Silence and the Alienation of Expression

What silences us? What makes us speak and resist?

Contrary to popular history, European imperialism’s greatest and most insidious achievement was not the production of vast armies, ballistic weapons and transcontinental vessels of war, but the codification and subsequent legitimization of the colonial act itself. The codification of imperial ideologies split the Earth into two domains, ripe with contradictions: the “civilized European world” and the “heathenish non-European lands.” It would be downright fallacious to assume that we now live in an era where colonial exploits are a thing of the past and that imperialist tendencies have been doffed off, like a dirty rag, by the old inquisitors of the “howling wilderness.”

At what point did Europeans begin to reorganize the world according to the demands of endless imperial hunger?

A quick examination of the roots or bases of international law, which is widely regarded as the universal law of modern nation-states, would show that what should have been codified to protect all socio-political and cultural classes was actually designed to uphold the ideals and interests of imperialist powers. The European powers expressed themselves and ingrained their own worldview and laws in the manuscripts and codes that would later become the standard of international jurisprudence in both imperial and colonized states.

 One of the most primitive origins of European international law can be found in the 16th century works of Francisco de Vitoria, a Spanish Dominican jurist and theologian. Vitoria’s influence was apparent as he was even consulted by Emperor Charles V on matters of moral principle. Vitoria’s writings and beliefs on Spanish colonial pursuits exhibited a more naturalistic bent as opposed to simply appropriating the “divine law” of the Church. Antony Anghie, Professor of Law at Utah State University, writes:

“Vitoria denies that the sovereign, the Emperor, could have acquired universal temporal authority through the universal spiritual authority of Christ and the Pope. He questions whether divine law could provide the basis for temporal authority, methodically denies a number of assertions of Papal authority and concludes that “The Pope is not civil or temporal lord of the whole world in the proper sense of the words “lordship” and “civil power” and goes even further to assert that even in the spiritual realm, the Pope lacks jurisdiction over the unbelievers.” (19)

 Vitoria’s central contribution to the Spanish colonial framework was the idea of jus gentium, which was closely associated with the concept jus naturale (“all beings.”) Jus gentium meant “every people,” which meant the narrative expression of Spanish imperialism substantiated its right to impose its force on foreigners (necessarily, outside the Spanish sovereignty). This is in sharp contrast with jus civile which referred to law that only applied within the (Spanish) state. Through a central expression that was founded on the belief that both Spanish and non-Spanish individuals are free to roam the world and trade, the naturalistic jus gentium doctrine legitimized the continuous movement of Spanish forces well beyond the borders of its own state. While Vitoria’s writings seemed to imply that Spanish colonialist-traders and the Indians were of equal footing, what he truly suggested was that through reciprocity, the Indians should, without a doubt, trade and accept the hostile encroachment of the Spanish colonists wholesale. Anghie reiterates:

“Seen in this way, Vitoria’s scheme finally endorses and legitimizes endless Spanish incursions into Indian society. Vitoria’s apparently innocuous enunciation of a right ‘to travel’ and ‘sojourn’ extends finally to the creation of a comprehensive, indeed inescapable system of norms which are inevitably violated by the Indians. For example, Vitoria asserts that ‘to keep certain people out of the city or province as being enemies, or to expel them when they are already there, are acts of war.’” (21)

Through the enforcement of imperial logic on colonial states, Spain was able to create a unitary reformulation of the national identity of colonized peoplesbased on the principles inspired by jus gentium. Not even the divine powers of the Church could reverse the central dogma of jus gentium at that time, as evidenced by the fact that colonial states answered to the Spanish crown and not to the papacy. The assiduous manner in which Thinkers like Vitoria invented the identity and roles of the “Indian” or “Saracen”in what would soon be colonized territories demonstrates the power of narrative fiction and the consequences of codifying largely imaginative discourse. The [re]invention of the Other, the heathen native, took place even before the imperial powers had full engagement with the actual population of the “heathen territories.” All forms of violence that took place after full engagement only served to extend the narrative that begun after the codification of jus gentium. Colonized peoples were expected to engage in trade and commerce as if they were Spanish natives and were ultimately penalized for not thinking, speaking and acting like the colonizer.

The imposition of the “heathen identity” and necessarily, new ways of life, may be the most painful and long-lasting of all the forms of violence inflicted upon dominated peoples. Evidence of harm on a national scale can be found in what Filipino critic Neferti Xina Tadiar termed “fantasy production-“a product of the sexual economies which animated the New World Order. Working closely with the contours and boundaries of Philippine political economy, Tadiar demonstrates the “hyperfeminization” of neocolonial Philippines in relation to other economically advanced states:

“Thus subjected to extensive and intensive penetration of its economy by powers such as the US, Japan and the rest of the OECD Five as well as the NICs, the Philippines finds itself hyperfeminized in its relations. It is not an accident that the American expression ‘to fuck someone over’ means to exploit or abuse someone, and ‘to be fucked up’ means to be abused in a perverted way… The way in which this dominant fantasy of sexual relations has developed into an essential condition of advanced capitalism might be traced through the history of imperialism up to the present.” (49)

The neocolonial domination and violence that we continue to grapple with can be apprehended, though not always easily, through the fictive logics that drive them. However, before we can actively participate in the politics of resistance and decolonization, there is the serious matter of our scandalous subalternity. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci first examined the idea of “subaltern classes” (originally a British military term which meant “of lower rank”) in his seminal work Notes on Italian History.1 At the core of subaltern analysis is the eternal tension of authenticity, which necessarily questions – who speaks, for whom and to what end? These questions encompass not only instances of actual speech between individuals where “nests of intentions” are immediately questioned, but also to dynamic-emotive dialogues that occur in various forms of text.2 Since a text is often regarded as an alter-entity capable of performance, it also follows that any kind of text is capable of signaling its own deconstruction. Deconstruction often leads to the destruction of textual logic and for good reason, too. Historicity is key to understanding the material origins and associations of all cultural artifacts, including speech. Deleuze and Guattari’s deterritorialization of the book is a good example of how simple deconstructive logic can pave the way for future imaginings that are perhaps closer to truth than what was previously available, by way of thinking:

“A book exists only through the outside on the outside. A book itself is a little machine; what is the relation (also measurable) of this literacy machine to a war machine, love machine, revolutionary machine, etc. – and an abstract machine that sweeps them along?” (4)

It is our ethical responsibility to engage the world critically, for it is only in the unfamiliar territory of smoke and mirrors do we begin to see our collective state of becoming. In philosophy, the concepts of being and becoming have been argued endlessly since the time of Plato and Aristotle. What has kept the conversation going all these centuries was our natural need for apprehension and understanding. Giorgio Agamben writes:

“All living beings are in the open: they manifest themselves and shine in their appearance. But only human beings want to take possession of this opening, to seize hold of their appearance and of their own being-manifest. Language is this appropriation, which transforms nature into face. This is why appearance becomes a problem for human beings: it becomes the location for the struggle for truth. The face is at once the irreparable being-exposed of humans and the very opening in which they hide and stay hidden. The face is the only location of community, the only possible city.” (90)

Agamben’s concept of “face as city” is actually a clever re-view of two things: the possibility of change through social struggle and the possibility of social struggle through the apprehension of language, which binds the logics of the current world order. For nothing could be truly apprehended, understood or accomplished in a world where language has completely broken down. All of the machines of domination operate with their own logics and languages and are interconnected to produce desired effects. Some would like to believe that the central machinery that drives everything forward is capital itself – it’s not. To say that faceless capital is the sole source of worldly evil would be to revert to vulgar materialism, which is in itself is morally bankrupt for its inability to comprehend the complexity of human culture and institutions.

The role of the reader-thinker/reader-critic/reader-revolutionary and so on is to determine the historicity of events in the context of dialectical human struggle and to create critical positions which will then serve as expressions of resistance. The moment expressions of resistance begin to manifest on the socio-political map, the state of subalternity or non-speech begins to erode. This allows formerly dominated voices to be heard as they begin to rise up in physical revolt against any form of violence and tyranny besieging them. In the Philippines, let us allow ourselves the luxury of calling all expressions of resistance acts of decolonization. Frantz Fanon in Wretched of the Earth, writes:

“Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them. It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduce by new men, and with it a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men.”

We do not need to look far to see how expressions of resistance can translate to struggle in the real world. The armed conflicts in the Southern Philippines, led by the Moros who are fighting for statehood is a perfect example of how a singular desire – statehood – can transform previously inactive members of the populations into armed combatants. Arnold Azurin, a Filipino social scientist and critic, expounds:

“The hostilities running for several centuries between the camps of holy warriors have been precisely the root cause of the crises, political and military, erupting now and then in Southern Philippines. With vengeance, the Muslims (Moros to those sympathetic to the freedom fighters) have renewed their struggle to restore their lost statehood. For one reason or other, the Mindanaoans of differing cultural and political stripes have begun to follow suit, trumpeting their own claims to self-determination through a presumed federal government structure.” (36)

No number of political stripes, indigenous class divisions and interclass conflict can prevent a large number of people from imagining the possibility of an independent Moro state. And while it’s true that the conflicts that eventually led to the explosion of the North-South dichotomy in the Philippines warrants a more expansive exploration, Azurin’s observation is sufficient to demonstrate the expansive potentialities of expression as it relates to political conflict and social upheaval.

[1] See Ashcroft, Bill. Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts USA: Routledge, 2000. p. 198
[2] Routledge History of Philosophy, Volume X. London: Routledge, 1997. p. 19

Works Cited:

Agamben, Giorgio. Means Without End. University Of Minnesota Press, 2000, p. 90.

Anghie, Antony. Imperialism, Sovereignty, And The Making Of International Law – Cambridge Studies In International And Comparative Law Book 37. Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 19.

Azurin, Arnold Molina. Beyond The Cult Of Dissidence In Southern Philippines And Wartorn Zones In The Global Village. UP Center For Integrative And Development Studies And University Of The Philippines Press, 1996, p. 36.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Capitalism And Schizophrenia. University Of Minnesota Press, 1983, p. 4.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched Of The Earth With A Preface By Jean Paul Sartre. Grove Press, 2011, p. 35.

Tadiar, Neferti Xina M. Fantasy Production. Ateneo De Manila University Press, 2004, p. 49.

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

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