The Prodigal Son Returns (Luke 15:11-32)

“Esencial es de un filósofo cierta condición de permanente desacuerdo y disgusto, que no se concilia con el profesionalismo … Quizá ninguna facultad del espíritu es más opuesta al encasillamiento y a la rutina que la facultad del filósofo. Debe ser el filósofo, ante todo, hombre, y por lo mismo afrontar todas las continencias del hombre… Para hablar con autoridad, es necesario haber aceptado previamente todos los riesgos implícitos en la condición humana.” [Roughly: “A certain condition of permanent disagreement and disgust, which cannot be reconciled with professionalism, is essential to the philosopher. Perhaps no other faculty of the mind is more opposed to typecasting and routine than the philosophical. The philosopher should be, before everything, a man, and should therefore confront all the contingencies of man… To speak with authority, it is first necessary to accept all the risks implicit in the human condition.”] From El peligro de la libertad intelectual [The Danger of Intellectual Liberty], 1952.

After three very long weeks of moving from Washington, DC/Williamsburg, VA, I am now finally sitting at my desk in East Los Angeles. I haven’t lived in East LA in over 14 years and I forgot how close to Mexico it is … how Mexican it is. In the first week, I’ve dealt almost exclusively with people from Oaxaca, Morelos, Guadalajara who don’t speak English, and more importantly, who don’t need to speak English. They are the owners of businesses, day laborers, cooks, barbers, etc. And after all this time away, I’m struck by a question that never bothered me before I moved away: where does Mexico end and the United States begin? Applied in the context of this project: can one do Mexican philosophy in the US?

And I’m not in the nicer parts of East LA either. I’m back in the barrio. Two days after I moved in, there was a shooting across the street; a day later, police guns drawn on some driver and helicopters hovering above. It’s unclear how to reconcile the two worlds that I inhabit: the academic world of philosophy that couldn’t be safer, on the one hand, and the other that triggers a different set of instincts (memorizing facts, tattoos, peoples’ patterns and routines; double-checking the locks on all the doors and windows; getting a sense when and where is safe, etc.) But neither is less human than the other–is it?–and a complete philosophy is one that accepts and understands both.

In any case, I’m finally settled in and ready to get back to the project, as well as to face the tensions that characterize our hybridity: rich and poor, Mexican and American or white and non-white, education and violence, theory and praxis. I have an unusual background and education here–my new friend, the Oaxaqueña who cuts my hair across the street, couldn’t understand why I am here, “pero, tu eres un doctor?!”–and although I wouldn’t say that now I’m found, being back home amplifies the nagging sense I’ve had that I was losing myself traveling “abroad” (physically, culturally, intellectually) for all these years.


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