Peer review of paper number 112
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I don’t know if readers will recall that fascinating South African poet, Wopko Jensma. Jensma’s poetry defied (and still does) the logic of the literary field in South Africa, especially the linguistic categorization of authors. Linguistically, Jensma positioned himself, or found himself, in-between. His literary "habitus", to steal a bit from Pierre Bourdieu, was not white or black, Afrikaans, English or African language (as South African literature is usually carved up), but beyond that, taking the form of a strange conversation, or language, that has not arrived yet. His was a conversation so out of place in apartheid South Africa that it certainly sounded slightly crazy.
I thought about the above while reading this paper by Murray Hofmeyr. Hofmeyr delves into important philosophical and contemporary political issues in this discussion of, amongst other things, cultural recognition and intercultural dialogue. He introduced me to a perspective that I have been unfamiliar with, namely that of Heinz Kimmerle. Kimmerle is credited here for developing a new understanding of difference and for setting the agenda for an intercultural philosophy. This approach seems to add nicely to the well-known work on multiculturalism by Charles Taylor, as well as Jurgen Habermas’s work on communicative rationality. Kimmerle, unlike Habermas, also acknowledges the progressive political elements in "postmodern" or "post-metaphysical" philosophies of difference, like that of Derrida. While there are a lot of interesting ideas in this paper I will mention only a few topics that I have found particularly intriguing.
First there is the discussion of Kimmerle’s approach to universals, and thus his contribution to the universalism vs. relativism debate. Kimmerle understands, in Hofmeyr’s words, that "the way universals are formulated often reveals their being determined by Western culture". His response to this is interesting: rather than giving up on the ideal of universals altogether, he reformulates it. They are not seen as transcendental principles, uncovered by philosophy, on which cultural difference will be overruled or intercultural dialogue established. On the contrary, philosophy, as I understand Kimmerle and Hofmeyr here, has to give up on its fantasy of transcendental knowledge. Universals are envisioned as "coming": they are the anticipated
of intercultural dialogue, not the precondition for it – "the result of continuous passages through the different and particular".
I do not know enough about Gadamer (fusion of horizons) and Habermas (communicative rationality) to compare, but I am intrigued to know how Kimmerle differs from them. Habermas especially, as I understand, requires an
speech situation. Does Kimmerle require a condition of similar "idealness"? It seems the answer is in Kimmerle’s remarks on the acceptance of the
of cultures, as set out by Hofmeyr. Is this equality a principle (is it a principle?) that should itself be the outcome, rather than the condition of a particular kind of dialogue? Who fights for it and where? Does Kimmerle say anything about power and power differentials within the dialogical process or context?
A second theme I would recommend others to pay attention to is related to the anticipation of universals, or universals as anticipated/deferred, in intercultural dialogue: namely, reconfiguring philosophy as a "methodology of the deed". I found this very enticing. The reason for this is that it resonates with debates in the social sciences, where participation and a hermeneutics of involvement/engagement are seen by some as more appropriate than previous monological approaches to theory/method. It would be interesting to contemplate the implications of this "methodology of the deed", and its envisioned hermeneutic labour, for the (critical) social sciences. Also, how is the relationship between philosophy and the social sciences affected by this "methodology of the deed"?
Finally, Hofmeyr manages to talk about culture, and the importance of a politics of recognition (of difference), without essentializing culture and without falling prey to, as he so nicely says, "the tyranny of identity thinking". I found this, and the
importance he ascribes to culture and belonging in the era of neo-liberal globalisation, very useful reading.
- Desmond Painter
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