The difference in “discovery and invention” of the Americas: looking at the national identities from a view of decoloniality

Walter D. Mignolo in his book The Idea of Latin America presents two – but complementary – ways in which the book can be read and I would suggest the same for this short article. Readers can simply acknowledge that America was not discovered but invented, and from there follow the path that made of “Latin” America an extension of the initial imperial/colonial invention. The second, more detailed description would present the argument of the invention of America itself as an attempt to shift the geography, and the geopolitics of knowledge, of critical theory (as introduced by the Frankfurt School in the 1930s) to a new terrain of decoloniality. The first reading can still be performed within the paradigm of modernity that emphasizes the linear evolution of concepts and, above all, newness. The second reading, however, demands to be performed within the paradigm of (de)coloniality that implies modernity but emphasizes “co-existence” and simultaneity instead (Mignolo 2006-xix).

Discovery” is the dominant, imperial version of what happened (the version that became “reality,” the ontological dimension of history that blends what happened with the interpretation of what happened), while “invention” opens the window of possibility for decolonizing knowledge. That is, if “discovery” is an imperial interpretation, “invention” is not just a different interpretation but a move to decolonize imperial knowledge. Which one is the true one is a moot question. The point is not which of the two interpretations better “represents the event” but, rather, what the power differential in the domain of knowledge is. And what we have here are two interpretations, one offering the imperial vision of the event, and the other the decolonial vision. Both co-exist in different paradigms: the imperial paradigm imposes and maintains the dominant view (which all students learn from elementary to high school and which is disseminated in popular culture and the media). The decolonial paradigm struggles to bring into intervening existence an-other interpretation that brings forward, on the one hand, a silenced view of the event and, on the other, shows the limits of imperial ideology disguised as the true (and total) interpretation of the events.

Coloniality of power” is composed of imperial appropriation of land, exploitation of labor, and control of finance; control of authority; control of gender and sexuality; and control of knowledge and subjectivity (Mignolo 2006:33). With this understanding we can proceed to the explanation of national identities or national consciousness, as Franzt Fanon describes it in his influential book The Wretched of the Earth (although it was not so influential when it was released. He was a French Caribbean and it lasted almost 40 years for an English translation) in decolonizing paradigm:

“National consciousness is nothing but a crude, empty fragile shell. The cracks in it explain how easy it is for young independent countries to switch back from nation to ethnic group and from state to tribe-a regression which is so terribly detrimental and prejudicial to the development of the nation and national unity” (Fanon 1963:22)

In the foreword Homi K. Bhabha explains that it is, of course, one of the most significant lessons of the postcolonial experience that no nation is simply young or old, new or ancient, despite the date of its independence. “New” national, international, or global emergences create an unsettling sense of transition, as if history is at a turning point; and it is in such incubational moments – Antonio Gramsci’s word for the perceived “newness” of change – that we experience the palimpsestical imprints of past, present, and future in peculiarly contemporary figures of time and meaning (Homi K. Bhabha2006:xvi).

Literature and Further Readings

Bhabha, Homi, K. 1990. Nations and Narration. London: Routledge.

Dussel, Enrique. 1995: The Invention of the Americas. New York: Continuum.

Fanon, Frantz. 2006: The wretched of the Earth. Edited by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press.

Gramsci, Antonio. 2007: The Prison Notebooks. Ed. Joseph A. Buttigieg. New York: Columbia University Press.

 Mignolo, Walter, D. 2006. The Idea of Latin America. Oxford: Blackwell.

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