My other/ My self : cartesian and objectivist ontologies, racial Darwinism and selfing the 'others' of the earth in David Malouf's Remembering Babylon.
Mfune, Damazio Mwanjakwa.
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In this study I propose to examine some of the roots and implications of discrimination as illustrated in a novel by a contemporary Australian novelist, David Malouf, titled Remembering Babylon (1993). My choice of Malouf's novel is grounded in the fact that, in a narrative set in mid 19th century Australia dealing with an encounter between Scottish settlers and the Aboriginal people, the novel embodies various kinds of thought systems of a discriminatory Cartesian nature. The issues in the novel are against a background of a long history of discrimination dating from antiquity which reached probably its highest point with Anglo-Saxon imperialism. It is a well known fact that the contact between European colonisers and their so-called Others has been dogged by confrontation, discrimination, exploitation and domination. The latter's responses to these phenomena have been varied. But, as JanMohamed notes in his Manichean Aesthetics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa(1985) these responses have been characterised by crisis - both conscious and unconscious, material and metaphysical. And ever since this contact/reunion both groups have existed in this state of crisis and conflict -at both the manifest and latent levels. The causes of this crisis are both exo- and endogenous in origin: endogenous in the sense of the majority of these peoples' incapacity to hold their ground and 'properly' analyse/synthesise the substance of their 'new' existence and defme themselves pushed to the wall as they are by exogenous factors of European imperial and neo-imperial agendas. Most of the behaviors of the colonised, even the most 'bizarre' of them, are expressive of this existential crisis and their tenacious will to survive and approximate to a bearable life in an extremely oppressive and confusing environment. Especially in the African context, this inability to 'properly' analyse phenomena may have been brought about by a psychotic disjuncture engendered by an exogenous (European) chimerical metaphysics that parcels out existence into rigid, airtight, dualistic compartments in religion and philosophy. In these worldviews existence is described in specular, dominating and oppositional rather than in inter-subjective, co-operational and synthesizing terms. One result is that, speaking generally, Europeans are seen to exist at variance with themselves, with one another, with their environment and with non-European groups of people. Existence is defmed not as 'in' and 'with' but as 'apart from' and 'against'. Even where 'cooperation' is engaged in among them, it is for purposes of discrimination, exploitation and domination. This is not only a skewed ontology even in all demonstrable rational circles, it is also a highly escapist, confrontational, unscrupulously competitive/exploitative, and brutally pessimistic one. Philosophically, perhaps the earliest signs of European pessimistic and disjunctive construction of reality can be seen in Plato's escapist theory of reality which parcels out existence into two rigidly distinct, yet somehow causally related, worlds: one of forms/ideas and another world of material phenomena. Aristotle, Plato's own pupil, disagreed with his master on this by arguing instead that forms or ideas arise from and subsist in the world of material phenomena and not apart from and independent of the latter. One notices that all subsequent debates on the origin, nature, and relations of ideas (self-consciousness) and material phenomena, have been variations and expansions on these two diametrically opposed positions. But the most favoured school for the dualistic ontologies is idealism/rationalism, especially that of Descartes who is regarded as the highest point of the Enlightenment. These seem to fmd resonance in the subsequent theorising of Darwin, Spencer, and the social philosophy of Nietzsche among others. In spite of dissenting voices even from within their own ranks challenging such a metaphysics, the general trend among Europeans has been to hold tenaciously onto these pessimistic and escapist illusions mainly for egoistic, exploitative and supremacist purposes. Malouf does question discrimination based on binary assumptions of natural superiority and inferiority by juxtaposing notions of the human and non-human, progress and degeneration, modernity and pre-modernity (Science/Culture) in the 'Cartesian' sense as well as in the social and racial Darwinian sense. It is the approach he adopts in this project inter alia which I seek to examine in my study.