Double Critique: Disrupting Monolithic Thrusts

“The refusal of Western culture does not in itself constitute
a culture, and the delirious roaming around the lost self
shall never stir it up from dust.”

(Laroui, A., L’idéologie arabe contemporaine, 1967.)

Contextualizing the Debate

International theatre research has long studied the world before undergoing its revolution from the inside. Should the world study back or, rather, perform back while striving for recognition? The intercultural debate of the 1980s and 1990s implied the possibility of a democratic interweaving of performance cultures across the globe. Still, the task of postcolonial scholarship is further complicated by the existing body of world theatre histories. Our performance cultures are hardly visible in the “universal narrative of capital – History 1”1, typically edited out, and otherwise often only mentioned on the borderlines between absence and presence. Europe has always been the silent referent in world theatre history. With rising demands for further democratizing the discipline, new modes of writing theatre history from below have emerged with an earnest desire for inclusion. Obviously, “third-world historians feel a need to refer to works in European history; historians of Europe do not feel any need to reciprocate.”2 Dipesh Chakrabarty’s attempt to interrupt the totalizing thrust of History 1 is immediately caught in a double bind and was soon problematized by Rustom Bharucha in the margins of his seminal essay “Foreign Asia/Foreign Shakespeare”. Chakrabarty’s “historicist debt to Europe had overpowered his critique of Eurocentricity, so much so that (in my reading, at least) Chakrabarty ends up ‘provincializing Bengal’”3 rather than Europe.

We are constantly reminded of Frantz Fanon’s conclusion in The Wretched of the Earth, where he repudiated the degraded ‘European form’ and called for something different: “Come, then, comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe […]. For Europe, for ourselves, and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.”4 Fanon’s reliance on theoretical Marxism, however, soon undermined his oppositional writing. Unlike Fanon, Chakrabarty ends up proclaiming “an anti colonial spirit of gratitude”: “provincializing Europe cannot ever be a project of shunning European thought. For at the end of European imperialism, European thought is a gift to us all. We can talk of provincializing it only in an anti colonial spirit of gratitude.”5 Such spirit attracts our attention to an ambiguous compromise that is complicit with the radical West in its critique of Eurocentric underpinnings of consumerist modernity, along with the “universal narrative of capital – History 1.”

This is precisely where the Moroccan sociologist Abdelkebir Khatibi’s concept of double critique is effective in problematizing the very notion of the binary: Khatibi’s call is similar to Fanon’s but his strategy deconstructs rather than reverses the language of Manichaeism. His line of questioning disrupts all sorts of binary definitions of Self and Other, East and West. It is essentially a critique that weaves in and out of philosophical lines of influence belonging to both the East and the West. By casting the West as the Other, Fanon runs the risk of homogenizing the multifold West into one single entity. Perhaps it is a tactical move on Fanon’s part in an effort to counter what he sees as Europe’s lack of differentiation of “silent societies” she commonly categorizes as ‘Third World’, ‘under-developed’, or ‘developing’. Khatibi’s call for a pensée-autre (a thought of difference) is a third path toward decolonization, a double subversion that strives to elude “wild difference”6. This pensée-autre is a way of re-thinking difference and identity without recourse to essentialist absolutes and “isms”. It is an “archeology of silence” and a resistance of recuperation within a closed system. The thought of difference requires a radical rupture to “escape its own theological and theocratic foundations which characterize the ideology of Islam and of all monotheism.”7 Meanwhile, it claims to stand on a different ground than the West; “for we want to uproot Western knowledge from its central place within ourselves, to decenter ourselves with respect to this center, to this origin claimed by the West.”8 The transgressive effects of such a critique as a subaltern form of deconstruction are already apparent in its transformation rather than passive borrowing from the radical West.9 “The Occident is part of me, a part that I can only deny insofar as I resist all the Occidents and all the Orients that oppress and disillusion me.”10

Double critique is a double-edged weapon that is sometimes directed against itself as an “untreated difference”.11 It calls for re-thinking the hegemony of the West and the subordination of the East, the Orient, the Third World, or any number of other names used by the West to designate areas that are not the West, i.e. the global South as opposed to what Spivak calls “the Feudal North in-the-South”. It also calls for re-thinking the Maghreb, the home country, and considering it for what it currently is: a container of multiple identities, a sedimental layering of cultures past and present, in permanent flux between moments of conviviality and tragic sublimity. The Maghreb has long been at the crossroads of civilizations, a point of intersection for various encounters, coveted by different powers, notably Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Spaniards, Portuguese, English, Arabs and Turkish. Double critique is a decolonizing archeology that leads to an examination of the binary concepts of East and West, Occident and Orient, and the philosophical, metaphysical, and theological traditions propagated in each domain. This double-edged critique encompasses a deconstruction of critical discourses on performance that used to speak in the name of the Arab world but was informed by a deeply rooted Eurocentrism. In the meantime, the second critique is a reflection on the ‘politics of nostalgia’ and how the Arabs view their performance cultures. Double critique is an effect of a plural genealogy wherein one stages his/her confrontation of Self and Other, East and West. Khatibi often refers to himself as a ‘professional foreigner’. The question, here, is very much related to the location of exile in any attempt to restore the postcolonial subject to his/her humanity. Throughout his lifetime, he tried different genres of writing in an ever-lasting attempt to exile the consciousness of exile.

  1. Chakrabarty, D., Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 254. []
  2. Chakrabarty, D., “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History” in Representations, Special Issue: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories , no 37, Winter 1992, pp. 1–26, here pp. 1–2. []
  3. Bharucha, R., “Foreign Asia/Foreign Shakespeare: Dissenting Notes on New Asian Interculturality, Postcoloniality, and Recolonization” in Theatre Journal no. 54, 2004, pp. 1–28, here p. 21. []
  4. Fanon, F., The Wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press, 1963, pp. 312–316. []
  5. Chakrabarty, D., Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, p. 255. []
  6. “Let us name ‘wild difference’, the fake separation which casts the Other into the absolute outside. Wild difference definitely leads to frenzied identities: cultural, historical, ethnic, racial, national …. It has condemned the West and made it a captive of hostility.” [My own translation.] Khatibi, A., Double Critique, Rabat: Oukad Publications, 1990, p. 30. []
  7. Khatibi, A., “Double Critique: The Decolonization of Arab Sociology” in Halim Barakat (ed.) Contemporary North Africa: Issues of Development and Integration, London: Croon Helm, 1985, p. 14. []
  8. Khatibi, A., “Double Critique: The Decolonization of Arab Sociology”, p. 13. []
  9. Khatibi’s proposition of a thought of difference transcends Hegelian Manichaeisms only to emerge as a deconstructive praxis of difference. It is interesting to note that Khatibi was attentive to the diverse trajectories of Western thought. His reciprocal friendship with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida is evident from Barthes’ preface to Maghreb pluriel, significantly entitled “Ce que je dois à Khatibi” (What I owe to Khatibi). Also, Khatibi’s “La langue de l’autre” is clearly a response to Derrida’s “Le monolinguisme de l’autre”. Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and Blanchot are also part of Khatibi’s trajectory: “nous prenons en compte non seulement leur style de pensée, mais aussi leur stratégie et leur machinerie de guerre, afin de les mettre au service de notre combat qui est, forcément, une autre conjuration de l’esprit, exigeant une décolonisation effective, une pensée concrète de la différence”. (We take into account not only their mode of thinking, but also their strategy and their war machinery, in order to put them to the service of our fighting, which is inevitably another conspiracy of the mind, requiring an effective decolonization, and a concrete thought of difference.) Maghreb pluriel, Paris: Denoël, 1983, p. 20. []
  10. Khatibi, A., La Mémoire tatouée: Autobiographie d’un décolonisé, Paris: Denoël, 1971, p. 106. []
  11. Khatibi, A., Maghreb pluriel, p. 50. []