Cornell University

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Benjamin P. Davis, ‘Édouard Glissant’s Right to Opacity: A Critique of the Levinasian Inheritance in Decolonial Theory’

Thursday, October 7, 2021 at 5:00pm

A.D. White House

Summary: Emmanuel Levinas’s concept of ‘alterity’, a term for absolute difference, has influenced a number of scholars who have recently come to be grouped under the label of ‘decolonial’ thinking, such as Enrique Dussel and Nelson Maldonado-Torres. In this talk, I argue that Édouard Glissant’s framing of an ethical relation as emerging from ‘contacts’ with others, defending the ‘opacity’ of others, and ultimately standing in solidarity with others, is more fruitful for decolonial and other Left political pursuits than Levinas’s framing of an ‘encounter’ with a single Other, whose difference is understood in terms of ‘alterity’, and who is ultimately served through reverence. By suggesting a politics through his language of a ‘right to opacity’, Glissant provides actors a path forward.


Bio: Benjamin P. Davis is Postdoctoral Fellow in Ethics at the University of Toronto, Centre for Ethics. Influenced by how thinkers such as Claudia Jones and Édouard Glissant leveraged rights claims to demand fair labor standards, preserve distinct cultural practices, and call for the self-determination of colonies, his work investigates the potential of human rights to challenge enduring inequities rooted in colonial projects.

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