Aesthetic liberation

Together with this dynamic of power a sense of time or sensibility develops that orients and limits thought in terms of a single human History determined by the the modern Western rationalist project of progress. This sensibility becomes a pre-rational aesthetic disposition that accompanies the coloniality of power and knowledge and situates all determinations of existence under the latter.

Throughout the essay, I use time to refer to the broadest field/s of experiences of temporalities, while temporality refers specifically to the sense of time that arises from the configuration of specific systems of power and knowledge. When I speak of the concept of time, I also refer to the result of the development of modernity under the coloniality of power and knowledge.

To think in New York City is not the same as to think in the Lacando jungles in part because the temporalities of cement and the jungle are not the same.

I begin with a discussion of the question of liberation and the sense of being in proximate exteriority, a sensibility in Latin American philosophy of liberation, in order to give a space to hear the full relevance of my conclusion regarding aesthetic liberation in Latin American thought.

At this point, the concrete and existential embodied experience of the oppressed, excluded, and exploited marks an aporetic moment for the political transformation sought by Dussel and the philosophy of liberation. To put it in other words: before the political, there is the aesthetic, because normalised bodies severed from the sensibility out of which they may recognise themselves in their distinct lives will not rebel, because their pulsating will-to-live has been replaced with a docile consciousness in the name of “life.” Furthermore, as Foucault shows in his genealogy of Western modern instrumental rationalism, with time the refining of bodies at the service of the system becomes more exquisite and leaves no room for other senses of life. When power takes over life, living desire becomes the function of the production and preservation of power within the system.27

We are speaking of a sense of existence in alterity that informs and touches all normative and conceptual determinations in their direction and sense. It is here that aesthetic experience appears as a basic and necessary element for the politics and ethics of liberation. The life sensibility upon which philosophy of liberation is founded and finds its transformative possibility is a life in the flesh, in corporeal, existential, and affective dispositions situated at the limit of fact and reason.

Here, aesthetic experience, that is the dispositions and sensibilities that inform and direct the development of rational arguments, the construction of institutions, and the calculation of feasibility, appears as a turning point, a definitive field of struggle from which depend the politics of liberation.

We are speaking here of aesthetics in a radical sense: as the experience of liberation and configuration of consciousness in the undergoing of bodily life, a development of living consciousness not yet discursive or institutional. Here I understand aesthetics in a sense much broader than the traditional study of aesthetic judgment, or the nature of beauty. Aesthesis here concerns the liberation and configuration of consciousness in the concrete and ephemeral passing of life in its corporeal mental-affective occurrences.

At this delicate level of aesthetic understanding and oppression, the structures of coloniality (the system of oppression and dismissal of life) operate in various ways, effectively removing, severing, aesthetic experience from the question of the coloniality of power and knowledge. One finds this operation in the identification of art with “the beautiful” and its theories (resulting in the erasure of the vital transformative character of life’s alterity that informs the very origination of works of art, and situating the works within materialist history and/or a transcendental realm only accessible to Western rationality). We may also consider the inverse, the equating of art with the irrational, and thereby severing life from art and vice versa. One also finds this separation in the common belief that art belongs in museums (a place in which art is never created), instead of leading us to see art in the living manifestation of distinct peoples.28

Together with the centrality of the European mind (ego cogito), an egocentrism appears that reduces rationality to a self-recognition that even in its most critical moments will affirm and remain committed to the centrality, single originality, and determining power of Western thought over all senses of being human and all ways of understanding existence. As Quijano explains, “In effect, all of the experiences, histories, resources, and cultural products ended up in one global cultural order revolving around European or Western hegemony.”33 Furthermore, with this egocentric moment a new temporality appears: “The Europeans generated a new temporal perspective of history and relocated colonised populations, along with their respective histories and cultures, in the past of a historical trajectory whose culmination was European.”34