Between Earth and Sky


  • Jean-Paul Martinon Goldsmiths College, University of London



Africa. Who are you?

I deliberately don’t say here, “What are you?” As we know, the interrogative pronoun “what” is an attempt to grab the essence of something. As Heidegger says: “whatness [Wassein], comprises what one commonly calls… the idea or mental representation by means of which we propose to… grasp what a thing is.” As such, questions starting with the interrogative pronoun “what” are eminently violent because they reduce the object of inquiry to a thing that can be held in one’s hand; that can make sense as a totality; that can be conceptualized with one idea. The history of philosophy— from Plato to Augustine, from Descartes to Lenin, all the way to Kwame Nkrumah, for example—is littered with the question “What…?”; with these violent attempts at grabbing the essence of something. Africa’s history is also littered with these attempts at reducing a continent to an essence or concept. These attempts are absurdly grandiose (pinning down “the idea” of Africa, for example) and ridiculously small (analyzing the minutiae of life in a village, for example). In all cases, they try to envision Africa as an object to be possessed by any means and I know that we can’t carry on doing that.