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Problematics and Representation

“Rituals of speaking are politically constituted by power relations of domination, exploitation, and subordination. Who is speaking, who is spoken of, and who listens is a result, as well as an act, of political struggle (Alcoff 15).

“A form of first problematic thinking, while recessive in the West, dominates classical Chinese culture. Likewise, the cultural dominant in the West, which we are calling second problematic or causal thinking, is recessive within classical Chinese culture” (Hall and Ames xviii).

Taking these two readings together, I find myself attempting to make meaning where they join, conflict, and/or overlap. What does it mean to speak about or speak for someone? Alcoff’s questions and critiques were very much in my mind when reading Hall and Ames, and while I appreciated many of their explanations about the strands of Western philosophy that come together to form our dominant epistemic paradigms, I was not nearly as convinced by the more or less simple ways in which they set the Chinese systems of thought in opposition to that. And who are they to speak? Are they speaking for? About? With? What is the outcome or consequence of this discourse?

At the same time, my approach to the text remains open-ended as I haven’t yet read all of it – it is likely that more detail is offered later in the book as to where they arrive at their conclusions about Chinese philosophy (ß is this itself a reductive term?) but thus far it strikes me as overly simplistic based upon my own studies of Eastern philosophy. (ß And I will cringe ever time I use these words, reinscribing dualities that I don’t quite believe but being stuck in my “Western” ((cringe)) language to describe what I’m trying to say in a way that articulates a type of sense.) My hope is that more detail is given later, or that perhaps this seeming duality – itself a product (from their argument) of Western thinking will be disrupted later.


One area that I did appreciate and that is related to my critique, moving against its grain at least a bit, is the section in the Introduction, part of which is cited above. The idea that ideas may be recessive and/or dominant within a culture resonates with my own inquiries, curiosities, and questions about these things. The languaging of dominant/recessive viewed as analogous to “traits” that may surface or exist subtly just beneath the surface of an epistemic system fits with some of my own conceptualizations, though instead of seeing these systems as discreet (which thus far the argument strikes me as portraying) I see them as more subtly intertwined without hard distinctions between East/West. It is something difficult to put into words and seems that it would work better as a tapestry or rug, where strands and colors could mix together in places, sometimes one over the other, sometimes intertwined, sometimes coalescing in areas where one color primarily dominates and/or one or the other color(s) seems to completely disappear. It is my hope that this text (Hall and Ames) moves more toward this direction later.

Some partial thoughts:

Zeno’s paradox: I’ve wrestled with it before and never quite traverse the space to get to its end. I’m not sure that one must. Why must paradoxes be “solved?” What about them makes them conflicted spaces? Why must surfaces meet without first twisting? Does it feel too much like chaos to leave questions hanging as their own answers?

Plato and Aristotle: The idea that we can break Western thought down to it being Platonic or Aristotelian has always amused me. That or is an and and they are not all that very different. This treatment highlighted that in a way I found useful. What is it about cutting things into pieces that leads to a belief that the whole will suddenly be found within that? There are always smaller pieces. (See: Zeno)

While I appreciated the discussion of the Sophists, and there was a momentary mention of the Stoics, these are exactly the types of philosophic schools about which I want more contextualization within the more dominant strands of Western philosophy. Though I’m working on that on my own (at least with Cynics at the moment) I wonder how these ways of thinking fit in with the model set up here by Hall and Ames. Are there philosophies between East and West? That encompass both? Is this a continuum? A circle? A spiral? A wave moving back and forth? Or will these be set up as islands where only waves of the “other” touch the shores?



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