restricted access V. Y. Mudimbe et la ré-invention de l'Afrique: poétique et politique de la décolonisation des sciences humaines (review)
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V. Y. Mudimbe et la ré-invention de l’Afrique: poétique et politique de la décolonisation des sciences humaines By Kasereka Kavwahirehi Francopolyphonies 4. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006. 420 pp. ISBN 90-420-1839-9 paper.

The sheer richness, complexity, and eclectic diversity of V. Y. Mudimbe's writings perhaps account for the absence until now of a critical study devoted to the entirety of his life and work, but the publication of Kasereka Kavwahirehi's impressive and comprehensive volume will now happily fill that lacuna, at least [End Page 197] for Mudimbe's francophone readers. Kavwahirehi's approach represents a bold undertaking, since not only does he propose a coherently dialectical path along which Mudimbe travels, from Africa to North America via Belgium and France, but also an underlying unity and continuity of Mudimbe's thinking and writing that traverses his poetry, his fiction, his theoretical writings, his novels, and his autobiographical writings, in particular his own retrospective text published in 1994, Le corps glorieux des mots et des êtres, which not surprisingly serves as a constant reference point for Kavwahirehi. The so-called "French" and "American" periods are quite rightly shown not to be as dissonant and fractured as some critics would have it, but to deal with essentially the same concerns of a phenomenological and existential recovery of agency and subjectivity, with a view to reclaiming an interrupted history. The section on Mudimbe's poetry, which has been almost completely neglected by commentators on his work, does an excellent job of showing how his strong dissident voice is already apparent in his quasi-Mallarméan desire to "write against" poetry of the past, as a means of contesting certain inbuilt habits of language. Kavwahirehi is also right to stress the constancy of an underlying Sartrean allegiance in Mudimbe's conceptualization (and preformative enactment) of subjectivity, despite his admiration for, and strategic methodological borrowing from, Foucault and Levi-Strauss, in his long project of "decolonizing" knowledge of Africa. The "Western" derivation of Mudimbe's thinking has, of course, been one of the most contentious elements of his theory, and Kavwahirehi discusses at length the necessity of a process that has to begin by undoing the inventions and myths of Africa from within, which will ultimately involve distancing himself even from Sartre. It is this emphasis on subjective reaffirmation, and narrative agency, that allows Kavwahirehi to ally the poetics of Mudimbe's texts to its political force. Although his very broad crossdisciplinary approach to Mudimbe's oeuvre is entirely justified, there is a compulsive and rather undisciplined proliferation of contextual or critical references and discursive registers (French, German, Latin American, and anglophone, as well as African) that are too easily assimilated to one another, and at these moments the argument seems unnecessarily digressive, repetitive, and unfocused. The rather weak and inconsistent account of deconstruction (sometimes a handy thematic shorthand for "undoing," or decolonizing, Western discursive constructs, at other times simply dismissed for its "Eurocentrism," along with a whole laundry list of other "postmodern" theories) is unfortunately typical in this regard. It is perhaps symptomatic of this conceptual disorganization that the index is lacking in any reference to "key concepts." This is a shame, because this otherwise extremely valuable resource is written by someone who has a deeply intimate knowledge of Mudimbe's work.

Michael Syrotinski
University of Aberdeen
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