From Universalism to Universality: Laclauan Universals in Latin American Cosmopolitan Music Discourses

Daniel Castro Pantoja, University of Houston

Scholars of (de)colonial and postcolonial studies have rightly criticized the notion of universality, a tool that Euro-American intellectuals used to naturalize a "European/Euro-American capitalist/patriarchal modern/colonial world-system," as Ramón Grosfoguel calls it (Grosfoguel 2006: 180). However, as Argentine political philosopher Ernesto Laclau argues, an appeal to particularist claims to self-determination is concomitantly self-defeating within emancipatory scenarios for such approach disregards how identities are articulated through relations of power (Laclau 1996). In this paper, I suggest that Latin American music research can benefit from revisiting Laclau's work on universality, especially when assessing discourses of music cosmopolitanism in the region. To achieve so, in this paper, I first discuss Laclau's definition of the universal as "a symbol of a missing fullness" and then repurpose it as an analytical category to (re)evaluate claims to universality made by Colombian composer Guillermo Uribe Holguín (1880-1971) during the 1920s. Finally, I argue than more than just being blindly caught in the logic of coloniality, by attempting to embody the universal, cosmopolitan actors from Latin America like Holguín, also dislocated the symbolic order from which European particularity became universalized, albeit temporally; and thus contributed, perhaps inadvertently, to a "systemic decentering of the West," as Laclau calls it.