It's certainly a topic that has been debated for ages on college campuses and in many different fields of study, from literature to science and technology to intellectual history and philosophy. Who determines the pantheon of influential thinkers of the past and the intellectual titans of our time?
Living in the United States we are beholden to and naturally influenced by the Western and European traditions. That in itself is not what the author is questioning or asking to defend, rather he is asking, "What makes a person a 'philosopher', a 'Public Intellectual', a 'thinker', who is outside of the normally accepted think-brand in the European tradition?"
It is a worthy exercise to question whether we are unconsciously caught in the intellectual and cultural imperialism, a remnant of the European colonialism and superiority of the past, or we are truly liberated and open-minded to consider all philosophies and schools of thought, regardless of the place of origin, the ethnicity or nationality. Honestly, it goes without saying that I do not know most of the thinkers, European or non-European, mentioned in the article by Professor Dabashi. But I will do my best to get familiar with their writings.
And it is more crucial to note that what and how we think about our beliefs, values, politics and philosophies definitely "color" how and what we express or write in our daily existence. We are certainly products of our environment, experiences and education, but we can also teach ourselves to think more freely and outside of the box of our cultural norms and assumptions. We shouldn't just take for granted what is universal and what is cultural, what is absolute and what is relative.
Taking a different angle, this quote from the article encapsulates for me what it means to proclaim oneself as a "thinker":
Therefore the agent is the bearer of the "similar conditions" and indeed their creator. That is, he "must" act according to a "model" which he would like to see diffused among all mankind, according to a type of civilisation for whose coming he is working-or for whose preservation he is "resisting" the forces that threaten its disintegration.
I came across this Al Jazeera article a couple of days ago. Serendipity, coincidence or synchronicity or whatever you want to call it, earlier today I came across an article about a book called "Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Writers on How and Why They Do What They Do" which started this way:
Joan Didion had it right. In her 1976 essay “Why I Write,” originally published in the New York Times Book Review, she lays out the template in no uncertain terms: “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”
It occurred to me as I started writing this post that the Didion quote sounds very similar to the first quote. To me, both quotes echo the same themes of why we think and why we write. Let's exalt and celebrate our collective humanity! And I have to dig up and finally finish reading Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem"...