Reader in Swahili Literature and African Philosophy, SOAS, University of London
Gesprächsleitung: Prof. Dr. Kai Kresse, New York
African Philosophy established itself as an academic discipline in the mid-20th century. At present, it can boast an impressive range of published anthologies, histories, encyclopaedias, and specialized monographs. Yet the crisis of identity that gave birth to this discipline has been perpetuated until the present. Paradoxically, it is this crisis that endows the discipline with an exciting potential: that of questioning the very nature and foundations of philosophy.
In this way, African Philosophy becomes a channel of more thorough, more fundamental critique than the general discipline of philosophy itself. It questions the very idea of philosophy as a universal human activity: does philosophy really exist in all human societies? What would its absence mean? It questions the nature of philosophy: is philosophy really the prejudice-free, ahistorical type of knowledge that it aspires to be? Is such knowledge even possible? It questions the origins of philosophy: the “cradle” of philosophy is displaced from Greece to Egypt. It questions the sources and canons of philosophy: is philosophy to be sought in pure theory? Can philosophy be embodied in human activity and practices? Can material objects and artefacts be expressions of philosophy? It questions the methods of philosophy: if philosophy can be embodied in practices, how do we interpret these practices as philosophy? If philosophy is expressed in texts of a fictional nature, how do we read these texts philosophically? How do we bring these varied expressions on the same level as theoretical thought? Must we? Or can we perhaps philosophize otherwise? Finally, it draws attention to the hermeneutical horizons of thought, exposing the cultural grounding of any philosophy and its implications for the validity of that philosophy. This lecture opens up this vast territory of radical questioning within African Philosophy and suggests several answers, with a particular focus on an understanding of the role of language and textual genre in philosophy.
Dr. Alena Rettová is Reader in Swahili Literature and African Philosophy at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Her research focuses on African philosophical texts and speculative fiction. Her latest monographs include Afrophone Philosophies: Reality and Challenge (2007) and Chanter l’existence: La poésie de Sando Marteau et ses horizons philosophiques (2013). In 2016 she edited a special issue on African Philosophy of the Journal of African Cultural Studies.