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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Against Town versus Gown: Adesanmi on Public Intellection in and on Africa(ns)

"The condition of Nigeria and Africa today are too desperate for me to find any joy or personal satisfaction in producing exclusive literary-theoretical jargons that could only be understood by colleagues and advanced doctoral students. And, no, I do not believe in the need for discursive boundaries between town and gown. My philosophy of intellection and knowledge production has been shaped over the years by a very broad range of populist (I hope one can still use that term in a non-pejorative sense today) traditions. The writer and public intellectual that I am today were shaped by all the big isms of the political and ideological Left even with all their warts. I strive constantly to hone an intellectual praxis marked by its embeddedness in the social, an underlying immersion in volk consciousness, a rootedness in the idioms of the street, and a permanent suspicion of power that cannot in anyway be cocooned in academia. I am just too restless for the epistemic isolation that is academe. And don't forget that I am also a student of the French tradition of public intellection. If you look closely at 19th and 20th century France, especially roughly from Emile Zola's "J'accuse" down to our times, the ideas that powered and inflected society did not come as a result of the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Pierre Bourdieu, André Breton, Raymond Aron, Louis Althusser, Pierre Fougeyrollas, Michel Foucault, Alain Finkiekrault, and Bernard-Henri Lévy merely sitting down to philosophize from the hallowed halls of the Sorbonne or the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Many of these thinkers were or are also agitators, columnists, anarchists, and animators of the public sphere. Let me remind you that public intellection is also not a new thing in Africa. The only new dimension is the increasing appropriation of the internet as a space of public intellection as we see, for instance, in the very visible listserv praxis of Nigeria’s Mobolaji Aluko, a Professor of Chemical Engineering with a public intellectual vocation underwritten by social and political justice concerns. Other than this new online dimension, the field of African public intellection has been very rich since the upsurge in continental production of discourse and knowledges in European languages began in the 20th century. In no particular order, the likes of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Odia Ofeimun, Edwin Madunagu, Ayodele Awojobi, Bala Usman, Eskor Toyo, Niyi Osundare, Biodun Jeyifo and so many others have contributed enormously to blurring the boundaries between town and gown in terms of activism and essayistic interventions. South Africa, Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Malawi, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe have all given us the likes of Archie Mafeje, Bernard Magubane, Eski’a Mpahlele, Ali Mazrui, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Florence Wambugu, Mahmood Mamdani, Achille Mbembe, Lovemore Madhuku, John Makumbe, and Ernest Wamba dia Wamba just to limit myself to those. I like to flatter myself by believing that I am qualified to be called a devoted student of these illustrious practitioners of African public intellection" - Pius Adesanmi on Thinking is All I Owe Nigeria in African Writing : Saturday, 15 January 2011 14:10

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