Achille Mbembe’s Critique of Black Reason leaves larger questions unanswered, but points the way. It examines the changing use of ‘blackness’ as a category in an increasingly post-Western world order, and it raises the concept of ‘black reason’ as the thinking around the category that shapes its use. The book provides a history of the category in practice, its origins in the needs of capital, Atlantic then global diffusion, and moments of its change in practice: abolition, decolonization, and Apartheid. This drives the analysis to the crux of today, where the relation of West and the world is being reworked, enabling both new racism and a search for a ‘common world’ beyond black reason. Mbembe suggests ‘Europe’s twilight has arrived, and the Euro-American world has not yet figured out what it wants to know about, or to do with, the Black Man’ (p.7).
If the folly of this world is interminable, so too is the search for a better world. A portion of a lecture by English philosopher John Gray recently emerged on the internet. In it, the former LSE professor speaks on the question ‘can we live together in the world’, a question this blog has touched on before. Gray suggests the answer, yes.
In a time when religious fundamentalism, nationalism, and xenophobia are enjoying a revival in global politics, the cosmopolitan thinker Kwame Anthony Appiah has come to show us how confused we are about what these things are and how they shape our identities. In the first of a series of lectures, to be aired on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service, Appiah tackled the question of religion and identity. His argument is that religious identity is not so much constituted by a set of creedal beliefs or orthodoxies, as it is a set of evolving religious practices performed in a community. The idea that religion is not something that we have but is something we do is appealing and I appreciate Appiah’s cosmopolitan live and let live attitude, but I am not convinced his argument leads us down a coherent or entirely helpful path. Continue reading “Encounter I: Kwame Anthony Appiah”