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Social Identities Vol. 11, No. 3, May 2005, pp.

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vy-Bruhl among the Le Phenomenologists: Exoticisation and the Logic of the Primitive
Robert Bernasconi

vy-Bruhls impact on continental philosophers from Edmund Hersserl, Max Lucien Le Scheler, and Martin Heidegger, to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida is documented with specific reference to the question of understanding vy-Bruhl focused on understanding the other cultures. However, the fact that Le primitive infected the philosophical discussions of this topic with a certain racism and even, on occasion, a certain exoticism, still visible even in Julia Kristevas efforts to overcome it. What does it mean to understand someone else better than they understand themselves, particularly when that other person belongs to a different culture and speaks another language? My intention here is neither to offer a new model of dialogue, nor to revisit the debate between Peter Winch and Alistair MacIntyre on understanding primitive societies. Instead, I am here largely concerned with elucidating some of the obstacles to dialogue * particularly those associated with primitivism and exoticism * as they continue to function undetected in our thinking. vy-Bruhl to thank him for sending him a copy In March 1935 Husserl wrote to Le of his newly published Primitive Mythology . This was more than a standard thank you letter. Husserls letter was written with some care and included the observation vy-Bruhl how much that it was his third draft. Nevertheless, Husserls way of telling Le vy-Bruhl. he appreciated his work says more about Husserl than it does about Le vyHusserl did not acknowledge some powerful insight that he had found in Le Bruhls work other than the recognition that the primitive thinks differently from vy-Bruhl any helpful insights or the modern, the civilized.1 Nor did Husserl offer Le vyquestions that would contribute to the latters project. Instead, Husserl told Le Bruhl that his work had a significance that extended far beyond its impact on
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Robert Bernasconi, Department of Philosophy, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152, USA. Email: rbernscn@memphis.edu ISSN 1350-4630 (print)/ISSN 1363-0296 (online) # 2005 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13504630500257033

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ethnology, but that it would be revealed by publications on humanity and the milieu (Umwelt ) that he, Husserl, was in the process of preparing. Husserl promised that in these works he would replace the irrationalism of some of his contemporaries and the old rationalism of others of them by introducing a new hyper-rationalism. In other vy-Bruhls studies of words, the deep-seated rationalist intentions that inspired Le primitive mysticism would be fulfilled by Husserl in ways yet to be revealed: There are important principles in your works that will find their entelechy in the future vy-Bruhl from that future. No (Husserl, 1994, p. 164).2 Husserl was writing to Le vy-Bruhl received the letter he approached Husserls former wonder that when Le student, Aron Gurwitsch, who was then in Paris, and asked him to explain it to him as he did not understand a word of it: Expliquez-moi, je nen comprends rien (Schumann, 1977, p. 459). vy-Bruhl must have To be sure, that was something of an exaggeration. Le understood at least that he was being told that his work would one day have a significance that he himself at this time could not yet understand. That is to say, vy-Bruhl better than according to a classic gesture, Husserl claimed to understand Le vy-Bruhl understood himself. The irony is that Le vy-Bruhl had for years claimed to Le understand the missionaries and other ethnologists whose reports he relied upon better than they understood themselves, just as they claimed to have understood the primitives better than the primitives understood themselves. Everybody * except the primitives * claimed to understand somebody else, but there was little or no mutual understanding between any of the various parties. And Husserl claimed to be in a position to understand them all, even though few, if any, were yet able to understand vy-Bruhl and perhaps not much him. This is what he wanted to communicate to Le else, as his letter was not free of the terminology of phenomenology, which he could vy-Bruhl to understand. not have expected Le vy-Bruhl was willing to acknowledge a case where someone On another occasion Le did understand him better than he understood himself. More precisely, he attributed to Maurice Leenhardt a clairvoyant understanding of his work. Leenhardt, after vy-Bruhls Primitives and the Supernatural , asked its author: The affective reading Le vy-Bruhl, 1949, pp. 137 and category of the supernatural, isnt it participation? (Le 220; 1975, pp. 105 and 168). In The Notebooks on Primitive Mentality , in which he vy-Bruhl described how he did not accept this revised many of his earlier claims, Le suggestion at the time, but did so later. Of course, one could say that Leenhardt did vy-Bruhl better than he understood himself, but, rather, that Le vynot understand Le vy-Bruhl was already moving in the direction Bruhl changed his mind. Or, perhaps, Le of equating the supernatural and participation and that is why he could call Leenhardt clairvoyant. I emphasize this possibility because it seems to parallel the way that European scholars have presented their relation to those they regarded as less developed. It is because Europeans gave a direction to history, that of Europeanization, or, as it has been called, since Kant, cosmopolitanism, that they felt able to claim that they understood the primitives without having to listen to them.
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vy-Bruhls works succeeded in surpassing the Enlightenment In certain respects, Le philosophy that inspired them. In spite of himself, he called into question the tradition whose superiority he took for granted. This was recognized by Emmanuel vy-Bruhl and Contemporary Philosophy, Levinas, who, in his 1957 essay, Le vy-Bruhls ideas on suggested that contemporary philosophy was marked by Le primitive mentality, precisely insofar as he had effectively put in question the alleged necessity of the categories which from Aristotle to Kant have been said to condition experience (Levinas, 1991, pp. 54 55; 1998, pp. 40 41).3 Max Scheler was among the vy-Bruhls contribution. Scheler had already in 1915 first philosophers to recognize Le relegated the absolute constant natural view of the world to the status of a limit concept and treated Kants table of categories as applicable only to European thinking (Scheler, 1915, pp. 256 57). However, ten years later he acknowledged that this vy-Bruhl had contributed insight was part of a larger movement of ideas to which Le vy-Bruhl significantly. In Sociology of Knowledge , in the context of a discussion of Le among others, Scheler introduced the notion of the relative natural view of the world (Scheler, 1960, p. 61; 1980, p. 74). It is defined as whatever is generally given to a (usually genealogical) group subject without question so that they not only do not need justification but are being given justification. Scheler claimed that these worldviews cannot be changed by instruction but only by racial integration and possibly linguistic and cultural mixings (Scheler, 1960, p. 63; 1980, p. 75). He also proposed that these relative natural views of the world are organized according to developmental stages that are in some way coordinated with the stages of psychic development (Scheler, 1960, p. 63; 1980, p. 75). I mention this so as to indicate that questions of race and of the philosophy of history were clearly in play in the vy-Bruhls ideas. appropriation of Le vy-Bruhls anthropological writings tend to follow a simple formula. Almost Le every chapter of his numerous ethnological studies begins with the rehearsal of a number of anecdotes drawn from the massive archive of literature left by missionaries and explorers. The European traveller encounters a form of behaviour that makes no sense to him or her. This is recorded with a view to showing not just the incomprehensibility of the primitives, but sometimes also their alleged stupidity, thereby already confirming the superiority of the Europeans who read about it. By vy-Bruhl then proceeds to show collecting similar anecdotes from across the world, Le that the form of behaviour is not unique to a specific tribe, culture or continent, but is widespread, with the crucial exception of Europe and by extension the civilized vy-Bruhl, we are first supposed to laugh at the world in general. When we read Le primitive for acting foolishly, then we learn to feel superior to the ethnographer, the initial European observer who failed to recognize that he or she was observing primitive behaviour. Once we know it specifically as magical or pre-logical or as an example of participation, what appeared to be arbitrary can be explained by reference to a concept. The explanatory power of this approach, such as it is, relies on establishing a decisive difference between their behaviour and ours . They, the primitives, are pre-logical, whereas, we, as civilized, are conceptual.4
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232 R. Bernasconi

vy-Bruhls startingThe stories told by missionaries and explorers that served as Le point do not tell us only about the people they describe but also, and perhaps primarily, about the missionaries and explorers themselves, both what they were looking for and what they had been taught to expect. This accounts, at least in part, for the repetition of the same story across cultures, which amounted to the vy-Bruhl came to dominate that genre because he claimed production of a genre. Le vyto understand what those stories concealed: the truth of primitive mentality. Le Bruhls primitives are no longer stupid; they are simply different from us. They are well adapted to their environment. Nevertheless, we still have the edge on them because we understand that they are the same all over the world, something of which they have no conception. Indeed, in this sense he believes that he understands them better than they understand themselves, albeit he does so by insisting on his difference from them while resolutely disregarding differences among them. vy-Bruhl is full of extraordinary anecdotes designed to show how our logic and Le vy-Bruhl, our language alike do violence to the representations of the primitive (Le 1927, p. 207; 1965, p. 170). The primitive does not make the distinctions we regard as essential between, for example, this world and the other world, dream and waking vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 14; 1966, p. 32). But we cannot experience, living and dead (Le understand the primitive by identifying both terms in each of these pairs. The most famous example is that of the leopard-man, who is discussed in The soul of the primitive . Although Europeans have the widespread idea of the werewolf to help them, the parallel is also misleading, because the decisive characteristic of the leopard-man is that it is a case of the same individual in two bodies at the same time vy-Bruhl, 1927, pp. 192 210; Le vy-Bruhl, 1965, pp. 158 72). Examples like these (Le are perhaps what provoked Husserl to ask in his Crisis of the European Sciences :
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Do we not stand here before the great and profound problem-horizon of reason, the same reason that functions in every man, the animal rationale , no matter how primitive he is? (Husserl, 1962, p. 385; 1970, p. 378)

vy-Bruhls primitives have the same capacity and the same aptitude as we do, but Le they dislike the discusive operations of thought, of reasoning, and reflection and so vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 12; 1966, pp. 29 30). In the posthumous they do without them (Le vy-Bruhl is more precise. He conceded that he Notebooks on Primitive Mentality , Le had said that primitive thought is not conceptual like ours, but he insisted that that should be taken to mean, not that they do not form concepts, but that they do not vy-Bruhl, 1949, p. 167, 228; 1975, make the same use as we do of discursive reason (Le vy-Bruhl advised against imagining that the primitives are pp. 127, 174). Hence, Le like ourselves and assuming that they should reason and reflect as we do. Instead, they should be submitted to a description and analysis that would render their mental vy-Bruhl, 1947, pp. activity normal under the conditions in which it is employed (Le 15-16; 1966, pp. 32 33). vy-Bruhl begins Let me get down to cases. Toward the end of Primitive Mentality Le a chapter entitled The primitives attitude to European remedies with a story of how
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sick people at Manyanga show neither gratitude nor surprise when their ulcers are cured after being given medical attention. His source for this anecdote, the Rev. W. vyHolman Bentley, explicitly doubts if gratitude is natural to the local people.5 Le Bruhl follows this with another, more extravagant, story from the same book in which a person who had been cured of pneumonia after careful nursing comes and asks for a present. When the Rev. Bentley, who both administered the cure and tells the story, suggests to his former patient the debt is in the other direction, the latter reportedly complained,
Well, indeed! You white men have no shame! I took your medicine and drank your soup, and did just as you told me, and now you object to give me a fine cloth to vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 478; wear! You have no shame! (Bentley, 1900, p. 414; cited by Le 1966, p. 411; citation corrected)

vy-Bruhl, speculated in his book as to why the Congolese man Neither Bentley, nor Le thought that his benefactors lacked shame. The ethical accusation is recorded but left vy-Bruhl proceeded to add further examples of primitives unexplored. For his part, Le demanding presents after having been cured, by drawing on other parts of Africa, and from New Guinea, Sumatra, Borneo and Fiji. He then set about exposing the misunderstanding that the white doctors had created by failing to attend to what was going on. They had failed to realize that the primitive does not understand modern medicine, but assimilates it to primitive medicine. In their eyes what had taken place vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 485; 1966, was the cure of one charm by a more powerful one (Le vy-Bruhl had long laboured to show, does not pp. 415 16). The primitive, as Le understand secondary causes. This is confirmed by other aberrant behaviour. The medicine is supposed to work immediately and to work as well whether the patient or vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 486; 1966, pp. 417 18). One observer alone is his wife takes it (Le found to have given the right explanation: the primitive shows no gratitude because vy-Bruhl, 1947, pp. he or she can see that the European doctor delayed the cure (Le 492 93; 1966, pp. 422 423).
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Now the native doubtless would be ready to thank him if he had been cured instantly, if as he expected, the medicines had had the effect of a touch of the magic vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 493; 1966, p. 423) wand. (Le

But why the demand for a gift? Why does the Congolese man believe that the person who saved his life, Mr Crudgington, has put himself under an obligation to his vy-Bruhl suggests that the mutual incomprehension between former patient? Le blacks and whites, primitives and Europeans, could have been averted.
Perhaps the reason for this mutual misunderstanding will reveal itself if here again, instead of taking for granted that the natives explain and regard such occurrences just as the Europeans do, we try to see things from their point of view, and judge vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 498; 1966, p. 427) the matter as they do. (Le

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vy-Bruhl insists that mystic elements are more important to the black than the Le vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 498; 1966, p. 427). Furthermore, one cannot see actual events (Le these events as isolated moments but as part of a complicated system of mystic vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 500; 1966, p. 429). By intervening to save the participation (Le primitive, the malevolent spirits who made him sick in the first place are now likely to be angry. The primitive is therefore in his own eyes not being ungrateful or unreasonable, if he now feels he needs more protection: the person who, on his own initiative, intervened to save his life made a sacred pledge that it would be treacherous, if not criminal, to break.
It is to be hoped that this humanity may not confine itself to dressing his ulcers, but that it may strive towards sympathetic penetration of the obscure recesses of a vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 502; 1966, p. 430) consciousness which cannot express itself. (Le

vy-Bruhl claims that the methodological basis of his procedure is to rid our Le minds of all preconceived ideas so as to guard against our own mental habits intervening, which would be to imply that the primitives should reason and reflect as vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 15; 1966, p. 32). He wants we do, which is something he denies (Le to show that their mental activity is not a childish rudimentary or pathological form of our own, but that it can be made to appear to be normal under the conditions in which it is to be employed, to be both complex and developed in its own way (1947, vy-Bruhl the alien character of the alien is not to be reduced p. 16; 1966, p. 33). For Le to something familiar but is maintained as alien. When the Rev. Bentley calls the patient ungrateful, what he is saying is that were he to behave in that way, asking in a similar context for a fine cloth to wear, then it could only be interpreted as vy-Bruhl recognizes that it is something else. However, by designating ingratitude. Le the primitive prelogical and above all by employing the term primitive, the encounter with another culture is controlled. To this extent the unnamed Congolese man may be right to say the missionary has no shame. If the missionary had experienced himself as seen by the other he might have had his framework of ideas vy-Bruhl seems to have been no more open to having his own selfput in question. Le conception challenged by the so-called primitive than the missionary was putting his or her own faith on the line, opening it to question from elsewhere. The missionaries vy-Bruhl wrote on the assumption wrote assuming the truth of Christianity, just as Le that the physical science of his day was true. Furthermore, as he himself subsequently came to recognize, he introduced concepts that were foreign. Indeed, in his publications he maintained that the concepts were foreign precisely as concepts. There can be no satisfactory translation because translation relies on concepts encompassed by the logical atmosphere proper vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. to European mentality. Translation had the effect of betrayal (Le vy-Bruhls 506; 1966, p. 34). The division cannot be bridged. The power of Le descriptions and analyses, for all their many shortcomings, is that they do not promise to explain anything or to make the primitive transparent. Instead, they are aimed at having us understand the limits of our understanding. But this does not

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vy-Bruhl from adopting the position of understanding them better than they stop Le understand themselves, because he understands, as they do not, that they are primitive. He has found a way of saying that we will never be able to understand them, while, by confining them to a realm from which we have been absolved, reaffirming our superiority over them. We understand them because they stand under us in an implicit hierarchy. Like other phenomenologists from the first half of the twentieth century, Husserl seems to have been fascinated by the figure of the primitive, even if he did not get far vy-Bruhl (see Luft, 1998, p. 20, n.2). However, Husserl had a copy in his reading of Le s review of the German translation of The soul of the primitive , of Alexander Koyre s characterization of Le vy-Bruhls approach as and he was no doubt struck by Koyre that of a purely descriptive phenomenological analysis that was nevertheless undermined by his use of a terminology that implied more than the description also stressed the radical disjunction in Le vy-Bruhls works between the allowed. Koyre wrote: world of the primitive and our world, the world of the civilized. Koyre
It [the primitive world] has a completely different structure, and submits to completely different laws, both materially and categorically, from the mechanisticscientific world of the modern European. This difference is not gradual but is qualitative so that it is simply not possible to develop one from the other. They are closed systems, that correspond to one another in a certain sense but that cannot be transformed into one another, precisely to the extent that the spiritual structures of the primitives and of the civilized are completely different. For that reason none of , 1930, the basic concepts can be directly carried over from one to the other. (Koyre p. 2295)6

Husserl was provoked by this claim that there can be no straightforward translation vy-Bruhl, where he between the two worlds. This was reflected in his letter to Le acknowledged the importance of the attempt to empathize (einzufuhlen ) ourselves into a living humanity that is enclosed in a vital generative society and to understand it in its unified social life on the basis of which it has a world that is not a world of representation for it, but is rather the world that actually exists for it (Husserl, 1994, p. 162). vy-Bruhl came a year after the letter, in The Husserls considered response to Le Origin of Geometry, where he announced an historical a priori . Husserl recognized a vy-Bruhl, or one of his followers, could have made: possible objection that Le
, to seek to display, and to claim to have displayed, a vete One will object: what na historical a priori, an absolute, supertemporal validity, after we have obtained such abundant testimony for the reality of everything historical, of all historically developed world-apperceptions, right back to those primitive tribes. Every people, large or small, has its world in which, for that people, everything fits well together, whether in mythical-magical or in European-rational terms, and in which everything can be explained perfectly. Every people has its logic and, accordingly, if this logic is explicated in propositions, its a priori. (Husserl, 1962, pp. 381-82; 1970, p. 373)

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However, Husserls answer to this objection is that the methodology of establishing historical facts presupposes history as the universal horizon, albeit only implicitly. These texts became the basis for a dispute between two generations of French vy-Bruhl phenomenologists. It was Merleau-Ponty who made Husserls letter to Le famous when, long before it was published in its entirety, he drew on it to show that Husserl recognized that contact with historical and ethnological facts are indispensable to philosophical investigation (Merleau-Ponty, 1967, p. 50; 1964, p. 90).
vy-Bruhl had established, through his Husserl was struck by the contact which Le book, with the actual experience of primitive man. Having made this contact with the authors aid, he now saw that it is perhaps not possible for us, who live in certain historical traditions, to conceive of the historical possibility of these primitive men by a mere variation of our imagination. For these primitives are non-historical (Geschichtlos ). (Merleau-Ponty, 1967, p. 51; 1964, pp. 90 /91)

Consideration of the particular example of being without history need not detain us for the moment. Suffice it to say that Merleau-Ponty focused on it because it is the example given by Husserl in the letter, even though Merleau-Ponty was no doubt well vy-Bruhls characterizations aware that this is one of a number of points on which Le of primitive society had been severely judged by subsequent scholars, including vi-Strauss. Merleau-Ponty suggested that Husserls earlier procedure of Claude Le relying on imaginary variation for a delimitation of historical possibility had in the primitive found its limits. In his Introduction to Edmund Husserls Origin of Geometry , Derrida contested this suggestion. To be sure, Derrida focused on certain comments made by Merleau-Ponty vy-Bruhl and ignored the fact in the context of his discussion of Husserls letter to Le that Merleau-Ponty, as usual, initially overstated the case as a step on his way to a more balanced interpretation (see, for example, Merleau-Ponty, 1960, pp. 138 39; 1964, p. 110). However, there was no denying that Husserl had already long recognized the limitations of proceeding by imaginary variation alone. According to vy-Bruhl had on Derrida, Merleau-Ponty exaggerated both the effect reading Le Husserls understanding of the limits of imaginary variation and the limits of imaginary variation themselves. In Origin of Geometry Husserl wrote that we have complete freedom to transform in free variation our historical existence and thereby generate with apodictic self-evidence an essentially general set of elements going through all the variants.

Thereby we have removed every bond to the factually valid historical world and have regarded this world itself [merely] as one of the conceptual possibilities. (Husserl, 1962, p. 383; 1970, p. 375)

Derrida knew that he could use this quotation to declare victory over Merleau-Ponty, but at the precise moment he seemed to be about to do so, he hesitated showing that he too, like Merleau-Ponty, could write with twists and turns:

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We could then be tempted by an interpretation diametrically opposed to that of Merleau-Ponty and maintain that Husserl, far from opening the phenomenological parentheses to historical factuality under all its forms, leaves history more than ever outside them. We could always say that, by definition and like all conditions of possibility, the invariants of history thus tracked down by Husserl are not historical in themselves. (Derrida, 1962, p. 122; 1978, p. 116)


The problem Derrida was trying to negotiate quickly became complex, but the basis is simple: if Merleau-Ponty is wrong about Husserl, then surely it is Husserl who suffers because we would be forced to conclude that Husserl failed to account for history. So Merleau-Ponty would ultimately be vindicated. There are more ways than one for Merleau-Ponty to be wrong: Merleau-Ponty could be wrong about Husserl but right about history, so that we would end up having to reject Merleau-Pontys interpretation of Husserl but by going in the direction Merleau-Ponty proposed. Or Merleau-Ponty could be wrong about history and right about Husserl. This is what Derrida concluded: the judgment that Husserl had failed to incorporate history would ultimately have to rely on the structures of historical invariance that Husserl sought. Derrida tried to imagine a Husserl eager to learn from the facts as Merleau-Ponty imagined him to be (Derrida, 1962, p. 117; 1978, p. 112). If, as Derrida insisted, it was only by renouncing factual history that Husserl had access to the invariants of history, that is, to historicity (1962, p. 112; 1978, p. 108), then it would be a very peculiar move altogether if Husserl suddenly became interested in history and looked to it for confirmation of what he had designated invariants of history. It would be an extraordinary vote of no confidence in the ability of imaginary variation to do the job. But that is because if there were a failure to thematize the apodictic invariants of the historical a priori , the failure would be as Derrida said, with history rather than with historicity. That is why Derrida concluded that Husserls attempt to grasp histority thematically would have been a flagrant failure, if Husserl had become interested in something like history (1962, p. 123; 1978, p. 116). But, Derrida concludes, He never seems to have done that (1962, p. 123; 1978, p. 117). Perhaps no amount of imaginary variation would enable us to fantasize a Husserl interested in history. Derrida was no doubt right to take Merleau-Ponty to task for making the vy-Bruhls account of primitive mentality a decisive moment in encounter with Le Husserls intellectual development. The discussion of imaginary variation and the primitives in Origin of Geometry confirms that it was not.7 Nevertheless, the history of existential phenomenology shows the importance of ethnology and history for the philosopher. This can be shown with reference to Heidegger and here, unfortunately, Merleau-Ponty was wrong again. In Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man he claimed that Heidegger, the philosopher of finitude, did not recognize any restriction on the absolute power of thought (Merleau-Ponty, 1967, p. 55; 1964, p. 94). Although Heidegger, no more than Husserl, abandoned the priority of philosophy, Heidegger, while finding the distinction between the ontological and the ontic strategically

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indispensable, nevertheless recognized the difficulty of maintaining it rigorously thereby moving in the direction Merleau-Ponty invited philosophy to take.8 Nevertheless, if Merleau-Ponty was wrong in his interpretation of Heidegger, as with Husserl, it only means that Heidegger supports Merleau-Pontys basic contention that contact with historical and ethnological facts are indispensable to the philosopher in his or her attempt to delineate the possible. But important though these arguments are, I believe that there are other aspects of vy-Bruhls texts that also deserve attention when the overriding question at issue is Le that of the models of and the conditions for dialogue. Early in The Soul of the vy-Bruhl set out to describe how the primitive conceives the connection Primitive Le between a living being and the species to which it belongs.
When a leopard, or a mouse, for instance, is actually present to his sight or is imagined by him, the representation of it is not differentiated in his mind from another, a more general image which, though not a concept, comprises all similar beings . . . . The representation of it is characterized both by the objective qualities which the primitive perceives in beings of this kind, and by the emotions they vy-Bruhl, 1927, p. 59; 1965, p. 59) arouse in him. (Le

vy-Bruhl introduced one of those analogues or parallels from among At this point Le those he called the civilized that litter his work and that are supposed to help the civilized in some imperfect way empathize with the primitive, albeit without in any way compromising the distinction between primitive and civilized.
It is somewhat analogous to the way in which, during the Great War, many people would talk of the Boche, and as many colonists talk of the Arab, or many Americans of the black man. It denotes a kind of essence or type, too general to be an image, and too emotional to be a concept. Nevertheless it seems to be clearly defined, above all by the sentiments which the sight of an individual of the species vy-Bruhl, 1927, p. 59; 1965, p. 59) evokes, and the reactions it sets up. (Le

vy-Bruhl is saying, unwittingly no doubt, but with a clarity that is What Le extraordinary, is that if we want to understand how the primitive thinks we need only reflect on European racism. The primitives mental processes are like the racists vy-Bruhl, by mental processes: both operate with crude generalizations. It is as if Le casting the primitive as like a racist, sought, in a progressive discourse, to characterize the racist as primitive and thereby to envisage a time in which by the process of civilizing we might expel racism from our midst. Nevertheless, if this was his aim, he succeeded only in reinscribing in the figure of vythe primitive * as a figure * the very racism he sought to expel. The fact that Le Bruhl often employs the term blacks as if it was a synonym for primitives, just as he treats whites as a synonym for civilized, only serves to confirm this impression. The people who agree to call certain others primitives are the same people who agree to call themselves civilized and who do so in spite of the fact that they may know better.9 In his efforts to distinguish two radically different kinds of mentality, the
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vy-Bruhl repeatedly refused the parallels which primitive and the civilized, Le vy-Bruhl, 1927, p. 192 et seq. ; 1965, suggested themselves between the two (Le vy-Bruhl knew better, but for the most part he refused to say as p. 158 et seq. ). Le much. He told Evans-Prichard that he had ignored the superstitions of religious believers, such as pious Catholics, among his contemporaries primarily out of sensitivity to them (Evans-Prichard, 1981, p. 130). It would be a mistake to suppose vy-Bruhl are all on the side of his construction of the that the problems with Le primitive as if his construction of the civilized was not equally problematic. vy-Bruhl became more ready to acknowledge that Furthermore, in his later years Le participation was not the preserve of primitives alone and that the so-called civilized were more like the primitives than they liked to think. sume for the course on the Structure and Conflicts of At the beginning of his re Childhood Consciousness, Merleau-Ponty showed himself fully aware of the problem vy-Bruhls orientation. Merleau-Ponty recognized that in Le vythat undermined Le Bruhls early analyses the white civilized normal adult had a monopoly on all reason. Presumably with The Notebooks on Primitive Mentality in mind, Merleau-Ponty vy-Bruhl himself had in his later years begun to disengage the acknowledged that Le concrete experience on which the myths of the primitives rested so that those myths could be understood as expressing a certain relation with the world and thus having a certain truth. Furthermore, participation could be found among the so-called civilized so that the division between primitive and civilized became less profound (Merleau-Ponty, 1988, pp. 171 72). Nevertheless, in From Mauss to Claude Levi vy-Bruhl of lacking a patient Strauss, Merleau-Ponty accused both Durkheim and Le penetration of its object, communication with it (Merleau-Ponty 1960, p. 144; 1964, vy-Bruhl did the reverse. p. 115). If Durkheim sacrificed the primitive to our logic, Le Merleau-Ponty wrote:

el ] too quickly to our own ideas [Durkheim], or Whether it assimilated reality [le re vy-Bruhl], sociology always on the contrary declared it impenetrable to them [Le spoke as if it could roam over the object of its investigations at will */the sociologist was an absolute observer (1960, p. 144; 1964, p. 115)

vy-Bruhl was that he congealed them Merleau-Pontys overriding objection against Le in an insurmountable difference. In other words, that he made the difference between us and them too great. But even if this warns us against ways in which dialogue can be made impossible from the outset, the question remains: How can we understand someone else without sacrificing him to our logic or it to him? (1960, p. 114; 1964, p. 115). However, the idea that one could sacrifice ones logic to the other is not an easy one vy-Bruhl, civilization is for the philosopher to entertain. In a gesture that mirrors Le defined by Husserl as the we horizon of the community of those who can reciprocally express themselves, normally, in a fully understandable fashion (Husserl, 1962, p. 369; 1970, p. 359). The abnormal are explicitly excluded, as are children. The role of normalcy in Husserlian phenomenology is apparent in Husserls response to

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the observation that the truths of Negroes in the Congo or Chinese peasants, fixed and verifiable for them, are not the same as ours (1962, p. 141; 1970, p. 139).
But if we set up the goal of a truth about the objects which is unconditionally valid for all subjects, beginning with that on which normal Europeans, normal Hindus, Chinese, etc., agree in spite of all relativity */beginning, that is, with what makes objects of the life */world, common to all, identifiable for them and for us (even though conceptions of them may differ), such as spatial shape, motion, sensequality, and the like */then we are on the way to objective science. (1962, pp. 141 / 42; 1970, p. 139)

Recognizing that the introduction of these empirical and factual modifications of universal transcendental norms represents a serious problem, Derrida asks: how can maturity and normality give rise to a rigorous transcendental-eidetic determination? (1962, p. 74; 1978, p. 80). Derrida is well aware of the answer: The notion of (adult normalcys) privilege denotes here a telos meddling beforehand in the eidos (1962, pp. 74 75; 1978, p. 80). In other words, certain speaking subjects * madmen and children * are not good examples (1962, p. 75; 1978, p. 80). Derrida might have added primitives to the list. Had he done so, the meddling of the telos in the eidos would have been even clearer. He need only have cited these passages from The Vienna Lecture where Husserl claims that the spiritual telos of European humanity is shared by all human beings.
/ / /

There is something unique here that is recognized in us by all other human groups, too, something that, quite apart from all considerations of utility, becomes a motive for them to Europeanize themselves even in their unbroken will to selfpreservation; whereas we, if we understand ourselves properly, would never Indianize ourselves, for example. (1962, p. 320; 1978, p. 275)

To be sure, Europe is not understood here geographically, but spiritually: the United States is said to belong to Europe, whereas the Eskimos or Indians presented as curiosities at fairs, or the Gypsies, who constantly wander about Europe, do not (1962, pp. 318 19; 1978, p. 273). The fact that this was written in 1935 on the eve of the Nazi persecution of the Gypsies cannot be ignored. vy-Bruhl quoted a story from Robert What does it mean to Europeanize? Le Moffats Missionary Labors and Scenes in South Africa . He explains that the Bechuaras confused Western medicine with magic potions, so that they valued medicine, however nauseous, and could not understand that it was the patient who should take the medicine and that it would not work as well if a patients relative took it instead vy-Bruhl, 1947, p. 486; 1966, p. 417). The story (Moffat, 1842, pp. 591 92; cited Le seems to be told in such a way as to suggest that the primitive want European cures, but do not know how to take their medicine. Europeanization is presented as a bitter medicine Westerners bring to a population who needs our guidance, because we understand better.
/ /

Social Identities


Primitivism was at one time widespread in the West in the form of nostalgia for the primitive. One need only think of Rousseau or of the histories of the idea of the primitivism that were offered in the last century by George Boas, Arthur Lovejoy and Whitney (Lovejoy & Boas, 1965; Boas, 1966; Lovejoy, 1978, pp. 14 32; Whitney, 1965). However, primitivism became transformed, indeed its direction became reversed, when in the late nineteenth century it was united with a philosophy of history constructed on the idea of progress. It is this that gave rise to the structure whereby, for the ethnographer, the primitive is someone who is not yet civilized, who perhaps will never be civilized, but who is what the civilized are no longer. Insofar as we constitute ourselves as civilized, the primitive is that part of ourselves that we vy-Bruhl associates the primitive with racism as a form of thought. refuse, as when Le vy-Bruhl sometimes tries According to the logic of the primitive, even though Le harder than most to resist it, the primitive is the civilized Westerner as that Westerner used to be. The primitive is the Wests past in a form the West can barely recognize, but which it knows it now wants to disown. There is now a form of evolutionism that remains implicit in the notion of the primitive, even when it is explicitly renounced (see Stocking, 1982, pp. 234 69; Boas, 1966). In its current sense, the idea of the primitive presupposes that there is a linear process of development at the beginning of which the primitive stands. The philosophy of development favours Northern Europe and, especially, the United States. They are singled out as the civilized, those who already embody the criteria by which other societies and cultures are to be judged. Furthermore, possession of the criteria means that Northern Europe and the United States are not judged by the criteria, they are merely affirmed by the criteria which they embody (see further Bernasconi, 1998, pp. 23 34). The philosophy of economic and social development governed the idea of cosmopolitanism and now dominates the process widely referred to as globalization. Globalization is a form of universalism that not only primitivizes those who refuse it, as development theory does, but it also allows for their exoticisation. As Stuart Hall explains, The global is the self-presentation of the dominant particular. That is to say, it is the process by which the dominant particular localizes and naturalizes itself (Hall, 1997, p. 27. See also Segesvary, 2001, p. 97). By rendering our particularism universal, their particularism is perceived as irrelevant, anachronistic, or ripe for exoticization. Globalization is perfectly consistent with an emphasis on difference, so long as difference is exoticized. Indeed, the affirmation of local cultures that seems to run counter to globalization is entirely consonant with it, so long as those cultures are exoticized. Exoticization is a familiar gesture and can be found even where one least expects it. For example, Kristeva begins the second paragraph of Strangers to Ourselves with the question, can the foreigner, who was the enemy in primitive societies, disappear from modern societies? (Kristeva, 1988, p. 9; 1991, p. 1). By this gesture Kristeva locates the specific idea of the stranger or foreigner as enemy elsewhere, even as she acknowledges that it remains in force here. She does this so that she can imagine another possibility. At the same time that she is problematizing the we, she is
/ / /

242 R. Bernasconi

implying that we can outgrow this problem. I mention Kristeva because her account of strangers to ourselves as presented in the closing pages of her book of that title is the clearest presentation that I know of a powerful idea, which in her exposition is based on the Freudian notion of unconscious, although it is familiar to some phenomenologists, like Jean-Paul Sartre, on another basis. There is an otherness that is both biological and symbolic that becomes an integral part of the same. She continues, Henceforth, the foreigner is neither a race nor a nation.. . foreignness is within us (Kristeva, 1978, p. 268; 1991, p. 181). We no longer understand ourselves. We dont know our own minds: the foreigner is within me, because we are all foreigners. If I am a foreigner, there are no foreigners (1978, p. 284; 1991, p. 191). There were foreigners, but now there are no foreigners. But this creates a division between those who see this and those who do not. This gesture is unavoidable. The difficulty is that by locating the idea of foreigner as enemy from the outset of her presentation in primitive society and by announcing a cosmopolitanism of a new sort, albeit one whose features remain obscure, it seems all too likely that the structures I have identified in this paper remain intact. One way of understanding the transformation of the idea of primitivism in the last hundred years or so, what I called its reversal of direction, is that the moment of exoticization has been separated from it. This is how Todorov described the recent course of exoticism in On Human Diversity (Todorov, 1993, p. 266). I want to focus on exoticism for a moment because it too is like primitivization a refusal of dialogue with another. Through the primitivization of the other, I, who understand myself as the embodiment of rationality, am excused from the obligation of reasoning with the other, who lacks reason. The exoticization of the other has the same effect. In Infelicities , Peter Mason gives an account of the exotic as that which is refractory to the egocentric attempts of self to comprehend other (Mason, 1999, p. 159). Nothing is inherently exotic. The exotic is produced by a process of decontextualisation which gives rise to a certain recontextualisation that introduces new meanings (p. 3). To say that the exotic is not encountered but produced does not mean that it is produced through a collision of cultures, the ego culture and the alien culture. It is an effect of discriminatory practices, for example, colonialism (pp. 160 61). But to render a culture exotic, as we all too readily do in an effort to avoid primitivization, is in effect simply to find another means of excluding the possibility of dialogue. To treat ones dialogue partner as primitive or exotic is to silence him or her. If the primitive is that part of ourselves that we recognize but at the same time disown, the exotic is that which, having been disowned, we romanticize. For example, Europeans identify themselves with reason, so that emotion comes to be opold Se dar characterized as African, even to the point where an African like Le Senghor himself accepted the characterization (see Senghor, 1939, p. 295). By identifying emotion with Africa, Europeans succeed in disowning passion. But subsequently, Europeans develop a passion for passion. A similar operation occurs with sexism. This shows the proximity of primitivization and exoticization within the

Social Identities


dominant discourse. But it also shows the difficulty of displacing both operations so long as that discourse remains intact. The multiplication of discourses does not sustain difference, unless the dominant discourse is also explicitly attacked. It cannot even be allowed to survive as simply one discourse among many, because it is constructed in such a way as to subsume all other discourses and refuse dialogue. One should not underestimate the resilience of these structures of primitivization and exoticization and one is not likely to underestimate them if one indeed thinks of them as associated with identification projection, whether from a Freudian perspective or, as in my case, vy-Bruhl as it from a phenomenological perspective. It is all too easy to primitivize Le vy-Bruhl to project some of the undesirable were. The term primitive allowed Le characteristics of the Western Europeans of his day onto others. These characteristics were treated as throwbacks or remnants. We are always in danger of doing it vy-Bruhl. This happens if, for ourselves, when we assert our superiority over Le example, I read Levy-Bruhl to have my prejudices about his racism confirmed. One does this by emphasizing that he belongs to a colonial era where a certain kind of racism was prevalent and that his system of categorization reflects this. But it seems to vy-Bruhl if we see him simply as a me that we have not even begun to go beyond Le child of his time, a product of colonial institutions without reflecting on the institutions that dominate our own practices. One sees this in the way that philosophy addresses the racism of great philosophers * Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and so on. Philosophers often think they can identify that component and remove it in a surgical operation while everything else remains intact (see Bernasconi, 2003, pp. 10 19). But racism is not always readily identified, because * like exoticism * it is constantly being reproduced on the basis of certain institutional colonial and neo-colonial practices. It constantly reinvents itself. I readily concede that this might be the case for everyone, but, for someone with my background and vy-Bruhl profitably is to read him to learn something about education, to read Le myself. I have to entertain the possibility that, under the guise of dialogue and respect for difference, I can be suppressing both and not know it, and that I may never know for sure. This is why I believe that the study of these structures is of such importance.
/ / / / /

[1] I shall not always place scare quotes around these terms, but they are to be understood. Similarly, I have not sought to correct the sexist language of some of the authors quoted, as I believe that would be more misleading than enlightening. For a rich discussion of Husserls letter, see San Martin (1997, pp. 87 /115). Unfortunately this essay came to my attention too late for me to take it into account. Levinass use of the notion of the primitive and especially his discussions of paganism merit critical scrutiny. See Sikha, 1999, pp. 195 /206. vy-Bruhl subsequently dropped the term prelogical, a determination that seemed to run Le counter to the suggestion that the differences between the two worlds were essential and not temporal. On his use of the term, see Evans-Pritchard, 1965, pp. 81 /82.

[2] [3] [4]

244 R. Bernasconi


[6] [7]



vy-Bruhl attributes the remarks to Rev. Bentley and ignores the fact that he is citing Le vy-Bruhl at 1947, pp. 477 /78; 1966, Thomas J. Comber. Bentley, 1900, p. 445. Quoted in Le p. 411. For the fact that Husserl had a copy, see Noor, 1992, p. 44. So it seems does a marginal note to Eugen Fink (1995), where Husserl introduced a thought experiment by which I can put myself in the place of a primitive child and vice versa. The possibility arises of putting myself in the place of all men in all eras and all conceivable world-historicalities and that this horizon, which embraces all actual and possible cultures and which is the same for everyone, are the limits of phenomenology to be found. Presentation of the detailed evidence that supports this claim will have to await another occasion. See not only Sein und Zeit (1953), sections 11 and 17, and his review of the second volume of Ernst Cassirer (Heidegger, 1928), pp. 1000 /12, but also Einleitung in die Philosophie , 1996. vy-Bruhl problematized In the Preface to the original French edition of Lame primitive , Le the word soul but employed the phrase those whom we have agreed to call primitives (1927, p. v; 1965, p. 7).

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