Prof. Toyin Falola will on April 5, 2022 give a lecture on “Converting Words Into Power: The Ontologies and Epistemologies of Religious Metaphysics” at Rice University in the United States.
Giving insight into the lecture, Prof. Falola said:”Reading words in secularist terms is limited and limiting, disempowering us from tapping into hidden texts, unused archives, and disastrous epistemic violence that requires serious rescue missions. Words, as stand-alone and in combination with objects, are translatable into various forms of power. Words can produce spells and trance, prophecy, commands, death, and flights into the holy realms. The lecture draws from various religious traditions to map the manifestations and complicated consequences of sacred words. In the process, the lecture speaks to translations, multiple layers of interpretations, mystical dimensions, and provinces of allegories.”
Falola has been working on the African knowledge systems for a decade. He recently published Religious Beliefs and Knowledge Systems (Rowman and Littlefield, 2021), and a long book, Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, and Voice (University of Rochester Press), Sacred Words and Holy Realms (Bloomsbury, April, 2022), and Autoethnography and Knowledge Systems (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming, 2022). He is at the moment working on Edible Studies: The Future of African Knowledge Systems.
Falola is the Professor of History, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin. He is an Honorary Professor at University of Cape Town and Extraordinary Professor of Human Rights at University of the Free State. Professor Falola has served as the General Secretary of the Historical Society of Nigeria, President of the African Studies Association, Vice-President of UNESCO Slave Route Project, and the Kluge Chair of the Countries of the South, Library of Congress. He is also a member of the Scholars’ Council, Kluge Center, the Library of Congress and has received over thirty lifetime career awards and sixteen honorary doctorates.
Time :6:00 p.m.
Register: caaas.rice.edu/eventscaaas.rice.edu @RiceCAAASreli.rice.edu
Webinar registration (listed within the Event information page as well): https://riceuniversity.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_p5RoDqrkTgqgnPbAL9ExEQ
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African Studies As A Matrix For Totalistic Knowledge: Exploring Toyin Falola’s Polymathic Creativity In Relation To His Discussion Of Aesthetics In Decolonizing African Studies
Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju
Within the context of approaches to engaging Toyin Falola’s polymathic vastness of scholarship and writing, this essay explores aesthetics as conceptual reflection on the nature of art and beauty, in relation to aesthetics as a study of the history of artistic developments, as these approaches are unified, with an emphasis on the latter, in the chapter on aesthetics in Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency and Voice, 2022.
The essay builds on my first discussion of the book, “A Masterly Overview : Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, and Voice: A Thumbnail Review” ( Studying Toyin Falola blog, LinkedIn, academia.edu and various Nigerian news media)
Great thanks to the reviewer who wishes to remain anonymous but whose reading of successive drafts of the essay was vital to refining the piece and to expanding my confidence in the direction the work was going, indirectly motivating further developments in the writing beyond its earlier drafts, even though the reviewer did not get to see those additions, having boosted my confidence sufficiently for my individualistic orientation to take over again, but, it can be quite fulfilling to go beyond the limitations of working on one’s own, as the reviewer’s kind efforts helped me better appreciate.
The Hunger for Totalistic Knowledge
The hunger for totalistic knowledge is one of humanity’s enduring aspirations. It involves the need to know as much as possible about as many things as possible. It is motivated by the need to gain a synoptic awareness of existence from as comprehensive a perspective as may be reached.
This aspiration underlies the structuring of forms of knowledge in their distinctiveness and interrelationships as these configurations have been developed at the mature stages of origins of systems of thought in various cultures. These range from the Platonic and Aristotelian synthesis of ancient Greek thought and its shaping of Western scholarship to such paradigmatic African systems as the Yoruba origin Ifa which harmonizes the visual and verbal arts, spirituality, philosophy, mathematics and medicine. This is a synthesis resonating with other African systems similar to Ifa, from the Igbo Afa to the Dahomean Fa and to others less similar, such as the Ghanaian symbol system Adinkra, which uses visual forms as a template for philosophy. Beyond Africa and the West is the example of Indian Yantra hermeneutics, correlating the visual arts, mathematics, spirituality and philosophy in their literary and performative dimensions.
The Unification of Human Cultures
Individual creatives, from artist and engineer Leonardo da Vinci to medical researcher and philosopher Ibn Sina to poet and international public servant, second United Nations Secretary General Darg Hammarskjöld, who demonstrate efforts at creating multidisciplinary competencies and syntheses, are appreciated as achieving what a writer describes of the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as demonstrating “how our divided culture might be reunited in a new ideal of wholeness.’’
In adapting this observation, I take “our’’ culture to mean, not the European culture that writer may have been referencing, even though Goethe was also a student and emulator of aspects of Islamic culture, but human culture in general. Humanity is understood in this context as demonstrating foundational, widespread similarities within differences. Human culture is seen as constituted by distinctive expressions, which, in their similarities, constitute unifying orientations emerging from the structuring of human awareness at the intersection of human biology and environment. The similarities in difference between individual cultures are perceived as coming together to generate a holistic orientation on existence defining the human race.
Forms of Multidisciplinarity
A polymath, as such figures as Goethe are known, may demonstrate varied competencies within diverse arms of a particular discipline. A discipline is perceived in this context as an approach to studying an aspect of reality in terms of a particular network of methods of investigation and of conceptions of that aspect of reality, in relation to existence as a whole. This epistemic and metaphysical particularity, however, overlaps with others within the broader network constituted by the epistemic and metaphysical frame in which it is embedded, such as the currently globally dominant Western origin system of knowledge. The polymath may also operate across disciplines, creating a variegated web, distinctive but conjoined windows of perception, through which the universe may be engaged with.
Toyin Falola’s Multidisciplinarity Within African Studies
One such interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary polymath is Toyin Falola, whose recently published book Decolonizing African Studies (2022) creates an opportunity to map his writing and scholarly career in relation to his field of engagement, the cluster of disciplines known as African Studies. One may also explore the instantiation of these interests in relation to one chapter in that book, the chapter on aesthetics, so chosen because of my fascination with its subject as well as its provocation of approaches to adapting Falola’s multidisciplinary scholarship in alignment or disalignment with his methods.
Intrinsic, Extrinsic and Structural Approaches to the Study of Toyin Falola’s Work as a Matrix in Exploring African Studies and Beyond
Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies demonstrates an admirably extensive coverage of ground, enabling its use as a matrix for exploring African Studies, in relation to the process of rethinking the foundations and directions of the field, in alignment or disalignment with the author’s approaches in this and other texts.
Falola’s total body of work is also strategic for such an exploration because it constitutes a very rich library of engagement with the various disciplines constituting African Studies, the scope of his work being unique in the field. This wealth of expression, sustained across decades, may inspire a range of exploratory approaches, perceptible in intrinsic and extrinsic terms.
The intrinsic relates to the internal structure and progression of his writing and scholarly project. The extrinsic involves its relationship with other bodies of knowledge beyond itself. This intrinsic study could include diachronic exploration – of its historical progression. It may involve synchronic analysis – of its character at a point in time. The convergence of the intrinsic and the extrinsic could be demonstrated by structural studies. These examine correlations between the total structure of ideas and investigative and expressive approaches developed within the network constituted by Falola’s body of work and its intersections with other bodies of knowledge.
Rhizomatic and Architectural Metaphors
Within this structural analysis and synthesis, the total body of Falola’s work may be understood in terms of various unifying metaphors. His productivity may be seen as rhizomatic, demonstrating a restless proliferation of possibilities across disciplines, without any effort at systematizing the cognitive network thus developed, an image adapting the development of this biological metaphor in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri’s A Thousand Plateaus (1980). It could be understood in architectural terms, as constituting a series of rooms, organized around a centre, an image adapted from Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle (1577).
The various rooms in this architectural metaphor may represent different disciplines or the relationships between disciplines demonstrated by various texts. Their order could be circular, arranged in a circle around a centre. Their organization could also be sequential, suggesting some disciplines or disciplinary conjunctions or particular texts as fundamental, points of entry into this proliferative cognitive universe, gestative zones enabling the myriad expressions demonstrated by this body of work, without this ordering suggesting superiority of value.
Motivational and Summative, Disciplinary and Textual Centres
That centre could be understood in terms of the ultimate motivation of his work, the originating and sustaining inspiration and rationale running through or emerging from the various expressions that constitute that work. Such a centre could also be seen in terms of the ultimate vision actualized by his creativity, the constellation of understanding reached through this diversity of expressions. Both approaches overlap and may be combined.
Along those lines, Falola’s originating discipline of history may be appreciated as a primary point of entry into his oeuvre, history understood as the exploration of the complete range of implications of the development of a phenomenon, Falola branching out from this superordinate study to engage its divisions across the humanities and social sciences within African Studies.
Perhaps one could focus on a text instead as such a foundational point of entry, understanding his In Praise of Greatness (2019), for example, as unifying the various expressive forms in terms of which he works, ranging over historical and synchronic humanistic and sociological studies, poetic and autobiographical writing and philosophical reflection. These structurations could also be organized in terms of ideas developed by the investigator, distilled from studying Falola’s work rather than directly applied from his own ideas and texts.
Between Work, Self, Society and Cosmos
The adaptation of Teresa of Avila’s architectural image from her The Interior Castle in interpreting Falola’s work suggests significant potential for such distillation of ideas and expansion of their evocative power. The Interior Castle is a mystical text, describing an approach to relationship with the essence of the self. This essence is understood as God, the identity in the central room of the castle. The castle represents the self, with the various rooms symbolizing aspects of the self. The self is depicted, in this context, as the expression of an ultimate reality constituting the core of the individual.
In adapting this image to Falola’s body of work, questions of correlations between self and work may be thereby evoked. What is the full range of relationships between the scholar and author and his creativity? How may his perennial, multidisciplinary creativity be understood, for example, in terms of ideas of access to performative powers dramatizing the self as an interface between the instrumentality of the mental, biological and social construction of the self and human embodiment of a life force that underlies existence, a summation distilling ideas of the self at the intersection of human creativity and creativity in nature represented by the Yoruba origin concepts àṣẹ, universal life force, and orí, the self, as this conjunction is particularly forcefully outlined in Henry John Drewal et al’s Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought (1989), a distinctive expression of ideas recurring in various ways in other cultures, such as the Indian Shakti and the Chinese ch’i ?
History and its implications within the construction of knowledge as storytelling and interpretation of stories, is one way of depicting the various rooms, the varied idea complexes constituting Falola’s work as represented by each text and the relationships between these texts. This is a summation adapting the hermeneutics of the Yoruba origin Ifa knowledge system. This interpretation of his work is convergent with Falola’s intellectual origins in historical studies and his explicit identification with Yoruba culture and thought, from which Ifa emerges. At the intersection of self and expression represented by this unfolding creative matrix, what may be understood of the ultimate direction of this exploratory journey at the convergence of human creativity and the creativity represented by the universe?
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Falola’s forthcoming Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies (2022) suggests an approach to related questions at the convergence of the self, its creativity and the embedding of this unity within larger socio-cognitive complexes, the social contexts that shape and are shaped by the development of knowledge. The book is described as applying ”autoethnography to the understanding of African knowledge systems [considering] the ‘Self ‘ and Yoruba Being (the individual and the collective) in the context of the African decolonial project [using] diverse and novel methods to access an African way of knowing [exploring] the different ways that a society understands and presents itself…”
”Memoir And Memory,” Falola’s Fall 2017 course at the University of Texas, demonstrates his efforts at translating into pedagogy these intersections of orality, memory, writing and the development of individual meaning and its social resonance, as evident from this representation of the course description, using its sentences but reorganizing them for the purpose of this essay:
Memoirs are reflections of events as filtered through the author’s emotions and cognitive frameworks. We will attempt to transform memory and reported experience into personal essays [developing] the craft of converting memories into compelling narratives. The class is an exercise in both developing writing skills and appreciating the importance of memory and oral tradition as history.
Exposing and converting truth to art requires courage and a refining of the artistic skills that allow memoirs to effectively communicate the deep layers of truth and humanness that are usually absent from conventional discourses.
Since the ascendancy of print, memory has been relegated to the background and substituted by texts. Scripts are privileged over oral accounts. Yet, these verbal accounts play important roles in writing history, and share the same weaknesses as archival sources. For historians and researchers, therefore, the course highlights the importance of memory and how it counterbalances texts.
The Centralization of African Agency as Motivating Vision of Falola’s Work
In terms of motivation and summative vision, Falola’s work may be understood as centralizing African agency, African creative powers, through the medium of multidisciplinary scholarship, complemented by autobiography and poetry.
Addressing the challenge of African empowerment and the revitalizing of African Studies everywhere through generating a greater degree of independent thinking as the field rises from constriction within templates created by its entry into global scholarship through the colonial encounter, is the vision of Decolonizing African Studies.
This and similar forthcoming texts may be described as Falola’s crowning projects at this point in his career, in a career demonstrating perhaps varied climaxes as the scholar ascends new peaks, generating new vistas of possibility in relation to the subjects he studies and within the topography of his work in general, a creative unfolding suggesting unpredictable future developments.
These current developments, bolder projections of orientations also evident in some earlier works, are often sole authored texts developing summative engagements with almost the entire field of African Studies and at times trying to rework its epistemic and metaphysical centres and modes of operation- ”Pluriversalism,” ”Ritual Archives” ( both in The Toyin Falola Reader on African Culture, Nationalism, Development and Epistemology, 2018 ) and Decolonizing African Studies-or centring on summative aspects of it- Sacred Words and Holy Realms (2022) and with Nicole Griffin, Religious Beliefs and Knowledge Systems in Africa (2021) – or surveying the field from a view both personalised and sweeping- In Praise of Greatness: The Poetics of African Adulation (2019) and perhaps the forthcoming Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies.
Questions of Scope in Falola’s Rethinking of Modes of Knowing and Structures of Existence as Understood Within African Studies
After reading his “Ritual Archives” where he projects ideas about metaphysical orientations outside the secularist paradigm shaping the globally dominant Western knowledge system, I wonder “to what degree is Falola ready to go beyond making assertive statements on these ideas to clearly mapping how factual he thinks they are and why he thinks so?”
In ”Synthesis and Storytelling:An Interview With Dr. Toyin Falola” ((E.D.Watson, Front Porch Journal), Falola mentions how an ”Indian guru…gave me a religious symbol and walked me through some spiritual dialogue so that I could recover” from the trauma of losing a number of his own unpublished manuscripts while travelling.
Will his first-hand experience with such cognitive systems, which are outside the dominant strains in Western academia, inform his work on pluralistic epistemologies, expanding theory and going beyond theory into practice?
He presents an expansive account of the power of words in Sacred Words and Holy Realms, but does he explain why he thinks those views are valid beyond being accounts of classical African and some other cultures’ ideas about language?
In stating ”Words, as stand-alone and in combination with objects, are translatable into various forms of power. Words can produce spells and trance, prophecy, commands, death, and flights into the holy realms,” in a talk presaging the April 2022 publication of the book, will he go beyond this assertion, a description of the metaphysics of language in terms that capture classical African, classical Asian and Western esoteric and Christian perspectives, to explain why he thinks that assertion is an accurate description of the power of words?
In sum, to what degree is Falola a describer and analyst of non-secular systems of thought and to what degree is he a person who identifies with these systems as an accurate description of reality?
In asserting the latter, as he seems to be doing, how far is he ready to go in validating his case? In other words, to what degree is he ready to move from dipping his toe in the water to diving into the river? We need critical thinkers who will dive into the river and tell us what they see, while keeping their critical intelligence alert.
Falola moves in that direction through his superb meditation on the Yoruba deity Eshu in ”Ritual Archives” but it would help if he were also to describe the ontological frame of such a meditation.
In what way does Eshu exist in that context, as Falola understands that spiritual figure, independent of the human mind or created by the mind or both? A cosmic identity as claimed by some?
In moving into these kinds of waters in his escalated efforts to centre African thought in scholarship, Falola rethinks the epistemic and metaphysical paradigms in terms of which he had conducted scholarship for decades, paradigms in terms of which the globally dominant Western academia is constructed.
Even then, however, Western academia is often so creatively elastic the longer it develops, challenges to its dominant paradigms do thrive within it, as represented by the growth of non-secularist yet non-religious orientations such as those of environmentalist David Abram and Chicano, feminist and sexual rights thinker Gloria Anzaldua.
Navigating the terrain between the ratiocinative thought dominant in the Western academy and the more intuitive, imaginative and multi-cognitive modes Falola is pointing towards is a delicate task. Falola seems to be boldly declaring his commitment to this navigational process. The expectations generated are great. One will need to read those texts to see how he pursues this task.
Falola’s Scholarship as Exemplifying the Paradox of Enablement and Disempowerment in Relation to the Work of the Diaspora African Scholar: The Migratory Context
Falola, as Jacob & Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, titles implying extraordinary achievement within and beyond the concept of the professorship, is one of the Nigerian scholars who moved from Nigerian universities to the West, when Nigerian academia entered into decline after the glorious years that ran from the 60s to perhaps the 80s. Like many who made that move, he has thrived in what is the world’s most highly developed economic system. The development of knowledge represented by scholarship is here understood as an aspect of an economy. The structure demonstrated by the Western economy represented by Europe and North America is depicted as the most highly developed and most inclusive of diversity, in spite of challenges that may exist to such inclusions.
One aspect of this migratory condition is reflection on what is, what has been and what may be, in terms of the tensions between the distinctive though entwined characters of where the migrant is coming from and where they are. A particularly poignant demonstration of this orientation is Abiola Irele’s ”The African Scholar,” (1991) in which, from his professorship at Ohio State University, Irele looks back over the glorious decades of academic scholarship-centered in higher institutions-in which he played a central role across Nigeria and Ghana. He laments the decline that motivated himself and others to move to the West. He describes these migrants as entering into a paradoxical situation, in which the scholarship to which they had devoted their lives as they built a new cultural structure shaping a distinctive African identity as the continent slowly emerged from its transformation by colonialism did not enjoy the centrality it had in their home countries.
Irele’s younger contemporary and later Harvard colleague, Biodun Jeyifo, told his own view of the story in ”One Year in the First Instance,” (2000) describing how one year exploratory visits were used by African scholars in testing Western academic waters for the possibility of migration. Other books and essays, such as Falola and Niyi Afolabi’s The Human Cost of African Migrations (2007), Falola’s The African Diaspora: Slavery, Modernity, and Globalization (2013) and other sole authored, co-written or sole edited and co-edited texts by Falola, as well as Nkiru Nzegwu and Isidore Okpewho’s The New African Diaspora (2009), amidst both broad ranging discussions of the subject and more fucused studies, such as Tejumola Olaniyan’s The African Diaspora and the Disciplines (2010), explore the experience of the migrant African scholar as well as the centripetal pull of the West for scholars from different parts of the world. These stories are correlative with migrations from various parts of the world in different fields of endeavour, such as technology, with the massively influential first generation Indian presence in US technology companies being one of the most prominent examples.
Falola’s Creation of a Research and Publishing Network Spanning the West and Africa Within and Beyond Academic Contexts
Falola has been particularly successful in this migratory framework. Working outside any academic position beyond his professorship, and, to the best of my knowledge, often without any access to institutional funding outside resources generated by himself and his collaborators-most likely except for the annual University of Texas Africa conference and the recent conference of Nigerian university administrators he was central to organizing, and possible institutional contributions to the Toyin Falola conferences and other conferences in his honour- he has built a research and publication network spanning Africa and the West.
This is represented by articles and books by himself and with others, sole authored, co-authored, sole edited and co-edited, and various book series with different Western publishers, along with editorships of a number of academic journals and memberships of editorial boards of academic journals in different parts of the world.
These initiatives involve such particularly prestigious brands as Cambridge, the world’s oldest academic press, and such resonant names in academic publishing as Routledge and Palgrave. It integrates such staples of Africana academic publishing as Indiana UP and Africa World Press and his edited series with University of Rochester Press, among other publishers, as well as publishing a number of books with Bloomsbury, famous as the publishers of J.K. Rowling, the most economically successful writer in the history of publishing and who also have a rich academic publishing arm.
The Challenge of Access to Comprehensive Information on Falola’s Work
The website of the Toyin Falola Network is a useful guide to mapping Falola’s productivity, even though its account of his creativity is incomplete. It gives a very rich presentation of his books but only up to 2019, even though Falola’s book publication has expanded in volume and variety after that year. The completeness of its records of his published books even up to 2019 is uncertain beceause, as far as I can see, it does not include The Toyin Falola Reader, published in 2018.
The site’s records do not include his articles, and do not indicate his general editorship of various book series. Another entry on the University of Texas site lists his editorship of a number of book series but seems to be an old entry, with a biography by Sam Saverance from 2005 and a valuable picture of a much younger Falola, and does not include his general editorship, with Carina Ray, of the Cambridge University Press series ”African Identities: Past and Present,” to which Decolonizing African Knowledge : Autoethnography and African Epistemologies is a contribution. His various CVs online are also incomplete. The one on his page at the website of the Department of History at the University of Texas tracks his books up to 2010. Another from the same university stops at 2011.
Questions of Scope of Audience Emerging from Falola’s Scholarship
These achievements emerge from a culture of yearly multi-book publication he embarked upon after his 1981 PhD at the then University of Ife in Nigeria, having undergone all his education in that home country. Having practically reached the heights of visibility in African Studies, radiating from his originating centre in history to practically all fields in African Studies except the sciences, certain questions remain.
”Whose interests am I serving through this relentless activity? Yes, any comprehensive bibliography on almost any field in African Studies will include a book written or edited by me, with my essays being imaginatively comparable to grains of sand at the ocean shore, but who does my work affect most?” Falola may be imagined as asking himself in quiet moments, in company in which free expression of intimate thoughts is welcome or in public contexts in which such questioning finds a place.
In terms of motivation and summative vision, Falola’s work may be understood in terms of the centralization of African agency, African creative powers, through the medium of multidisciplinary scholarship, complemented by autobiography and poetry.
This task is made paradoxical by Falola’s operating largely through Western publishers, whose books are often priced beyond the reach of the currencies of African countries which are often much weaker than those of the nations in which the publishers are based, and whose distribution presence in Falola’s native Nigeria, for example, is minimal, when it exists in the first place.
Faloa’s situation exemplifies that of the African scholar, particularly migrant African scholars, in the Western academy in its Western location. He is an African scholar, formed in Africa and active in the African academy well before migrating to the US. Yet he operates in the West within an academic system in which publishing with Western publishers is a non-negotiable imperative for career growth, the reach and prestige of these publishers eventually becoming central to Falola’s international esteem in the field. Yet, the work coming out of these publishing houses is often beyond the ready access of people in Africa. The paradoxes of this situation add extra urgency to Falola’s efforts to face the question ”whom does African Studies represent and whose interests does it serve?” the central question shaping his Decolonizing African Studies.
The economic questions invoked here are issues of socio-economic structure which Falola and his collaborators address as far as they can through providing limited ease of access to his work, as represented by book donations, the constant provision of publishing opportunities to any who cares to participate in his numerous book projects, as well as eagerness to help scholars publish their own works, regular conferences in Africa and Falola’s consistent writing in Nigerian news media, dramatizing his belief in the concept of ”brain circulation,” a term I might have heard him use, African diaspora scholars interacting with the continent in a cycle of renewal that ideally involves similar input from Africa based scholars.
This knowledge exchange, however, is often seen, in various contexts beyond the initiatives of Falola and his collaborators, as asymmetrical, with the Western based scholars perceived as those who primarily have something to give while those in Africa, and certainly in Falola’s home country, Nigeria, are understood as primarily recipients from their more advantaged colleagues abroad. Can this dynamic be changed to something more equitable, as Africa-based scholars generate new cognitive schemes, perhaps using the resources of classical African knowledge systems, an aspiration Falola projects with particular force in ”Ritual Archives?”
How may scholarship in Africa and about Africa be empowered, developing its own identity in the marketplace of ideas of how to construct knowledge? That question is the vision of Decolonizing African Studies.
Approaches to Discussing African Aesthetics
As the author acknowledges in Decolonizing African Studies, in a manner suggestive of the myriad possibilities engendered by the fertility of his work as a whole:
The book is particularly informed by the recognition that there will never be one approach to decolonizing knowledge. The book presents decolonization in many ways over various disciplines. There will be the usual contestations, as this book will form the basis of multiple debates, including critical objections to some of my statements. Thought patterns and knowledge systems are, by nature, multiplex and multiplural.
In this essay, my second encounter with Decolonizing African Studies, I have jumped to the chapter ”Decolonizing African Aesthetics” because of my particular interest in aesthetics, generally, and to some degree, African aesthetics. I hereby outline a point of alignment and disalignment with the chapter. Through such a process, one may move towards Falola’s example of integrative analysis over almost the entire field of African Studies as represented by this book, but perhaps approach it in a manner different from himself.
Falola’s attention in this chapter is on varieties of approaches to creativity in the various post-classical arts in African music, fashion and film. ”Post-classical” is a term I’m using in order to avoid the term ”post-colonial,” thereby suggesting the agency of Africans as originating before and going beyond the colonial experience and its consequences.
While Falola focuses on history, he also engages, minimally, in a correlative discussion of aesthetics in terms of ideas that inform or are inspired by art. These are ideas which may be created by the artists themselves or inspired by their work.
In addressing historical developments in music, fashion and film, the chapter complements the one titled ”Decolonizing African Literature.” In creating a mapping of the field inspired by points of agreement and disagreement with Falola’s own mapping, one could group the two chapters together as ”Decolonizing African Arts,” akin to the way more recent editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica classify all African imaginative forms under ”African Arts.”
Along with the arts studied by Falola, we could add the visual arts, which would include sculpture, painting, drawing and architecture, and perhaps others. These additions would be critical, because these are some of the forms in which the artistic decolonization process has been vigorously pursued in Africa and its Diaspora. In architecture, examples such as that of Demas Nwoko need to be examined, correlating Nwoko’s development of ideas of African aesthetics as philosophy, as in the journal New Culture, and his practicalization of his rethinking of African aesthetics through his architectural work. Discussing these arts together would facilitate demonstrating their points of convergence of action and of informing ideas and orientations. Such a correlation would complement the expansive range of arts engaged in Decolonizing African Studies, an expansiveness which is not often demonstrated in discussing African arts.
One could either enlarge the correlative discussion of aesthetics as philosophy, the minimally developed section of the chapter, in relation to aesthetics as artistic progression, the approach Falola centralises, or retain the chapter ”Decolonizing African Aesthetics” as a separate chapter. The second choice facilitates using the chapter as a means of discussing aesthetics, not as first order discourse, as Falola focuses on, a focus on aesthetics as artistic creativity, that being one understanding of aesthetics, but as second order discourse, a reflection on ideas and principles centred in the practice of art and the experience of beauty, as this field may be defined, the subsidiary aspect of aesthetics minimally discussed by Falola.
Aesthetics as second order discourse, as a philosophical discipline, needs to be so closely studied in this context because it’s a central arena in which the struggle for decolonizing African thought is taking place. The field involves both the philosophical positions taken by African and pro-African writers and other artists, to ideas developed by African and non-African scholars in these fields, positions spanning classical and post-classical African arts.
The power of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline is particularly obvious with reference to Western and Asian aesthetics, as developed by artists and scholars. These run from the Indian concept of rasa, to the wabi-sabi concept in Japanese aesthetics, to the Western idea of the Sublime, among others. I am interpreting aesthetics, in this context, as centred in ideas, deliberately constructed concepts, directly or indirectly related to art and the sense of beauty.
African contributions to aesthetics as philosophy include Uche Okeke’s idea of Natural Synthesis in his efforts, as a central ideologue of the 1960s Zaria Art School and his later fundamental influence on the Nsukka Art School, to develop an original direction for post-classical African art. They also involve Rowland Abiodun, Babatunde Lawal, Henry Drewal and others, engaging Yoruba concepts in studying classical Yoruba art as an aspect of reshaping art scholarship on Africa.
These investigations would be later adapted to post-classical Nigerian art, such as employing the idea of oju inu or inward vision from Yoruba philosophy as a category of universalistic artistic analysis. Related to but different from these efforts at demonstrating classical Yoruba aesthetic thought and its contemporary significance is Drewal’s distillation of his theory of Sensiotics from his practical experience as a sculptor in the Yoruba context and his scholarship on this artistic and reflective human environment.
One may choose, though, to subsume such a chapter on decolonizing African aesthetics within the chapter ”Decolonizing African Philosophy,” since aesthetics is a branch of philosophy. Doing that, however, would mean expanding that chapter to also include sub-sections on other branches of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and perhaps even the philosophy of law. This would be critical as a means of integrating developments in these branches in terms of the theme of decolonization.
In metaphysics, one could discuss work like that of Kwasi Wiredu, on Akan ideas of the nature of being, Pantaleon Iruegbu’s development of ”kpim,’‘ meaning ”core or essence of phenomena, from Igbo, Jonathan Chimakonam’s recent book, with Uchenna Ogbonnaya, on metaphysics in an African context, African Metaphysics, Epistemology and a New Logic: A Decolonial Approach to Philosophy (2021), among others. Helpful developments may also be discerned in the philosophy of law, in the relationship between classical African and Western legal systems, such as in the work of Taslim Elias.
In including a section on history and philosophy of science as suggested in my first essay on this book, one could also consider the philosophical orientations of efforts to decolonize African health systems in their adaptation of Western medicine, as in the work of Adeoye Lambo at Aro Psychiatric Hospital and his justifications of his approach with reference to the value of classical African medical systems.
Such studies of Lambo as Mathew Heaton’s “Thomas Adeoye Lambo and the Decolonization of Psychiatry in Nigeria” (in B.M. Bennett and J.M. Hodge (eds) Science and Empire: Britain and the World, 2011), focus on this subject, Heaton doing this in terms of a wealth of intertextual references to studies of science at the nexus of Western and non-Western systems of thought in relation to colonialism and its consequences.
Lambo’s own publications, such as African Traditional Beliefs: Concepts of Health and Medical Practice, 1963, help clarify his vision as a person deeply exposed to both classical African medicine and its philosophical foundations and Western medicine and its philosophical contexts, bringing these into a synthesis.
In sum, an understanding of the subject of decolonizing African Studies which Falola has so broadly covered may be developed through points of identification with or disagreement with his approach. Such a guide to thinking and creation is a central function of scholarly creativity as represented by Falola’s effort to unify the expansive subject of decolonizing African Studies within a summative text.
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Toyin Falola AGSS Africa Book Award
The Toyin Falola ATWS Africa Book Award, established in 2005 in honor of Toyin Falola, one of Africa’s outstanding historians and intellectuals, was initially given in 2006 for the best book on Africa published in 2005-2006. The first award was presented at the Twenty-Fourth Annual Meeting of ATWS (November 2-4, 2006) at Winston-Salem State University. The 2006 winner was Adam Ashforth, Visiting Associate Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University, for his excellent work, “Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa,” published by the University of Chicago Press in 2005. Professor Falola generously funds the award.
CALL FOR BOOKS FOR THE 2021-2022 TOYIN FALOLA AGSS AFRICA BOOK AWARD
The Toyin Falola Africa Book Award is named in honor of Toyin Falola, one of Africa’s outstanding historians and intellectuals. The award is given for the best book on Africa published in 2021-2022. Book submissions must be issued from January 1, 2021, through August 15, 2022. The deadline for the submission of entries is August 15, 2022. The award will not automatically be given each year, but only when the committee decides to submit a book of considerable merit. AGSS members are encouraged to enter their publications into the competition. The recipient will receive a plaque, citation, and a $500 cash award.
Only monographs and similar original studies will be considered. Please do not submit anthologies or edited works.
An individual who wishes to be considered must send a letter of application to the committee chair, Dr. José Arimatéia da Cruz email@example.com
Publishers can nominate an author’s book if the above rules are observed.
An individual seeking the award is responsible for sending a copy of their book to each committee member.
Please send one copy of the nominated book to each of the individuals listed below:
Dr. Jose de Arimateia da Cruz, Committee Chair
11935 Abercorn Street
Dept. of Political Science & International Studies
Savannah, GA 31419
Dr. Ishmael I. Munene
2840 N Elk Run St.
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
Col. James T. Gire, Ph.D.
403 Carroll Hall
Virginia Military Institute
Lexington, VA 24450
Rubric for Decision:
. Originality in terms of the research area and interpretation
. Contribute to the intellectual debates within the subject area in which they are framed, and
. Present well-substantiated arguments.
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BOOK REVIEW: Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, And Voice
Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju
Having at last got my hands on Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, and Voice, University of Rochester Press, 2022, I did a very fast speed reading of the book of 678 pages and careful exposition and argument, in order to discern its flavour, scope and thrust. An exercise of perhaps one hour, with the intention of returning later to more careful reading.
The book demonstrates Falola as a master of the protocols of writing a generally accessible academic book which is yet summative of the field in question, engaging significantly with its constitutive ideas. On account of the sheer scope of the work in terms of its sweeping coverage of practically every aspect of the subject, and its analytical range, the extensiveness of its engagement with the relevant issues and ideas in almost every aspect of African Studies, anyone who wants to gain an overview of the subject in depth is likely to find this book indispensable.
The book is written in terms of a combination of logical rigour and expressive accessibility, so that practically anyone can read it with benefit, from the undergraduate, to anyone new to the subject, to the advanced scholar in the field. The person new to the field will be introduced to its relevance, ideational scope, historical progression and the role of particular figures in the subject, across time and space. Such readers will also benefit from the summaries that conclude every chapter.
The advanced scholar in the field will encounter a multidisciplinary expansiveness that takes in practically every aspect of the humanities and social sciences, addressing these in terms of ideational detail, historical specificity and flow and analyses of the contributions of key figures, across practically all disciplines in African Studies except the sciences.
It would be great if Falola were also to go in more depth into similar issues in relation to the sciences in the African context, a task possible even if one has little background in science, since history and philosophy of science are quite accessible to all readers. Along those lines, the work of Aime Dafon Segla, Ron Eglash, Abdul Karim Bangura and Gloria Emeagwali, among other sources, could be very helpful. If Falola has addressed the sciences as a part of African Studies in depth in this or other texts, I apologise for my omission or misinformedness.
Along similar lines, one might take exception to aspects of Falola’s approach, envisaging variations of how the task of the book may be performed, such as his not seeming to discuss Isidore Okpewho’s pioneering work in African epic, even though Áfrican epic is engaged significantly in the text, complementing Falola’s co-edited cutting edge book on African orature published recently.
Decolonizing African Studies also seems not to contain one of the best things I have read from Falola, the essay ”Ritual Archives”, on the same subject as that of the book, and does not seem to have the compelling ”Pluriversalism, ” on the same subject, these two superb pieces, showing Falola at his individualistic best, written in the depth of adventurous ruminations, published in The Toyin Falola Reader. Apologies if I missed their presence in this book.
Such differences of perspective on how a project such as this book should be executed are part of the circumstances that frame any human project, talk less a work of such multidisciplinary range, ideational scope and historical sweep. As it is, this work, like Falola’s entire career, is an example of colossal ambition and drive, suggesting what can be done by an adequately determined person. The sheer level of reading demonstrated, the vastness of historical and ideational range covered, makes the text encyclopedic of its subject, such that, like some other books of Falola’s, if this were the only text he published, as an important landmark in the field, the work would permanently place his name in the record of the development of the field in question.
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