Modernity and Difference

Yesterday I went to a lecture from Soopawan Boonimitra at the foundation Basis for Actual Art. She explained about her research project "Leave to Remain" which considers how the distinct borders of the notion of "home" have been dismantled by the contemporary condition of mobility and migration.
Actually I found what her supervisor said, Sarat Maharaj, the most interesting. He is a very wise man, talking in a broadminded nuanced articulated way, nuanced without becoming meaningless. And he speaks exactly about the topic of my thesis: how to deal with otherness in a multicultural society / globalised world. I found an interview with him on the internet (and I ordered the book "Modernity and Difference'). I picked out the elements which are very relevant for my thesis and I mixed them up to create a new text. I have marked in organge the Levinasian concepts that Maharaj uses. Later I will give a personal analysis of these views, but for now I think the text itself is sufficiently.

"I do not want to begin from a position of positing some primordial totality that has somehow to be reclaimed today. My starting point is more pidgin Hindu-Buddhist - or rather the school of Indian philosophy called Nyaya-Vaiseshika - which starts from the notion of difference, of ever-changing multiplicity, rather than recuperable "oneness". I am hesitant before the monotheistic malady of oneness and the intolerance it unleashes. There is a constant talk of overcoming differences, which is understandable especially in light of 9/11. But what sameness or "oneness" is intended? My view is that contemporary culture should be seen as production of difference -as heterogenesis.

The challenge of a modern notion of culture and ethics, of tolerance, is how to live with heterogeneity and plurality. A notion of a harmonic totality or consensus assumes too much. I think differences have to be tussled with in all their ever-mutating change. This doesn't make me a "theoretician of conflict" but perhaps one of difference.

What this is all about is to account for alterity without reducing the otherness of the Other. How can you deal with alterity and otherness without always translating it into an epistemological frame of your own in which the Other is entirely present to you and accepted through the filter of your mental categories? That is, how to do so without violating the Other? How would this engagement with the Other, what I call the ethics of difference, be constructed? How is this scene to be understood? The call for sameness, a ground on which we meet as equals, seems to presuppose something like a grid - difference is flattened out by the law of equivalence. What doesn't fit the grid must be excluded as excremental.

When unstoppable migrations dissolve the idea of borders, an era of equality and human rights also unfolds. The future is not mapped out in every detail but open-ended, poised "in the infinitive" - like a motorcar's engine throbbing in neutral but ready to spring in any direction.

How should we deal with cultural difference in a world marked by the events of 9/11? How would cultural exchange and mutual cultural representation forestall clash and collision?
The strategy becomes one of representationalism and spectacle--how to put one culture on display to another. This amounts to treating each culture as a static entity, a fixed identity, stereotyping and representing it as cultural essence - a bit like fixing diversity and putting it on display under apartheid. This control by fixing difference into static components of cultural diversity is what I call multicultural managerialism. It's a marked tendency in EU governmental policy, however well-intentioned. What I'm interested in, which may be a task doomed to failure, is different entirely.
It's the struggle to construct meaning together, across the borders of cultural difference. Only the meltdown of one's intellectual frame makes possible the genuine surprises of an ethical encounter."

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