Research in African Literatures 31.2 (2000) 232-233
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Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader
Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader, ed. Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1997. ix + 166 pp. ISBN 0-631-20137-8.
In compiling this useful anthology, Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze's starting point was the realization that writing about race formed an important but neglected aspect of Enlightenment thought. Certainly within philosophy (Eze's own discipline), work on writers such as Kant and Hegel has mushroomed in recent years, often becoming--as with Foucault and Habermas's exchanges about Kant--central to key debates about the significance of the Enlightenment, without much, if any, attention being paid to the rather extensive consideration that those philosophers gave to matters of race.
As Eze suggests in his brief introduction, the Enlightenment had no single racial theory--some of the most interesting passages in the anthology deal with internal disagreements: Beattie with Hume, Kant with Herder. Yet he also emphasizes the extent to which most of the writers work within a single "universe of discourse," frequently citing each other as authorities.
Apart from the writers already mentioned, the book contains extracts from Linnaeus, Buffon, Blumenbach, Jefferson, and Cuvier, as well as from the Encyclopédie and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The entry for "Nègre" from the former and the extract from Kant's Physical Geography appear here in English for the first time. The scholarship involved does not conform to the most demanding standards. Sources are identified, but without page numbers. The one translator's note fails to locate Cayenne. The Selected Further Reading is idiosyncratic, and does not include most of the work that has been done in this area, by, for example, Marshall Hodgson and Tzvetan Todorov.
Anthologies such as this always worry suspicious readers, who are anxious about what might have been omitted f rom long and complex books (at the same time as having their own list of missing books that could have provided equal or better material). Eze modestly concludes by saying that the collection will succeed if it provokes teachers, researchers, and students into further investigation of the place of race in Enlightenment thought. On that basis, it should be judged a likely success. It brings together many [End Page 232] passages from books only available in research libraries. It will therefore prove to be a useful anthology for teachers and students, providing an excellent starting point for much-needed historical and critical study.
Peter Hulme is Professor in Literature at the University of Essex.