population in countries where they are a majority, whereas underlying the ideology of hispanidad is the idea of recreating Europe and North America in the Southern Cone (cf. Shumway 1993: 165-66). The Argentine ideal of europeizante for instance maintains that "solely an accident of geography has placed the Argentinas - they of Italian, British and Spanish descent, with their white skin and manicured nails - in Latin America, an island of Old World refinement stranded in a barbaric sea. Their neighbours of Indian heritage and dark-skinned Argentines are derided as cabecitas negras ('little blackheads')" (Rosenberg 1992: 86).
As such, reading, following the insights of deconstructive literary criticism, is always already a form of substitution or appropriation, but an appropriation that can never totally posses the entirety of the text, as the latter always resists such homogenizing gestures by virtue of its irreducible rhetorical nature which precisely upsets exhaustive interpretations, such as perhaps my rather sweeping interpretation of Cortázar's short story.
I use the term text in its widest possible sense as described by Roland Barthes in The Pleasure of the Text: "The impossibility of living outside the infinite text - whether this be Proust or the daily newspaper or the television screen" (Barthes 1975:36).
In spite of Mignolo's forceful advocating to the contrary, Local Histories/Global Designs is informed by a search for conceptual purity, which is quite a contradictory move in a book that uses terms such as creolism, transculturation, hybridity, and cultural fagocytosis as its main avatars. Strangely enough, rather than showing possible theoretical aporias or inconsistencies of both decolonizing deconstruction and nomadology, the argument of positionality is invoked in order to invalidate both theoretical practises as possible instances of 'an other thinking,' as the latter seems to be only possible from a subaltern lived experience in negotiation with the center. Deleuze and Guattari are charged with developing a "nomadic universal history" (78; my emphasis), solely by virtue of their locus of enunciation - the privileged space of monolingual France - which would always already be complicit with the modernist/colonial paradigm. On the other hand, "it is one thing to deconstruct Western metaphysics while inhabiting it, and it is quite another to work on decolonization as a form of deconstruction from the historical exteriority of Western metaphysics" (73). This begs the question of what would constitute such a 'historical exteriority,' and whether this - in our present day and age - is nothing more than a romanticized projection of an outside "historically" untainted by Western metaphysics, which, to my mind, already points to the 'infection' of Mignolo's own discourse by colonial imaginings. Summing up, when positionality becomes the criterion of theoretical validity, then a thorough critical reading of the actual contents of conceptual formulations is mortgaged right form the outset. One may even ask the question whether, by virtue of its replication of the inside/outside binary, Local Histories/Global Designs is itself an example of what the author proposes, i.e. 'an other thinking'. As the author himself rarely points to his own positionality (although one can imagine it not being all too underprivileged - Princeton not being too shabby) one only has the text to go on, and the latter seems to contradict its own premises in its attempt to disentangle theories and restate them according to des idées claires et distinctes in order to fit them within a hierarchy privileging the truly subaltern (to be understood as the geographic 'outsides') as the only valid position for developing a pure decolonizing and hybrid gnosis.
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Aarnoud Rommens is PhD student in cmoparative literature at Western Ontario University.
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