Compared to the craze about their most famous 17th century painter, Rembrandt, the Dutch treat their most famous 17th century philosopher, Spinoza, with heavy neglect. Just recently an African professor narrated me how strange it was to him to try to find the house where Spinoza lived in Rijnsburg, stepping from the bus and seeing no signs. And how strange it was to him as well to notice that the house itself didn’t provide much information about his life and work. He is not alone. Many of those visiting the Netherlands from all over the world try to find traces of the famous philosopher, and find not more than a few crumbs. Crumbs that would not even have been there but for the hard work of a few dedicated volunteers…

Today I had a meeting with one of the volunteers involved in trying to do something about this, by writing texts to be provided in the one room in Spinoza’s last house in the Hague, which can be visited two hours a week. Wim Goris has done his own research into several aspects of Spinoza’s life, such as his food, his means of transport, and also of his death – to wit, his burial. We were having a coffee in the building next to the little elevated grassfield in the center of the Hague, where Spinoza’s remains are supposed to have been scattered with many others. Wim explained that the café used to be the house of the warden of the New Church where Spinoza had been buried by his friends in a rental grave of 12 guilders. And naturally, we were contemplating the little amount of interest there had been up till now on the precise facts of his burial and what had happened to his bones.

That there had been a grave was not even known to me before. I had visited the monument on the burial area several times, but had never thought much about Spinoza’s bones, as I had this vague idea that they were scattered and never had a clear location. Of course I had my photo taken there as many others will have too. But I had – I confess – thought more of how to use it on social media than of the remains of the thinker with whose work I had communicated on a daily basis for almost nine years, when I did my PhD research in the 1990s.

But now, over coffee, we spoke of why his philosophy still appeals to so many readers, even if it has so often been misinterpreted even by serious scholars. It must be because he reflected on life as it is. On its finitude and the sense of eternity that we can even have amidst all change and perishing. On the connectedness of human life to all other life, our bodily, emotive, thinking and spiritual constitution – he tried to think it all together in an age that tried to split it all up. That must be one of the reasons why there is so much interest in his work in places like Japan, and in most African countries – places where practices of life as connected and interconnected have been preserved amidst the inevitable disconnecting forces of modernization.

Duting that conversation I suddenly wanted to know, for the first time, where the bones are, like one can in the case of a Christian saint for whose remains a golden box is placed in a cathedral, or at least a stone vault. I noted by myself that it is not stupid to want to connect to the actual remains of someone whose life has added greatly to human understanding. It helps to be aware, in the moment, in the body one is in now, of the meaning he created, or channeled in his life.

Drinking our coffees, we had to comfort ourselves with the realization that his remains were at least somewhere in that little grass field outside the café. They will have been returned into the cycle of life to such an extent, after three hundred plus years, that he will be there just somehow, in the place, in the air maybe even.

Maybe it was that moment, in a conversation, where I said to a relatively new friend, that I had four friends in philosophy: Jesus, Nietzsche, Spinoza and Derrida. It was an intellectual conversation, in which humor and reflection naturally mixed. After I went home I thought back to that confession, and realized – of course – I had mentioned no women. Why? I noticed something else – that Nietzsche was the only non-Jew in the group. Well, now my mind was looking for all kinds of secondary things, of course, free-wheeling, whereas the joking remark in fact was meant to say something about me – to give some fragments from which to build my portrait: the shamanistic, zen-riddle loving, nature metaphysic, deconstructive playing, strongheaded woman-girl. One can build that portrait not because I am like them. Not because they are like me. Because I like to be with them, my mind likes to play with theirs. They are my friends.

Now two days later I woke up very early, from a dream, in which I was meeting Derrida. I finally had the chance to check some things about his philosophy with him, while we were having a short conversation, so I did. And he answered seriously and very much to the point. I realized I had to remember what he said, what I said, as this conversation was giving me these unique pieces of understanding I had been looking for. But when the dream ended, and I immediately tried to recover it, I found it was already gone! In the dream, the conversation was also not long. There were many women, some of whom he had a relationship with, maybe his wife was there amongst them. Everybody wanted to talk to him, because it was so unique that he had returned from the dead just for this one evening. In fact we were all gathered at a party to celebrate this and be with him and enjoy the evening.

We went up, in a lift/elevator, and I was told we were going to the 50th floor or so, the top of the building. I was a bit scared, as it was so high, and far below us was the ground. On the top of this building was a tropical garden, planted on both sides of this completely square walking path, and it was a gorgeous summer evening with a pinkish honey-fluid sky and the palm trees softly rustling. Waiters were walking around with drinks, the gathered friends were finding their way after coming out of the lift, in the lush garden, and there I spoke briefly and philosophically with him, before he was claimed by someone else who wanted to use this brief moment that he was amongst us again. Before returning to the other world once more. He would be there just for this one evening. For this return/farewell party.

So I spoke too short with my philosophical friend, he would vanish once more, and on his/our friend-party he was soon mingling with too many people. On top I forgot the important checked aspects of his philosophy. Still I felt remarkably satisfied and at peace, finally, to have spoken with him and touched on these open spaces in his work or in my understanding or in whatever web we were in, weaving along with all the others before and after us. Almost established their meaning. And forgotten. And enjoyed. If you can still follow me, that is the kind of philosophical friendship that characterizes me, and that is me.

This was the weirdest blog post of them all, I guess. that means, considering style. The content is clear, of course. For who understands. Interpretations are welcome. Deconstructive ones please. Or shamanistic ones. Or zen ones. Or nature metaphysic ones. No theological, Freudian, or Jungian ones – they won’t do.

An impression? In this direction? New York-ish?

No credits defined, photo taken from this website

A good two months ago I wrote my latest piece here, introducing the course I was about to teach, outlining thoughts and reflections that had guided me through its design. Now the course has been completed: we read great texts from very diverse points of view, heard guest lecturers, watched films. Presentations were held by the students, critical reviews of the texts written. We discussed, debated from our developing frameworks of reflection, and had ‘live’ evaluations of what was learned, and how.

Now, finally seventeen end papers have been written and graded, and I am truly amazed at the work done by all, also by those who due to conflicting rosters or other reasons could not finish all the work. My pedagogical intention was not to get to a predefined level so much, although the minimal level to be attained of course was clear, but to stimulate everyone – inasmuch as possible – to develop their own critical minds and views of what philosophy is and can do.

What interesting group conversations on the literature we had! Where each participant brought their own life experiences and study background to fragments of books like Gender Trouble (Judith Butler), The Wretched of the Earth (Frantz Fanon) or On Reason (Emmanuel Eze). Two films we watched added to the learning experience, as many scenes came back in the discussions later on. They were Lumières Noires, and On Violence. The contributions of my two excellent guest lecturers, Louise Müller and Annemie Halsema, who helped me introduce the subjects of Euro-American and African feminist theory, were invaluable.

There were exciting new ways to see things, and challenges in the way to express and discuss the developing views. The choice of texts and themes proved to provide a good framework for the work done. The (partly international) students had different disciplinary backgrounds, still all did the readings with good effect. A challenge was how to relate the texts to present day issues, in which sometimes personal life experiences are at stake.

How to speak, how to listen, how to give a personal opinion, or how to defend a position academically, even without it being my opinion – which place, and what space, should we give to our personal experiences, and how can we be critical philosophers, and caring persons simultaneously? All such questions at one point or another popped up and needed attention – a vulnerable and valuable process of learning for teacher and students. Without entering into it, engaged, or involved, philosophy cannot be done.

Beforehand, in my latest blog post I wrote: “how I like to teach philosophy: as a series of ways to stimulate and improve the reflective potential that is already here – in actual students who enter class – with all their different backgrounds, vulnerabilities and talents.” in hope that “they can learn not only from the materials offered, but also from each other, and from themselves, as they go through the step by step transformations that life asks from us, and that philosophical studies speed up.” It is to the students to decide if my hopes for them worked out. They certainly entered the process together and with me earnestly and committedly.

A valuable bonus was the initiative, by one of the students, to do an outing after the papers were written, in the spirit of diversifying our outlook and opening our minds. Even though, with cold november rains and other obligations not many could join on that day, our visit to the exhibition on Surinam (in precolonial times, during colonization by the Dutch and after independence) in Amsterdam was a very nice conclusion. I may add an outing to the official program, next year!

Below two of the students and the author in the room representing dress styles of Surinam’s different peoples.

A few years ago my department was shaken by a little revolution: a group of students were protesting that our curriculum was too un-diverse. They were persistent, and connected to similar movements in our university as a whole as well as in other universities, and in the end they claimed a small victory: a new course would be added to the curriculum of the Philosophy Bachelor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, which would give room to more diverse ways to learn about and to practice philosophy.

At the same time their victory could also be seen as a defeat – their idea was, namely, to diversify all courses. To introduce feminist perspectives especially and put more works of female philosophers on the reading lists. That goal now has been left to the informal effects of their efforts. What was gained was this one course. It now carries the responsibility to balance our program by introducing ‘diverse’ philosophy works.

The honor to teach this new course has been bestowed on me, for which I am thankful, as it posed a challenge to me as well. I had to reflect first, when designing the outline in more detail, on the meaning of that expression: a diverse philosophy. What is it? And how can one diversify philosophy? By what means?

In that public debate in our department, early 2016, one of our professors claimed that the specialization he taught, Ethics, already had many female authors on the reading list. That would be no surprise, as indeed, there are many important philosophers active in that field, and among the younger generations (45 down) there are ever more. The professors responsible for the History of Philosophy had a harder time, as they held on to the idea that we should dedicate enough time to the ‘Great Thinkers’, which would leave not so much room for the female species among thinkers.

Not much was said in that meeting about other important aspects (like hiring procedures) in which we needed to ‘diversify’ – as black, muslim, or otherwise non-white persons rarely occupy academic teaching positions in Dutch Philosophy Departments. Things will change rapidly in that respect, however, let me prophecy here – as international hiring procedures will increasingly put candidates in the spotlight that before were never considered.

So how to do it? Diversify? Let’s begin by saying it asks for a mindset that opens up for difference. All kinds of difference. Not just difference of racial group, gender, religion, culture – but differences also in temperament, in personal histories, in ways in which each one of us is vulnerable in some or other aspect of life. Amanda may have a slight hearing problem, Xavier an undiagnosed form of Asperger’s syndrome. Marianne may suffer from intergenerational trauma because her parents were refugees, or victims of the last war. Jim may have a problem to express himself verbally, and Sandra to slow down her pace in group discussions – and both may have issues with sharing their thoughts in seminars. On top of such issues which often are invisible, we have vulnerabilities that are related to class, race and gender. Or to not fitting in heteronormative cultural patterns society lays out for us. Diversifying means being open to all of these things. It means understanding that thinking is something real people with real desires and problems do. Not disembodied geniuses, nor ‘minds’.

Diverse philosophy is – as an effect of the above, also critical. It gets suspicious if philosophy claims to have a ‘bird’s eye view’, sees things from the standpoint of ‘pure reason’ or ‘sub specie aeternitate’. Such claims can indicate the kind of decontextualized, disembodied approach that may stand for some form of supression of difference. This does not mean a philosopher like Kant should get less attention in a diverse program. Of course not, he influenced the modern world in unimaginable ways. He could be read paired with critical readings of his work, such as done by Emmanuel Eze, for instance in his work on a post-racial future for humanity.

My task is not, however, to diversify the entire program, but only to add – as spice to a lavish dish – one course to a curriculum which aims to provide a classical training in philosophy. As an added extra. That is an interesting position. Marginal and central as well – depending on the way one looks at it. I will take up the challenge.

After serious deliberation I decided to design the course as an introduction into different ways in which the traditional canon of ‘great thinkers’ of Euro-American origin can be perceived and read critically. Not adding just ‘diverse’ thinkers, but moreover discovering perspectives that students can try out and see how they work for their own thinking. We will delve into postcolonial, feminist, queer and race-critical perspectives, which unhinge the standard ways in which Philosophy as a discipline has been handed down since the late 18th century.

This reflects how I like to teach philosophy: as a series of ways to stimulate and improve the reflective potential that is already here – in actual students who enter class – with all their different backgrounds, vulnerabilities and talents. My hope is they can learn not only from the materials offered, but also from each other, and from themselves, as they go through the step by step transformations that life asks from us, and that philosophical studies speed up.

Looking forward to the start, and to learn from the process myself. As of next week, September 2nd, 2019.

Summer 2018 I was near the Bodensee to give two lectures at a Philosophy Summer Week. This year, May 2019, I returned to that beautiful region in central Europe again on a very different occasion – I was invited as keynote speaker at a bachelor’s students conference – a novelty to me! The title of the conference was Globalizing the Frankfurt School, and it was organized by professor Monika Kirloskar-Steinbach. She had been the ‘Halle Visiting Scholar’ at Oxford College, Emory University (USA), and brought her students to the University of Konstanz to share an intercultural experience of doing critical philosophy together with their German peers.

I loved the trip, this time nearing the Bodensee from the south, which allows one to pass through Switzerland, a country that always brings back feelings from the 1960s to me, when it shone like an example of how Europe could look once more after WW II damage would had been repaired. From Zürich Airport one takes the train, which gives better views of the country side, and also of the famous Swiss mountains (of which I could not get a good picture).

I had decided to take an article by Tommy J. Curry as the center of my lecture. An article which I had used in class beore, as it is so good for teaching purposes – because of the options it gives to go back and forth from lived reality to theory, use video and create discussion. It carries deeply philosophical concepts (such as the concept of ‘submergence’) and puts them to use to clarify superficial theorizing in cultural studies on black dance in the Americas. It shows how reflection on the specific dance called ‘Krumpin’ essentializes it as ‘naturally African’, without taking the specific historical situation into account which this dance addresses. On the side it critizes representations (in the documentary film “Rize”) of black dance as part of a general ‘racist othering’ (these words are not in the article, they are mine here) of African Americans. But its main point is to articulate a politics of social pessimism as a form of self-care of the group for which Krumpin’ was developed.

The article is called I’m too Real for Yah, and was published in the Radical Philosophy Review in 2009 by Tommy J. Curry. Curry, whose book I reviewed here some time ago, recently transferred from the USA to Scotland. I thought the article fit the theme of that conference – though it contains not a single reference to Adorno, Horkheimer, or other great names of the original Frankfurt School thinkers. I remember now one of the worst annual interviews I had in my career, in which I told the head of our section I was returning to the Frankfurt School type of theory, and he scolded me for working on dead historical stuff. I was too baffled to reply, but if he had just kindly asked me what interested me in this, I would have explained that I want to revive some of its inspiration in present day philosophy on present day issues. The inspiration of philosophy as political intervention. This is what the paper on Krumpin’ does, and how I presented it to those German and American students, in that room in the grandiose library of the University of Konstanz. The students liked it too, and the very different background of the two groups of students made for a lively and also sometimes very personal discussion, in which boundaries were crossed and true learning experiences were had.

By the way – and to conclude: if you are interested in Campus architecture you should travel to this place – if only to experience the sublime 1970s mix of straight modernism and organic shapes, with a mensa that feels like a German Bierhalle and above all: spaces that really invite to create a reflective community – what a university should be. Just look at the pictures below. I really enjoyed being there. I benefitted from the atmosphere of critical reflection created by our host Monika Kirloskar, which allowed us to do what is so important – to think in exchange with others.

I gave myself a challenge, by indicating I would talk about “Humanity’s place in nature, according to Spinoza and Ubuntu”, when asked to speak at the yearly Spinoza Summer Week. I did so this morning, and it was a truly philosophical session. What I mean by that I will explain below.

The summer week is organized by the Dutch Spinoza Society, a club that dedicates itself to maintaining the houses where Spinoza lived, and making them accessible to the public, as well as to furthering the academic study of his work, AND the study of his work by interested readers. This happens in reading circles and in the week, each July, for which a theme is chosen, to which speakers are invited – this year it was: Spinoza and Ecological Thinking. And it was done in a rural environment suitable to philosophize.

As reading material (yes, the participants prepare themselves in a serious manner, which creates meaningful sessions) I had given them a series of propositions from part I of the Ethics, and an article by Michael Onyebuchi Eze – Humanitatis-Eco (Eco-Humanism). The article argues that African Philosophy on Ecology goes beyond the anthropocentrism present in Westers-style Environmental Ethics, by focusing on a decentered, Ubuntu-style, cosmology of nature. The main point, as I pointed out: we should forego the desire to ‘fix’ the environment we need for our species, and start to learn about the sacredness of trees and rivers, as well as of the relations of the living and the not-yet-living generations. A certain awe, materially practised (don’t destroy the bark of a tree that protects your village), will change the human relation to nature in a more profound manner than moral prescriptions for protection of environments can.

We read quotes from the article, as well as from and about Ramose, Mbiti and Tempels. The upshot: a certain orientation in life is more important for ecology than technological fixes driven by limited perspectives (we should save species x). This orientation is informed by the idea that all of nature – be it in individual creatures or in species, or even forces such as wind or water, is an expression of ntu (divine energy) that flows through all being (ubu). This view – I say it hesitantly, translating in a western philosophical word – means there is a certain subjectivity, a certain awareness in all the differentations that make up ubuntu-nature.

This was an imperfect communal attempt at dialogical, intercultural reading, as all dialogical crossing of worlds is by necessity. Now we took the next step: to try to elucidate this through Spinoza’s ideas on conatus and immanent causation – and vice versa. These words were key, where Spinoza says that in the same way in which we may say that God is its/her/his own cause, we may say that it/he/her is cause of all things. (Proposition 25, part I). Every individual and individuated being thus, against the Aristotelian mainstream that declares it to be contingent, gains a certain necessity and inner divine-ness. This does not mean – I warned – that one can deify one’s ego. What is divine is this power to differ, to vary, to be individually different itself, not the form which it takes. The creative force, so to speak – my audience paused and wondered – the ‘ntu‘. So now I had done it, I had used that African concept to explicate Spinoza’s idea of immanence.

Followed a discussion whether Spinoza should be understood to be a metaphysician, and what ‘metaphysics’ means when it doesn’t involve transcendence. Spinoza ‘naturalized’ metaphysics, I said – claiming there is no ‘beyond nature’, but there is a beyond our distorted, desire driven understandings of the world as revolving around us (anthropocentrism). And now ubuntu – is it metaphysical? In this Spinozistic sense, perhaps? I argued yes, when we understand that ubuntu thinking of nature doesn’t recognize the Cartesian dualistic cleft in the world that Spinoza had to deal with to begin with. The physical and the spiritual (matter and mind, thinking and extension) are not separated, thus the metaphysical is always already in the changing, contiguous phenomena we perceive.

This was not a lecture, I called this morning a ‘session’ on purpose. I provided the materials and the main questions, which then interacted with the questions of the audience (the discussion on ‘metaphysics’ was not prepared but arose there and then) and led to a kind of shared, while individually diverse, certainty we had grown in understanding. One participant came to me and thanked me ‘for not using a powerpoint’ – they overload you with knowledge, he said, and there is no shared learning and thinking. Well that made my day of course – I am not against powerpoints, they can be very stimulating in the right context, but this – reading texts and discussing them from shared questions – truly philosophizing – remains the best!

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…

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!