Siba Grovogui (Johns Hopkins)

I agree with your sentiments on all counts: the poststructuralism of the Indian sub-continental tradition of postcolonialism (Spivak et al); the marginalization of non-Western intellectuals; and the need to engage. My own book, Beyond Eurocentrism and Anarchy was a modest contribution in the direction that you suggest. Granted, I do not present the issues in the light that you do. This is particularly because I have a hard time taking anyone seriously who believes that Lyotard, Foucault, Deleuze and other French theorists were not inspired by anti-colonialists’ pronouncements on the two world wars and subsequent colonial wars in Algeria and Vietnam, amongst others. Take Jean-Francois Lyotard, the man said to have first articulated postmodernism after the late 1970s. It may be true that Lyotard’s analysis of the impact of postmodernity on the human condition was particularly refreshing. Still, Sartre and Ponty preceded him by a few decades. All of them were preceded by the 1918 encounter between Ho Chi Minh and Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference. To the then Union Colonial, an organization of anti-colonialists from the entire French empire, Wilson’s response to Ho was a crucial moment of disillusionment with post-Enlightenment ideologies of emancipation and liberal instantiations of freedom. Significantly, the Ho Chi Minh-Wilson encounter occurred in Versailles a good 6 years before Lyotard was born in the same town. It would be safe to assume that the fires put out by Versailles and the ruins it left behind must have had a bearing on Lyotard.

These sorts of things are difficult to always relate without sounding angry. This is why I did the archival work that I did. (I am still waiting for someone to tell me that my authors were borrowing from Foucault, Deleuze, or Ranciere). Deleuze, Foucault, Lyotard and all do not refer explicitly to the intellectual ferment of the postwar years as their moment of inspiration. Nor do they acknowledge that anti-colonialists contributed to the cultural brew that generated poststructuralism. They did not have to, but we do not have to presume that the connections are not there and we should consider that anticolonialists first questioned the central tenets of modernity and its rationalities and symbolic structures. In these regards, metropolitan discussions turned to questions of subjectivity (other(ness)), governmentality, spectrality, etc. in response to existential quandaries facing disenchanted leftists in need of self-preservation in an increasingly shrinking democratic space. It is not an accident that, in France for instance, postmodernists are disproportionately protestants, Jewish, second-generation immigrants, and/or born in the colonies. It may well be a good strategy, an efficient one at that, to grasp postmodern concerns – particularly where they seem to exhibit fragments and portions of anti-colonialist critiques in their own reflections on modernity – as staging for de-colonial concerns about the other refractions of modernity: empire, colonialism, and their moralities, rationalities, and subjectivities.

To this end, I have recently tried to recover “Africa” and “Africans” from between the lines of postwar French thought. This is what I did in my book and my essay on Cosmopolitanism (in the journal International Relations). This is also what I do when I teach courses around “Algeria”.

All in all, you have opened up a conversation that is of great interest to me. Let’s talk more about it. I will give your question further reflection but I did not want to let the day go without a quick response.

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One Response

  1. dear siba, i just found this today (nov.17, 2011, and am writing to support your point enthusiastically. i have made the same experience with white western theorists “using” the work of black (e.g. african american thinkers) in the realm of gender studies, and never acknowledging them in any epistemic way, and/or as intellectual contributions. all they are ever “good for”, is to produce corporeal evidence and add authenticity to claims,.this goes so far as to suppress citation, or to cite in ways that make the impact disappear, as opposed to foregrounding it. i think it is high time that we find a way to critique this without running into the conundrum of “sounding angry” …. even though i don’t mind sounding angry when i am.

    Sabine Broeck, University of Bremen

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