Rodolfo Kusch and indigenous thought
The belated English translation of Rodolfo Kusch’s Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América (originally published in Spanish in 1970)* introduces this Argentine author to an English-speaking audience for the first time. What makes his work interesting is that it takes indigenous thinking seriously as philosophy – that is, as a contribution to truth rather than myth. Kusch refuses the default setting of anthropology, where the thought of the other is a local mapping of the world; rather, he sets out the truth claims of indigenous thinking and uses them to provide a critique of a tradition he regards as epistemologically erroneous and ethically dangerous. In this sense, indigenous thinking lies on the same conceptual plane as European thought and is coeval with modernity rather than belonging to a superseded epoch. Whilst such strong claims may turn out to be problematic, they provoke serious thought about the relation of European thought to its supposed Others and what emerges from their encounter.
The book arrives under the auspices of Duke University Press’s Latin America Otherwise series, with a ringing endorsement and long introductory essay by that series general editor, Walter Mignolo, who claims that Kusch ‘relat[es] mestizo consciousness and border hermeneutics’ and that his work is ‘deeply illuminating’ of Du Bois’s ‘“double consciousness” and Anzaldúa’s “mestiza consciousness”’. Kusch thus appears in English assimilated to Mignolo’s own project of ‘border thinking’. His translators make the claim that Kusch offers not merely a critique of ‘the logic of control’ that underpins Western thought but the possibility of another ‘more organic’ logic from which to reconstruct a sense of community as opposed to ‘ideology-bound’ forms of ‘building collectivity’. Kusch, like Cheríe Moraga, the thinker of Chicana consciousness, recovers a ‘form of thinking rooted in América’, a form of living that is ‘body to body collective activity that pulls the cosmos towards a renovation of life understanding of identity [sic]’. Kusch, then, is placed in a new genealogy of ‘border thinkers’ and seen as the herald of ‘liberatory, non-reformist, de-colonial, intercultural’ activity. The translation becomes instrumental to a politics whose main site of enunciation and reception is the US academy and in the process the complexities and particularities of Kusch’s writing – especially his own misreadings and misprisions – are overlooked and the rifts of his thought are sutured or ignored.
Arguably, then, there is a tension between text and appropriation, in part facilitated by the decision to translate this volume of Kusch’s work first, which leaves its antecedents and development slightly obscure, despite the long introductory essay. And, of course, the very belatedness of the translation means that Kusch’s singularity looks like the now-commonplace strategies of post-colonial critique and puts his work in the shadow of a much more articulate discursive production on and from the Andes.1 Though the translation is serviceable, its occasional errors and general awkwardness also make already difficult thought less accessible to critical reflection. Nevertheless, Kusch’s work should be read as a contribution to a transculturation of philosophy and ‘thinking’ and the construction of a wider surface of comparability. The current attempt to construct a form of politics in Bolivia that engages indigenous conceptions of the social demonstrates the stakes and risks of such a mobilization.
This article frames the book via an account of Kusch’s context and earlier thought that stresses his debt to Heidegger. It goes on to outline the arguments and claims of Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América and raises what I see as the main problems with Kusch’s approach. Finally, it offers a critique of his conclusions and some further reflection on Mignolo’s appropriation of the text.
* Rodolfo Kusch, Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América, trans. María Lugones and Joshua M. Price, with an Introduction by Walter D. Mignolo, Duke University Press, Durham NC and London, 2010. £16.99 pb., 978 0 82234 641 8.
1. Here the work of Denise Arnold and Juan de Dios Yapita is exemplary, for instance their The Metamorphosis of Heads: Textual Struggles, Education and Land in the Andes, Pittsburgh University Press, Pittsburgh, 2006.