“Thought of the Other is the moral generosity disposing me to accept the principle of alterity, to conceive the world as not simple and straightforward, with only one truth – mine. But thought of the other can dwell within me, without making me alter course, without “prizing me open”, without changing me within myself. An ethical principle, it is enough that I not violate it.
The other of Thought is precisely this altering. Then I have to act… I change, and I exchange. This is an aesthetics of turbulence whose corresponding ethics is not provided in advance.”
Edouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation
“Telciu Summer School is a true decolonial school” would say Madina Tlostanova, Chaired professor of postcolonial feminism at Linköping University, Sweden, a couple of years ago. In what way is this valid and what is decolonial in the Romanian context? Let’s indulge into my own subjective Telciu to see why it has been both transformational and troubling.
The Telciu project, started 8 years ago, aims to decentralize knowledge production from the main urban epistemic centres to the rural. Featuring a 3-day academic conference and a 8-day summer school, what makes it unique is the way in which the local community is genuinely involved. Telciu Bulletin is a rural platform for art and education which hosts theatre shows and film projections and a series of workshops dedicated to children and teens. It goes hand in hand with Handpicked in Telciu, an umbrella for a series of creative residencies dedicated to the autochthonous social and cultural life. It is a localised ecosystem in which various forms of thinking blend into each other, into a loop that nurtures each and further develops both the project and the community. But what makes it a “true decolonial school”?
To understand decoloniality in the Romanian context, one can start from the following question:
What are the institutional nodes of inter-imperial power?
A single-minded, yet complex question launched at the end of the Summer School by Julie Klinger, Associate Prof. at Boston University. It had already been tackled by Ovidiu Țichindeleanu in the first days, as he explored the Genoa capitalism (an independent state spreading out on six centuries from 1005 to 1797) and its trade routes that, under the motto of “Jenuensis, ergo Mercator” (Genovese, hence merchant) racialized commercially Balkanic slaves, whose prices would depend on the skin shade. It had settlements and commercial colonies in San Giorgio (Giurgiu), Costanza (Constanța), Licostomo (Tulcea) and across the Black Sea basin (and not only, a detailed map of their influence can be found here), which often crashed with the interests of the State of Venice and, later on, with those of the Ottoman Empire. Rumelia, the Turkish for „the land of Romans”, was the term utilised from the XVth century to designate the part of the Balkanic peninsula under Ottoman rule, encompassing Dobrogea, de jure part of Bulgaria, de facto part of the Ottoman Empire. Hence, cherry picking just one territory, Dobrogea, we already start to have a clearer view of the geopolitical intricacies that, from above, would seem to affect only the borders. Zooming in through the histories of coloniality we learn that all such territories added up (Moldavia, Bucovina, Transilvania, etc) form what we now call the nation-state.
Furthermore, what are such nodes of inter-imperiality today, within the late-capitalism contradictions? Thinking from the margins within, they are exactly the Agambian states of exception, which, ironically, tend to be the norm. They are complexities of neo-liberal Eurocentrism, auto-colonisation and also resistence, in which the bio-political category of non-being weaponises geological knowledge to exploit the inhuman, as matter and as race (or class). Examples include, locally, Certej or Roșia Montană, Minas Gerais in Araxa (Brasil) or Balochistan (China). For me, Julie Klingers’ engaging talks were the most profound, complex, engaging and actionable of the entire School content, with a vivid feminine power. So, I’ll invite you to explore more on the topic of the imperialist instrumentalization of geology, on how “Rare Earth Elements”, the ones in all our electronic devices, are subject to this “scarcity” political economic discourse through her talk here.
We can also observe contemporary nodes of inter-imperiality from the village of Telciu point of view and then, individually, to infer that on the realities of rurality in Romania. From there on, we can better grasp what the decolonial turn signifies in our local context and how, a thinking from the peripheries can help build a common resistance versus the ingrained consumerist and spectacularist contemporary coloniality.
Still on the road, on the road, on the road…
That’s our contemporary reality, sometimes as an economic and social constraint (workers pushed outside of the labour market to find jobs elsewhere, migrants disrupted from their communities) and sometimes as a middle-upper class privilege (the digital nomadism trend).
But it is also the title of the play directed by Katia Pascariu and Mihaela Michailov, part of Telciu residencies in which the two co-created a play with children and adolescents from Telciu, based on their life stories, revolving around migration.
“…There’s a lot of leaving, going to work, coming back home. Going to highschool, going to university, going in Europe. There’s also going over the ocean, in the States. Without phones and internet life would be terribly hard… Those at home dream to leave soon, too. Or that the relatives come back. For the ones gone it’s difficult to find their place. Where is home?”
A lot of tears and smiles, sweaty palms, comfort in sharing the same experiences and sadness that the socio-political context confines us to those de-territorializing experiences: that’s the shared thought and feeling ruminating the room, to and from each of us. Again, like every time, Michailov simple sensibility touches each of us in that calcified spot of our core that hurts us, so we mostly avoid it. The play will travel in the main Romanian cities and you’ll have a chance of watching it. You’ll know if you follow Telciu Summer School page.
How is this a decolonial practice? In the way that it produces knowledge from the margins of capitalism and from the margins of the art industry status quo (here they are non-professional actors from Telciu, in “Rosenkabarett” they are non-professional elders from a home and so on) and it brings it out from the periphery to the center. It is the practice that defines “Stagiunea de Teatru Politic” (or Macaz team if you like).
And yet, I cannot help but ask myself at times….
Is Telciu building towards a profound epistemic shift or is it just the geography of knowledge that has been deterritorialized? The “Still on the road, on the road, on the road” is one example towards the profound epistemic shift. But there is room for more in the following editions. There was a lot of learning from outside within (percussion, juggling, mural painting, English and other workshops for children or storytelling for the Roma community, mediated by Andrei Serban and Madalina Branduse) which is undoubtedly very much needed and clearly highly appreciated by the partakers.
And yet again, when will we start to truthfully liberate knowledge-production and learn from those we call uncivilised, marginalised, from those we call mentally challenged, from the disturbed, the ill or the addicted, from the kids and the animals?
To build towards this epistemic shift, I for one would feel the need to learn from Telcians too: from garden management to composting or organic construction materials. There were two such events: a traditional broadloom weaving workshop and a hay management workshop. I would power up some debates on resistance mechanisms with the women and girls there. I noticed, not only now, that women raised in the periphery, who deal with a much more ingrained misogynistic objectification, have different, stronger resistance mechanisms than urban-raised ones. In no way am I claiming a general character of this speculative observation, I am just saying such sharing could only be beneficial. In parallel, a similar safe space for debates would be necessary for the young boys in the village. With the work migration context and the often weak socio-cultural rural one, it often happens that they grow without consistent models and they have strong chances to internalize the sexist discourse around. Us, girls, can be gratuitously mean in our adolescent times, I for one was. And, with a lack of mature support, the boys are prone to generalize this and resort to a constant revengeful resistance, back by the co-existing misogyny. Further down the road of the knowledge production transfer I’d envision a way to “franchise” and “adapt” Telciu’s model (it is a model, indeed) in other rural parts of Romania, to start building a social libertarian network from the marginal within (see where I’m at with Murray Bookchin’s Libertarian Municipalism).
Going in with full disclosure: I sometimes had the feeling – doing my best to bottle it down, but it continued to permeate through – that what’s actually going on is that the philosopher, coming down from his ivory tower in the middle of the city, has moved to the countryside to offer some of his knowledge. Because, during the Summer School, the knowledge transfer was mainly a one way exchange, from validated knowledge producers to traditional knowledge receivers. It did happen the other way around but informally, during our evenings spent at the local bar (which were individual and unstructured talks).
In her open access book, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, Kathryn Yusoff tackles this reterritorialization of knowledge through a critique of the philosophy of the Anthropocene, which shifts the worldview from the high up or from nowhere to a mineral, microscopic view, invisibilizing the way racialization has been carried out:
“If the Anthropocene is viewed as a resurrection of the impulse to reestablish humanism in all its exclusionary terms of universality, then any critical theory that does not work with and alongside black and indigenous studies (rather than in an extractive or supplementary mode) will fail to deliver any epochal shift at all. It would be in Césaire’s words in the epigraph to the book, to think the “thought of the other” without the “other of thought.”
Simply, I, for one, find that kindness is the “category” we need in order to other our thought and to deconstruct gender, race, class or other such dichotomies. Kindness, as a means to grow beyond slips (we are all prone to making them) and sublimate them into honest, larger talks. Kindness, as a means to queer and cheer our mind, as an empathic and intuitively grounded altering that infusesour actions. While it’s quite likely that at some point each of us will re-instil racialisation (or its milder form, invisibilisation), what matters when we do – what matters every time when we’re at fault – is that we openly admit it and build from there a non-discriminatory, empathic narrative.
It always makes me sad to meet theorists (feminists, decolonial thinkers) that have a hard time internalizing this “other of thought” and remain in a sort of intellectual arrogance, a parade of concepts that remains impractical, lacking contingency and coherence in action. The feminist sitting (“șezătoare” in Romanian, a gathering where women sat around, doing hand work and sharing experiences) was informative at a theoretic level (wrapped around Arruzza’s, Bhattacharya’s and Fraser’s manifesto, “The Feminism of the 99%” ) but remained the perfect example of the derridian failure of language. As the Romanian term sparked up very concrete expectations, the sitting left me wanting to share and listen to personal experiences.
I feel that if we deeply took in kindness as a non-binary operative category we could elude the parade of concepts, rub our sleeves and get things going towards a kinder world. In this sense, the remainder of the day is that Telciu is a space of caring awareness of the Other, a space that harnesses the power of parrêsia, in the Foucaultian sense: speaking truthfully to an Other, who acts as a spiritual master (not the institutionalised kind) with an ethical and practical approach. Telciu is a state of constant becoming, a sort of in-betweenness or liminality, which allows for this creolizing of Thought.
Associated list of lectures & resources to help you other your thought:
- Manuela Boatcă – Forgotten Europes. Rethinking regional entanglements from the Caribbean
- Julie Klinger – Rare Earth Frontiers: From Terrestrial Subsoils to Lunar Landscapes (open access)
- Julie Klinger – Environment, development, and security politics in the production of Belt and Road spaces
- Kathryn Yusoff – A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (open access)
- Small axe criticism project “If you are a big tree, we are a small axe.”
- Yarimar Bonilla – Visualizing sovereignity video
- Yarimar Bonilla – Unsettling sovereignity
- Yarimar Bonilla – Deprovincializing Trump, decolonizing diversity, unsettling anthropology
- Ovidiu Țichindeleanu – Socialist Romania and Postsocialist Transition on the Path of Non-Aligned Development (open access)
- Maria Sophia Quine, Marius Turda – Historicizing Race
- Murray Bookchin – Libertarian Municipalism – An Overview (open access)
- Telciu Video.