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Interview with Walter Mignolo, part 1
by La Tronkal

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The crux of the concept of coloniality (when the collective was formed) was the coloniality of knowledge: that’s the title of the book edited by Edgardo Lander, which was the first publication of our newly-formed collective (Quijano, Lander, Escobar, Coronil and Mignolo). When Quijano says that Eurocentrism is an epistemic issue and we must detach ourselves epistemically, epistemology the concept is defined in terms of the social sciences. That’s how the project began, but little by little we realized that knowledge goes beyond the social sciences and covers all the disciplines created in Europe since the Renaissance. We gradually realized that imperial knowledge aggrandized itself in order to disqualify other forms of knowledge, and that imperial knowledge was built on control of writing and alphabetical writing and was associated with the concept of Reason. At the same time, there were other “lesser” forms of knowledge in addition to knowledge as expressed in alphabetical writing, such as religion and the esthetics involved in art in general. All this refers just to the West: imagine when all this apparatus is projected on the colonies. Religion (Christian) and the arts (esthetic standards) became means of disqualifying all forms of knowing and feeling that were not based on the Renaissance.

Thus when we started out as a collective project we knew that knowledge was a form of colonization, but it took a few years for us to realize that, for example, religion and esthetics were part of that system of epistemic coloniality of knowing, believing, seeing and hearing. Thinking is manifested in several ways: it can be writing, it can be an image, it can be image narrative, it can be sound, it can be dance, etc., but this is a recent approach. When I started asking myself these questions - which I still haven’t finished coming to grips with - I used to think of Benveniste, who says that of all semiotic systems, language is the only one that is both a system and a meta system that also refers to other semiotic systems. In other words, we go to the cinema and afterwards go and have a coffee and comment on the film in words. And we write about movies all the time but we do not produce visual images to have a dialogue about a novel, for example. So this is something that I’m still grappling with, but the open question is: what difference is there between speech and writing and other semiotic systems such as seeing, listening, feeling beats, sensations, movement in dance, etc. For me that would be one of the issues to think about at this time.

Mayra Estévez: From the point of view of the modernity/coloniality project, could we say that art institutions, have contributed to the rhetoric of the Colonial matrix, and through the instrumentalization of “the esthetic” to the hierarchies of “humanity” as colonial experiences and colonial wounds?

WM: Absolutely, to simplify I’d say that one way to understand this is to think of the relationship and complementarity between museums and universities. Museums and universities are not only educational institutions; they are institutions that control knowledge (in all its semiotic manifestations). Universities, particularly traditional universities, are founded on disciplines, on writing, on logic, on grammar, that kind of thing. For their part, museums focus more on the visual, but at this point in time it’s interesting to think about their history, the history of both: the history of universities and the history of museums. How did universities form, and not just how they were formed (the University of Bologna, the University of Coimbra, Salamanca University, which predated the formation of modernity/coloniality), but also how they were transformed, how they were converted into Renaissance universities, into Enlightenment universities (Kantian-Humboldian universities and now corporate universities) and at the same time how they were established outside Europe, like branch outlets of MacDonald’s. For instance the University of Mexico, the University of Santo Domingo, the University of San Marcos in Lima, even Harvard during the first half of the eighteenth century, etc.

Nowadays universities, particularly in the US, are emphasizing the visual. At Duke the Art History Department was renamed Art History and Visual Studies. Research supporting foundations (Rockefeller, Mellon, MacArthur) are investing significant amounts of money to support this shift toward non-written visuality, which on the one hand is necessary given the priority of written visuality, but on the other, the more it is packaged as a novelty in the ideology of transformation, the more it becomes part and parcel of the rhetoric of modernity and continues hiding the logic of coloniality. We can say the impetus given to the non-written visual in universities at present can go two ways. It can lead to decolonization, but it can also serve to reproduce coloniality, and in this sense images are looked at, rather more than thought about. If we use images as a rearticulation of coloniality - video games, television, the Blackberry, all those kind of things - on the one hand they have enormous potential, but on the other they’re magnificent new ways of controlling the population: in the same way religion can be the opium of the masses, so can communication technology. One spectacular example of this is advertising and the uses of the visual in advertising to narcotize the consumer. The image in advertising functions as the hypnotic pendulum in medical therapy. And indeed it is.

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