Just recently my first single-authored book in English came out – I wrote it after becoming so frustrated at conferences that I could not share my books with the increasing numbers of non-Dutch colleagues whom I befriended. I had written 5 books, but all of them in my native language alone… Of course, there were articles – but they are always limited in scope, and cannot transfer so well one’s philosophical intentions in a wholistic manner. There are the blog-posts as well, and I know they are well-read, but they do not contain the argumentative structure and reference-basis that make the academic work a joy.

This was a lucky book. I was asked for it by the editor of the Environmental Humanities Series. The reviewers of the proposal understood what interdisciplinary debates I aimed to interfere in, and liked my writing style. The people at Routledge, as well as their external copy-editor, were all so nice and helpful. I do not write this to boast, but to express my gratitude – that hard work and pushing on despite many odds payed off. I hope the book will raise more awareness that academic philosophy needs to include indigenous people’s voices, to decolonize its attitude, to become inclusive – to undo, moreover, its discriminatory politics of epistemology, which excludes the voices of ani(mal)istic spirits – to our loss.

When a project like that – which took years of research and many months of writing – has been finished, my first reaction is always: oh, now I can read new things again! Because, during the writing you should not, to not confuse the framework you built in dialogue with a collection of focused readings (the reference list at the end of the book). A friend noted, seeing my new collection of readings, that I always focus on violent things. Well, no, that is not true. One has to focus on what limits freedom and happiness, however, if one aims to think towards finding the key to make them accessible more. One of those social media games asked to show a favorite book each day for five days. I didn’t have time and posted five books which were important to me in the past, and five which I am reading now.

You see. It is not much academic philosophy. I read that too, of course, more than the picture shows. Disciplinary philosophy should however always enter into dialogue with what happens in our world today. And in today there is much history. History which asks for eternal re-interpretation, as it still works out in the present. Much violence of today is still the effect of the so-called ended Cold War, or even of the colonial politics of European powers in the 19th century. If we do not try to understand those forces better, they will keep a hold on our policies – limiting our options to act as human beings with a choice.

My book on our Relations to Nature is also not a romantic turn to pre-modern ways of life. It is a study into the philosophical foundations of the most silent war of our times – the war of modernity against nature, and of the moderns (as Latour called this destructive tribe) to the indigenous peoples that understood differently how humans should live in and with nature. Almost every day an ‘earth-defender’ is being murdered somewhere on the globe. And a large portion of them, reports say, are members of indigenous peoples. You do not read this in the news. But it is most relevant to understand the problems of our times…

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There is something changing in the Dutch philosophical landscape – for some years mainly at the intersection of public and academic philosophy, now hesitantly in academia, there is a growing interest in African Philosophy. Being among those promoting this change, I wanted for a long time to write a post on this long overdue development. Having attended and contributed to several public and academic events centering on African Philosophy in these past two weeks, let me use their afterglow to highlight some signs of how Dutch interest is developing.

Books: over the past years several interesting titles in African philosophy have been published in Dutch translations, such as a book on Ubuntu by Mogobe Ramose, and the one on Socrates and Orunmila by recently deceased Sophie Oluwole. During her time with the publishing house Ten Have, Renate Schepen helped to introduce these authors to the Dutch audience. Another publisher, Van Tilt, introduced the work of Souleymane Bachir Diagne in a Dutch translation of Pol van de Wiel.

Teaching: there are still no lecturers in my country who have a full time position in African philosophy, like there are those who have the same in Ancient Greek philosophy, or Arabic philosophy. That doesn’t mean there are no academics teaching in diverse contexts, who have a name in the field through their publications. Among them are Michael Eze, who teaches in the department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, Pieter Boele van Hensbroek, at Groningen University, and Louise Müller, who is a Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Kwazulu Natal, and guest researcher at Leiden University. My own Department of Philosophy at the Free University Amsterdam recently added a course to the curriculum called Diversifying Philosophy, which will contain some African Philosophy, and will be taught as of next year. A full course of African Philosophy was taught this school year by two lecturers of Wageningen University (university of life sciences) – an initiative of self-employed researcher, teacher and artist Birgit Boogaard. There are several others who add elements of African philosophy in their courses in Development or Religious Studies.

A network: an initiative has started last year May to bring together all of those who teach African Philosophy in the Netherlands, to promote the field, and benefit from each other’s experiences concerning teaching this special field. A first meeting was held at Radboud University, hosted by Philippe van Haute and Herman Westerink, and plans are in the making to transform the network into a research group in the context provided by the Dutch Research School for Philosophy.

Lectures: these last weeks saw a string of events, made possible by the visit of several African philosophers to the interdisciplinary Nijmegen conference on Intercultural Dialogues.

There was an interesting seminar – in a packed lecture hall – on Knowledge Diversity at Wageningen University featuring Wilfred Lajul from Uganda and Pius Mosima from Cameroon.

Together with the latter I also had the opportunity to speak at a public event on Depression in different cultures at Radboud Reflects, in – again – a packed Lux Theatre. This lively evening with discussion can be watched back here. The national newspaper Trouw had an article related to the event. And Brandpunt+ followed the week after.

Institutional: Here I can only add what is missing, and sometimes counterintuitively. The renowned Leiden African Studies Center has no chair in African Philosophy, or even a lecturer – showing that those studying aspects of things African lack systematic opportunities to either reflect philosophically on their field, or to study the philosophies of the African continent. Another place where one might expect Intercultural, including African, Philosophy is the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, which dedicates itself to programs concerning development. Also here researchers and teachers have nobody in their midst who assures institutionally the dedication to reflection on their field, or philosophical aspects of the projects in the ‘developing world’. Even the young program in Comparative Philosophy in Leiden does not yet have a position dedicated to African Philosophy. There still is much to be done. Maybe Philosophy Departments should start taking the lead here now.

We’ve long landed in 1984. And like in Orwell’s novel, most of us don’t even care. The spaces where we are not under survey get ever scarcer. And the thing is, we tend to admire people who work towards unlocking the final reserves where surveillance is not yet the strongest force. We admire the biologists who, with great courage, ‘discover’ all the butterflies in the amazon. We admire the people who bring modern schooling to all corners of the world. Or modern medical care, like vaccines. These people do not have the goal to conquer more land for the Empire 1984 – but as an effect of their good intentions and their personal courage, they do.

One month ago this small and off-the-record (not part of any official schooling or research plan) reading group I am in, started with a new book. One-Dimensional Man, a book that fascinated me when I read it as a student, but I felt I did not completely understand where the sting of its main argument was. So: happy that we can read it together – maybe in concert we will understand more of it. During the first session I was struck that several of our group had remarks like ‘but why should we read this? What is it with this search for freedom and authenticity that Marcuse is pursuing?’ I had never asked myself that question.

The next session I first understood the origin of these questions, when we entered in a discussion whether Marcuse was modern or postmodern – another question I had never asked myself, perhaps because I read the book first when those concepts were not yet known to me. Also for me Marcuse always was linked to the rightful and necessary liberation movement, like the one in which his pupil Angela Davis played her part. Let’s link this documentary on their connection here once more.

Aha! So now thinking resistance to the One Dimensional Society, to Empire 1984, risks to be thrown out as part of hated Modernism, which produced colonialism, über-rationality, and stifled our natural being, like in the Louis XVI gardens? Did I understand that rightly?

This same month, I watched CitizenFour, Laura Poitras’ film of the days that Edward Snowden made his disclosures that the American National Sescurity Agency was in essence spying on all American, and many non-American citizens. I was struck when he explained his feelings about his situation, in his hotelroom, before he was found out as the source, but knowing he would within days. He said something like: “I feel free. Now I can do nothing else but act.” Exactly this feeling I knew, and had I been pursuing for decades to understand philosophically (and still am).

This is the thing: modern culture and modern thinking created both – calculation, colonialism, objectification of human beings and of all nature in one stroke – everything Foucault called ‘discipline’. It produced a society in which we are continuously surveilled, in which ‘everything’ is measured, known, and dominated; and… it created the idea, not only of individual liberties (whose value is restricted by love, community, solidarity), but of a principled freedom – which is not even individual, as the individual (like in the case of Snowden) is overtaken by a greater responsibility, and may sacrifice his life as it is. This is the freedom to act, and this is the freedom to resist. It is ‘negative’ freedom, Marcuse would say. Negative over against the disciplinary system of Empire 1984.

Now even Snowden’s act is sinking in the sea of oblivion. I guess my new students would not know who he is. They never heard of Marcuse either, by the way, nor of Angela Davis. Some know the name of George Orwell, though, as they read his novel. More on the power of fiction another time. Let me conclude by giving a quote from One-Dimensional Man, where Marcuse analyzes the ‘military-industrial complex’ in which we all seem to live:

“the insanity of the whole absolves the particular insanities and turns the crimes against humanity into a rational enterprise. When the people […] prepare for lives of total mobilization, they are sensible not only because of the present Enemy, but also because of the investment and employment possibilities in industry and entertainment.”

(p. 55 of the 1991 Routledge edition)

This was a too long pause… I have been writing and thinking as always, but more so for ‘academic’ media lately. In the autumn of 2018 I concentrated on writing a new book, which will appear with Routledge in a few months. Presently it is in production, and you will be informed when it is available!

It’s title: Indigenous, Modern and Postcolonial Relations to Nature. Negotiating the Environment. Many of its core ideas were tried out here, and it was a surprise for me to find how a blog can help a philosopher to find the threads of an ongoing questioning and to keep to them.

The finished manuscript

Besides the book I have been writing several articles on African and Intercultural Philosophy, which also are underway. I am grateful that I found the right places/journals/publishers where my interests fit, and the philosopher-friends who supported me to invest in this work. Here the blog also was of immeasurable importance, as it helped me find and keep in touch with these friends in all corners of this earth.

After all that writing for publications, let me share with you some thoughts on the history of this blog, and how it may develop from here. In the beginning it meant many different things to me:

  1. I hoped to share what I called ‘involved’ philosophy. I hesitated about that word. Engaged is the more common alternative. Involved however to me expressed better that philosophy that cares about our world, the world we share with others, is enmeshed in life, in multiple ways. It cannot have ‘clean hands’, one has to dare express views even if unsure if you can provide all the right reasons for them. You may change position later, as the world you care about changes.
  2. I wanted to extend my work as educator in the university for a wider audience – to share, in all modesty, from what I read and learn daily, as it is my job to read and learn and think. Wanting to make some of its results available for others to inspire them in their reading and learning and thinking.
  3. I needed a ‘free’ space, outside what I then experienced as a stifling environment – the not very interdisciplinary or engaged academic journals for which I was supposed to write. Finding my voice in this free space then helped me re-orient and find journals and projects that embody the engagement and/or interdisciplinary approach I deem to be necessary to think about what matters.
Necessary Books & Animal Friend

The blog made me find philosophical friends all over the world, people with minds that were oriented on similar goals as mine, and who were so kind to work with me. In the flow of all the new possibilities for exchange, not only virtual, but also in real life, meetings, conferences, projects, the blogs came to reflect this flow. I wrote longer pieces, book reviews, and impressions of the conferences I went to. My initial aims did not change, but the blog matured, so to speak, becoming increasingly a platform to present work that matters to me, instead of the short, searching pieces of the first years.

This month this blog had its sixth anniversary, which is incredible. I hope to continue writing it for a long time, even now that it has also become a kind of archive, where interested readers find the short introductions to subjects that only a blog can provide. Even in these months that I didn’t post, the number of viewers/readers continually grows, readers who come and take a look at the pieces that are there.

A blog is and remains a relatively free space, even if it needs a clear format and purpose. It will change, in accordance with how it has changed its author and the small room in the vast world of thoughts where it lives. I will not change the format of this blog, the combination of personal and academic insights, the essay style, the references where meaningful. It will change within this format, of course, naturally. We will see where it goes, I am curious!

A few years ago, I started to write a work-plan, with the aim to see before me what I hoped to be able to do in the years before my retirement. This is weird, to write the (hush hush) word retirement here, in the public sphere, when in many ways (and I will not be the only one) I am feeling younger now then when I was younger biologically. But lets be realistic. Before retirement there are opportunities (such as some, limited, funding for traveling, helping younger (sic) colleagues to write their PhDs, teaching as a regular university teacher) that will be gone after. Even though after retirement other things will be possible, one should do what one can do while in a certain framework.

The plan in question comprised three elements: 1) a research project on spirit ontologies, which grew into a book proposal, which is a book-in-the-process-of-being-written at this moment. 2) another research project, which is still in the process of being realized, on African philosophy and the colonial archive (that is on Placide Tempels – more about that later). 3) some ideas toward decolonizing philosophy teaching. Not just the programs, not just the curricula, but the way we teach it as well. The means should be especially mutual visits, collaborations, and exchanges between academic philosophy teachers. Regarding my expertise and interest, these should be organized primarily between African, African-American and European colleagues. This blog post is on this third element. I am happy that writing the plan seemed, by itself to create effects, and attract ideas, people, and actual opportunities. This has happened with regard to all three elements, and made me convinced that writing down one’s hopes and ideals has a kind of ‘magical’ effect to set things in motion. I recommend it to everone!

The hope to be able to do something towards decolonizing philosophy teaching got its first fulfillment in an invitation to speak on ‘teaching philosophy interculturally‘ at the university of Essex in 2017. Others were the creation of a small network in the Netherlands of academics who want to do the same – a network on which I will write more another time. And while visiting two conferences in Dakar, Senegal in 2017 and 2018, one which was a joint project of Senegalese and American philosophers, I had the privilege to see even more styles of lecturing, of working together, than my visit to Calabar, Nigeria in 2016 had provided me with – as it was that Nigerian visit that had raised the desire to be able to contribute more to this larger movement of decolonizing academia. It may have been the enthusiasm of Jonathan Chimakonam, the organizer of the Nigerian conference that made me think such an exchange would be realizable, despite the many obstacles I perceived, among which access to funding is only a minor one. Chimakonam is very active on this issue, in writing as well as in organizing opportunities for academics. So his article in this new book, Decolonisation, Africanisation and the Philosophy Curriculum I had already read before the book came out.

This book gathers together fresh views of colleagues who deal with all of its title, not only in theory, but in the classroom, which in many cases, especially in South Africa, involves outside-of-the-classroom confrontations as well. This book gathers academic work in which the personal element is never far away. Personal experiences, personal interventions, color the critical reflections and positive proposals to change philosophy, not just for the benefit of Africa, but globally. Its editor, Edwin Etieyibo, writes in the introduction that is gives a contribution: “to the fields of decolonisation, intercultural and postcolonial studies, as well as an essential resource for the discipline of philosophy, not just in Africa but globally.” What I like about the book is that it offers reflection as well as very practical deliberations on how to organize a decolonized curriculum. Such as the discussion by South African Ernst Wolff on the respective advantages of teaching ‘dedicated’ or ‘integrated’ modules. In other words: should one leave the ‘modern philosophy’ course and all the other courses white as they are, and add a ‘diverse philosophy’ course to let students know there is more to be explored, or should one aim for unwhitening all the regular courses immediately. In a process of change, he defends alternating between the two. Chimakonam also writes on program development and distinguishes, more radically, three possible approaches, intriguingly called plan C (competition), plan B (balance) and plan D (displacement). In my words: should the ‘colonial’ program be replaced with an Africanized one (D), should one let a Western and an African program compete and observe what it does for its students (C), or should one offer Euro-American and African philosophy courses simultaneously, to let students come to their own conclusions or combinations? These proposals stir the reflection that is so much needed.

Very practical and useful is the article by Thaddeus Metz that aims to introduce newcomers to African approaches in philosophy to what’s characteristic and what one could read – ordered by classical course subjects such as political philosophy, epistemology and metaphysics. This is a must-read for any philosopher who is used only to the Western curriculum and thinks African philosophy is just some ‘fun’, ‘exotic’ subject – (s)he will discover on the contrary that all previous, culturally limited, conceptions of what philosophy can be and can do, were wrong. Munamato Chemhuru returns to the decades-old debates on what ‘African’ in ‘African philosophy’ can mean, and shows why this question should be explored once more. He argues that Africanizing the philosophy curriculum is fully consistent with the requirements of philosophy to be a critical discourse. To do so, he will have to reject the false images projected by anthropologizing studies of Africa that make all thought developed on the continent an element of essentialized and traditionalized cultures. “If Africanisation is properly understood as a process that involves putting African epistemology at the core of philosophy in Africa, instead of cultural anthropology, and continuing to accuse Western philosophy for its predicament, then the agenda of Africanisation can be achievable.”

These are just a few of the many topics in the book that interconnect in intriguing ways. To my view this is a must-read for any philosophers interested in curriculum change and development, in decolonizing the classroom, and their philosophy departments along the way. I hope the third element in my work-plan may materialize further in the coming years, and with the help of, among others, this book, and its writers. Let me dream: wouldn’t it be great to have masterclasses for philosophy professors interested in curriculum change and development of new inclusive ways to teach, where some of these African colleagues come to put us all to work, in critical reflection and in learning new styles of teaching. To discover a new wealth of approaches to classical subjects in philosophy, and to critique, in the end, this ordering of what is classical as well.

This post is my reading report of Decolonisation, Africanisation and the Philosophy Curriculum, Edwin Etieyibo (ed.), London & New York: Routledge, 2018. ISBN 978-1-138-57036-8.

Last winter I found an email in my mailbox with an invitation, out of the blue, to give two lectures in Southern Germany. Near the Bodensee, in a village called Weingarten, which translates as Vineyard. IMG_20180731_132347273The organisor of a yearly philosophical summer week, Dr. Hälbig, had found my German article of a few years ago on Emanuel Swedenborg. If I wanted to come and speak on him and on Spinoza. The theme of the week was the other side of the Enlightenment. Of course I said yes, especially after a friendly phonecall with Herr Hälbig. Not all of my readers know that I feel verbally more at home in German than in English, as I spent quite some time in with relatives and friends in the country. Still it was a challenge to see if I could also speak as freely for a group of interested people who would not all be versed in philosophy. This past week I was there. Close to the Swiss border, in this very hot summer, in a continental climate.

I had the opportunity to stay there three days, and also hear several German colleagues whom I didn’t know before. Especially two of them, full professors, surprised me the by their truly German style of doing philosophy – which reminded me of my student days at Leiden university, where some of my teachers also knew that style. One of them spoke on Leibniz’s metaphysics, and doing so took the audience on a dizzying ride through metaphysical arguments from the Middle Ages to Immanuel Kant, discussing the problem of freedom. When I also saw an essay he recently published on freedom I was stunned by its exclusively German list of references. Even to discuss positive and negative freedom he didn’t need Isaiah Berlin, but other, German authors. In English language philosophy the opposite is of course also the case, where many great continental thinkers who were mentioned here would not even be known by name.

The other was a Kierkegaard specialist, who took us through the dark moors of protestant existentialist experience of sin, aptly summarized by an elderly lady who attended as ‘Sündensumpf’. While listening my mind kept wandering back to my student days, where for the last time I had been immersed so deeply in North-European and German ways of seeing life through philosophy. And to the very specifically German style of doing philosophy, from which I obviously had removed myself so far that for my bio I had just indicated that I taught philosophy at my university, while all the other speakers had listed, in the right order, their Studies, their PhD, their Habilitation (second research exam after the PhD, neccesary to become a full professor). The exams and titles and positions which I had forgotten to mention, perhaps also because somewhere along the way I must have lost interest in the game of academic hierarchy.

What struck me also, upon reflecting, is that there is no such thing as continental philosophy. French philosophy is just as different from German philosophy as Anglo-saxon philosophy is. And I thought further about the debate on the existence of a specifically African philosophy on which I had been reading over the past years. In this debate, the participants often struggle with the claim of European philosophers that their ideas are universal, whereas those of philosophers of other continents were supposed to be local and bound to their specific cultures. Here, in Weingarten, among the vineyards,img_20180802_072942504.jpg that suddenly appeared as a non-issue. For everything here was so German, including the appropriation of Kant, who was mentioned in every second sentence, so to speak, and always with the full realization of the very specific historical and cultural context of his philosophy. No, things were even more localized, for, as Germans do – always discussing the differences between their constituent peoples at dinner or at the bar (in this case the closest two – the Frankish and the Swabians), there was no escaping the grounded and situated nature of the philosophy being done. It kind of relieved me. After all we are all in the same boat: Anglo-saxons, French, Swabians, Tamils, Han-Chinese, and Igbos – we all come from our own fields with different animals, foods and fruits, and our own histories of power struggles over them, and the identities we developed while tending to them. And from these very local circumstances somehow in all cases thoughts emerge that may attract others from other fields and languages, making them interlocal, although never universal or global in asimple manner. In this case the fields grew grapes. IMG_20180730_171723862

My lectures went well, years of teaching philosophy to non-philosophy students had done their work. The participants liked it that I discussed texts with them and took them along the very personal and existential questions about modernity I have had ever since my early teenage years. And I was relieved all the German idiom I had gathered was still there and helped me to get into a real dialogue with very nice, interested and interesting people, some professional philosophers, others from other professional backgrounds. It was a good experience, to visit my neighbors in their homeland, and sit and philosophize in the vineyard.

covershitinggeogreason One month late, here is my post about the conference on Shifting the Geographies of Reason June 19-22 in Dakar. It has to open with the incredible poster, designed by former CPA president Jane Anna Gordon, featuring the magnificent photos by Djibril Drame. That already says a lot about this conference, which was co-organized by the Carribean Philosophical Association and La Société Sénégalaise de la Philosophie. It expresses that art is an integral element of the reflection that philosophy practices. An approach which reminded us, participants of this conference, of many thinkers, such as Senghor and Césaire, who would integrate poetry into their work to say things that purely academic language can not. Poetry was also a part of this conference, when at its closing session Rozena Maart read her impressive poem which seemed to reflect something of the deeper layers of experience which made this meeting possible.

It was a meeting in the true sense of the word, of scholars with roots in the Carribean and in African countries, as well as other world citizens who adhere to the fact that we are all together in what I discussed at another conference to be the global postcolony. More than at other philosophical conferences many presenters were young, and many were female, and this made for a unique possibility to hear the research and reflection of those who are so often not heard in the usual format of scholarly gatherings, where the system of keynotes by established professors overrepresents the older, and the male colleagues, and pushes the others into the workshop rooms.

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Some of the CPA & SOSEPHI organizers together with the hard working student assistants – credits to the unknown photographer.

This conference had the workshop rooms as its heart – young and older were to be heard there, and the general gatherings provided the frame where members of the two organizing societies, who so enthusiastically had img_20180618_123008150-e1531594532302.jpgjoined forces, met.

 

For me it was a pleasant return to the Université Cheikh Anta Diop, which since last December I had come to know as a most hospitable place of intellectual encounter – with delicious meals by the most friendly catering service, eager students attending many of the presentations, colleagues who already have become friends, and of course, the natural beauty of the most Western tip of the African continent. It is impossible to give a short rendering of all that I learned through these encounters, buIMG_20180620_091239530t may it suffice to say that I

heard papers being presented on all the subjects I would like to hear at a conference – papers which disregarded the restrictive boundaries of disciplinarity, and which, informed by high quality historical, sociological, anthropological, and of course philosophical work, centered the experiences and events that brought us, humans, where we are in together – the postcolony, and centered intercultural and decolonial approaches as well that work toward us moving beyond this existential situation – with all the necessary truthfulness and open-mindedness to not leave anything out. To me, this is what philosophy should be. And places such as UCAD are where true philosophy therefore happens today.