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The stranger between oppression and superiority

Close encounter with Heinz Kimmerle



Welcome to this Close Encounter dedicated to the philosophy of
Heinz Kimmerle

Introduction Jan Hoogland (Enschede)


Heinz Kimmerle - born in Germany in 1930 - has built up an impressive philosophical oeuvre in which his interpretations of philosophers as Schleiermacher, Hegel, Marx, Bloch and Derrida marks the successive highlights, finally resulting in his interest in African philosophy.
A central thread through his work is Kimmerle's critical attitude towards the tendency in western philosophy to think in rather universalizing and totalizing concepts. This kind of philosophy always tries to enclose the totality of being. According to Kimmerle the main philosophical tradition in the west can be specified as philosophy of unity (Einheitsdenken). Everything which cannot be thought within the universal, rational schemes of this way of thinking is threatend to be excluded.
Therefore, Kimmerle's concern about the other and otherness, personified in the stranger, can be seen as a Leitmotiv in his philosophical writings.
Already in his first major publications about Hegel, Kimmerle discussed the subject of Abgeschlossenheit des Denkens (closing of thinking) in Hegel's philosophical system (Bonn: Bouvier 1982, 2nd edition). Hegel tries to enclose the whole world-history and the history of philosophy in an all-embracing, rational system. This central intention of Hegel's critical metaphysics is analyzed by Kimmerle as an unrealizable project. Kimmerle always tried to make visible that Hegel did not succeed in closing his system. Again and again Hegel runs up against problems which he cannot manage within his rational system. Therefore Kimmerle speaks of a systematical problem: reality itself seems to resist Hegel's attempts to close his philosophical system. Hegel's problems are no accidents, but have a systematical character.
In the 80ies and 90ies of the twentieth century it was increasingly postmodern philosophy which draws Kimmerle's attention, although he always rejected the adjective 'postmodern'. Kimmerle prefers the title: philosophy of difference. And even this title is inaccurate, because - strictly speaking - it is false to suggest that there is only one way to think about the other and otherness. Thinking the difference means unavoidably: thinking in different ways and from different perspectives. So the title of his recent book about those subjects is: 'Philosophies of difference': there is no longer one, universalistic approach which covers the other in his or her otherness adequately.
In recent years Kimmerle has tried to concretize this central theme of the other, otherness and the stranger by directing his attention to a specific culture (Africa) and to African philosophy. This does not mean that Kimmerle believes that there is only one African culture and only one typical African way of thinking. There are many African cultures and even many African philosophies. As African cultures differ from Western or European cultures, so these cultures are different in themselves. Therefore, doing justice to the other, to other cultures and to strangers, means to have an open eye for the fact that nor Western, nor African philosophy can offer an exclusive, complete perspective on what is different. The challenge of thinking the difference is ultimately lying in the invitation to participate in different dialogues between different perspectives, in which no perspective is a priori normative.
In this Close Encounter 5 philosophers will take up this challenge by entering into a dialogue with Heinz Kimmerle. I hope you will enjoy these dialogues (in plural) within the setting of this close encounter, which I hope will turn out to be an open encounter.

Preliminary remark


During the Annual Conference of the International Association for Philosophy and Literature, which has been organized from June 3-8, 2002, at Erasmus University Rotterdam by Henk Oosterling, four so called Close encounter-sessions have taken place. One of them was devoted to the work of Heinz Kimmerle. The title of this session was: The stranger between oppression and superiority. Organizer and chairman of the session was Jan Hoogland from the Technical University Twente at Enschede. As participants for a close encounter with Heinz Kimmerle came to Rotterdam: Jürgen Hengelbrock from the Ruhr-University Bochum, Mogobe Ramose from the University of South Africa at Pretoria, Elisabeth de Schipper from Erasmus University Rotterdam, Heinz Paetzold from the University of Kassel and the University of Applied Sciences at Hamburg, and Murray Hofmeyr from the University of Venda at Thohoyandou.


The stranger between oppression and superiority

Let me explain first of all, what I mean by the title of this Close encounter-session: Many people in the world of today are strangers, may be more than ever before. I have taken the title of this encounter-session from the book of Julia Kristeva: Strangers are we to ourselves (original French edition Paris: Fayard 1988). As a Bulgarian in France and in the USA, she knows what she is talking about. As a German in the Netherlands and as a European in Africa, I can understand her statement. The experience of being misunderstood or even attacked is very common for strangers like us. But there is also the opposite side of this experience. The stranger knows more than the indigenous inhabitants. (The terms are already a problem. What can it mean that Dutch people call themselves �autochtoon�, and the strangers in their country �allochthoon�?) The stranger has at least one experience, which the indigenous inhabitants do not have: the experience of being a stranger. Paradoxically enough, this gives him a feeling of superiority. The question: �Are there happy strangers?� is answered by Kristeva: �The face of the strangers exposes what happiness is�. And we all have learned from Levinas, that from his face an immediate ethical appeal comes to us.



Jürgen Hengelbrock (Bochum), You cannot free yourself from Hegel!
An encounter with Heinz Kimmerle
Response to Jürgen Hengelbrock by Heinz Kimmerle

Mogobe B. Ramose (Pretoria), The question of identity in intercultural philosophy
Response to Mogobe Ramose by Heinz Kimmerle

Elisabeth de Schipper (Sliedrecht), The toe-nail of the Holy Ghost
Response to Elisabeth de Schipper by Heinz Kimmerle

Heinz Paetzold (Kassel and Hamburg), The relationship between multiculturalism and intercultural philosophy - A comment on Kimmerle
Response to Heinz Paetzold by Heinz Kimmerle

Murray Hofmeyr (Thohoyandou), White Afrikaner identity in post-apartheid South Africa
Discerning spirits with Heinz Kimmerle
Response to Murray Hofmeyr by Heinz Kimmerle


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