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Nepantla: Views from South 4.3 (2003) 561-565

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Walking to the Fourth World of the Caribbean

Nelson Maldonado-Torres

In her interviews with Juan Flores, Paget Henry, and Lewis Gordon, published in Nepantla 4.1, Linda Martín Alcoff, a Latina feminist epistemologist and social critic, takes us beyond the tedious Eurocentric debate between analytic and continental philosophy and leads us to the center of an emerging reflection that is informed by academic philosophy but not limited by its disciplinary concerns. What we find in these conversations is neither simply truth nor method but a refreshing mode of critical reasoning. This critical thought does not emerge in the context of opposition to the authority of religious belief or to influential bourgeois revolutions. Experiences and ideas of migration, racism, diaspora, oppression, and colonization become the cornerstones of this form of critical reasoning. What is at stake here is the contestation of imperial power and imperial reason by thinkers who together (with others) form a "philosophical diaspora." Alcoff's interviews point to an undergoing "transformation of philosophy" by thinkers located on the margins of the West's philosophical project. Her engagement with Flores, Henry, and Gordon indicates new intellectual projects and forms of thinking that are finding spaces of their own on the outskirts of dominant forms of Western thought.

Philosophers from the Caribbean have struggled to find a space to pursue their intellectual projects for some time in professional organizations in the United States and elsewhere. The publication of Alcoff's interviews is timely, as it coincided with the inauguration of the Caribbean [End Page 561] Philosophical Association (CPA) at the University of the West Indies at Mona.1 The CPA is a collective effort by scholars who reside in the United States and in the West Indies to create a space for the discussion of ideas that relate to the historical and cultural experience of Caribbean peoples. The idea is to explore the philosophical implications of the questions raised in the Caribbean context in a way that has not been possible in places like the American Philosophical Association. Conscious that a serious effort to engage with questions and ideas surpasses the limits of any given methodology or approach, the CPA aspires to include contributions from different disciplines and perspectives. In Alcoff's interviews Flores, Henry, and Gordon provide a good example of what the CPA hopes to look like. Of the three, only Gordon pursued a doctorate in philosophy. Yet it is clear that philosophical questions and concerns are central to Flores's and Henry's work as well. Likewise, Gordon's reflections incorporate ideas and insights from other disciplines. The three of them combine history, sociology, literature, cultural studies, and philosophy in an effort to build theoretical frameworks that facilitate the understanding of the problems and living options faced by Caribbean peoples today. All three push philosophy beyond its limits and begin to uncover what we might call a transdisciplinary form of thinking.2

Central to this Caribbean transdisciplinarity are questions of identity, liberation, and self-critique. The CPA aims to be an exercise in epistemic liberation, that is, a form of reflection that empowers subaltern epistemologies and frees thinking from Eurocentric and disciplinary prejudices. The idea is not to reify the particular into the Particular, or to inflate the particular into the Universal. The point is not to elevate Caribbean identity to the status typically occupied by European identity. The CPA aims to avoid the hidden identity politics of much of European philosophy. The idea is simply to recognize people from the Caribbean not only as historical agents, but also as people who ask critical questions about the meaning of their lives and the lives of other people on the planet. The main goal is to approach people in the Caribbean seriously as thinkers and to produce categories that contribute to a planetary discussion about the prospects and possibilities of ethical human interrelationality. This is a sort of contrapunteo between the particular and what aspires to be the universal—an always preliminary universal whose aim is...


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