Ref. :  000017822
Date :  2005-03-21
Language :  English
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Partage de la raison

Partage de la raison

Author :  Rada Iveković


Borders on the land or boundaries in the minds – partages de la raison - are lines drawn to produce difference, then to hierarchise it and finally to render it normative. In that sense, the view of the “delay” of female citizenship in time (some 150 years, in France, against “universal” i.e. male suffrage) or of the “backwardness” of Third World countries compared with the West, which are as many attempts to set a boundary in time between the Modern and the pre-Modern, are themselves normative viewpoints. They will now have to be revised if we want to move away from a Eurocentric perspective towards diverse sconfinamenti, transbordering. What may substantially correct the more traditional Eurocentric approach to borders and boundaries is “positioning oneself there where thinking is a vital necessity”. We might want to meditate on that: not rooting the “subject position” or rather the “process that the subject is” in the ego-position (individual or collective), but rather building it on the side of vital necessity: there, where thinking is the last recourse to survival and to the existential (not only in the material sense), because there is nothing else. We also want to reflect on the building en creux of citizenship in a positive way, even there where it is not recognised, or where it is only a hope for the future. In situations of displacement, homelessness, refuge, of fleeing populations or migrant movements. This involves changing view of borders and of partitions: these are not necessarily only those rigid territorial, spatial lines: they open up everywhere and in hitherto unexpected ways.
We will try to reflect on con-stitution / in-stitution as a way of establishing “ex-stitutions” (exceptions) too, those externalised “areas” or “times” that are without the scope of thinking and left unreflected, thus reproducing the normative rift of - reason and its opposite.

Countries, Minds, worldviews, cultures can be split in different ways. We started working on geographical, territorial partitions (certainly because these were also otherwise painful, as families are partitioned etc.), and then found out that partitions can happen along many other dividing lines. It is possible to say of any society, quite beyond the state, that it is divided over a variety of matters. The state may deepen, try to defuse those divides, it may maintain them or feed them. Not only are states subject to partitioning (from the nation to partition, from partition to the nation), but societies also suffer profound divisions constantly reconfigured and negotiated.

It seems increasingly obvious that we cannot separate state partitions, social cleavages and partitions of the mind, or partage de la raison.

We must also be reminded, as Balibar says, that borders are a European invention, and mainly colonial at that. The new globalised situation has indeed produced new borderlines inside Europe itself, areas out of reach by its citizens, areas where the law does not apply, before the migrants and refugees even have a chance to ask for asylum. New poverty borders, and lines of division of the various new camps or indistinct airport areas where refugees are removed from our sight.

Speaking about partitions and transitions implies a modern Western episteme which may be inadequate in the sense that it pretends to apply to other parts of the world according to Western criteria. It is self-understood for example that it is the Western type of Modernity that is being globalised, and that is not wrong in a self-critical Western perspective, or in another way, in a critical post-colonial perspective too. This certainly depends on the way Modernity is defined, but overcoming the paradigm of the Western épistémè alone asks for opening the definitions of Modernity to other directions (points cardinaux) : not binding it by its origin but defining it also independently in order to open it to the future.

The partage de la raison, or the partitions of the mind produces exclusions. Reason is, namely, normative. It makes itself into a norm when it excludes madness designating it as heterogeneous. Those that are then labelled with madness (or with the opposite of reason : passion, immaturity, primitivism, underdevelopment etc.) are the excluded. Declared unreasonable, they are deemed negligible or deserving elimination. “C’est un secret bien gardé que l’Europe, comme cet ensemble de valeurs politiques et morales revendiquant une portée universelle”, writes Eleni Varikas “n’a acquis son identité moderne que par un processus de suppression réelle et symbolique du non-identique à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur de ses frontières...” (1)

The Western concept of universality (a certain historically marked universalism, because, needless to say, there are other universalisms too) has always been linked to Europe’s history and to the West and had been an instrument in colonial expansion, in various conquests as well, but also in the propagation of Western modernity, which is achieved in globalisation. It has been the ally of hegemony and of domination.

The concept of “partage de la raison” has the advantage of cutting transversally through reason and identity, these two ill-assorted concepts that pose the question in a more complicated and less clear way. Reason already proceeds, inasmuch it is dynamic, to a concatenation of divisions. It is the moment of its freeze, of immobilisation, that creates “identities”. Without “identities”, there are no pariahs, no exclusions. The self-constituting gesture of excluding from « madness » from « reason » jams the genealogies of reason (inseparable in its origin from madness) and allows to designate all that is rejected as exterior to the self. Some historical periods have been more readily prone to this projection onto the other of all the negativity accumulated in the self: diverse pariahs, witches, Jews, Blacks, indigenous populations, women etc. could thus be demonised as the unacceptable and infréquentable alterity that would individually or collectively become the scapegoats of the “good society” (i.e. of the dominant).

From now on, when there is no, or when there is less ”exterior”, when the barriers of the Cold War have collapsed and when we cannot project our evil onto the other… what will be of the figures of the pariah (2) ? Can we reach out to the others on another mode than that of appropriation ? If and when we can, we overcome borders and partitions as an obstacle, and we prevail over the freezing construction of lethal and constituted exceptions, while letting us however be in the constituting mode, through the exceptional and different as a constant defiance.


(This article synthesises a longer study by the same author. It can be found at the following address : Exception as Space & Time : Borders and Partitions)

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Notes :

(1) E. Varikas, «Le “paria” ou la difficile reconnaissance de la pluralité humaine», in Revue des deux mondes, novembre-décembre 1999, p. 353.
(2) Hans Mayer, Outsiders. A Study in Life and Letters, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Ma. 1982; Esther Cohen, Le Corps du diable. Philosophes et sorcières à la renaissance, Lignes/Léo Scheer, Paris 2004; Tumultes n° 21/22, « Le Paria : une figure de la modernité », novembre 2003, Tumultes n° 23, « Adorno. Critique de la domination. Une lecture féministe », novembre 2004.


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