The following is an exchange between Jeca Rodríguez-Colón and George Orwel, two IDSVA PhD candidates who participated in the IDSVA Student Symposium “Difference and Opacity: New Topologies of Thought” on November 21st, 2020.
This exchange took place in anticipation of the Symposium.
For quite some time, some of us have been interrogating continental philosophy as the core of our doctoral study. The questions come from the discomfort, unease, or affinity we may feel towards some of these thinkers and the influence of their ideas on past and present times. As we identify the problems within our present, and our current leadership (or lack thereof) around the world and across institutions; from governmental to academic and artistic ones, the more questions arise and the more urgency for solutions that consider the well-being of all the citizens of the world while not ignoring their differences.
I question the attempt to erase the thoughts and visual representations of those who have been pushed to the margins; plus, the attempt of academia to continue to colonize our minds and our representations. Within our 1st year of studies at IDSVA, we were exposed to two summer residencies as part of our Topological Studies. When I think about IDSVA, I think about topologies of thought, I think about how we engage in questioning our present by visiting the past, from the theoretical framework to aesthetics of walking and observing a given space, from the virtual to walking the streets of a city, to sitting at the cafés, entering spaces of worship, and walking through the galleries of a museum, exploring and questioning how our present has been influenced by the past of a given space, how the past and present collide at times, and more.
Through our encounter with some of these continental ideas, what was clear was that the notions of time and space and their relationship to others and to the self needed to be questioned more frequently. As such, after multiple conversations with fellow students, candidates, and faculty members, when I think about the upcoming symposium, I think about how each one of us is returning to the question of topologies and how we see them somehow as creating new topologies of thought.
As I see it, you and I explore new methodologies to look at different art forms. You investigate African sculptural ambiance as a method for historicism, while I explore the film market to develop the Gaze Economy theory. I also see the projects of Sandra Stephens and Novel Sholars as a path to reformulate ontologies by providing new ways of thinking about language related to materialities and embodiments while introducing new meanings with words like thingification, and EmDisEmbodiment. But, perhaps they don’t agree with me, and it's possible they see their new topologies in a different way. This is why I look forward to engaging with you, Novel, and Sandra at the upcoming symposium, to see how our projects recognize differences by questioning methodologies and aesthetics and acknowledging our different engagements with ideas of new topologies of thoughts. Ideas that embrace, rather than ignore, both difference and opacity. I look forward to seeing how we circle back to topological studies by creating new topologies of thought.
Jeca, thanks for your comments. I see your point, and I tend to agree. Even if I want to use an ameliorative language, there is no denying that old orthodoxies can no longer suffice. The world is at a crossroads, which then provides an opportunity for fresh thinking. And by that, I don’t mean anything negative about traditional centers of intellectual capital. Europe is no longer the center of discussion, and, like a friend of mine said recently, Biblical literalism is diminishing the United States, i.e. there is too much chorus in the current intellectual choir and quite often there is a willingness to suspend what Hannah Arendt calls critical thinking in all realms of our society.
To move forward then, isn't it better to turn to emerging centers of thought? These alternative topologies are in fact reframing traditional epistemes. They are topologies in different ways: a geographical frame spotlighting Africa, for example, although that could be limiting. A better one would be ideological topologies —like Achille Mbembe’s concept of necro-politics, or even technological, as Felwine Sarr’s talks of Afrofuturism. In fact, geographical, ideological, and technological topologies are intersectional: I am thinking of Mbembe’s ideas of (in my words) the borderlessness and the technoworld of Africans whose reason he critiques.
That’s why my next project is on advances in technology that improve our affective registers. I said a while ago that I want to provide that alternative thinking rather than look up to someone else to do it, but in the course of my research, and with my advisor, I am also finding a number of philosophers who are pushing back on aspects of Western philosophy, or who are treading on new grounds as I do. I never knew some of these new philosophers, even though I’ve kept up with the discourse of postcolonialism. That’s really beautiful--if you look for new ideas, you’ll get them in new topologies, or merely old topologies refreshed.
Let me say something briefly about the symposium and the whole issue of topologies within IDSVA. I have never been so naive as to believe that any institution because they are naturally constituted by many individuals, can question conventional wisdom or dominant theories. It has never happened before. IDSVA has tried, and we have to give them/ourselves some credit. By nature, again, dominant theories, epistemes, and ideologies are questioned by outliers, who then, if they succeed, become dominant and have to be questioned by outliers of their era. That means the questioning has to be by individuals, whether they are thinkers or activists; a minority set apart from the majority.
Thus, I expect me, you, Sandra, Novel, and others here or elsewhere to be at the vanguard of this topological exploration and experimentation; to come up with fresh, decentering ideas challenging the status quo, and to partake in this intellectual growth. This symposium is another opportunity to do that, but nothing is going to be clear, nobody has a monopoly on ideas, and we are just like individuals in a marketplace trading their ideas. Success in this endeavor is neither guaranteed nor necessary. In fact, to endeavor is success in and of itself. That’s a tweak on my high school’s motto.