The Invention of The Americas-Eclypse of the Other and the
Myth of Modernity – Enrique Dussel
In Dussel’s view, modernity began not in 1600s in Northern Europe but in 1492 with the colonisation of the Americas. This moment redefined Iberia, and later Europe, in relation to the other, the newly dominated peoples.
There were precursors: the hardening of treatment of the other (Moors and later Jews) during the Spanish reconquest and the intellectual developments from Italy: but that turn to the West and the subsequent domination and pillage of America is the pivotal change to which Dussel attributes the expansionist dynamic of Europe and the anti-ethic of relentless exploitation and domination along economic, geographical and racial dimensions.
This modernity expanded and developed from Spain via the Netherlands, to England and the rest of Western Europe and ultimately to North America. In The invention of the Americas.
Eclipse of “the Other” and the myth of modernity Dussel (1995) explores this thesis.
He identifies two aspects to the “myth of modernity”. Firstly “… modernity signifies rational emancipation. The emancipation involves leaving behind immaturity under the force of reason as a critical process that opens up new possibilities for human development” (Dussel, 1995: 136).
But secondly “… modernity justifies an irrational praxis of violence. … Modern civilization understands itself as most developed and superior, since it lacks awareness of its own ideological Eurocentrism” (Dussel, 1995: 136). This allows the imposition of a model of development with violence justified as part of the ‘civilising process’. He continues by saying, that “Finally, modernity, thinking itself as the civilizing power, regards the sufferings and sacrifices of backward and immature peoples, enslaveable races, and the weaker sex as the inevitable costs of modernization.” (Dussel, 1995: 137).
Dussel concludes that, “To overcome modernity, one must deny its myth. I seek to overcome modernity not through a postmodern attack on reason based on the irrational incommensurability of language-games. Rather, I propose a transmodern opposition to modernity’s irrational violence based on the reason of the Other.” (Dussel, 1995: 137).
For Dussel this definition of modernity in relation to the non-European has various dimensions. As a Latin American he situates himself personally in the periphery that also includes Asia and Africa but he also sees modernity and its associated oppression as having an ethnic dimension, a gender dimension and a cultural-spiritual dimension. Finally there is an economic and political dimension: capital-labour, national elite-popular masses, global versus peripheral capitals…..