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Archive for the ‘Academic’ Category

“Blackness is indeed consciousness of black experiences” – Gabriel Apata reviews Critique of Black Reason

In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness – from the Atlantic slave trade to the present – to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity.

Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world’s center of gravity while mapping the relations between colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital.

Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression. Mbembe powerfully argues that this equation of Blackness with the nonhuman will serve as the template for all new forms of exclusion.

With Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe offers nothing less than a map of the world as it has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking while providing the first glimpses of a more just future.

Here, Dr. Gabriel O Apata reviewed Critique of Black Reason for the journal Theory, Culture & Society:

Kant’s first Critique may be described as an attempt to hoist reason up out of the contamination and impurities of subjectivity and relativity onto to a transcendental plane where alone it can possess objectivity and universality. This then is pure reason, whose critique lays down the law for very basis for human knowledge, its limits and which asks whether metaphysics is at all possible. But Kant’s universality turns out not to be universal after all since it excludes or does not admit of certain groups, in particular black people on the basis that they lack reason. The question is can there be such a thing as black reason? If reason does come in colours could it ever be objective? This is the question that Achille Mbembe in his new six-chaptered book Critique of Black Reason (2017) sets out to explore. Mbembe not only believes there is such a thing as black reason but he thinks he knows what it is and what stuff it is made of.

So what is black reason? According to Mbembe ‘Black reason consists of a collection of voices, pronouncements, discourses, forms of knowledge, commentary and nonsense, whose object is things or people of “African origin” (p.27). He goes on to say that ‘Black reason names not only a collection of discourses but also practices….’ (p.28). But this will not do since this definition of black reason can equally apply to any other group. For instance if we substitute the ‘black’ and ‘African origin’ in his statement for ‘white’ and ‘European origins’ we end up with nothing to distinguish between the two except difference in cultures. But hold that thought, because that is precisely Mbembe’s point. The Western idea of reason is different from black or African idea of reason because both are products of different geographies (Europe and Africa) and also experiences. Mbembe suggests that contact between both worlds has produced two narratives: the Western Consciousness of Blackness and Black Consciousness of Blackness.

With regards to White consciousness of blackness Mbembe takes us on a historical tour, through the vicissitudes of the black experience that have shaped black consciousness, which are the three most important epoch-making events in black history: slavery, colonialism and Apartheid. This is the familiar story of conquest, oppression, subjugation, persecution and so on. Western consciousness of blackness is thus a category construct that is like a prison within which are quartered cellars and doors through which the black man passes or is let through, at will, into rooms, as though on a production line where he is shaped, boxed, stamped and eventually produced, as blackness. Like the slaves in Plato’s cave, blackness is shackled against a wall where it sees only images and not reality and where he is denied not only freedom, but also the light of reason. It cannot attain knowledge of pure forms but only copies of reality, hence it cannot be admitted into Kant’s kingdom of ends. They have no access to the realms above because, as we mentioned, they lack reason. As Mbembe points out, ‘Reason in particular confers on the human a generic identity, a universal essence, from which flows a collection of rights and values. It unites all humans…. The question …was whether blacks were human beings like all others’ (p.85). The answer for many was no. Indeed, Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative that exhorts us to treat humanity not as a means but as an end in himself did not apply to black people. The idea of absolute or intrinsic value, of ‘supreme limiting condition’ that Kant thought is the very measure of humanity also did not apply to the black man for the same reasons as stated above. Hence the justification for their use as instrumental value.

With regards to black consciousness of blackness, Mbembe points out that ‘Black – we must not forget – aspires also to be a color. The color of obscurity. In this view Black is what lives in the night. Night is its original envelope, the tissue out of which its flesh is made. It is a coat of arms, its uniform’ (p.152). Psychologically, Black is like a victim of locked-in syndrome, within a skin that the bearer never chose but within the confines of which the victim is aware of what is happening to him but remains powerless to express thoughts and feelings. In this prison only two options are open to the black man, either to acquiesce and die or struggle and survive. Out of this fight for survival ‘the struggle to the death’ emerges the narrative of black consciousness.

But Mbembe’s idea of two consciousnesses is classic Hegelian master and slave dialect, a co-dependent relationship in which both are trapped, and within which each holds up a mirror to the other and from the ensuing reflection both become conscious (aware) of each other and of themselves.

Continue reading Apata’s review here.

Book details


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Listen to the recording of the launch of Critique of Black Reason

Renown philosopher, political theorist and intellectual, Achille Mbembe, recently launched his latest book, Critique of Black Reason, at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

Moderated by Sarah Nuttall, associate professor of literary and cultural studies at WiSER, Mbembe was in conversation with Bongani Madondo, Candice Jansen, Victoria Collis-Buthelezi, Claudia Gastrow, and Rogers Orock.

Nuttall expressly stated that each panelist had 10 minutes to deliver his or her comments on Critique of Black Reason which most of them managed to do.

Mbembe opened the discussion by giving a brief overview of his book and how moving to American made him realise that he had never confronted slavery; this motivated him to write Critique of Black Reason.

The panelists shared their opinions of the book’s content, varying from commenting on black student activists, questioning the absence of black women in the book, and the book’s relevance in relation to the history of slavery and colonialism.

Nuttall’s strict adherence to time-keeping meant that Mbembe was unable to respond to the questions and comments raised by the panel, to which he laughingly replied “Thank you for saving me from flagellation!”

He thanked the panelists for their “subtle, powerful criticism”, after which he elaborated on the translation of the original French title, Critique de la raison nègre.

“‘Nègre,” Mbembe related to the audience, translates to “an object which is bought or sold, or a currency through which the exchange is made.”

After this powerful statement, Nuttall mentioned that WiSER has created a reading group, open to the public, in which books such as Critique of Black Reason will be discussed.

Listen to the recording here:


Critique of Black Reason

Book details


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“This book is an attempt to make sense of black life and black history from a continental perspective” – Achille Mbembe at launch of Critique of Black Reason

Renown philosopher, political theorist and intellectual, Achille Mbembe, recently launched his latest book, Critique of Black Reason, at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

Moderated by Sarah Nuttall, associate professor of literary and cultural studies at WiSER, Mbembe was in conversation with Bongani Madondo, Candice Jansen, Victoria Collis-Buthelezi, Claudia Gastrow, and Rogers Orock.

Nuttall expressly stated that each panelist had 10 minutes to deliver his or her comments on Critique of Black Reason which most of them managed to do.

Mbembe opened the discussion by giving a brief overview of his book and how moving to American made him realise that he had never confronted slavery; this motivated him to write Critique of Black Reason.

The panelists shared their opinions of the book’s content, varying from commenting on black student activists, questioning the absence of black women in the book, and the book’s relevance in relation to the history of slavery and colonialism.

Nuttall’s strict adherence to time-keeping meant that Mbembe was unable to respond to the questions and comments raised by the panel, to which he laughingly replied “Thank you for saving me from flagellation!”

He thanked the panelists for their “subtle, powerful criticism”, after which he elaborated on the translation of the original French title, Critique de la raison nègre.

“‘Nègre’,” Mbembe related to the audience, translates to “an object which is bought or sold, or a currency through which the exchange is made.”

After this powerful statement, Nuttall mentioned that WiSER has created a reading group, open to the public, in which books such as Critique of Black Reason will be discussed.

A recording of the discussion will be available soon.

Critique of Black Reason

Book details


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Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication caters for the changing sociolinguistic dynamics in SA

Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication places valuable emphasis on a language implementation plan that will encourage the intellectualisation of indigenous African languages.Linda Kwatsha, Department of Language and Literature, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

This book offers a unique South African perspective, offering practical solutions to address the language deficit characterising South Africa institutions of Higher Education.
- Somikazi Deyi, Department of African Languages, University of Cape Town

To date, there has been no published textbook which takes into account changing sociolinguistic dynamics that have influenced South African society.

Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication
breaks new ground in this arena. The scope of this book ranges from macro-sociolinguistic questions pertaining to language policies and their implementation (or non-implementation) to micro-sociolinguistic observations of actual language-use in verbal interaction, mainly in multilingual contexts of Higher Education (HE).

There is a gradual move for the study of language and culture to be taught in the context of (professional) disciplines in which they would be used, for example, Journalism and African languages, Education and African languages, etc. The book caters for this growing market. Because of its multilingual nature, it caters to English and Afrikaans language speakers, as well as the Sotho and Nguni language groups – the largest languages in South Africa [and also increasingly used in the context of South African Higher Education].

It brings together various inter-linked disciplines such as Sociolinguistics and Applied Language Studies, Media Studies and Journalism, History and Education, Social and Natural Sciences, Law, Human Language Technology, Music, Intercultural Communication and Literary Studies.

The unique cross-cutting disciplinary features of the book will make it a must-have for twenty-first century South African students and scholars and those interested in applied language issues.

Book details

  • Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication: A South African Perspective edited by Ekkehard Wolff, Pamela Maseko, Russell Kaschula
    EAN: 9781776140268
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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The Truth about Crime: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes

“The Truth about Crime is replete with original insights. Reflecting on the disproportionate relationship between fear and actual danger in a number of major countries, Jean and John Comaroff explain why criminality, although far from matching many other potential sources of public peril, elicits much more civic outrage. We learn how changes in the meaning of criminality and the nature of crime-and-policing are associated with the recent shift in the relationship between capital, governance, and the state. We also learn how these developments in both the United States and the Republic of South Africa have resulted in steps taken to discipline or control certain groups defined or viewed as threatening. This is a compelling book, a must-read for scholars and laypersons alike.” – William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged

The Comaroffs’ constant articulation of sparkling ethnographic vignettes, rich statistical data, and highly imaginative insights makes for a truly effervescent argumentation, creative and, at the same time, thoroughly documented. With this combination they offer a powerful book that newly addresses a theme that is becoming central all over the world: our increasing obsession with (in)security.“- Peter Geschiere, author of Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust
 
 
 
In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.

To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.

The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.

Book details


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Book launch: Critique of Black Reason by Achille Mbembe


 
In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness – from the Atlantic slave trade to the present – to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity.

Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world’s center of gravity while mapping the relations between colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital.

Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression. Mbembe powerfully argues that this equation of Blackness with the nonhuman will serve as the template for all new forms of exclusion.

With Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe offers nothing less than a map of the world as it has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking while providing the first glimpses of a more just future.

Event Details


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Healing the Exposed Being presents a new vocabulary and ontology for understanding the Ngoma healing tradition

Healing the Exposed Being is a scholarly, rich and engaging account of the complex and individualised knowledge systems and passages of influence that shape sangoma practices in South Africa. Thornton’s descriptions of and insight into the philosophies, rituals, and objects of the sangoma, and the ancestors, spirits and others beings with whom they work, change our view of these healers as custodians of the living, advisers, philosophers and guardians. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in health and illness in the region.” – Lenore Manderson, Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand

In Healing the Exposed Being, Robert Thornton presents a new vocabulary and ontology for understanding fundamental concepts of a regional version of the Ngoma cult, found throughout the Bantu language-speaking areas of Africa.

He is thus able to provide a more integrated anthropological account of beliefs and practices that have survived from pre-colonial to postcolonial times, describing them in their own terms rather than presenting them as a reflex of modernity or reaction to colonialism, or as a consequence of neoliberalism or other social, political, economic or historical factors.

Bungoma, the knowledge and practice of ‘traditional healing’ in eastern Mpumalanga, is built on the fundamental premise that all persons are exposed to each other and to other person-like agents, including ancestors and witches, among others.

This mutual and inescapable exposure is the condition for the possibility of healing, but also ultimately the cause of all illness, misfortune and death. Against this, the sangoma as healer attempts to augment the self of the exposed being through protective magic and by exposing relations between tangible (living human) and intangible (spiritual) agents or persons.

Bungoma comprises multiple modalities including trance, music and rhythm, divination, herbal lore, teaching and learning, craftsmanship and healing. The aim of bungoma is to enable patients to heal themselves by transforming their personal narratives of self.

Thornton brings this local anthropology and its therapeutic applications into relation with global academic anthropology by exploring it through political, economic, interpretive and ecological-environmentalist lenses.

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Joint book launch – Urban Revolt & Southern Resistance in Critical Perspective

Join the University of Johannesburg Library and the Centre for Social Change for the launch of two books focused on protests and resistance in the Global South: Urban Revolt and Southern Resistance in Critical Perspective.

Speakers will include contributors to the books: Trevor Ngwane, Immanuel Ness and Marcel Parett.

Event Details


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Remains of the Social explores the post-apartheid condition

Remains of the Social is an interdisciplinary volume of essays that engages with what ‘the social’ might mean after apartheid; a condition referred to as ‘the post-apartheid social’.

The volume grapples with apartheid as a global phenomenon that extends beyond the borders of South Africa between 1948 and 1994 and foregrounds the tension between the weight of lived experience that was and is apartheid, the structures that condition that experience, and a desire for a ‘post-apartheid social’ (think unity through difference).

Collectively, the contributors argue for a recognition of the ‘the post-apartheid’ as a condition that names the labour of coming to terms with the ordering principles that apartheid both set in place and foreclosed.

The volume seeks to provide a sense of the terrain on which ‘the post-apartheid’ – as a desire for a difference that is not apartheid’s difference – unfolds, falters and is worked through.

Remains of the Social is nothing less than a kaleidoscopic critical philosophy of postapartheid as it took shape in South Africa and as it reverberated across the globe. The collection features a splendid ensemble of thinkers drawing upon a brilliant intellectual palate, including continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, contemporary critical theory, literary theory and poetics. This is political theory for the 21st century — crossing hemispheres with ease, promiscuous in its scholarly touchstones, yet disciplined and pedagogical.
– Wendy Brown, University of California, Berkeley

Gayatri Spivak, University Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University on Remains of the Social:

To translate apartheid into globality shares the problem of all translation: it is necessary yet impossible. Remains of the Social inhabits this problem brilliantly, moving from high theory to punk in Afrikaans, from the grand staging of the Moses of Michelangelo to the Moses Twebe Great Hall in subaltern Dimbaza. Again and again, I was transported into ‘a memory of the future’. In this brief comment I will mention three: the careful unpeeling of ‘empathy’, a word that plagues top-down philanthropy; the anguish of the last letters from Dimbaza to the International Defense and Aid Fund; and the murder of education as ‘the desire to learn’ recounted in the very last chapter. A witnessing book, moving and instructive.

Book details

  • Remains of the Social: Desiring the Post-Apartheid edited by Gary Minkley, Maurits van Bever Donker, Premesh Lamu, Ross Truscott
    EAN: 9781776140305
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Nigel Gibson on Lenin, Workers’ Day and national liberation

In the light of Workers’ Day, Nigel Gibson, the author of Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo, wrote an opinion piece on communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin for online publication, The Con Mag.

An extract from Gibson’s article reads:

The centenary of the Russian Revolution of 1917 is being marked in the dark days of a seemingly global counter-revolution. In the time of Recep Erdoğan, Theresa May, Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin, Michel Temer, Donald Trump, Jacob Zuma, and all the rest, communist confidence in the future often appears as a form of faith unhinged from reality.

The philosophical foundations of that confidence lie in a reading of Hegelian dialectics considered as a triadic system of thesis-antithesis-synthesis moving toward a definite end. Marxism, it is often said, repeats the logic of this abstract system in the material realm with each epoch of production understood to be laying the basis for its negation on the march to communism.

But if there is a general sense of movement in 2017 it is in a very different direction. Amid the gloom of the present it is perhaps a propos to return to the bleak period when Lenin faced the holocaust of the First World War, and the betrayal of European social democracy. In 1914, after the Marxist parties across Europe voted in support of the imperialist war, Vladmir Lenin spent a year reading Hegel in the public library in Bern.

He discovered a critical conception of dialectic that had appealed to Marx. Rather than a synthesis of opposites, Lenin now underscored the transformation into opposite as a moving principle. He emphasized that dualities within every social formation were not only products of external pressures but also, and more importantly, internal contradictions.

Lenin wanted to understand how radical political movements and parties transform into their opposites and become chauvinist, conservative and authoritarian. The Russian revolution is not the only moment of rupture with oppression that transformed into a totalitarian society. On the contrary counter-revolution from within the revolution has been so commonplace that it almost seems like an iron law of history.

Yet we are shocked every time.

Critique is often little more than new cycles of denunciation of ‘the treason’ of new parties of liberation. There is an urgent imperative to move beyond this moralism and develop a properly philosophical-political critique of why revolution after revolution has come to mirror much of what it initially set out to oppose.

April Days

On 3 April 1917, Lenin stepped off a train, sealed by the Germans who did not want him fermenting revolution on the way, and gave a speech at the Finland Station in St Petersburg. Standing on top of an armoured car, and illuminated by a searchlight, Lenin greeted the revolutionary Russian proletariat, and the revolutionary Russian army, commending them on starting a social revolution.

He added that the proletariat of the whole world needed to turn the imperialist war into civil war.

The next day he presented what came to be called the April Theses at two meetings of the All-Russia Conference of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Some members of his party thought he had become an anarchist. Apparently his wife thought he had succumbed to madness. But he continued to dismiss the mentality of the ‘old Bolsheviks’ and to upset vanguardist assumptions and dogmatic concepts. Lenin underscored the revolutionary role of the peasantry.

He insisted that the workers and peasants were vastly more revolutionary than the Marxists in the party. This was, in Marcel Liebman’s arresting phrase, the time of ‘libertarian Leninism’. Lenin insisted that the revolution could only be the product of mass insurrection and certainly not the work of a self-appointed vanguard: “we don’t want the masses to take our word for it,” Lenin argued, “we want the masses to overcome their mistakes through experience.

Continue reading ‘The Libertarian Lenin’ 100 Years On: A May Day Reflection here.

Gibson’s latest book, Fanon: Psychiatry and Politics, co-authored with Roberto Beneduce, will be published by Wits University Press later this year.


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