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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:African modes of self-writing
Author:Mbembe, AchilleISNI
Periodical:CODESRIA Bulletin
Geographic term:Subsaharan Africa
Subject:African identity
Abstract:Modern African reflection on identity is essentially a matter of liturgical construction and incantation rather than historical criticism. African history is reduced to three acts: slavery, colonization, and apartheid, to which an attempt is now being made to add globalization. The production of the dominant meanings of these events has been colonized by two ideological currents of thought, one instrumentalist, the other reductionist, both claiming to speak 'in the name' of Africa as a whole. The first seeks to build a politics of Africanity by using the categories of Marxist political economy and nationalism and conceiving the African as victimized subject, the second, which developed out of an emphasis on difference and the native condition, promotes the idea of a unique African identity whose foundation is membership of the black race. These two currents of thought have led reflection on the African experience of the self and the world into a dead end. African criticism has failed to address central questions about life and its denial which the all-purpose signifiers slavery, colonialism and apartheid raise: the status of suffering in history, the work of memory, the function of forgetting and the modalities of reparation, and the symbolism of exile. African identity does not exist as a substance or an essence. It is constituted, in varying and changing forms, through a series of practices, of power and of the self. Consideration of the current rhetoric about the African Renaissance, the project of re-enchanting tradition, suggests that contemporary African identities are forged at the interface between cosmopolitanism and the values of autochthony. Notes, ref.